A few weeks ago, while moping around the house on pain killers missing out on some killer brevets and doubles, I got the idea stuck in my head to do a 600k.
Doctors didn’t clear me to ride an upright bike but they didn’t say anything about a recumbent … and I didn’t want to ask but I called and talk them through it. They were a little nervous about the whole arrangement. I asked my PTs and some seasoned cyclists and they were a little confused, but when I brought up the possibility of being in the back of a tandem recumbent trike, they started to get it.
On such a bike, I could sit back and pedal without putting any pressure on my shoulder. The fact that it was a trike reduced the risk of falling over. I asked around and Dana loaned me a Greenspeed demo bike so all I needed was a partner. The bike is amazing. It has so many S&S couplers and breaks down into 5 parts. IT has a quadruple ring on the front and a 9 speed on the back, so geared from 12 gear-inches to 112 gear-inches. It had White Industry hubs that spun independently of each other. The front of the bike had two disk breaks and the rear had a super powerful rear brake that was basically a parking brake. The retail on this bad-boy is $10k! As much as a car, it’s a big responsibility to care for it and pray it comes back in one piece.
Marcus Edvalson emailed me saying he never rode a tandem, trike, or recumbent bike. He also never did a 600k. But he has such an amazing attitude and is one of the nicest people you could ride with. I spend much of the LA River Ride century with him last year. Well… the River Ride was coming up the week before the Davis 600k so we decided that would be a good testing ground.
The ride was on Sunday so we got fitted for the bike on Saturday. Unlike a normal bike fitting, your leg length will impact the chain length. The bottle cages were placed awkwardly so we had to rig those with wire ties. We put a speedometer on the rear wheel which never worked well. Marcus is so tall we couldn’t fit him on the front of the bike without special extension tubing. So we put him on the back. I was super nervous about this because I wasn’t confident in steering. This was only 4 weeks after surgery! But Marcus was so enthusiastic, I was so eager, and the bike was totally rock-n-roll. We couldn’t turn back unless it was unbearably painful to ride.
After over an hour of measuring and wrenching we take the Greenspeed for a spin. I know it’s only been 5 weeks since my last bike ride, but the feeling was amazing. It was nice to get some fresh air, to move my legs, to explore new roads. We flew down the Chandler street bike path smiling all the way to the end. Everyone we passed wanted to talk about the bike. We were like celebrities. Marcus was designated spokesman because I was busy trying to re-learn how to shift gears. Riding a tandem, the rider in the back gets hit with a lot of surprises so I was super conscious of calling out every bump and gear change. It was overkill, I think.
After the hour ride, we felt ready for the century the next day. I went home, prepped the bike, and tried to get to bed early. Tried. I was so wired with the thrill of riding again I couldn’t sleep. I got maybe 3 hours. And that includes the amount of time I snoozed. When I woke up, I was already 5-10 minutes late in meeting up with Marcus. We made a plan B to meet at Griffith Park and ended up having time to spare.
The river ride is great for bike watching. Many vintage bikes riding by OG riders as well as hipsters. Very few tandems or bents, and we found instant comraderie with our fellow geeks. The whole ride Marcus and I joked about being converted from single speed and fixed gear bikes to becoming bent riders in just one year! And the ride brings out brevet riders, doubles riders, century riders, families, midnight ridazz, and many more people. It was like a reunion of sorts and very comforting to be recognized by so many riders out on the road and at the stops.
As for the actual riding portion of the ride, we started out strong. We were not in the front of the pack but close, and we had a blast passing geared bikes. On even slight descents, the weight of the bike would aid in accelerating us up to automobile speed. On flats we would both mash our gears and pursue other riders. As we accelerated, we could feel the bike flexing. Once we got onto the river path we set our speed and found ourselves rarely passing or being passed. We skipped several rest stops because brevet riding has taught us to break every 20-40 miles. We took our time at a few breaks and that contributed to our 8 1/4 hour finish (compared to our 6 1/4 hour finish last year).
We did our first break on the side of the road between Glendale and China Town, which helped as I struggled to hold down my banana. On an upright bike, we have the help of gravity to digest food. On a bent, I noticed that I needed to develop my digestive system, wait a bit before eating, and never overeat. It seems to be a lot more sensitive, or perhaps I have been a bit too reckless in the past. Not having the help of gravity was also noticeable as we rolled on. My quads had to work so much harder than normal, and my shins had to support my ankle instead of sit on top of my ankle. This was actually when I started thinking I could be a ‘bent rider, since there was no discomfort on my ankle or shoulder.
Honestly, it was a bit scary being so low relative to cars and I found myself in blindspots more often than I wanted to be. But the scary thing was turning the tandem. The turn radius is pretty good, but the front turns sharply and the back draws a new turn angle. So when you turn around a curve or pot hole, you have to make sure the turn is wide for you as well as the guy behind you. There were several close calls.
We picked up Marcus’s friend at the 40 mile point and rode the balance of the ride with him. The route was slightly different from last year and we went up the Rio Hondo a bit. On the way back, the sun started to beat on our exposed quads, allowing me to spend my next 3 weeks with soothing lotion and shedding skin. It was helpful to have odd-bike as it was always an easy way to entertain other riders. One driver pulled up to us and started singing, “Tag team back again …” As we reached the 80 mile point, we could see the neophytes starting to lag. We asked one rider how he was doing. His reply: “I’m good. Good. I. Guess.” We road with him to the end of the path and then crawled our way up to the finish.
Above I mentioned how we would fly on the descents. Well the climbs were the exact opposite. We could go as slow as we needed to, and we did. The slightest grade held us back and we lost ground to the people we were riding with.
In hindsight it was perhaps too ambitious to do the 600k on that bike. The Davis 600k on years with PBP tend follow a very challenging route. Marcus was starting to feel pain towards the end of the ride due to his recent hernia, and my butt was a little sore from the new riding position. I did ask around and found a few other people interested in doing the 600k with me, but most of them had less experience than my 9 hours. Even though I had an amazing time on the century learning to ride a new bike, I couldn’t subject others to the kind of suffering, the additional bike-fitting, the time off work, etc. related to trying to do the Davis brevet that Friday. That, and my alternate rider had issues and had to back down on the Thursday morning before the brevet.
One week after the river ride, I decided to cancel my plans to do PBP anytime soon. I am so grateful to have had this experience and I can’t thank Dana and Marcus enough for supporting my crazy ideas.
Now with no France plans, I’m seeking new crazy ideas for the summer. Thoughts?