Of course Cambridge-based Circe were happy to loan me a tandem and we ended up taking their prototype 26″ wheel Helios to Brands Hatch.
Another great thing that came out of Cambridge was my co-rider, also known as a ‘stoker’, although I often just call him Ian (and hope he didn’t hear what I muttered under my breath nearly 200 miles in). And I couldn’t have done it without him. Not just literally, but also because his badgering in the pits to get going again meant that we stopped for a lot less time than I’d have liked. Before Revolve24, Ian had spent the sum total of less than an hour aboard a tandem! I’ve ridden tandems a few times with my children, and with visually impaired riders.
Our steed for Revolve24 was a bit special. The Circe Helios was designed to be very adaptable. Often tandems have different frame sizes to suit different stokers and pilots. The Helios is a universal ‘one size fits all’ but has telescopic seat posts and a low frame stand-over. This means that pretty much anybody from a 5-year-old (with readily available pedal adaptors) to someone of reasonable average height (I’m 6ft) can fit on the Helios. Another aspect of the design was to make it easier to transport. There is a version of the Helios that will fit in a flight case. Although even this 26″ version of the Helios with a slightly longer wheelbase only needed the front wheel off and the bars rotated 180 degrees to fit in my Mondeo Estate with room to spare.
Since we had our first tandem ride together I had moved to the other side of London, so Ian and I have barely seen each other for several months. We thought this was probably not a bad thing as we’d have stuff to catch up on whilst we lapped the track. It turns out that we didn’t actually do much talking, partly because the wind on the downhill sections made it hard to hear much, and partly because on the uphill sections we were too busy gasping to talk. These two types of terrain are pretty much what makes Brands Hatch up. There’s not much in the way of flat bits.
On the day of the event I had already set up the front part of the bike as close as I could get to my own bike. The back-end is a little more cramped than a normal bike, so Ian was a bit more upright than he’d have liked. We made the decision to use our clipless pedals because we figured that once we were moving we shouldn’t need to stop until we pit. Luckily that proved a fair assumption, except one of the first trips up Druid’s Hill. I changed gear at the wrong time and we hadn’t eased up the power so the chain came off. We came to an abrupt halt but managed to dismount safely. After a marshall kindly sorted the chain we had to resort to walking up the rest of the hill to get to a safe place to re-mount.
As we were in a category of our own, there was no other teams to compare to. There were other tandems riding, but they were in a 4-tandem relay team. We set our first target as 200 miles, which should have been fairly achievable despite the surprising amount of elevation at Brands Hatch. The plan was to ride for an hour at a time followed by a break. This was because neither of us was confident about eating on the bike (lack of practice on a tandem). Speaking of which, we both had different eating strategies. I ate ALL the food whilst Ian, perhaps because he’s slightly older, survived mostly on peanut butter sandwiches
We had a longer break around 1am, and decided to go and get some sleep in our tents and come back for sunrise. I told Ian he’d benefit from a shower but he wasn’t having any of it. I went and had a shower and changed into some warm clothes that weren’t fitted with a chamois and slept wonderfully. It’s worth noting that in the years I’ve ridden this event, 2018 has been the most mild year. We had double figure temperatures most of the night. There’s been several years where I’ve sat shivering in the pits as the night took the thermometer down to 4 degrees or so. There was no rain this year either, we were very lucky.
Out on track, the tandem stood out amongst the other bikes. We weren’t the slowest up the hills, but certainly not the fastest. Downhills and along the pit straight was another matter though. As we swept along we often had other riders lurking in our slipstream taking advantage of the free ride. At one point Jason Kenny popped out as we hit the next hill and our speed plummeted. Our main issue was the gear changes. We had enough gears, the problem was that with the longer cables of a tandem I found the gears a bit more vague. The changes needed a big swing of the lever, and after so many laps my hands were getting quite sore. I’m not normally bothered about DI2, but in this case I can see the advantage.
By 1pm, still 2 and a half hours away from the finish time (the race started 30 minutes late due to an incident in the support races), we hit the magic 200 mile mark. We came into the pits to celebrate and after I’d had a wander and sorted some food and a brew Ian sat down with me. He told me he was happy with 200 miles and we could call it a day if I wanted. This was a relief as all along Ian had been comparing the distances with how far he normally rides and he was trying to go further and further before our breaks. What he didn’t seem to consider was that he lives in the flatlands of Cambridge and we were at hilly Brands Hatch. I think eventually the tiredness caught up with him and he realised that this 200 miles was the hardest he’s ever ridden. My Garmin said we’d done 202.4 miles including the sighting lap. 200 miles isn’t uncommon for either of us in a weekend, but this accounted for 19,031 vertical feet. It’s more than I’ve ever climbed on a weekend, that’s for sure. Maybe on solo bikes we could have gone further?
We used the last couple of hours wisely. There were tents to pack up and cars to fill back up with all our gear and the bike. When we were finished we sat and chilled with some alcohol-free beers, which were a necessary substitute for the real thing considering we both had over an hours drive home ahead of us. Then we sat and watched the presentations of trophies at the end. We didn’t get anything, not even a mention, because our classification was too small. I’m not sure I’d do it again on a tandem, but I’ve no doubt I’ll be back to ride the 24 hours on a regular bike at some point.
There are loads of different things to think about on a tandem. I tend to spin quite fast, partly due to having done quite a bit of track cycling. Ian is very much a slogger, he rides a fixed-gear all Winter on the Espresso Library club rides. We had to find a balance. Also, when you’re trying not to unsettle the bike you try not to move around so much. This isn’t great on a longer ride. Early on I went completely numb in my ‘saddle area’, so later on we developed a routine of taking it in turns to stand up in certain places on the track. Riding 24 hours on a tandem certainly fit the bill for doing something completely different.
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