As of last Thursday I was planning on racing my 29er singlespeed in the Sport SS class. Those plans got ass-ended when my friend Al suggested we race his tandem in the tandem mountain bike race. Our IM exchange went something like this:
Al: Me and you on a tandem.
Al: Not a 100% bad idea.
Al: More like a 82% bad idea.
Jeff: who rides rear?
Al: Hint: Not me.
Al: The bike is ride-worthy.... never been offroad.
Funny thought, just one problem - I've never ridden a tandem before, much less nutted up to race one. Once the laughter settled down we both realized we were actually considering it. How bad could it be? (bad). We had the right gear - Al's 90s-era Univega steel tandem with V-brakes, a rigid fork and tires that nobody was really sure how old they were.
I jetted over to Al's the night before I left town to try the tandem out. He had tuned it up as much as possible and thrown on some 31" wide titanium downhill/moto handlebars for stability. He would take Captain (front) and I, stoker (rear). I swung a leg over, clipped in and we took off. I was instantly out of my element. The bike leaned right and I instinctively turned the bars right to compensate, but the stoker handlebars don't move. So I fought the goddamn thing the entire ride around the block while Al tried to work on key words like "coast!", "bump!" and "dude what the fuck are you doing back there? Sit still!". Oh yeah, this was a good idea. We can't make it around the block but we're signing up to race 19 miles in the mountains. Good call guys. I loaded the Univega into my car and there was no turning back.
On Friday we met up at the Sea Otter venue for the pre-ride. It was a beautiful sunny day and the shiny red paint on the tandem invited us to give her a whirl. Here we are, me giving my Captain a nice warm-up shoulder rub. Nothing wrong with that amongst friends.
We made it about 2 miles or so into the ride and flatted the rear tire, stopping to inspect it in a patch of poison oak. Good times. We found that the tube had rotated and sliced the stem wide open. Swapped tubes and we were back on the singletrack to try and make sense of the senseless. After much bitching, "WTF'ing" and making constructive criticism, we arrived back at the venue in one piece. One big, tired, laughing-yet-cranky piece.
My alarm went off at 5:30am on Saturday morning. Race day! I opened the hotel room door to a black morning and drizzling rain. Cool. Now we'll add rain and mud to this mess. I got dressed in my special race-day kit (thanks Dave) and was out the door by 6am. The weather actually started to clear and the rain stopped. We were both sporting "big girl" sized pantyhose to keep warm. Another classy touch to this head-scratcher of an idea. The race started at 7:30am and at 7:25 we were in the men's room, me bitching at Al to pull his goddamn pants up and get on the goddamn bike. We raced to the starting line as the announcer counted down the tandem start. We forced our way through a barrier just in time to join the pack of 11 other teams on tandems, including Team Velo Bella and Curtis Inglis on his handmade Retrotec cruiser-tandem with 29" wheels and a 14 speed Rohloff rear hub. The beginner singlespeed class was lined up right behind us. I looked around to sum up our competition: People had shocks. People had matching kit. People had done this before. People.... "GO!" Jesus!
We sprinted around the Laguna Seca race track, taking it easy yet not getting dropped completely. Team Retrotec was gone off the front. Them boys can mash. We veered off the race track to hit the dirt. But the dirt never came. Instead the course had been mis-marked and all of the racers were routed to a road race course. So all that pent-up energy and adrenaline was now shot, as nobody knew which way to go. Fuck. The singlespeed class had now caught us and it was one big clusterfuck of confusion and frustration. We finally located the singletrack and it was Race On after bypassing much of the dirt start. Whatever. We settled in to our pace and started climbing with the singlespeeders. We held our own on the climbs and cleaned all but one steep uphill. I had learned that the best way to deal with sketchy, rutted, sandy downhills was not to deal with them. I simply looked at the back of Al's jersey and hoped for the best as his arms tugged the bars violently back and forth trying to keep the Univega upright. "Relax, bitch!" "I am relaxed, bitch!". Good stuff.
A few of the highlights were; passing another tandem on a singletrack climb ("on your left!"), dumping the bike into the brush after a sandy derailment and mashing the big ring to god knows how many MPH's on the smooth downhills. "Tandem up!". We started passing youngsters racing the junior class on the climbs and I'd offer a friendly "Pedal, pussies!" as we went by. The looks on their faces? Priceless.
We were getting lots of props from fellow racers and spectators alike. We had actually fooled people into thinking that we knew what we were doing. All we wanted wanted to do was finish, and not DFL (dead f'ing last). Between us and a respectable finish was a father/son team that must have had a nice big bowl of EPO for breakfast. "Dad" was setting a climbing pace that was crushing us. I'd yell at Al to pedal and he'd reply with "it's all I got". I was max'd as well. Humiliating thoughts of finishing behind a 9 year old clouded my concentration. It couldn't happen! We continued the good fight mile after mile and finally passed Mr. Mom and junior, putting a pretty good gap on them. Losers! HA! My self-esteem soared. Stupid 9 year olds...We gave them a nice parting shot of Team Mandem. Eat my hot pants, junior!
We bounced our way down to the finish line in a bristling 1:51. Good enough for 6th place out of 12. Not bad for total noobs! Prizes were awarded for Top 5, so we were one spot out of the podium. If we would have made the podium I would have cried like a baby. There's always next year... Shortly after we finished racing the skies absolutely opened up into an insane downpour and the wind gusted with wild force, blowing the rain sideways and taking booths and banners with it. Our pride was once again reduced a notch as we huddled in the shelter of a vendors trailer, wet and shivering in our pantyhose.