Stoker and I have begun riding in the hills again. For a variety of reasons (weather, travel, family medical issues) she and I have not been riding much, and when we did it was mostly from our house, which means there weren’t many hills to climb.
But we are going to ride a tandem in France in June, and Provence is not flat. We certainly will not attempt Mont Ventoux, but the rolling hills of Southern France require some preparation. So last Tuesday we headed for the hills.
We started with the Tuesday SBC ride from Wallace. This is a 41 mile loop with lots of little hills, totaling 3,200 feet of climbing. We did fine; we were the slowest bike but I expected that, and our average speed and riding time were quite acceptable. We both felt pretty relieved that we were still able to do this.
I did the Saturday club ride on my single bike (sans Stoker), and I felt very strong. So when we took the tandem to Ione on Sunday for a relatively easy ride up to Plymouth (only 2,000 feet of climbing) I expected a delightful day.
But the grades on Irish Hill Road, which are a bit too steep for tandem comfort, seemed even steeper. The gentle false flat on Old Sacramento Road seemed to go on a long time and we were riding it a lot slower than we should have. And the last one mile climb up to Plymouth was a trial. Stoker and I have done this hill many times, and when we are strong we do it in the middle ring, but today we needed our lowest gear and even that had me puffing very hard. When we finally got to the trailer park for a break I was sweating and a little dizzy and felt awful despite the perfect cool and sunny weather.
As I sipped my Gatorade I tried to figure out what might be wrong, Was I just tired from riding the day before? Was there some mechanical issue? I would never suggest this out loud (I want to stay married and not have to sell the tandem) but was Stoker perhaps not putting out much power? I spent the break a little discouraged and wishing the ride was over.
As we prepared to start back to Ione, I decided to check the wheels in case there might be a brake pad dragging or a bearing seizing or some such thing slowing us down. I thought it very unlikely since I hadn’t heard any noise indicating this was happening. The front wheel was fine, but when I gently spun the rear wheel it went around twice and stopped abruptly instead on continuing to rotate for the 30 seconds or so that it normally would.
Mystery solved! I swore a little under my breath, loosened the brake calipers a bit, and spun the wheel again. Rotation normal, drag gone. There are only a couple of hills on the return trip but we went up them much easier and it felt as if the bike had lost 10 lbs. That rear disc drag had really been a drag!
I have no idea how the drag started. Disc brakes seem notoriously difficult to adjust properly, and the difference between dragging and being too loose is quite small. I don’t really like our disc brake, but it is more powerful that a rim brake and also keeps the rim from overheating on a long descent, because the pads pull against a rotor and not the rim itself. Overheating rims are not a good thing; we once blew out a rear tire going down Rams Horn Grade before we got the disc brake.
Next time I feel like the bike is glued to the pavement, I’m going to stop and see if there might be some reason other than my own lack of power. And I’ll never even think we might be going slow because Stoker isn’t going strong. Remember, I want to stay married…