Knick knacks

Outfitting our bike has been fun. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of finding things that fit the unusual size and shape of this bike. Below I try to describe several of the knick knacks that are attached to our bike. I’ve tried to include links to products — not because we’re sponsored (obviously we’re not) — but to make it easier for someone with a similar bike to outfit their own rig.

The neck rests were a good start. They’ve actually evolved some. The super velcro wasn’t super enough, plus, I knew I needed places to put water bottles, so I drilled two holes in the neck rest (spatula) at the proper distance so on the back side the bolts would hold up a water bottle cage.

 

 

This works really nicely. The bottle is a little hard for me to reach while riding, but it is right in front of Natalie, so she takes it out and hands it up to me. When I’m done drinking I hand it back to her and she puts it away. She also has the same setup behind her neck rest, but she generally doesn’t drink from that bottle while riding. She swaps it with her easier-to-reach bottle when her easier-to-reach bottle goes dry. For some reason she refuses to share a water bottle with me….

Her easier-to-reach bottle is connected to the frame via velcro. We bought these cages from Amazon. I also have one on the front boom. It is hard for me to reach, so I too use it for backup. When the one behind my neck rest goes dry, I swap it for the one on the front boom.

 

 

The little blue bungee is used to hold the water bottle fast. It was not designed to hold a bottle horizontally, so they tend to fly out when going fast. :-O Natalie’s has a piece of green velcro she uses to cinch it down tight.

Also on the second picture you can see my phone holder (thing with a bungee string.) With my phone back there running komoot Natalie is able to participate in the adventure called navigation. It hasn’t bounced out yet. I am contemplating 3D printing something a little more convenient. The square bag you see next to Natalie’s cranks is a frame bag that carries my wallet, some lights, and a backup battery (in case the phone needs charging).

Behind my seat we hang a Camelbak designed for kayaking. We bought it on Amazon (link) and it doubles as our fridge. If we need to store chocolate (and we often do) it goes in this bag against a bladder of cold water. This is an important accessory for Natalie, as you might guess. To hang it I needed to make a strap, adding two loops positioned to be at the outer edge of my seat. I added a strong zip tie under the front of my seat to provide the forward connection point.

 

 

Finding mirrors wide enough for Natalie’s handlebars was a challenge. I bought some bar end mirrors from Amazon (link) and then modified them to have a much longer shaft. It is really important that these move. As we go through narrow gates she often has to fold them in. I may 3D print a new top section for these, but the bottom piece that goes into the handlebar tubes is super-well-built aluminum. I’m happy with these. The front mirrors are also from Amazon (link) and work without modification. Last year I used a different mirror from Amazon (link) but the mount kept breaking. Eventually those had to be zip-tied on.

 

 

The latest addition to our kit is a front light and front light holder. Last year we had lights attached to the front handlebars. However, the front boom had an attach point that was begging to be used. I 3D printed a generic mount and then attached this light (again from Amazon). 3D printing is going to change the world — it was so easy to design and print the part. (Let me know if anyone wants the STL file to print their own.)

 

 

In preparation for Iceland I may add a few more knick-knacks:

  1. Print a better phone holder, and possibly print one that will fit under Natalie’s seat so that she doesn’t have to keep using her fanny pack.
  2. Print a rear light mount for our trailer. I think we’ll want a flasher in the way-back.
  3. Get a GoPro like camera and modify the design on the front light holder so that it also holds the camera out front. Ideally we’d have a camera set at time-lapse mode for the entire ride. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet found one that has 12+ hour battery life. If money was no object, I’d have a GoPro Hero6 in the front. However, besides being out of my price range, I’ve read it can only run a time-lapse for 3 hours. If anyone has a suggestion of something that is affordable and can do time-lapse for 12 or more hours, please leave a comment.

We also upgraded our panniers to the Arkel Orcas and purchased a Topeak Journey trailer.

As I said at the start — outfitting the bike has been a blast (if not a little expensive). Amazon and I are tight.  With unlimited funds I’d buy a good 3D printer and design/print containers that fit into the frame to carry miscellaneous gear. For now I send files to a neighbor and the public library to get prints. It works.

Btw, we rode 50 miles today – chain looks great. Go wax!

 

I’m waxing

I’m waxing now. It’s a sacrifice I need to make for Iceland. Yeah, we’re still going to Iceland. Just haven’t been posting…

I am rough on chains. Really rough. Mostly it’s because I’m lazy and I don’t clean them adequately. The chain line on our tandem is similar to what you’d have on a single speed due to the Rohloff hub, but the chain length is crazy. The front half of the bike uses 2 full chains to link my cranks to Natalie’s and the rear half uses 2 chains plus another foot to link the chainring to the Rohloff sprocket. About ¾ of the chain line is protected by chain tubes. I’ve been using oil-based lube on the chain for a year and wiping it down after each ride with a rag but that thing is super dirty. Just brushing up against it with your arm leaves you with a black mark that looks like your tattoo artist has a drinking problem. Plus, I think our dirty chains are making us slow. (Fun fact: you can lose single digit watts to dirty chains.) Either that or we are out of shape.

After reviewing the 2013 VeloNews article on chain lubrication where they tested high-end products, I decided to go all in for their top pick: paraffin wax. Besides being the most efficient on the chain, wax allegedly has a side benefit in that it keeps the chain clean. We’ll see. So Wednesday I went to DI (a second-hand store) and bought a used crock pot. Natalie thinks this is funny because I recently donated one to the same place. (Pro tip: use a crock pot instead of something capable of more heat – wax can explode and convert your lovely two-car garage into a carport.) I bought paraffin wax and oil from Walmart and cooked up a batch following the directions from this YouTube video. How did we ever get anything done without YouTube? Watch the video just to hear the guy’s cool accent. Last night I cooked up a pot of the paraffin wax/oix mixture and soaked 5 new chains in it.

Hopefully we’ll be able to keep the chains clean and properly lubricated through the weather we anticipate in Iceland. We’ll let you know how it works out.

Soup’s on!

The obligatory FAQ

We’ve been intending to post this ever since our last day in Amsterdam. Life just became too busy….

How did your bike work out? Any major breakdowns?

Selecting a bike for a ride like this may be the most important decision you make. For us, our decision was perfect. We loved being on a recumbent and we loved being on a tandem. We were amazed at how well we could converse, and riding a tandem made the trip feel more like a team effort than if we had ridden independent bikes.

We have nothing but praise for Nazca Ligfietsen. The bike was solid the entire trip. As a bonus, Monique, the co-owner of Nazca Ligfietsen, remained in contact with us through much of our trip ensuring everything was going smoothly. Her customer engagement is exceptional. Occasionally we still exchange email and I always look forward to her responses.

The decision to use a Rohloff hub for our drive train worked out nicely as well. It is solid. Over 3 weeks we experienced no issues. Normally, the drivetrain would be the prime target for a tour-impacting failure. We felt comfortable and confident with the Rohloff. We probably made a mistake by swapping the rear sprocket from a 16-tooth to a 13-tooth sprocket. As we prepared for our trip we found we wanted more top-end speed when riding the bike without panniers. However, once it was loaded down riding above 20 mph was rarely a concern. We needed the lower gearing for the hills and missed it sorely. Literally. I found the spacing of the gears too close on the Rohloff especially in the lower range. The Rohloff evenly spaces the gears, so each shift up was a 13.6% increase in the gear ratio. The even spacing is one of their selling points. However, I found that in the low gears we could often skip a gear when moving into or out of a hill.  While the spacing felt right on the high end, for me, the ideal spacing would be several percent higher. I don’t think the experience would be as good in the higher gears, as that is where the spacing feels right if not too abrupt — but I’d be willing to trade that for a broader total range.

 

The most likely breakdown would have been a flat tire. Our bike was equipped with Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires. We were confident enough with these tires that we elected to not bring any spare tires with us. We brought a pump, a tube patch kit, and a tire patch kit, but we never needed any of them. For the most part the roads were free of debris and the few times we hit something in the road the Schwalbe tires were able to resist a puncture. And while we were prepared to deal with a flat, having one would have cost a lot of time — especially if the flat were on the back tire, as we would have had to unload the rear of the bike before attempting to fix the tire.

When we first received the bike I was a little disappointed by its weight. The steel frame is heavy. The Rohloff hub is heavy. Even the tires are heavy. The bike weighs in at almost 90 pounds and we added about 60 pounds of food and gear. However, the bike’s heft evokes confidence. As we’d find ourselves off the beaten path far away from civilization, in high grass, on single tracks, or on rocky roads, we rode without worrying about the bike breaking down. There were several places where a breakdown would have cost us dearly. It was nice to ride without any stress or concern for our bike.

If you are going to do a big bike tour, get a good bike.

How did you plan your route?

We planned our trip around 3 destinations: make it to Bastogne by June 26th for Natalie’s 50th birthday, make it to Paris by the next Sunday so we could attend church, and make it to Antwerp by the following Sunday so we could attend church again. Other than those and making it back to Amsterdam in time to fly home, we had a blank slate.

We started by figuring out about what our daily range was. We planned several multi-day rides near our home in Utah to get a feel for how far we could go in a single day with our gear. We tried to select routes that had similar hill profiles to what we expected in Europe. After several rides decided to target about 65 miles per day. We could ride a little further if there were few hills and a little less if there were many.

We used Komoot for planning the actual roads and trails we would ride on. We used Komoot for our shake-down rides near our home as well, learning some of its nuances. The software was good at putting us on roads and paths friendly to bikes, but it didn’t seem to care about hills. We cared a lot about hills, so at times we would insert additional waypoints between a start and stop location in an effort to pull the route around a hill. For the most part it worked, but occasionally we would fail.  On our way to Bastogne we were on the beautiful Ravel bike trail – a converted railroad line with minimal grades. Komoot took us off the Ravel to save a few miles, but in exchange for the shorter distance we had several painful hills. In hindsight we would have gladly exchanged the savings in distance for a better hill profile.

Komoot offered us a few choices for biking style – road biking which tended to keep us on roads and tour biking which tended to keep us on bike trails and bike paths. We needed a setting in-between, as the tour biking paths tended to put us on dirt roads and single track trails while the road-biking kept us on larger and more-busy roads. Each night I would spend time on my phone reviewing the next day’s route, comparing the road-biking option to the tour-biking option and modifying each until I found the right compromise. Once set, I could upload the route to our bike computer (a wahoo elemnt bolt) which would allow me to have an electronic map at the front of the bike and Natalie to have an electronic map on the phone attached to the back of my seat. Navigation, especially in the larger towns, required both of us to be working together. In many ways, working together to navigate was one of the fun experiences of the trip, as it forced us to use teamwork.

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Our trusty bike computer

One day we tried to use the bike route favored by Google maps. We quickly decided that Komoot had a better feel for the roads and paths in Europe.

How did you plan your nightly accommodations?

Using the route set by Komoot and our riding-range estimates, we preplanned all of our hotels, bed and breakfasts, and Airbnbs. Originally, I was favoring hotels. I’d figure out roughly where we would want to spend the night and then send emails to all of the hotels in the area trying to find one that could securely store our bike. Using this approach I was able to make a bunch of reservations over a period of a few weeks. But then our plans needed to change for one reason or another, and so I’d have to start the process over again after canceling our hotel reservations. This was somewhat of a hassle. I identified several normal bed and breakfasts which seemed to offer nicer accommodations and more often could deal with our bike – but the pattern recurred and it felt much more personal to cancel our reservations with these smaller operations. In both cases, we struggled with a lack of options for the smaller towns. While there are likely hotels in all of them, most were not available on the internet.

Enter Airbnb. During one of our preparation rides in Utah we decided to give Airbnb a try. Natalie was a little nervous – as we would be staying in someone’s normal home. It just seemed weird. On that ride we stayed 3 nights in Airbnbs and loved it. In one case we had the whole house to ourselves and in the other case we stayed with the family (two nights – one before our ride and one after). We used Airbnb on our next preparation ride in Utah and had another good experience – we were hooked. Airbnb helped us in five ways. First, where we were riding in Europe there were far more Airbnbs than hotels we could find on the internet. The Airbnb interface made it easy to look at a map overlaid on our route and see all the possibilities. The second thing Airbnb did was made it very easy to communicate with the hosts. For the hotels I’d have to search around for email contact information – with Airbnb it was built in. Third, Airbnb did a great job of keeping track of all of our accommodations and adding them to our Google calendar and automatically guiding us in when we were riding into a town where we would be staying.  Fourth, Airbnb homes in Europe were most often much less than hotels. Even homes where we would have the entire home to ourselves with a full kitchen and laundry facilities would be less than a hotel – sometimes half the cost.  And finally, using Airbnb all of the payment for our accommodations happened in the application. With hotels we could use our credit cards, which wasn’t a big deal. But with the normal bed and breakfasts we’d have to remit payment either in cash or via bank transfer. We became big fans of Airbnb. We still had a challenge with responding to the need to change our route as Airbnb only allows you to cancel three reservations a year before they start charging you their booking fee even if you cancel.  This is a pretty painful policy for someone on a bike tour with a lot of variables which can impact your itinerary.

In every case, although to varying degrees, the Airbnb and normal bed and breakfast hosts were delightful. Getting to interact with our hosts was something we looked forward to. I still feel bad for the few we had to cancel, as it seems like we violated the trust of a friend.

We’ve wondered if it would be a better experience to not pre-plan any of the accommodations. This would give us the freedom to dynamically change our tour based on weather and scenery. We would have loved to add a day to Berck so we could spend a day at the beach.  Toward the end of our ride we were feeling strong and probably would have added a few miles to each of the rides. In a few of the towns we might have chosen to ride past them as they were a little too busy for our taste. Not having reservations for the whole trip would free us of the stress of a schedule but it would replace that with the stress of not knowing where or if we would find accommodations. Airbnb might not work as well in this scenario – it would need to have a “last-minute” mode which provided a more rapid back and forth conversation with the hosts (however, in most cases they responded within hours of posting a question).

How did you pack?

For clothing we each took 4 “kits” with each kit being made up of bike shorts, bike shirt, and socks. We also took one set of clothes that would work for nicer venues such as church and one set of clothes that would work for casual sight-seeing. (We were definitely not going to walk around town in our bike shorts – we already looked like goofy Americans on our bike – it would make no sense to further abuse the better taste of those around us by walking around in spandex.) I managed to find a single pair of pants that would work for both, so I was able to lighten my load slightly. We each had 4 pair of underwear….  Needless to say, we were dependent on finding laundromats along the way.

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This is everything we took for 3 weeks.

We each had two panniers – one larger one and one a little bit smaller. We bought our panniers from Arkel (T-42 and T-28 classic touring panniers.) I had previously bought some recumbent specific panniers from Arkel but after a few uses it was clear they were designed for a slightly different bike than ours. Arkel was super-good to work with and allowed me to return these even though it was far past the returnable date.

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Bike with panniers

I’m grateful for their outstanding customer service and would highly recommend them – but I wish I had selected waterproof bags. We carried rain covers for our bags which simply added bulk to our already tight storage and required us to stop when the rain would come. Even with the covers, our massive downpour going into Paris was enough to dampen the interior of our panniers from the wheel-facing side which wasn’t covered by the rain covers. If we could do it over we would chose the Orca or Dolphin panniers. Next to the bike, these are the biggest gear investment. It is worth getting it right.

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Panniers and rain covers

Inside our panniers we used Amazon-basics packing cubes. These were super useful for keeping our gear organized. They allowed us to completely unpack our panniers each night and repack them in the morning without creating a complete mess. Both of us used one cube per kit (which fit perfectly). In the evenings we’d change into our casual clothes, take out the next day’s kit, and put our dirty bike clothes into the cube we had just emptied. It was easy and efficient. 8 cubes fit perfectly into our large pannier. Each of our smaller panniers was used for miscellaneous items such as our casual shoes, coats, emergency bivy sacks, toilet paper, sunscreen, etc. Send me a note if you are interested in our complete packing list.

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Amazon Basics packing cubes

We’d do laundry about every four or five days. We’d always do it on a sightseeing day. Finding laundromats wasn’t a problem. We’d use the largest washer they had and wash everything possible all at once. I had brought a swimming suit (which I never used for swimming) which I would wear on laundry runs, allowing me to wash everything but the swimming suit and one shirt. I looked silly but it didn’t matter. Several of our Airbnb accommodations made a washer and dryer available, which we always took advantage of. In Europe, however, a “dryer” means a rack on which you can hang your clothes (except in the laundromats, where they had real dryers). Luckily these opportunities generally coincided with the sight-seeing days so we’d have extra time for the clothes to air-dry and most of our bike clothing was fast drying anyway. We had a little laundry line with clips that we could use to hang up our clothes in our room.

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Clothes drying on our clothes line in our bathroom

How did you handle eating? What about your vegan diet?

We knew going into this that we were going to have to be flexible with our diet. We didn’t ask about ingredients in things like bread and just ate them. When we had the chance to communicate with our host ahead of time we’d try to explain our diet, but often the language barrier confused people. We confuse people in English, so no surprise it was extra hard in non-native languages. When people would go out of their way to offer us something we would go out of our way to eat whatever it was. For the most part our eating entailed the following:

  1. Breakfast – if our hotel/B&B/Airbnb provided breakfast we’d eat most of the vegan options provided. We would often have breakfast snacks (fruit, breakfast bars, etc.) that we carried with us on our bike from town to town, and sometimes those made up a portion of our morning calories.
  2. Snacks on the bike – we had the trunk bag on the back rack of our bike which was dedicated to food and tried to keep it always full of snacks and fruit. We ate a lot of nuts – especially cashews we’d buy at Carrefour markets. Apples held up well, so there was always at least one or two apples in the trunk and sometimes an orange. Nectarines and peaches were on, but less durable – so when we bought them during our evening grocery run we’d eat them for dinner and breakfast. If one made it in the trunk it was often eaten before mid-day.
  3. Lunch – lunch was usually just a larger version of our normal snacks on the bike. We didn’t have a set time for lunch and we’d usually take lunch when we needed a slightly larger break. Although we didn’t purposefully avoid it, I don’t recall ever going into a restaurant for lunch. Lunch was generally on the side of the road somewhere except on our sightseeing days.
  4. Dinner – dinner was almost always accomplished by going shopping at a grocery store (more often Carrefour) when buying supplies for the next day. Many of our Airbnb accommodations provided us with the full house which included use of the kitchen. We would often buy a bag of salad, salad dressing (sometimes we’d carry some in our “fridge” between towns), and fruit. Several times we cooked pasta (our favorite was gnocchi) and pasta sauce. Occasionally we’d eat out, but I (Pete) was often too cheap to enjoy this. Because of our restricted diet, eating out often meant overpaying for a salad. Probably the best dinner was in Guignicourt with Jean-Réné and Nadya. We cooked a pasta dinner together with fresh vegetables and enjoyed a fun evening eating and talking at an outdoor table overlooking their farm and orchard. It was delightful.
  5. Hydration – we rode with 4 water bottles and one camelback and never ran out of stuff to drink. I was surprised that they didn’t have Gatorade, Powerade, or other sports drinks, which was probably for the better. We’d often buy one or two quart-size cartons of orange juice or mixed fruit juice on our evening shopping runs and have that at dinner and at breakfast. A few times we found almond milk – but it was always more than we needed for a single breakfast, so we’d use one of our water bottles to carry it between towns making it last for an extra day. We found one great use for our Camelbak – because it was full of water it was slightly cooler than the ambient air, so we would store a chocolate bar between the bladder and the sleeve. We called this our “fridge.” We didn’t have problems with melting chocolate.IMG_20170708_194723608

How did those fancy Patagonia Houdini coats and pants work out?

We paid a premium for these coats and pants because they were super light and super waterproof. It turns out they are only super light. On our ride to Paris we were both soaked to the skin. A few other days, in extended light rain, we were also soaked all the way through. In fairness to Patagonia, these are really light weight. Assuming they’d be fully waterproof was probably unrealistic. As we start gearing up for our next big ride we’ll be replacing the Houdinis with something else. A special kind of cheap indeed.

What was your favorite part of the trip?

We liked the whole thing – it is hard to pick a favorite thing, but if we had to identify the single best part of the trip it was simply being together. Sometimes people would jokingly ask us if we still liked each other after being together so much. Some would jokingly ask if our marriage could handle it. We laughed with them, as this was going to be the most time we’ve ever spent with each other. In the end we are pleased to report that the experience brought us together in a powerful way. This is probably the result of spending so much time together and having to work together both on navigating and powering our bike. The tandem helped a lot, as it kept us close and created the situation where we needed to work together. We had some funny friends who named their tandem “the divorce machine.” We would need to name ours the opposite.

 

How do you pack 3 weeks of stuff into 4 panniers?

Short answer: don’t bring a lot of stuff.

We each have 4 pairs of bike shorts, socks and exercise shirts.  We each have something nice we can wear to church. They have to serve double duty if we go out to eat somewhere nice. We each brought a puffy and a bivy sac, which we hope not to use – our plan is to stay in hotels, Airbnb, and normal bed and breakfasts. If we ride according to our plan, we won’t be sleeping under a park bench. (Fingers crossed.)

We are using bike shoes that have low profile clips, so they can be our normal day to day sightseeing shoes as well. We each have a pair of flimsy lightweight loafers we can use for nicer venues.

Toiletries are at a minimum. For the first time TSAs regulations were not the limiting factor.

The balance of our free space is filled with snacks and tools.

Laundry is going to happen along the way. We have a clothes line that we can string up on the back of our bike, in case we need to make it more obvious we are tourists.

We squeaked through check in at the airline with both bike boxes weighing 2 pounds under the 70 pound limit. That was without our large panniers in the boxes – those are going with us as carry ons. This is one heavy rig.

 

Schlepping this thing around

Many have asked us how we transport this awkwardly-sized bike.  That has been a bit of a journey in and of itself.

We started by taking it apart in the middle, folding it, and lugging it into the back of our truck. This had a few drawbacks. First, it wasted a little time before and after each ride. Second, it seemed to put stain on the cables that route below the frame. Third, it was a pain in the rear.

Then Eric came to visit. Whenever Eric is around everyone’s redneck game improves a bit. Nothing says “high class bike rack” like a few 2x4s. We drove to Lowe’s to buy the wood and couldn’t stop changing the design all along the way. It is a good thing we don’t live closer to each other. Our neighbor’s property value would be impacted.

This design was ok, but it was heavy and awkward – like our bike. When we would park the truck and take our bike out, we would have to leave a long board poking out the back. It didn’t fit with the yuppy biker vibe at the local trailhead. It did seem extra long for some reason. More of the board was outside the truck bed than was inside. It also was about an inch too high which would cause the redneck neck rests to hit the garage door when pulling in. But it worked.

Our latest iteration involved taking parts from two bike racks to create one. This approach leverages the trailer receiver hitch to lower the height of the bike, and by not having it sit on a 2×4 we lowered it even more. It is super easy to pull off and lock in the back of the truck while we ride and it seems to hold the bike in very securely. Unlike the previous two iterations, I can load the bike on my own with this design.

The final question is how do we get this thing on a plane. We think we are going to accomplish this by boxing it up per the airline’s specifications and then paying extra to bring it as checked luggage. I’m actually more perplexed about how to get it through the airline red tape than I am about riding it a thousand miles through unknown roads and countries.

We took the bike apart on Saturday and boxed it up, being careful to only use tools that are in our panniers as that is all we’ll have to put it back together when we land in Amsterdam. Once assembled we’ll recycle the bike boxes, ride for three weeks, then do it all in reverse. The airport in Amsterdam sells bike boxes, which saves us the trouble of spending our last day dumpster diving behind bike shops.

We are packed and ready to go – going big.

Redneck neckrest

Natalie wanted a neckrest. She needs one in Church too.  The bike has her laid back at an angle that requires exertion to hold her head up straight. Same problem in Church, just not so much… I started searching for something specifically made for a recumbent hard-shell seat. Most were over $100, some far over. Most didn’t look that great. I didn’t know if any of them would fit her seat. All would require me drilling holes in the seat. So I released my inner redneck:

Spatula ($5.99 at Smiths)

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Golf club covers ($22 for 4 on Amazon – and I was able to match the color to the bike… I have a few left over so I will check on mounting one in her pew at Church.)

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Super Velcro ($5.49 on Amazon for two small strips – slightly cheaper at Lowes.) This stuff isn’t velcro, but it is a similar concept, just far more robust. But $5 for about 4 inches? Sheesh.

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I finished the job with some foam padding from the garbage and some duct tape (to hold the foam in place under the golf club cover.)

Here is the finished product (total cost a little over $30.) We’ll see if it stays on…

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Finished product

Finding the right ride

Figuring out which bike to buy was difficult. Last summer we went on a few 100 mile rides (I’ll post an email describing one of them.) Although we had a few problems on each ride, we really enjoyed it. But I ran into a few problems. First, the pressure from my seat for extended periods of time was causing nerve damage and giving me prostate infections. I’ve tried several different seats, but I’m coming to the conclusion that I need to limit my rides to 2-3 hours. Second, my hands were going numb (tingling, not fully numb), and staying that way for several weeks. This may be carpel tunnel from my keyboard, rock climbing injuries, or a result of the pressure on my hands from the handlebars. Next, my lower back is somewhat fused, and I had one doctor tell me I should stop riding because it would cause damage above the part that was fusing (another doctor tells me it is fine.) And finally, Natalie and I ride at slightly different speeds. As long as we stick together she can leverage my draft to keep her speed up, but at times I lose track of where she is only to find we are separated by hundreds of yards. Also, as my pace pushes her limits, she is constantly working really hard to keep her speed, which isn’t mentally relaxing for her.

I don’t want to give up riding. I like biking too much. It has become a common hobby for us. So I started shopping for recumbents. I realize that these look strange, are uncommon, and have a stereo-typed rider of someone who is over-educated and under-exercised. But they address all of the physical issues I am dealing with on a bike. Unfortunately, the market for recumbents is small and there are no nearby dealers for the bikes I’m interested in buying. So at the end of summer I flew to Cincinnati for a recumbent bike convention so I could ride several of the bikes that were interesting to me.  My favorite bike at the show was the Cruz bike. It just felt good. It is the bike I eventually want to buy. However, it wouldn’t do anything to help with the speed difference problem. The other bike I really enjoyed was the Azub tandem. A tandem eliminates the speed difference problem but it creates a new problem – it will be slower. As I thought through my options I decided that speed isn’t the goal – physical exertion and exercise is. The tandem, lumbering along, will give us a chance to exercise together in the outdoors. Next question: which tandem?

There were only two options that appealed to me, both made in Europe. The Azub Twin that I rode in Cincinnati and the Nazca Quetzal, a bike built in the Netherlands.  They are similar in cost and size. I like the looks of the Azub with under-seat steering. Also, having a front shock might make the ride a little better for the person in the front (captain). I like how the Azub seats can adjust forward and back to accommodate different riders without having to change the chain length. I like the height of the feet for the person in the back (the stoker.) And finally, there was the possibility I could order it from a company in Utah which carries Azub’s other products (trikes.) Despite all of this, I chose the Nazca. Probably the biggest reason was the responsiveness of the co-owner, Monique. I’ve exchanged more than 80 emails with her over the last few months. She always responds and is always helpful. I didn’t have the same experience with Azub. (I met the president of Cruz bikes in Cincinnati and like Monique, he has been super responsive and helpful.) In addition to her responsiveness, Nazca’s tandem was preferred by people who had ridden both. It has the same size of wheels front and back, which simplifies things when packing for an extended ride. Finally, their attention to build quality appears to be exceptional. Nazca is a really small company. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is two owners and a part-time bike mechanic. The other owner, Henk, designs their bikes. They send their designs to a custom frame builder for fabrication and painting, and then build up the bikes in their shop. I wish our trip to the Netherlands would have allowed for a visit. Although I prefer the looks of under-seat steering, I think there are good arguments for the aero steer option on the Nazca – primarily due to its simplicity. I like simple. I also like the seating of the captain on Nazca’s bike – it is a little bit behind the front wheel, which seems like a more stable option.

I ordered the bike in the middle of November and have been anxiously awaiting its arrival ever since. I am writing this at the end of January and hoping to see the bike near the first of February. It was shipped a week ago and is now stuck in customs. The customs debacle deserves its own post. Wait for it.

Here is a picture of Henk putting the finishing touches on our new ride.wp-1485260309974.jpg