Wednesday, May 11, 2016

19: A delicate balance

Anyone who has ever ridden a bicycle understands that balance is a key component of success. You've got to keep the bike upright, which requires keeping your balance as you go forward. Your speed helps with this because the forward momentum tends to keep you rolling along without falling over.

There are quite a few components to balance when you are touring on a tandem. The obvious one I've just discussed: you don't want to fall over.  But there's more to it than that, especially with a loaded tandem. As you move more and more slowly uphill, keeping the bike upright requires a fair amount of strength. I am amazed daily how Roger manages this task. Together we weigh 350 pounds, our bike probably weighs 25 to 30, and our gear is somewhere between 70 to 80 pounds. So that is a lot of weight to keep upright at 2.4 miles an hour. Yet he manages to do it.  

Speaking of weight, the panniers on the bike need to be balanced also. This means front to back we want a reasonable distribution of weight, and from side to side we need to have roughly the same amount of weight on the bike. This is one reason that we tend to unpack and repack almost every day. You wouldn't necessarily think it, but what we're carrying seems to vary from day to day. For instance, do we have the solar panel balanced across the back of the packs, or are we carrying it inside one of the panniers? That extra couple of pounds can make a difference in the handling of the bike. You also want to put the weight as deep in the packs as you can. So that pretty much requires that you are going to be digging in there everyday, because it is not necessarily the case that the thing you want will be the lightest thing in the pack and therefore near the top! Thus the daily shuffle, in which Roger weight two items in his hands and then decides which side of the bike to place them in.

There is also something called the three-point balance, which cyclists who do longer distances will be very familiar with. This is the need to keep your own weight balanced between your hands, your feet and your butt. Most of the time, you want to have this reasonably aligned so that no one of these areas is carrying too much of your weight. You can adjust it a bit by changing the position you sit on the bike, raising your handlebars, adjusting your seat or just standing from time to time as you pedal. I tend to have problems with my hands, so my handlebars are high and allow me to sit almost upright. Roger's got some trouble with saddle sores, so he tends to keep the gears high in an effort to put more of his weight off his seat and onto his legs. Of course, he is so much stronger than I am that this usually means my legs start to hurt, and I asked him to shift the gears back down for awhile.

Which brings us to the other critical aspect of balance on a tandem: the need to balance the desires and requirements of both the captain and the stoker. Both cyclists on the bike are necessary for successful riding. We have different riding styles, strength, preferences as to gears, speed and level of excitement we can tolerate.  A successful tandem partnership requires that both parties give a little, and listen a lot!

Over the years that Roger and I have ridden our tandem, we have developed a mutual respect for each other's talents, skills, and preferences. I enjoy riding tandem and so does he.  In general, I think that we are well in balance and I suspect he'd say the same - but it takes work every day. Every single day!
My fantastic captain and our daughter, Dana. 

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