Monday, April 8, 2013

No whining at the Graperide

Simon's got a real thing for Queen Charlotte Drive, and had suggested ages ago that he and I race the GrapeRide on our tandem.  My aversion to seasickness had me dodge the question when it was first raised, but as the time neared, it came back on the agenda.   When I heard Simon, Sarah and Miro would still be in the Top of the South, I figured it would be silly not to join them for a day at the tail end of their Easter holiday.  Off to the internet I went, and a few minutes later, Captain Kennett and his Rear Admiral were entered, and I'd booked ferry tickets there and back.

Training-wise, until a couple of weeks ago, we hadn't ridden the tandem since our Longest Day Ride.  But, it seemed that once you get used to riding a tandem, you stay used to riding a tandem, and a 400km ride is one hell of a good way to get used to it (if you make it that far!).  We did one ride of a couple of ascents of Mt Vic, and joined the Wednesday Worlds crew for one outing, motorpacing Dave Rowlands to a Championship win after riding away from the bunch just after Worser Bay beach at 61km/h.

Given Simon was already down south, I was in charge of getting the tandem across the Cook Strait.  I was booked on a mid-afternoon ferry, and was treated to stunning weather.  And, I was clearly not the only one heading down for the GrapeRide. 

The sailing was smooth, and we docked a little ahead of schedule.  Simon arrived from Havelock a couple of minutes later, and soon after that, we were heading for registration in Renwick.

I'd noticed a red light on the Di2 control unit, but couldn't recall if it was flashing (flat battery imminent) or solid (at least 25% power remaining).  Upon discussing things with Shane Collett and finding a solid red light, we decided not to drive back to Blenheim to borrow a charger, and we were soon tucking into a plate of pasta back in Havelock, hopeful that all would be well in the morning!  We'd have to shift sparingly.

Alarms went off at 6am, though by this stage we were both awake.  I had a coffee, ate a few bits of toast, and put sunscreen on, and we were on the road at 7am.

We arrived to a chilly Forrest Wines just before 7:30, and sat in the car for a bit, reluctant to get out into the cold.  I thought the stoker handlebars were a little skew-whiff, so while we waited in the queue for the portaloos, we made an attempt to level them (the telescopic stem can rotate freely as well as move fore and aft, and it is bloody hard to level by eye - we overcooked it slightly, and now it leans the other way...).

When I went to return the bike to the car, it was in crap gear, but the derailleur didn't respond to my shift at all...  BUGGER!

It now wasn't clear what the morning had in store for us, so we quickly finished suiting up, and went to see if we could find Shane for further advice.  He was incredibly helpful, but in the end needed to go get ready to race himself.  One of the Merida mechanics tried to use the front derailleur limit screws to keep us in the big ring, but there wasn't enough adjustment.  As I was suggesting to Simon we go back to Havelock to spend the day with Sarah and Miro, he was busy with cardboard inner tube packaging he'd retrieved out of a nearby bin...

Not sure this Di2 accessory will catch on...

Shane had showed us that the Di2 system had two emergency gears.  It would stay in the largest cog - in our case a 28 - and also in the third - a 13.  So, it seemed we had two usable gears, but we'd need to change them by hand, with the bike stationary.

We'd not only totally foregone our 20-minute warm-up spin, but we'd also missed our tandem bunch start.  Instead, we joined the start queue as soon as we'd finished working on our bike, and a few minutes later, we were rolling (in 52-13).

Rolling out, and looking like a pretty aero package!
The first few hundred metres were slow, as we negotiated the Forrest driveway at the back end of a bunch of 50 or so.  It wasn't too long before we were on the highway though, and accelerating past the single-file "bunch" en route to Renwick.

It was mostly nice to be moving.  I placed on hand on Simon's back, hoping he understood the acknowledgement that without his persistence and ingenuity, I would have pulled the pin on the race.  On the other hand, it was freaking chilly!  Standing around in jersey and armwarmers hadn't been too bad, but at probably close to 50km/h, the windchill was making me wish for my vest.

We'd have a minute or two of empty road in between bunches, but for the meantime, our high gear was perfect. 


Huh, we were now in 52-12, and going a little bit faster...



WTF?!  This gear was a bit much, and while manageable riding on this very slight downhill with the wind behind us, it didn't seem sustainable.

The stoker usually doesn't have a role in gear shifting - a remarkable statement given our Taupo experience - but, I did ask Simon what he thought about me trying to shift the rear derailleur with my foot.  Shane had shown us we could man-handle the mech into its safety positions, and in theory it should stay there.  In practice we'd just seen this wasn't entirely true, but Simon agreed it was worth a shot.

We stopped pedalling and I unclipped, before reaching back and gently applying inwards pressure on the derailleur.  Too much pressure it turned out, and instead of dropping down into 3, the motor took over and marched the chain on up into 10...  We were rolling along at 40km/h, and we didn't even get close to pedalling fast enough to engage this gear.

We pulled the bike over and Simon got off and pulled the derailleur out while I pedalled.  We were back in high gear, and seconds later, moving again.

It didn't take us too long to repass the large bunch that a few minutes earlier we'd blasted past only to stop to shift gear.  We were on SH1 by this stage, and one of the riders had managed to latch onto our wheel - Rhys, from Westport. 

As we got nearer and nearer to Picton, the going got tougher as the road tipped up ever so slightly.  Aside from our "singlespeed", we also became conscious of the usual hazards of road riding, with one large boat trailer passing uncomfortably close.  Simon glared at the driver as we rode past a mere 30 seconds later.  He'd squeezed by us so that he could arrive at the tail end of a long queue just that little bit quicker...

Our TT was going well so far, but we were working hard on this false flat.  As luck would have it, things got harder just before the steep pinch before Picton "CLUNK-CLUNK", and Simon wasn't game to risk another stop.  We were going to give it a nudge in the big dog!

By the top, our cadence was down to about 15rpm, but miraculously, the bike was still moving!  We also now had two tandems in our sights, and as we hooned down the hill into Picton (in the now perfectly appropriate 52-11 gear), we looked forward to passing them.

We made a left just before the square, almost taking out a lone spectator standing on the edge of the curb on the inside of the corner...  I'm sure she would have got a good view of us, not to mention enjoying her various other senses which were surely capable of detecting us at such close quarters!

As we made the final turn into the base of the climb over to Shakespeare Bay, we figured it was worth another attempt at a shift.  We'd been reluctant to risk it up until now as a repeat of the last attempt would have had us off the bike again.  This time though, I was more gentle, and we were able to enjoy the climb in 52-13. As luck would have it, we even got the random down-shifts on the descent, and were able to pedal through a bit more of the course than would've otherwise been possible.

The next climb definitely called for our low gear, and as late as possible, I gave the rear mech a good nudge, and all of a sudden we were in granny-for-the-day, 52-28, in all its cross-chained glory.

Pedalling hard in big-big...

We had no choice but to pass people, and almost came a cropper a couple of time with the occasional rider inexplicably diving off their line.  Simon did a good job keeping us, and everyone else, upright!

We probably should have stopped immediately upon reaching the top of the hill, but were anticipating needing the emergency gear a bit on this stretch.  The tandem rolled very well, and with our efficient machine and extra mass, we were generally able to keep pace with the solos around us just by rolling along.  It was a bit messy in places though, and it would have been nice to be able to ride away from them.

After 5 minutes or so, it was apparent this gear was pretty useless, and we stopped to change it.  We had a sketchy moment under significant load out of Ngakuta Bay, but Simon was quick on the brakes, and we managed to keep the bike moving after the near-stop.

By the time we'd reached the Anakiwa turnoff, we'd cleared past another bunch, and had reconnected with Rhys, who we hadn't seen since the steep pinch immediately south of Picton. He seemed very pleased to see us, and we'd both warmed to him - it was nice to be reunited!

I shoved half a bumper bar into my mouth - the first food I'd had since toast at 6:15.  Our pre-race prep had been almost entirely dominated by trying to get the shifting working.  It was hard to eat and breath and pedal such a big gear all at the same time, but I eventually got it down, helped by a mouthful of coke.  

Just after Linkwater we added another to our short train.  By this time we were pushing into the wind, and this was making our gear just a little bit tough, despite the relatively benign terrain.  We were grateful to draft the boys for a minute or two, before reclaiming point and ramping up the speed once again.

We'd become quite proficient with the gear 11-13 shifts by now, and also knew to expect the random 13-12-11 shifts.  We also knew that a shift to 28 would need a stop, so tackled the climb just before Havelock in the 13.  It went OK, and we passed a large bunch near the top, including multisport legend, and Karapoti Hall-of-Famer, Steve Gurney.  He recognised Simon on the front, and gave us some nice encouragement.

The descent into Havelock was fast, and I found it very hard to hear what Simon was saying.  Though, I could hear enough to know he was priming me for a gear shift on account of the 100m up to the SH6 intersection, and the 100m beyond that being quite steep.

Just as the road tipped up, I popped it into 13, and we started the climb.

About 10m before the corner (and the slowest part of the manoeuvre), I heard the somewhat sickening "CLUNK CLUNK" and all of a sudden we were in the big dog.  Simon was alarmed up front, and confused.  He thought I'd gone for the 28 - and this is probably what he'd been instructing me to do, perhaps following that up with "and then we'll pull over and you can jump off and do the reverse shift". 

Simon asked me what gear we were in.  As I mustered every ounce of force I had into the pedals, I wondered what difference it made, and said so.  In any case, we got around the corner, and kept the bike moving, so the proof that we didn't need to get off and walk was in the pudding. 

We were faced with quite a long, but gradual climb out of Havelock, and still had the wind in our faces.  We now had a bunch of 30 or more behind us, and it was growing as we mowed down rider after rider.

I was starting to tire, and suggested to Simon we let someone else take the wind for a bit. Rhys, to his credit, unglued himself from our wheel and took a pull, followed by another tandem - All 4 Fun, from Petone.  A solo was on their wheel, but Simon wanted it, and sent him back using what he later admitted was a choice of words with somewhat unfortunate connotations!  After a couple of minutes drafting (doubling the sum total of the drafting we'd done since leaving Forrest), we were back into business.

I couldn't see the highpoint in the road and the start of the descent to the Wairau River, but I could feel it in my legs.  We were using whatever gear we could manage, and I made the odd tactical shift to undo the bike's "generosity".

Steve Gurney rolled alongside us at one point, apologising that he'd been unable to come by to take a turn, despite being willing!  We were passed by one guy wearing a "Bunch Police" jersey on the final rise of any note, but immediately reclaimed point.  I was pleased to note a building I remembered seeing just before we crossed the river, and knew our "ordeal" was almost over.

The organisers had made a big deal about "wheel-suckers" passing in the last few kilometres, and I was fascinated to see if anyone would come by us.  Both Simon and I felt a little bad pulling the now rather large bunch past a few riders who'd managed to stay clear to within a minute of the finish. 

As it turned out, no one tried to sprint past us, but half a dozen guys came alongside to thank us in the neutralised section along the driveway.  Including Rhys, who'd drafted us for about 80km of his 101km ride!

Rhys on our wheel, and Steve Gurney in black

When we stopped, a woman came up and told us we were the fourth tandem back, but, we didn't know what time we'd started so couldn't work out whether we'd been faster around the course than them.

We agreed we should take the bike back to the car, but it took us a while to extricate ourselves from the finish area.  After our non-warmup, Simon had ditched a layer near the Merida tent, so I went to retrieve that, thereby losing Simon in the crowd.  I did find him, but not before responding to "Randal", shouted by Tim Vincent who'd momentarily forgotten my first name. 

Reunited, Simon and I went back to the car, locked the tandem up on the rack, and got changed.  We then went back to the finish area, and enjoyed soaking up the atmosphere for a bit.  We were keen to see some results before heading back to Havelock, and the tentative plan was to do that before returning for the 3:30pm prizegiving en route to Picton where I'd connect with my 7pm Bluebridge sailing. 

We discovered where the results were being posted, but there were no sign of any tandem times.  A coffee seemed like a good way of whiling away the time until the next update, and the long queues helped.

We found a woman with a large pile of results, which she assured us included tandem ones.  We watched her painstakingly sellotape the individual pages to the windows.

I eventually joined Simon outside.  The penultimate sheet was the 42km tandem results. and the woman made a great show of starting to put the 101km results up back to front so we couldn't see them.  We got the last laugh though! 

We hugged, and then laughed about the irony of now having a second great tandem race result when the circumstances of both wins have been far from ideal.  We were very upbeat as we headed back to the car for the 28km drive back to Havelock.

There were still plenty of people still riding, and we saw at least one other tandem coming towards us.  At Havelock, we went in search of a cafe, and both ordered a banana and honey laden omelette!  Sounded strange, but it was very delicious (to both our tastes).

Miro decided to join her Dad and I for a car-lap of the course. First stop was the prizegiving, and we arrived just as the last of the spot prizes were announced.  We spotted Mike and Stephanie Revell, and sat with them, unfortunately just in front of a speaker.   One of the two announcers was being pumped at a rather high volume through this, and as such it was always quite disappointing when he piped up!

There were some impressively young-looking vets called up amongst the first three in each category, including Jack Bauer's dad, Hans, sporting a tell-tale Garmin-Sharp t-shirt.  I didn't recognise our mate Rhys go up for 3rd in his category!  Well played, friend!

Eventually, Simon "the legend" Kennett and I got to go up for our medals (Simon cringed when the announcer called him that!), Ground Effect vouchers, and a bottle of Forrest wine each.  The second fastest tandem, a mixed pair from Thames waited for us to come down off the stage and congratulated us.  We both felt a bit sorry for them, as they'd obviously known they'd claimed line honours.  Little did they know we'd been slowly gaining on them after starting some 10 minutes later. 

Captain Kennett, his daughter, and his Rear Admiral

Miro had been very patient while she waited for us to go up.  We relocated to a spot behind the speaker, but after another 10 minutes decided not to try her patience any further, and made for the car. Picton, and a box of fried seafood awaited me, while Miro had been promised some time at the playground.

The Bluebridge terminal was warm and welcoming, and it was nice to feel cosy for the first time in the day.  I had failed to include my bike when I booked online, but due to the massive GrapeRide discount, I only owed them $4.

The next wonderful surprise was that for another $40, I could have a private ensuite cabin.  I was out of the shower before we left port, and by the time we hit the swell in the Cook Strait, I was drifting in and out of light sleep. 

Cabin 210, on the starboard side

The cardboard chock was still in Picton, and so I hit up the bike's actual granny gear for the ride up to Karori.  For the most part I would have been happier pedalling a bit harder and consequently getting home quicker, but I didn't have that option, so spun away merrily enough!

It was nice to reflect on a good bit of teamwork earlier in the day.  I would not have started the race without Simon, and I hope that once I was on the bike and pedalling, I earnt my keep.  It all reminds me a bit of how we function as an orienteering team - once the decision is made, we both just get on with it, no matter how difficult the decision had been to make in the first place. 

Simon got home this afternoon, and in the interim, we've diagnosed the shifting problem: the plug in the rear shifter had been yanked out, which may or may not have caused the battery to discharge quickly rendering the front shifter (also) useless.  We also have a plan for smashing the tandem record (which we missed by one minute) next year.  This may include aero bars and pointy helmets.

Oh, and 10 gears...


  1. Or even 20 gears!

    Sorry to hear about your mechanical travails, but wonderful to hear you had such a great ride despite them...well done, and thanks for Flying the Colours so impressively, bro.

  2. In some of the photos it looks like you guys are riding a triple!!! Well done to the both of you, it sounded like hard work!

  3. Thanks for the write-up John! You could take a selection of these and turn it into a book, one day.

    A bit more detail for the techno geeks... As we walked the bike to the start area (looking for some tech support) John was using his smart phone to Google 'Di2 reset'. The results suggested we try pressing down some button at 'Junction Y' for 5 seconds to intiate the 'crash mode'. We tried this and it shifted into the second smallest sprocket. Interesting. Anyway, when we were about 5km into the race and feeling the 52x11 gear was just a wee bit much, I reached down and pressed the button for 5 seconds - it then shifted into the largest sprocket. We spun the pedals like loons for a couple of seconds before stopping and manually pulling the derailleur to the small end of the cluster. In the end we only dismounted 3 or 4 times to shift...fewer than expected. After 30 years of fanatical cycling, it's fun to still be learning.

    Good event by the way. Fun course and nice size field.