‘Dyeing’ on Credit…

I’m retired and for most of the year I can ride whenever I want with no pesky employment obligations getting in the way. But every fall I accept a seasonal job working for a walnut processor. When asked what I do, I could say that I create and manage the grower database, weigh trucks, draw samples, do moisture tests, and build a pricing model for the crop. My friends shorten this to ‘he counts nuts’, and they are not far off.

Fall Foliage in the Lodi Appellation

There are lots of nuts to count, more each year for the 10 years I have been at this. I really like doing the job, but while it only lasts for a month and a half, it does require 6 to 7 days each week and 9 to 11 hours a day for much of the season. So I don’t really have a chance to do club rides, or ride with Stoker on our tandem either. The best I can do is an occasional 60 to 90 minute flat ride right from my house after work. When things really get busy I have to resort to an indoor trainer at 5 am. I do 30 minutes and think of it as cycling purgatory; it is something I have to do to retain at least some of my cycling fitness before I am admitted to the Paradise of the road again.

Today was my first day completely off work in a good long while, and Stoker and I spent a large part of it on a ride together. We haven’t done much tandem riding since mid August. We were apart for 26 days on separate European trips, mine cycling and hers not. As soon as I got back I started counting nuts, and being busy with that made tandem timing difficult. But today we got back on, and we had a delightful 40 mile spin. We looped around Lodi admiring the fall foliage in the vineyards. The colors aren’t up to New England or the aspens in the Sierras and Rockies, but you can’t make wine from birch or maple or oak trees either.

The weather was perfect; sunny and cool with almost no wind. We rode 30 miles and stopped to split a turkey sandwich and a Pelligrino at Panera in Lodi. We were feeling good and enjoying the day. At West Lane and Harney we rode past a small shopping center, and two of the tenants are a ‘vape’ store and a tattoo parlor.  Neither of these establishments is likely to see Stoker or me pass through their entrance doors.

On a bike you notice things that fly past in an automobile. I noticed the tattoo establishment sported a sign offering “No Money Down Tattoos!”, with “Financing Available”. For some reason I found the idea that someone would go into debt to have needles coated with dye stuck into their skin to be very entertaining. When I told Stoker what the sign said she laughed out loud. We paid cash for our cars (some of which were nothing special), borrowed as little as possible to build our house and paid it off asap, and NEVER paid any interest on credit cards or consumer loans.  Our motto was if we couldn’t pay cash we couldn’t afford it. So the idea of a tattoo on credit is going to give us the giggles.

I cannot help but wonder; what is the interest rate on tattoo loans? Do tattoos depreciate like cars or hold value like houses (2009 to 2012 excepted)? Are there short-term loans for a long-term body modification? What about collateral? Like Shylock, could the lender ask the borrower to put up ‘ a pound of flesh’ ? Can tattoos be repossessed?

And I never would have seen the sign if we hadn’t been cycling. A two-wheeled world view can give an entirely different perspective.


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Menu Cycliste

The English language, according to ‘Global Language Monitor’, has over 1 million words. And yet we need to borrow words from French, and sometimes change their meaning in the process.

Goat Cheese Salad: an Entree

One example: in France an ‘entree‘ is a first course of a meal. In the US, it refers to the main course. And we use the term ‘menu’ for the printed list of choices at a restaurant. In France this is called a ‘carte‘. Menu means something much different.  On the carte at most French restaurants, you will find a fixed price meal that is called a menu. This consists of a first course (entree), a main course (plat) and dessert (dessert). There are usually choices for each course, and the price is the same regardless of what you select. Some restaurants have 2, or sometimes even 3, different menus at different prices.

Here is an example: A 25 Euro menu might offer 3 entree choices: goat cheese salad, escargot, or pate. The main course choices could be duck breast, chicken in wine sauce, or grilled salmon. And dessert might offer a tart, a cake, ice cream, chocolate mousse, or a fruit plate. Dinner is usually three courses, sometimes 4 with the addition of a cheese course after the plat. Coffee usually is ordered after the dessert course, not with it. If 25 Euros ($29) seems pricey, remember that prices on the carte in France include tax and tip.

My Plat Choice: Duck Breast

Ordering a menu from the carte is usually a good value, and the multiple courses insure a relaxed pace to the meal. Coming from the US we might call this ‘slow service’ and get irritated that dinner is taking 90 minutes or more. But in France slow paced meals are the norm, and once one gets used to the tempo it is delightful. You learn to sip wine and eat slowly and savor. With luck you have some amiable companions to chat with or a lovely Stoker to stare at, or both.

After climbing the giant Col du Galibier via the not insignificant Col de Telegraphe, our hungry tour group descended to the Col du Lautaret for lunch. The restaurant there is patronized by many cyclists, so much so that the carte features a menu cycliste!  This was a two course affair; the entree was an excellent tomato soup, and the plat was a huge portion of spaghetti bolognese.  So huge that  only one of the five of us who ordered it could finish the pasta completely. Talk about carbo loading! Dessert wasn’t part of the menu cycliste but could be ordered a la carte, which none of us did since the pasta had more than refueled us.

If spaghetti bolognese seems to be strange fare for a French cafe, bear in mind that we were only a couple of clicks away from Italy: we actually rode our bikes across the border twice the previous day. No passport control necessary.

Menus and entrees and plats and even desserts (which I very rarely consume at home) are a delightful part of cycling in France. I’m not sure if I enjoy the cycling or the eating more, and I’m glad I get to do both. Pretty much guilt free too: climbing those big Cols really burns the off the menu.

Dessert in Both Languages



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Tires and Tubes and Trouble

In my last post I alluded to a series of unfortunate events that resulted in me sagging twice in the van; first on a long descent and later for nearly an entire day. Here is the tale.

On our 3rd day of riding, we started out by climbing the Col d’ Izoard, and on the descent I heard a ‘pop’ and a ‘hiss’ and my rear tire went completely flat. Quickly. Since I was going about 35 mph and the road was pointing downhill at about 10%, this was a revolting development. But I was able to slow and stop safely. Thank the prayer candles.

Col d' Izoard Summit, Just Before My Tire Troubles Began

Now to understand what happens next, you need to know that I was using ‘road tubeless’ wheels and tires. This system works just like a car tire. There is no inner tube. The beads of the tire snap into the rim as the tire inflates, producing a virtually air tight seal. Then a small amount of liquid sealant is added inside the tire, which completely seals the rim and offers protection against small punctures. The system works really well. In 5 years and about 10,000 miles of riding road tubeless, I have never had to fix a flat during a ride. In fact, one time I did get a small puncture and sealant came shooting out of the hole, but after a couple of rotations it stopped and I had plenty of pressure to complete the ride.

I examined the tire and expected to see a major puncture, but the tread was perfect and there was no hint of a hole. The bead also appeared intact. I couldn’t figure out what had happened.

So for the first time on the road, I executed the tubeless fix: I put a tube inside, pumped up the tire and heard the satisfying ‘pop’ as the pressure seated the bead into the rim, reinstalled the wheel and went on my merry way. Actually not so merry; the next climb was the Col de Vars, just as hard as the more famous Izoard. But I made it up and down and then up the ‘Col de Hotel’ to our accommodations in Barcelonnette. This latter Col deserves some mention; it was advertised by our guides as being about 4% and about a mile long. It turned out to be 2 miles and averaging 8%, and for most of it my Garmin showed 9%-11%. At the end of a long day (64 miles, 8,400 feet) there were a few good natured grumbles at the lack of accurate information about how we getting to our showers. But we finally arrived without falling over.

The next day we climbed the Cime de la Bonnette, 9,200 feet at the top and the highest through road in France. The climb is 15 miles long and ascends over 5,000 feet. And on the descent my rear tire blew out AGAIN! This time I was going a little slower because the road was twisty, but it was still nerve wracking. And this time I simply couldn’t remove the tire, probably because there was a tube inside taking up space I needed to work the bead off of the rim. The van had already passed me, but our guide  Gerry was on his bike trailing the group. He stopped we ascertained that we weren’t going to be able to fix the problem on the road. There was no cell phone coverage to contact the van, so Gerry rode down to the next regroup point and then sent the van back to pick me up.

It turned out that my friend Russ also had some tire issues on the descent, so he ended up in the van with me and neither of us got to do the Col de Hotel on the return trip, We took some ribbing from the others about that.

After lunch, I actually had to use a knife to cut the tire off of the rim. I assumed that there had to be a small cut I couldn’t see, and the tube eventually worked its way into the cut and then popped. I have had this problem before with a standard tire/tube set up, and only discovered the cut under good light wearing my good glasses. I purchased a spare tire from my guides, put in a tube, pumped it up and put the bike into the storage room.

That night, before we went to dinner, the tire was FLAT! This was becoming a fiasco. I assumed that I had pulled the bonehead move of pinching the tube between the tire and the rim. After dinner we fixed it again. The next morning the tire seemed fine, and of course as I descended the Col de Hotel, I had ANOTHER BLOW OUT. That makes 3, all downhill.

Tires and tubes do not fail this way unless something is wrong, and I finally determined the culprit; the rim tape had failed. Tubeless wheels use special tape that creates an airtight seal between the tire and the spoke holes. Failed tape would explain the initial tubeless blowout as well as the subsequent flats, as the tube worked its way under pressure into the spoke holes and eventually went pop.

Even though we identified the cause, the solution was not so simple. We didn’t have any spare rim tape. We tried black electrical tape, which worked for the rest of that day, so I got to do the lovely Col de la Cayolle and the less lovely Col du Valberg. My Garmin displayed a temperature of 102 degrees on this one, and I literally crawled up well behind the others. I even stopped twice, and not because of cramps. I almost never do that, but I was really suffering.

The next day heading down from Valberg, I hit a small invisible stone, and when we stopped and I looked at my tire I saw the tube bulging out of a small hole. So I almost had another blowout. This was terrible luck. I finally had a tire/tube/tape combination that seemed to be working and now I have to disturb the equilibrium because of a cut in the sidewall.  I changed the tire with another spare from the van, but it the process I must have shifted the tape, because after descending another 2 miles I got yet another flat.  John and I tried to fix it, but we were in a hurry and we pinched the tube. That was it, I gave up and got into the van.

France is cycling crazy and one might think there would be a bike shop with rim tape in Valberg, but there wasn’t. I was completely out of ideas. We had one more day of the tour and I didn’t want to spend it in the van. Our guide John offered to load me his rear wheel. I told him I didn’t think it would work. It was a 10 speed hub and cassette, and my levers and cassette ‘go to 11′, just like the guitar amp in Spinal Tap. But we put his wheel on my bike, and it did shift. Sort of. Sometimes I had to click twice to change the gear, or shift up, then down to get rid of some rattling, or sometimes I would hit the lever and nothing would happen until I hit it again. However, I actually could get into all the gears, so even though it might be a little noisy I could ride the last day.

11 Speed Levers and a 10 Speed Cassette Got Me to the Med!

Ride we did, 82 miles and 5,000 feet of climbing and finishing with a long descent into Nice, through dense and chaotic traffic and roundabouts and along the Promenade beside the blue Mediterranean Sea to our final night’s hotel. After a shower and a very nice dinner and some wine I started to feel relaxed enough to put my tire trouble tension aside. The trip home the next day went smoothly even though it took over 23 hours from the time I left the hotel until I arrived home to my very excited dog Luke.

I can’t blame candle failure for mechanicals, and as long as my skin and bones are intact they are doing their job and keeping me safe. So next time I travel I’m going to include some rim tape in my small kit of handy tools and spare parts, to give the prayer candles some help with the minor stuff.

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Candle Power

I have just returned from a spectacular week of cycling in the French Alps. Six riders, all friends with Stockton Bike Club connections, hooked up with the touring company 44 | 5. The roads, food, accommodations and social ambiance were all first rate; we had a terrific trip. Allow me one shameless plug: if you are considering cycling in France you should check out 44 |5 . 

This is the first blog post about my adventure in the Alps

When I am cycling in Europe, I regularly go into a cathedral to light a prayer candle for safe cycling. I have absolutely no conviction that this habit I have formed contributes anything to keeping me out of harm’s way, but I also can’t prove that it doesn’t. For some reason it makes me feel  awed and reverent to be an a very old and beautiful church, dim and quiet, with art on the walls and light shining through the stained glass windows high above me. I drop a Euro or two into the box, take a candle (sometimes two, one for Stoker and one for me) and light it and put in on the rack next to the other supplications. I don’t ask for good legs or good weather or to be fast up the mountain. I only ask for safe cycling for Stoker and me. To protect us from the dangers of the road.

The Briancon Candle (top): Help Down the Izoard?

So far it has worked. In May Stoker and I fell (our first crash) riding our tandem across some wet tram tracks. Our bodies and the bike were both unharmed; we continued the ride without incident. The day before this Stoker did the lighting honors in a cathedral next to the Mediterranean. We kept the habit throughout the trip. And on the second night of my recent tour I went into a cathedral in Briancon and dropped a 2 Euro coin into the box for a 1 Euro candle in hopes of a little extra mojo.

The next day we climbed the Col du Telegraphe and the Col du Galibier. These famous climbs are used regularly in the Tour de France, and they are quite long and hard. The ride was only 47 miles, but featured over 7,000 feet of climbing. I felt really good and pretty strong on the Telegraphe. But on the Galibier, I got some bad leg cramps, despite drinking plenty of water and taking electrolyte tablets. I often have issues with cramps on longer rides, and I was really struggling. I even had to stop twice in great pain, afraid to move and cause another muscle to seize up. I eventually made it to the top, and on the descent the cramps went away and didn’t return for the rest of the trip. I can’t blame ‘candle failure’. Remember I don’t ask for ‘good legs’, and on this particular climb I had some of the worst legs possible.

The next day, at the top of the Col d’ Izoard (which my fellow rider Scott kept referring to as ‘the lizard’) our guide Gerry warned us that there was a really steep section on the descent and that we should be careful since it went through a village. I’m always careful (and slow) on the downhills, but slow is relative. As I exited the village down a straight road dropping at about a 10% pitch I was probably doing  about 35 mph. I heard a ‘pop’ and the a ‘hiss’ and my rear tire lost pressure. Quickly. Like ‘explosive decompression’ quickly.

This kind of thing can cause a pretty disastrous crash, but I was able to bring the bike to a safe stop and dismount without incident. ‘Candle Power?’ I can’t prove it wasn’t.

The flat set off a chain of unfortunate events that lead to a series of other tire troubles which caused me to have to sag one long descent and miss one entire day riding in the van, but that is a long story for another time. For now I will only say that I finished the trip safe and sound, so the candles haven’t let me down yet.


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Multiple Mechanicals

Perhaps the moon and stars are misaligned. Or maybe our bikes are just getting tired from being ridden so many miles (I just passed 6,000 for the year.) Whatever the cause, recent club rides are being affected by ‘mechanicals’. This is a cyclist’s term for a problem with a bike that occurs during a ride. And my friends are having quite a few lately.

Ten days ago I was doing Mount Hamilton, a very long ride on a very hot day. Sean managed to have 4 flat tires, each causing a delay. 4 flats on a single ride is more than bad luck; it usually means there are underlying issues with the tire or the rim tape or some other gremlin. We finished the ride over 1 1/2 hours later than I expected, and since it was about 102 degrees that afternoon the flats contributed to an excellent day of hot weather training.

A week later on Saturday’s club ride, I’m at the back of the group climbing Sutter Ione Road, riding pretty easily with two friends, when we come up on Jeff, who has stopped by the road with a broken chain. Broken chains are rare, but Jeff is a big strong guy. He didn’t have a chain tool or a master link or connecting pin needed to fix it. Russ gave him the link but didn’t have the tool. Since I did (and the connecting pin too), I stopped to fix the chain. But Don H, thinking nobody had the necessary tool, had already turned around to ride back to Ione, about 8 miles, to get his car and rescue Jeff and his bike. When his bike was fixed Jeff also backtracked to tell Don H no rescue was necessary.

After this there was considerable confusion regarding who was riding where. Cell phone coverage in the foothills is spotty, and various attempts at text messages and phone calls didn’t get through, so 4 of us backtracked from Volcano on the last reported route we expected to see Jeff and Don riding. But they had modified their plan, as we learned when we got to Sutter Creek where my phone did work. No big deal: I did the ride I wanted, it just took an hour more than I expected.

Time for a New Tire

Then yesterday Rider B topped them both. I’m keeping him anonymous.Rider B is a good friend. He is also a very competent bicycle mechanic. So I was surprised that his bike was having shifting issues. But apparently something was really wrong and his chain jammed in the front derailleur and Rider B fell. He was not seriously injured but his knee was scraped. And his rear derailleur hanger was bent, which didn’t help the shifting.

One might think Rider B had enough bad luck for one day. But about 5 miles from the finish he ran over a sharp screw or nail and punctured his tire. The hole was huge, requiring a ‘boot’. This is a thin piece of rubber we place inside the tire to protect the new tube and keep it from bulging out of the hole. Roadside repairs are always a bit tricky. On the first attempt, the boot slipped and the inner tube started to bulge out. So Rider B had to deflate the tube and try again. He was probably in a hurry and a little flustered. He inflated the tire with another CO2 cartridge, but the new tube exploded with a loud bang! Bad tube or bad tire or bad technique? We’ve all done this, and it is incredibly frustrating.

I told Rider B I would ride to the finish and get my car and drive back to pick him up. But as I was riding, Don H was already driving his car back to check on the stragglers. And both our efforts were unnecessary. Gary provided Rider B another CO2 cartridge (#3) and another tube (#2). The third time really was a charm; Rider B was able to ride to the finish. This time the total delay was only about 20 minutes.

I had my own major mechanical back in March when my rear derailleur hanger broke. I was luckier than Rider B: I didn’t fall (pure luck) and I was about 200 yards from my house (even more luck). I’m going to keep lighting those prayer candles.


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Detective Story Update

Last Sunday I wrote about the irritating noise the CoMotion Tandem was making and my efforts to use my brain and my knowledge of bicycle mechanics (which is not extensive, but also not non-existent) to deduce the culprit and take steps to make sure it didn’t offend again. Recall I had used the ‘little grey cells’ along with some experimentation to deduce the criminal as Stoker’s saddle.

Tri Flo Fix Pardons Stoker's Saddle

After the ride I took remedial measures. I checked the bolts which clamp the saddle rails to the seat post and the bolt that clamps the seat post to the frame. They were tight. So I sprayed my lube of choice, Tri Flo, on the rails and into spaces where the rails are joined to the saddle’s shell. Everyone who works on their own bike has a favorite ‘personal lubricant’, and for this type of application Tri Flo is mine. Your results may differ.

I really didn’t have much hope that this would cure the problem. I expected the noise to continue because, after 8 years and over 20,000 miles of keeping Stoker comfortable, I assumed the saddle was simply worn out. But I wouldn’t know for sure until we went for another ride.

Which we did on Sunday morning. And the noise was gone! The bike was completely and delightfully silent. Stoker can keep her saddle and we can save around $120 we would spend on a replacement. Not to mention the inevitable break-in period. Stoker might not like the replacement, and if Stoker isn’t happy, then Rich isn’t happy. And, at least where our cycling is concerned, if Stoker isn’t happy it’s my fault.

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(un) Truth in Advertising

About 17 miles from the end of the ride, as I was laboring on yet another 1/2 mile of 11% uphill pavement, I was startled by a black bear that emerged from the forest and lumbered across the road, about 100 yards in front of me. The bear moved considerably faster than my 4.2 mph pace and seemed uninterested in a cyclist. Good thing; I certainly wasn’t going to be able to outrun the creature at the speed I was going.

Steve's Detailed Map: Not as Advertised!

When my good friend Steve F suggested we drive to Sly Park to ride some new roads, I was amiable to the suggestion. Our friends Walt and Bennie joined us. The plan was to do the first 10 miles of Mormon Emigrant Trail, a paved road that joins Sly Park with Highway 88. Then we would ride on ‘North South Road’, which runs about 25 miles through almost completely deserted forest (except for the bears)  before it ends at Omo Ranch Road, only 1 mile from Highway 88. We would go to Cooks’ Station for lunch, then head back to the cars on what were supposed to be ‘mostly downhill’ roads.

None of us had ever ridden North South Road, but Steve had scouted it out in his car, and he took extensive, handwritten notes (see above). He reckoned the entire ride was about 74 miles, with ‘about 5,ooo feet’ of climbing. He even described it as ‘rolling’ which is term we reserve for rides where there isn’t really a lot of hard uphill. He should be sued for false advertising.

When we got to Cooks Station for lunch, my Garmin already showed 5,300 feet of climbing. And I did a little calculation using our current elevation and starting elevation and determined that we were looking at over 4,000 feet of up on the way back, all on the 25 miles of North South Road. I’ve only done more than 9,000 feet on a ride a handful of times, and if I was going to get back to the car I would have to do so again.

On the return ride, my Garmin kept me well informed of how steep the road was. There were 1 mile stretches over 11%. Several of them. One especially memorable segment came on the next to last hill, when 11% became 12%, then 13%, and finally 14% for what seemed like a very long time. Although as slowly as I was going it probably wasn’t even 1/10 of a mile.

Finally we reached the intersection with Mormon Emigrant, and it really is all downhill from there, so even though we were exhausted we were able to coast back to the cars, arriving about 1 1/2 hours later than we had anticipated. It was an epic ride, and I’m glad we did it. I’ll probably go back; the pavement is pretty good, there are almost no cars, and the forest is very pretty. But next time Steve suggests a ride I haven’t done, I’m going to check the route myself, so I’ll know what I’m in for.


The Ride Profile: Climbs Not to Scale


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Detective Story

As Stoker and I were pedaling about 5 miles from home at the start of our Sunday jaunt to Clements, our CoMotion tandem started to make a very irritating noise. I would describe the sound as something between a scrape and a click. And it was driving me crazy.

People who know me and my bikes know that I have some very nice equipment and that I keep that equipment well maintained and in good repair. My bikes show up for rides clean and well lubricated and correctly adjusted, and are thus very quiet on the road.  They also know that any noise that does occur is going to be dealt with quickly and severely.

Guilty as Charged!

During the ride there wasn’t much I could do except try to play detective. First clue: the noise only occurred when we were pedaling. That meant the trouble was almost certainly in the drive train and not something like brake pads rubbing, which would occur when we were coasting. The drive train on a tandem consists of two sets of pedals, two cranks, two sets of bottom bracket bearings, a timing belt (or chain; we have the belt), a drive chain, front chain rings, a rear cassette, a free hub, a front derailleur, and a rear derailleur. Lots of moving parts and enough suspects for an Agatha Christie novel. Where is Poirot when I need him?

When we stopped to stretch I wiped off the drive belt and checked the front derailleur to see if it was rubbing. No change. I wondered about the drive chain, but it is fairly new and well lubricated. I considered the bottom brackets to be a possible culprit, but there was no way to test that on the road.

We could, however, determine if the pedals were the problem. I unclipped one foot and we pedaled a bit; the noise continued. Try the other foot, then both of Stoker’s feet (one at a time!), and the noise remained. Pedals eliminated as suspects.

When we got to little rolling hills on Brandt Road, we got a big clue. Stoker and I both got up out of our saddles to power up a short pitch, and the noise stopped. When we sat back down it started again. This was such an important clue that I missed the significance of it for a while. I did think it odd that when we put more pressure on the drive train, the noise went away. I would have expected it to get louder.

Stoker suggested the issue might be her new seat bag, which is under my seat and which I had totally forgotten about. She keeps her personal supplies in there, and I don’t ask. But when we removed the bag and pedaled without it the noise was still there. Innocent! Stoker can keep her goody bag.

This idea lead me to remove the rear seat bag, which holds the tools I need to fix a flat or deal with a minor mechanical problem, thinking that maybe that bag was moving while Stoker pedaled. Nope, another Innocent!

Finally I had an inspiration: maybe it was the saddle! Or rather, one of the two saddles. I told Stoker to stay seated; I was going to stand up and pedal a bit to see if my saddle was creaking.  This did not go smoothly; Stoker is very good at standing up at the same time I do, but when I stood up with her still seated things felt unstable to her and she tried to steer, which caused me to sit down with alacrity. I wasn’t up long enough to tell if my saddle was guilty or not; I was too busy trying not to crash.

But then I asked Stoker to stand and pedal while I remained seated, and voila! The noise stopped as soon as she got up, and started as soon as she sat down. Case closed: her saddle was the culprit. Saddles do wear out and get loose where the shell attaches to the rails. Sometimes some lubrication is enough to quiet things down, and sometimes the only cure is a new saddle. We are trying the lube but I suspect a new saddle is in Stoker’s future. This one has been keeping her company for about 8 years and 20,000 miles, so it might be time for retirement.

I’m just glad the mystery is solved and the fix is so simple. I could have spent a lot of money replacing the possible villains, while the real crook was sitting pretty. I’m pretty sure the saddle would be one of the last places a bike shop would look, and unless two people were doing the test ride they wouldn’t even hear the problem. So a little amateur sleuthing put matters to right and saved me a little cash and a lot of frustration.


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A Near-Death Experience

As we enjoyed a much-deserved post-ride lunch with some much-needed dry rose wine, I noticed Stoker was eating with more enthusiasm than usual . She had ordered a croque monsieur that came with fries. Normally I would expect her to eat about half of what was delivered, but as I finished my salade nicoise I noticed her plate was almost empty. I remarked that she must be enjoying her lunch. She kind of chuckled and said  ”I guess having a near-death experience is good for the appetite”.

A Prayer Candle the Day Before the Fall: Couldn't Hurt!

It was also good for her wit. Earlier as we left our hotel to go to lunch, we observed a large demonstration blocking a main street, with protesters chanting and waving large red flags. They appeared headed for the Plais du Justice and since our lunch spot was on a quiet square well away from the action we promptly forgot about it. But as we sipped our rose and contemplated dessert and coffee options, Stoker noticed a couple of red flags propped against a table a few yards away. She observed that no matter how agitated the seekers of social justice are in France, their priorities still  include stopping for a two-hour lunch. I laughed out loud at her cleverness.

Oh yes, that near-death experience. Perhaps this is a bit of an over statement, but the outcome could have been much worse. For the first time in our tandem career, we had a crash. Or rather, I crashed, and poor Stoker couldn’t do anything about it.

The cause is a common one: Trying to cross tram tracks. We were riding along trying to get our Modestine out of Montpellier morning traffic and into the countryside. I was following our guide on a street with tram tracks running parallel to our direction of travel. Our guide moved to the left across one set of tracks, intending to make a left turn onto an intersecting street. I tried to follow him.

I know such tracks are dangerous. I know that I need to get my front wheel at least at a 45 degree angle, which was impossible given how much room I had.  I had safely made the same move across the tracks the previous afternoon, so I tried it again. But I didn’t anticipate that the overnight rains would have left the metal wet and slick as ice. The morning was sunny and the street was fairly dry, but as soon as we hit the track the wheel slid out and we hit the ground.

My cleats released and I was up and on my feet almost instantly. but poor Stoker had one shoe still clipped in with the bike on top of her. What happened next is a little fuzzy. I know I held the bike off of her and she got unclipped and upright. I know we moved to the sidewalk and out of traffic. I don’t remember this, but Stoker says that a very concerned woman came into the street and took her arm and asked if she was ok, in French I suppose. I picked up a bidon and slammed it against the seat of the bike and then slammed it onto the pavement in frustration. I could not believe I had been so careless and incompetent.

As we calmed down a bit we took stock. I was completely unhurt. Stoker had a tiny scrape on her knee that was oozing a tiny amount of blood. Later we would notice a fairly large bruise near her knee that she claimed didn’t hurt. But we were extremely lucky. Nothing broken, almost nothing bleeding, no road rash, even the bike was undamaged.

Remember a couple of days earlier we got into the habit of going into cathedrals and lighting prayer candles for safe cycling? You can bet that is one habit we continued for the rest of the trip. I’m not saying it was a factor in minimizing the consequences, but I can’t prove it didn’t help keep us safe.

We actually went on to do the day’s ride, although I was extremely nervous and uneasy the entire time. But Stoker seemed to take it pretty much in stride, and it certainly didn’t affect her sense of humor. “Two-hour lunch” indeed!


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Last Tandem before Paris…

Reports about our last two tandem rides.


Today we got back on our bike for a short and hilly ride. 30.5 miles and 2700 feet of up and down. There were some steep parts in the 8-10% range for about 1/2 mile.

Rolling through Provence

We had another beautiful route on mostly quiet or even deserted roads. I think Diane and I both felt a little sluggish at the start, although the fact that we were climbing for most of the first 10 miles, and riding into the wind too, might have contributed to our heavy legs. But as the miles went by we started to feel a little stronger.

We had coffee at around mile 18, then after a little more climbing,  including a long 8% grade,  we finished with some delightful downhill and downwind roads. There was a stretch of an old train line converted to pavement along a beautiful river that was downhill at 2%, and downwind, and deserted. Modestine rolled along at 20 mph without any pedaling from her people, all three of enjoying the free ride that went on for about 3 miles.

Then lunch, of course. Salads and plats for the guys and a main course foie gras salad for Diane. We all had dessert too. And 500 ml of rose split 4 ways, a very moderate amount of wine.

After lunch we are resting. Later I’m going to walk to the cathedral again and light another prayer candle for safe cycling.

Tomorrow is our last tandem ride, a return to the Gorge de la Nesque. Last year we had some terrible cold and drenching wet weather there on our return descent, and we were unprepared and under dressed for the conditions. This year we are hoping for better luck. Maybe the prayer candles can help with that.


We saved the ride with the most climbing for last. But it wasn’t the hardest ride; the winds were gentle and the gradients mostly not too steep. 41.4 miles and 3200 feet of climbing.

Gorges de la Nesque Overlook: Fantastic Photo Op!

This loop along the Gorges de la Nesque is probably the most beautiful ride we’ve done in France,  which is saying something. We did part of it last year, but John found a way to turn it into a fantastic loop. A long gentle climb along the Gorges, then a drop before a steeper climb to well above the previous summit. We even had a view of the Gorges overlook from well above it at the second summit. Then a long 10 mile downhill that required no pedaling but plenty of braking for 90 to 180 degree turns.

Then a final climb up to a village on a hill and a delightful lunch with an amazing view.

We rode for over 3 hours before the lunch break, and while we did stop for photos and to admire views, that is a long time to ride on just water.  But while everyone else was ready to enjoy lunch, I wasn’t sure I was.

Lunch with a View

At 2 am the previous night I woke up with stomach trouble. It continued when I got up and after breakfast, which I had picked at, eating as much as I could, which wasn’t much. I wasn’t feeling great although I was riding ok, but it was a struggle.

So I approached lunch tentatively.  I ate slowly and without any great appetite, but everything tasted ok and stayed where it was supposed to. I still feel a little off but considerably improved.  I’m hoping I’ll be fine tomorrow.

I have some time to recover. Tomorrow we are not riding. After a transfer Diane and I will stop at the Nimes train station,  and I’ll see her off to Paris at 10:45. Then I’ll walk 15 minutes to the hotel where John will have left my bags. Jack and I will spend Saturday relaxing. On Sunday we go to Girona Spain for 4 days of riding.

Goodbye Modestine!

At the end of today’s ride we returned Modestine to the shop that rents her. We said goodbye again, out loud. I don’t know if we will ever ride her again,  but it might happen. Cycling in France is magical enough to make us want to come back.

Final tandem totals :

11 rides, 411 miles, 24,307 feet of climbing

Too many great views, charming villages, delicious meals and wonderful roads to count.

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    Rich Freggiaro

    Richard Freggiaro is a Stockton area native who grew up on his family’s farm. After an nine year detour to Davis for College, Washington DC for work, and Iowa for graduate school, he returned to San Joaquin County and spent the next quarter century farming with his father. He has been married to Diane for 31 years. He is (mostly) retired which leaves him plenty of time to ride each of his 4 bikes, and he is an enthusiastic and passionate cyclist. Read Full
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