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I was sought out by a group of senior scientists and engineers to review their proposal for a tandem using the technology they had developed for NASA and the defense department.
These men had all been forced into early retirement by reductions in federal spending and were trying to find a commercial outlet for their considerable knowledge of materials and computer aided design.
The tandem project was one of several sports and transportation ideas they were considering. Tandems made the list because their review of the state of design of tandems showed that it was something of a stagnate backwater in sporting gear and the potential for major advances was great. They had clean sheet redesigned everything about a tandem from the tire carcassses to the bearing grease. I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement concering the details (many of which are potentially patentable) but I can share with you some of the basics:
The technology was very impressive. I asked about their business plan: they said to justify the initial capital outlay they would have to sell 2000 of these tandems a year at $40,000 each.
Disclaimer: I have no commercial interest in this venture.
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What an exciting day it was. We had all the family here for the holiday: my older brother Robert is home from the U.S.S. Olympia and the Philippines and arrived looking very handsome in his white navy uniform. Grandmother and Grandfather were of course here. My father's older brother Frank and my aunt Lillian got here last night. This morning all the men talked about business and politics and turned the ice cream crank while we fixed the food and visited in the kitchen. (Father always gives a holiday to the servants at July 4th because he says it will help make them Americans.) Grandfather retold the story about the July 4th he was at Gettysburg holding the line against Picket and how on that horrible and glorious day the boys on either side of him were shot dead at the same time. We had a big picnic this afternoon and got to hear the Sousa traveling wind band in concert this evening before fireworks. I must be the luckiest 15 year old girl in America, which is simply the greatest place in the world.
But dear diary, I've saved the most exciting news for last. My father's younger brother Will and his new wife came this morning. She is unlike any woman I've ever seen. She went to college for two years and spent two years teaching in a mission school on a reservation before she began to work in her father's exporting company. She is an only child and her father, I think, just made her his "boy". They had a most beautiful wedding and I think her family is even richer than we are, but mamma said not to talk about things like that. Uncle Will met her on a bicycle outing and courted her on a tandem, but that did not prepare my family for their arrival this morning. They rode tandem all the way from where they live to here - 40 miles - this morning! But that's not even the most exciting news. They did not ride the normal tandem where the lady rides in front - they rode uncle Will's racing tandem, the one he uses at the velodrome. His new wife (I guess I should call her my aunt Beth) rode the back wearing a man's cycling kit! Will said with her hair tucked up she looked like a boy, and she wore men's clothes sometimes when she lived with the Indians so it was all right, but Grandfather blushed and went around to the back porch until she was inside, and Aunt Lil said they could have been arrested. I overheard father and uncle Frank sternly make their little brother promise that he would not put his wife in a "compromising position" again (but I saw father nudging him and grinning a few hours latter when Beth arguing about Rev. Bryan and free silver with uncle Frank, so I think every thing is all right among the "brothers".) Aunt Lil said aunt Beth would never have children or maybe die in child birth if she used up her energy that way. Grandmother said that would be enough of talk like that and mamma sent Beth upstairs to get washed and told me to help her. I ironed her things she had brought in the bag slung in the tandem's frame and ran upstairs to help her get dressed. I think aunt Lil is wrong - watching Beth get dressed, I decided I had never seen a more thoroughly feminine woman.
I though about aunt Beth all during the band concert and fireworks and I want to be smart and strong like her when I grow up. I asked mamma if I could have a bicycle. I reminded her that Susan B. Anthony said at the meeting (the one we all pretend that father does not know mamma attends) that the bicycle has done more to emancipate women that anything else. Mamma laughed and said that if I promised to always dress like a lady, she'd talk to father about it.
Dear diary, it's been such an exciting day I could go on and on writing about it, but I must still read my Bible verses, so I reluctantly say good night.
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What a day! Spending the summer with my aunt Beth and uncle Will has been the most delightful experience of my 16 years, but today was the most wonderful day of all days!
Let me start from the begining. I can not believe it was just 10 months ago I got my bicycle, and I can not imagine life without bicycles now. Since I arrived I have of course been riding my aunt Beth's wheel (not even she would ride it while she is in that way.) This morning I went on a holiday cycle outing with the young people from aunt Beth and uncle Will's church. Uncle Will went as one of the chaperons, but as a surprise, he lent me their tandem and I got to ride with the MOST WONDERFUL young man.
With the riding I've done in the last year, aunt Beth said I am as strong as she has ever been (I blushed at the compliment, although I'm not sure mother and father would consider it so!) My young man was quite a wheelman and we rode off from the others on the way home. I should have held back so as not to find myself in a potentially scandalous situation, but it was just too wonderful to ride the tandem so much faster than I had ever riden a bicycle by myself. My young man was a perfect gentleman and we waited for the others at the bridge. FINALY Uncle Will caught up to us (he acted verly composed, but he was not succesful in hiding the fact he was winded!)
Diary dearest, how could the day get better? Well, it did! This afternoon Uncle Will took me to the velodrome to see the bicycle races. I have been down three times prior to see him race on his tandem with the other men from his club, but this was a big meet with famous national riders, and it seemed that the stands could not hold another person. Mr. Zimmerman was there, with a great crowd of men and boys around him (uncle Will said he is the best ever; how I would love to see him race!) Uncle Will also introduced me to a funny little man with a German accent from Chicago whom he said built THE BEST bicycles, but because of the subsequent excitment, I fear I can not remember his name.
Now to the exciting part: the young men on their bicycles are all beautiful as they go around the boards, but there was one that particularly impressed me - oh, but I am getting ahead of my story. The final races run were by the very fastest riders being paced by three and four man bicycles. They were trying to set a new distance record. They would take a few laps behind one of the three man bikes, "jump" behind another with fresh pacing riders for a few more laps, and then finish their ride behind the big four man pacing bicycle. Uncle Will said that to set a new record, many things would have to be "just right": the racer has to ride very well, make their "jumps" well, and have the pacing teams ride at the pace the racer calls out to them. (These big bicycles were very fast and exciting!)
A young man from uncle Will's club came up right before these last races started and whispered somethng to uncle Will. Then he said, "What are we going to do?" just loud enough for me to hear. Uncle Will said, "We'll think of something." and the young man left. Uncle Will wrote something on a piece of paper, folded it, handed it to me and said, "Amelia, come with me, there is someone I want you to meet and pass that piece of paper to."
We went down out of the stands to the place where the racers entered the track and waited a few minutes. "Here he comes" said uncle Will, and pointed out a rather small, beautifully porportioned man walking toward us. "Mr. Taylor, hello, I'm a member of the local club and I'd like to thank you for coming to our meet, and I wanted to introduce my niece, Amelia. Amelia, Mr. Taylor is a real crackerjack, and I think he's going to be the fastest bicyle racer in the world some day." He gave me the warmest smile as he shook my hand, and didn't even flinch when I pressed the paper into his palm.
By the time we made our way back to our seats, the young man my uncle hand introduced me to was already out on the track warming up. I asked uncle Will what was on the piece of paper. He leaned down near me and said under the noise of the crowd, "Amelia, you've seen you grand- father and father treat every person fairly and honestly, so I suppose you've lead a sheltered life. But some people don't have to have a good reason to hate. That young man you met, Major Taylor, is one of the finest bicycle racers in this country, and I guess the world, too, from what I read about him. But several of the men on the pacing bikes don't want to break the wind for him because he is a negro. They arranged to all be on the last pacing bike, the big four man wheel, and they were overheard planning to ride away from him at the end of the ride when they are fresh and he is tired. They will have him four to one and there is nothing he can do about it. Just think about how fast you were on the tandem this morning. I guess he will not set any records today. The note you gave him warned him, I thought we owed him that."
My anger at this injustice hardly had time to form before the starter sent Mr. Taylor and the first pacing triple off on the race. Mr. Taylor was different from the other riders I had seen: he was riding as fast as any of the other men, but he was very smooth and steady behind the pacing bike. He didn't seem to move his upper body at all. Every lap we could hear him calling for more speed from his pacers, and some of the men around us had their pocket watches out and at the time Mr. Taylor jumped from the first pacing bicycle to the second, they said he had a chance to set the record. I was fighting with my emotions, trying not to cry at what was about to happen! After a few laps, the villanous donkeyback quadruplet rolled up into a poor position, but Mr. Taylor made the jump smoothly despite them. The four Judases accelerated through the whole first lap, only to find Mr. Taylor still on their wheel. I knew that if he ever got out of their wind shadow he would be lost for sure, but at the end of their second lap the pacers were straining and Mr. Taylor was still with them. I began to hope that if he could stay right behind their wheel, he might make it to the end of the ride. They rang the bell, still he was there! Then, on the back straight away on the last lap, he did the unthinkable - he pulled out from behind his hateful pacers to the outside! All was lost, now; they would have their shameful "victory" in preventing him from having the opportunity to compete fairly.
But Diary, wait! Down the back straight away, Mr. Taylor didn't give ground, he began to gain it! Through the high banked turn, one man against four, he began to pull even, and as he came past the line he was a bike lenght ahead!
Every one in the crowd was cheering wildly, with the exception of the little German man, who, watch in hand, turned to uncle Will and said simply, "Ya, that will take da record." Oh, my, look at the pages in you I have covered tell you this story! Good night!
But in my den on a pedestal tall
Or better still upon the wall
Where I can see it every day
And it will keep the blues away
We rode to win in every race
Fairly we played in every case
If life grows dull and things break bad
Just think of the wonderful days we've had.
- Major Taylor
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"Product reviews, commercial tours, competition, where to ride, fitness, technique, and nutrition are being done to death by the magazines available today," said Down Tube's editor, Larry "Chrome Moly" Steele. "It's time for an entirely new direction. We plan to have short fictional pieces, personality profiles and interviews, custom bike features, and stories of `the cycling life style'. The latter will include photo essays, reports from mass bike rides, rallies, and anywhere cyclists party, and cutting edge cycling fashion and tattoos. Sort of to bicycling what "Easy Rider" magazine is to motorcycling."
The sample issue of Down Tube available at the announcement featured a short story concerning a cyclist who used a tandem to predict "performance" with a sidebar on tandems and intimate relationships, an interview with infamous cycle host Lazy "one way mirror" Larry, an essay "After Dark at the Cycle Oregon Ride", a feature on laser etched components titled "Do you want to come upstairs and see my etchings?", coverage of an Abyss bike company staff party celebrating their new "Lesson" tubing, a column written by Johnson Howard on how cyclists can profit from the court system, a travelog about two San Franciscans's adventures while tandem touring across The Netherlands called "Dikes by Bikes", and a six page pictorial on "Stripping Down While Heating Up on the Rollers" leading up to a centerfold `shop poster' (and apparently providing the tattoo coverage for the issue).
Cycling community reaction has been mixed. Industry leaders seemed to be mostly negative. Dale Robob, long time publisher of Bike! magazine, said, "Bicycling is noble, grand, and wholesome. "Down Tube" is just trash." Said frame builder Teri George, "We've worked so hard to broaden cycling's appeal, and now this comes along." Tony Hi of Midget Cycles said, "We're not interested in tying our name to this", and Yoshi Shimandgo said, "We can always buy in heavily if and when there is a clear trend that this is the new direction of American cycling." But the "target audience" seemed to be enthusiastic. Janie Preem of Female Offroad & Xcountry Embroidery Society said, "Whoa, I'll be finding these in the back of the team van" and upon being handed a copy, European racer Yevgani Ziis said, "Have copy, I keep?" Perhaps most tellingly, long time American bicycle trendsetter and cycling documentarian Greg Supple became subscriber number one.
Editor Steele reports that ad space is sold out for the first three issues, and two thirds of the advertisers have no previous history of advertising in bicycle magazines. "We're in business! Over 400 bike shops have signed up to carry "Down Tube", so if you don't see it, they probably have it behind the counter. Just ask."
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In the late 1990's tandeming was the fastest growing segment of sport cycling, and road tandems represented a significant share of the road bicycle market. How is it that today, 20 years later, tandems are so seldom seen on American roads? Why have American tandem manufacturers had to turn in desperation to the European market to keep their factories going? Here's the opinion of a person that was there for both the rise and the fall of tandeming in this country.
Having two people on one bike requires that those two people work together as a team. This is unique in cycling, a traditionally individual sport in the USA. While tandems have many uses, the most common one by far in the US was allowing a couple with unequal cycling abilities to ride together. Successful tandeming requires this couple to cooperate not only in balance and cadence but also in an unquantifiable sense of shared activity.
I start the decline of tandeming on April 13, 2000. That's the day the Advocate company released their model 203fm wireless cyclo-computer. Intended for single bikes, this now forgotten model incorporated for the first time a force meter (hence the "fm" model designation) for each of the pedals. The idea was for a rider to be able to tell if one leg was pressing significantly harder on the pedal than the other. By balancing the force, riders could supposedly ride much farther without fatigue or injury. The 203fm even had a buzzer that could be set to sound if one pedal sensor was pressed harder than the other by a programmable amount.
Then someone mounted one on a tandem with the sensors on the front and back right pedals. By giving each team member an audible signal that their pedaling was slacking off, teams found that they could ride farther and faster. The improvements were easy to qauntify, and soon almost every tandem in America was equipped with either a 203fm, or the follow on model 205fm.
But the unintended consequence was a deterioration of the unquantifiable sense of shared activity. This was probably put most poignantly by a writer to Tandems! magazine in April, 2004: "It's just not as much fun when I'm concentrating on trying to keep that damn buzzer from going off." What should have been a celebration of togetherness became a stressful, grinding competition. And an entire generation of tandem riders told the next generation of prospective riders, "We just don't ride it that much - we found we enjoyed the singles more."
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COLUMBUS - "Federal Drug Enforcement Agency agents made a surprise midnight raid on the home of a local doctor in the toney Oak Hills neighborhood last night. In a fashion that some of the neighbors called "stunning" and others called "shocking", over two dozen agents stormed the house, first cutting off the power and phones and then battering down the front door.
"The target of the raid were house guests of the residents. Described as "Easy Riders of the 90's", it is thought that the couple was financing their tandem bicycle ride across the county by allegedly selling cocaine they had packed into the bicycle's frame tubes. Agents reported over three pounds of cocaine were found still in the bike. "We've known about these two for a while," said the DEA bureau chief. "They've been hard to track down. We found them about a week ago, but couldn't process a search warrant before they hit the road again. Paying in cash, staying with private individuals, little if any pre- planned itinerary, and traveling on that bicycle built for two, they were surprisingly hard to keep up with. The agency will probably make some procedural upgrades based on this case." Agency spokesmen said their initial tip came when a police department told them what they thought was just a funny story about their drug sniffing dog breaking free from it's handler and chasing the tandem several weeks ago.
"Under questioning after the arrests of the suspects, the residents of the home told the agents they had no acquaintance with the suspects before yesterday when the suspects phoned asking if they could stay the night. The suspects apparently got the names and phone number of the residents from a cycling club to which they belonged. No other signs of drugs were found in the house, and no charges were filed against the residents.
"A local tandemist, who asked to not be identified, said, 'I've never heard of such a thing in all my years involved in tandems. Three extra pounds of frame weight?'"
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There has been a lot of press on the controversial "super bike" developed for the 1996 Atlanta olympics, but the "super tandem" developed (but not used) for the tandem track events went completely unreported. This is probably just as well, for reasons I am finally able to relate here.
With the main design team concentrating on the single, the tandem design was contracted out to Professor Deacon Shay of the mechanical engineering department of Texas A&M University. Professor Shay and a number of graduate students who were enthusiastic cyclists formed the design team.
The professor wanted to build a "least weight" frame, and he employed the technique of "even strain". Under the "even stain" philosophy, every molecule in the structure should see the same strain level. Dr. Shay had unlimited access to an air cooled Convex supercomputer, and ran no fewer that 5,316 iterations on the computer model of the tandem frame. Then, employing advanced stereo lithography and molecule specific etching techniques from the computer chip industry, the monocoque tandem frame was fabricated from a single crystal of aerospace superalloy. The limited budget prevented the planned second tandem frame from being built.
The super tandem, unlike the singles, won rave reviews from the US team members when they first got to ride it in Colorado Springs. "Light, stable, resilent" were heard over and over. Observers indicated that several American track tandem records for different distances would have been set if an official timer had been present. The tandem, now nicknamed "Not Even Straining", was shipped to Altanta with great optimisim. So why wasn't the super tandem seen at the olympics?
The problem was that the tandem was only designed to last through the competition period. Professor Shay did not know that the temporary olympic track would not yet be "tuned" to smooth it out when the US team began practice there. (The question of olympic legality in practising on the track prior to it's opening for all competitors is the reason news of the tandem and the crash has been suppressed.) Unknown to the riders prior to what proved to be the bike's last ride over the still bumpy track, the frame reached fatigue life weeks earlier than intended.
Observers said that just as the practising team shot the twincer down off the high bank of the velodrome, there was "a funny little noise" and the tandem collapsed. Captain and stoker tumbled to a stop in a pile of gears, saddles, bars and chains; the front wheel continued rolling down the track. The coaches and mechanics recovered every super tandem part except for the least weight, even strain frame. All that was left of the frame, in the words of one present, was "a silvery powder, fine as smoke".
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"Annie, I swear I'm going to drop club cycling and just ride by myself!"
"Ariel, you love club cycling. What's really the problem?"
"Oh, it's the guys. They're all real nice, but it's like being in a nature film. You know, where the males are all competing with one another to see which one attracts the female."
"Well, Ariel, you're self confident, well educated, witty, self reliant, and you can ride like the wind. Shouldn't you interest them?"
"Fine! Why can't they show that they're well educated and witty? No, it's who has the latest do-dad, who can get up nine mile hill the fastest, who has the most outrageous jersey. I noticed and commented that one of the guys had shaved his legs two months ago, and now they all do! This last thing was too much, thought."
"Last week one of the guys showed up with a new tandem, and asked me if I'd help him give it a break-in ride. I did - big mistake. This week three other guys show up with new tandems, including one who said, 'Look, Ariel, mine has a SoftRide beam!'"
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I for one feel fortunate that there IS NOT any significant tandem racing in this country - if there were, the manufacturers would design their tandems around winning races, and we would all feel compelled to buy what ever was ridden to victory last year, no matter how inapropriate for the riding we actually do. Tandeming seems to be unique in the (American) bike market in that the manufacturers are focused on what actually works for consumers, and not on producing works replicas.
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This year's Tour was going well. Perhaps some of the competition had gotten sick, or had crashed, but that was part of what defined a particular year's champion as far as Walt was concerned. For today's ride, he had put together a masterpiece: second in overall standing before this last mountain stage, he attacked early. None of the survivors could answer, and now he was out front, climbing away from the others. He, not one of the pre-Tour favorites, was in the leaders jersey on the road, and now only needed to hang on.
But Walt did more than hang on, he rode like the wind; today he would show the others the stuff of which he was made. The human cruise missile, the comet, the cycling machine! He gave no thought to the hug and kiss from the beautiful woman after the race; he tuned out the cheering crowds as if they weren't even there, their individual cries blurred into a ta-pocketa-pocketa sound as he sped by; "walt", his focused mind payed no heed to the promise of admiring looks at the team dinner that evening. His mind drove his muscles, and his muscles drove the bike ever upward, "Walt", now cresting the grade and driving to the finish line, propelled not only by his on efforts but by an unseen force behind him...
"Walt! I hope your happy, we've dropped everybody else on that climb! Look behind us; there's not even another tandem in sight! Honestly, you get so quiet on the front of this bike sometimes! After lunch I want to ride along with some of the other couples, ok?"
"Uh, sure honey."
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It had probably been the hardest ride of Walt's career. With his team unable to help, he had had to defend his jersey by himself. Walt did it the only way he knew how - just plain old fashion hard riding.
Most of the young riders in the peleton had never seen a race leader ride so hard - he caught them by surprise and rode off from all but one. But that one kid had stuck to Walt's wheel; nothing Walt did could shake him. It burned Walt up, all that "boy" had to do was sit on him and make a move in the last few miles. Ha! But Walt had shown him! Walt's aging legs still had the power, still had the snap. Walt had heard the distinctive ta-pocketa-pocketa sound of the kid breathing, shifting gears. Walt hadn't dared to turn around and look at him, but he caught glimpse of him out of the corner of his eye as they rounded turns. Yellow jersey, green jersey flashed passed those lining the course. Maybe some day, kid, Walt thought, but not today. I led you over the line, I showed you how it's done. This ride might even take that green jersey off your back and make it mine as well. Some day, kid, if you're lucky, you'll be as good as me, but not this day...
"Well, the Mitty men return. Did you enjoy your ride?"
"Mommy, I love the Piccolo! Daddy goes FAST!"
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A tandem team I know told me a story I found interesting and I thought I'd pass it along. They were on a credit card tour of Scottish distilleries and castles this past summer. While touring a small distillery, their parked tandem was backed into by a lory. None of their minimal luggage was damaged, but the Santana tandem's frame was bent at about a 30 degree angle right in the middle.
It turned out that both the owner of the lory company and the distillery manager were touring cyclists themselves, and members of the CTC. They put the couple up in a bed and breakfast in the nearest village, and arranged to have the tandem frame replaced by Santana. On top of that, they bought them a used tandem from a local cycle shop to use on tour and take home to ride until their bike was fixed. So after only a day lay over the couple was back on the road.
The tandem was a real odd ball. While over 15 years old it looked like it had never been ridden. The geometry was basically copied from a Taylor, and the components were top line but not really optimum for tandem use. The paint, while uniform, seemed like it had been put on with a spray can. And the frame was lugged with the most beautiful ornate lugs either of them had ever seen. Well, it served them adequately for the tour and back home until their Santana got fixed.
In late October they got a call from a man who asked about the tandem, and then offered to buy it. They were about to make a deal to sell it for $850 (USD) when the man said he'd need them to ship it to England!. Why would someone want to buy an inexpensive touring tandem and ship it half way round the world? The guy on the phone was very coy, and while he never would say why he wanted the tandem, he jacked his price up to $1500 and then $4000 before the couple said they weren't interested in selling it.
Intrigued, they began to strip some of the spray paint off to find out what the brand was. They found that those beautiful lugs were gold plated! And under the dark green spray paint they found a royal blue tandem with the small decal, "Lipscome-Harrowgate Cycles, London".
A call to a large cycle shop in London brought in a little information on Lipscome-Harrowgate. They were a small shop that built racing bikes favored by young British lads that went off to the continent to try their hand at being professional racers. The bikes were little known because they were usually painted and decaled to meet the racer's sponser's requirements. But the shop said that L-H never build tandems! Later that week they got another call from a man representing "investors" who offered 10,000 pounds for the bike! The couple then called L-H and finally got to talk to Ian Lipscome. He immediately demanded to know how they had the bike, so before they got any information, they had to tell their story. Then Lipscome told them, "I hadn't thought about the tandem we built in several years. I guess I had tried to put it out of my mind. I'm sorry the tandem's story worked out this way, and I can't help but think that things would have been different if it had been ridden by the couple we built it for. Anyway, pull the captain's seat post and fish out the document rolled up inside, that'll explain things, I think."
In addition to a receipt for shipping from London to Balmoral, they found a letter there that said, "Presented to His Royal Majesty, Charles, Prince of Wales, July, 1981, in honor of his marriage to Lady Diana Spencer" followed by the motto of Lipscome-Harrowgate Cycles: "Enfants Perdus".
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Last Updated: by Harriet Fell