When I worked at the bike shop, we rarely had a tandem grace our doors. However, we were approximately 1.5 miles from a college campus, so it was bound to happen, and one fine spring day it finally did. A professor brought in a tandem from the early ‘80s that he and his wife rode throughout Europe at around the same time. The bike sat idle in their garage until the couple was ready to attack the world on a shared set of wheels once more.
We ordered the necessary long brake and shifter cables to make the beast ready to roll, but we needed to ride it, just to make sure the bike was really ready. A terrifying jaunt around the county courthouse was just enough: The five minutes dodging cars, dodging people, and trying to communicate to my stoker was all that my heart could muster. That was my one and only time on a tandem to speak of. Until this past year.
Fast forward to a Salsa holiday potluck, where everyone is encouraged to bring in a dish unique to them or their personal traditions.That also gave everyone involved a chance to get in on a bet; that bet being that I and another rider couldn’t finish the Ragnarok 105 gravel race on the new Powderkeg tandem we were getting ready to launch. $300 dollars and some change was raised in the belief this feat could not be accomplished. We would see about that!
The Ragnarok 105 is an amazing gravel race that kicks off the gravel racing season here in Minnesota. Starting in Redwing, the course is nestled tightly up against the bluffs of the Mississippi River, with more than 8,000 feet of climbing, where wet and muddy conditions are usually the norm.
A group of us camped out the night before, with temperatures dipping down to 30 degrees. Many stories were told around the campfire, and the stoke started brewing around the next day’s race. 5:30 am came quickly, and we loaded up our stuff, got decked out in our gear, and headed to the start to get our number plate. Time to climb some hills!
Ben Witt was the captain of our race rig. I somehow decided in a flash of brilliance to be the stoker. I have a few inches on Ben, but he had some tandem experience, and that was enough to convince me to hop on the backseat.
Our training regimen was intense. I put miles in solo on my Fargo Ti, but we only rode the tandem one time two weeks before the event.
Getting passed by a 6-year-old ... as you can see, we were not off to a great start ...
I have to hand it to the event promoter and course creator. They found a way to maximize the climbing without much of the gratification that comes from blasting down hills. But the course was amazing, and we had temps in the 60s and a bluebird sky by noon. You couldn’t ask for better weather.
We started late. About 45 minutes late to be exact. We clipped in and headed off. My perception—let me correct that—my fear was quickly diminished. Everyone talks about communication, but I think it comes down more to just knowing your riding buddy. Ben and I rarely talked about the bike, the shifts, or the braking. We talked about our kids, fly-fishing, and a little bit of work. And maybe some of everything else in between to fill the gaps. On a tandem, you can never get further than one to three feet away from the person you’re riding with, so it’s good to settle in and get chatty and comfy.
Our journey took us to the first checkpoint, just shy of 40 miles. I couldn’t have asked for a better finish. No, we did not win the $300 dollars and change, however, we conquered that first section of gravel, and neither one of us hate each other. The funny thing is, we actually enjoyed every second of it, and it was another unique experience on a bicycle that I had never had. Nor do I think I can replicate without a tandem. There is a different feeling of accomplishment that comes with sharing those two wheels, and I recommend it to anyone that loves riding.
The Ragnarok 105 is a great way to get your post-winter/early season legs in shape! As the official homepage says, “Challenge yourself on some of the most pristine and leg breaking hills in the Upper Midwest. See some cows, eat some dust, and experience the Rok!” For official information and updates, see the website: ragnarok105.blogspot.com. The 2016 edition took place April 9.
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Justin Julian (Red)
I am lucky enough to be the General Manager of Salsa Cycles. I hail from central Missouri where the hills hide some of the most fascinating treasures. Moonshine being one of them, great singletrack being the second. Bikes have been an important part of my life from the ripe ol’ age of 3. I have raced, rode, crashed and enjoyed motorcycles for going on 34 years now. The bicycle has been a critical part of my motorcycle career (loosely used) in terms of training, enjoyment, rehab, and escape from the day to day. Both of these two-wheeled contraptions are the reason I exist. They are very much part of my life and being. Cycling and motorsports are also a strength and bond that connects my wife and two boys. Live to ride, ride to live!