The Spectrum Tandem, Bowie, and the Snow

Last week was a weird and long one. The death of David Bowie on Sunday hit me harder than I expected.

I saw Bowie perform twice. The first time was on the first U.S. stop of his monster Serious Moonlight tour in 1983, at the US Festival in California; there were 300,000 people there. Like many in the crowd, I suppose, I was a recent convert, having been drawn in by the Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) and Let’s Dance albums.

My Vantage Point during Bowie's US Festival show

My Vantage Point during Bowie’s US Festival show

The show was a revelation in what rock music could be — both powerful and artistic. It was at that time and remains for me the most electric rock concert I’ve seen; a standard in terms of theatrics and raw rock sound that nobody else has equaled.

Up to then I’d always been a fan of his sound but I was more into the hits than his albums. I realized why his fans were so ardent.

I was on Team Bowie until I saw him at Merriweather Post Pavilion outside DC in 1990 on his Sound+Vision Tour, which was supposed to be his last tour singing his big hits. That experience was a letdown; he appeared to be disinterested.

After that Bowie’s output didn’t register, until the release of the Blackstar album on Jan. 8. It had that Bowie weirdness that caught my ear. It seemed Bowie was back in form — at age 69 — pushing current rock artists to do something really new (looking at you, James Murphy!).

Then his surprise death kind of knocked me down. The guy had cancer, kept it secret, recorded one final album about it, plus two eerie videos, then died two days after the release. This was an artistic act nobody else would pull off. Who does that?

Johnny Cash recorded three albums in his final years, but it was known that he was ill and was racing time.

As long as Bowie was still recording, it felt like I still had a living link to those days of youth; all that’s gone now. But we have something else.

Bowie’s final gift was his challenge to us to create, to push our own and society’s limits, while we still have time, right up until the final day.

I’m starting to dig into Bowie’s back catalog to hear the songs that didn’t get into compilations. I’m also interested to see whether renewed public attention to his work will spur some of today’s artists toward bolder directions.

The next album from Arcade Fire should be interesting and so should one planned by Murphy and his renewed LCD Soundsystem. Murphy played on Blackstar, so I hope that experience will have an impact.

Even in death, I believe Bowie is going to move rock music in ways we can’t yet predict.

The end of work on Friday came none too soon. With a three-day holiday weekend ahead, Mary and I got out the car on Saturday to take our new Spectrum road tandem back to Tom Kellogg’s workshop in Breinigsville, Pa. for a small fix.

The view from the car roof (courtesy Mary G)

The view from the car roof (courtesy Mary G)

He used internal cable routing for the rear brake and on our second ride the sleeve started to make a metallic noise inside the frame when we went over a bump. By phone, Tom suspected the sleeve was hitting a set of bottle cage bolt bosses that protrude into the frame tube.

Tom brought us into the warm confines of his shop at his rural home, and quickly confirmed the noise source was that sleeve. While we went to lunch, he injected some expanding insulation foam into the frame tube, which isolated the sleeve and stopped the noise.

We had a nice visit afterwards where we talked about bikes and riding. Tom gave us some free T-Shirts for our trouble.

A souvenir from Tom

A souvenir from Tom

On Sunday we decided to ignore the gloomy forecast for snow showers and took out the Spectrum, with Ted N., to Leesburg via the W&OD Trail. The skies were dark grey but the temperatures were enough above freezing, so we kept on going after Ted turned back in Vienna, about 20 miles out.

Not snowing, yet

Not snowing, yet

The frame noise was gone, so we were glad about that. The whole bike rolls really smoothly. It’s appropriately stiff but not as rigid as our Cannondale MTB tandem (super-stiff) or our Co-Motion Java (very stiff), and has a more agile feeling in turns.

By the time we got to Leesburg snow flurries had started and were gaining intensity, but were still melting on the ground, so we were OK. After getting hauled over the Potomac on White’s Ferry we rode through a fair squall and got cold and a little wet. This was a bummer! Riding a century in the January cold is never easy, is it?

You can see our ride details at my Garmin Connect page.

Waiting on White's Ferry

Waiting on White’s Ferry

The tandem discount. One bike, not two riders!

The tandem discount. One bike, not two riders!

We warmed up in Poolesville at the McDonalds while the snow tailed off, and by the time we got home in late afternoon the sun had come out. We rode around the neighborhood to make it an exact century, 100.0 miles, right outside our door so that we could claim some bragging rights on the Freezing Saddles challenge.

Warmup at McDonalds

Warmup at McDonalds

I’ll write up a separate post on buying a custom steel tandem; it took a long time to get and costs a lot, and then you find out how it rides. After our first century, in the snow, we’re satisfied, and expect the feeling to grow.

The Spectrum's first ride on Whites Ferry

The Spectrum’s first ride on Whites Ferry

Frozen Lemons? Chilly Lemonade!

MG and I ended up having a great ride Saturday on Crista Borras’ “No-Name Winter Century” ride to Leesburg from D.C. We had a little crisis at the start courtesy of a balky knee and the biting cold, but a simple re-route onto the C&O Canal made all the difference.

Good Times on the C&O

Good Times on the C&O

See my story below. I’ve also uploaded a photoset at my Flickr page or see the Slideshow. Our route is at my MotionBased page.

Loving that Tailwind on the W&OD

Loving that Tailwind on the W&OD

Crista Borras’ “No-Name Winter Century”
by Ed Felker
Nov. 22, 2008

(See my photoset from the ride at my Flickr page or see the Slideshow. I’ve uploaded our altered shortcut route to my MotionBased page.)

MG and I were thrilled when Crista Borras announced her weekend centuries on Wednesday. Saturday’s ride started a mere four miles from MG’s house! No need to load the tandem and all our gear for a drive to the start. Moreover, her “Winter No-Name Century” ride was going to use a relatively flat route to Leesburg, Va. with a 32-mile return on the easy W&OD Trail.

So why were MG and I sitting in Starbucks after just 18 miles, sipping from big cups of hot coffee and talking of going back home? Frankly, we were stunned by the weather. Bright skies, yes, but we were riding into the teeth of a stiff northwestern wind, made worse by subfreezing temperatures. We were already slogging, and my left knee, which has been giving me problems, was aching again from the easy climbs up to Potomac, Md. The group had completely broken apart and we were loathe to drag ourselves over the familiar, open blustery roads to Poolesville and a late lunch at mile 66.

The day started out so promising. We met the group at Roosevelt Island and found Chris M., Rudy H., Crista and Chuck, Jeff M., and Carl M.

Carl and Crista, Feeling the Chill

Carl and Crista, Feeling the Chill

Chris and Jeff at Roosevelt Island

Chris and Jeff at Roosevelt Island

Carl rode over on his 650b converted Fuji Opus III. Carl is car-free and was happy to have a start close to his D.C. home. His conversion looked great.

Carl and his Fuji Opus III, with 650b Wheels

Carl and his Fuji Opus III, with 650b Wheels

We rode in good spirits through Georgetown and then the Capitol Crescent Trail out to Potomac, Md. Yet the temperatures dropped and the wind increased as we left the city. My knee started complaining.

Once we got settled at Potomac Starbucks with the wealthy runners and surgically-enhanced moms, MG and I agreed we really didn’t want to just go home. What to do? We decided to keep going if we could get out of the wind and shortcut the ride at the same time, and keep it flat to take the strain off my knee.

The light bulb went on — MG realized we were close to the relatively sheltered and nearly flat, dirt C&O Canal Towpath. We would ride from just north of Great Falls to White’s Ferry, where we would pick up Crista’s shortcut route via the Gen. Jubal A. Early ferry. From there, we would have a short four miles to the lunch stop in Leesburg and then ride home with the group on the W&OD with a tailwind. All in all, a warmer, knee-friendly route. We’d get in a great ride, see part of the C&O that he had not ridden before, and hang out with our friends.

We found the towpath nearly deserted, which let us tool along on the firmer left side. The trail was soft in a few places and MG didn’t like the occasional fishtail when I plowed us through a muddy spot. Our 32mm Panaracer Pasela Tourguard tires worked fine, though 35s or 37s would be nicer for a longer stretches. Even though the leaves had all fallen, the canopy of trees and brush broke up the wind. Yes!

A Rest Break on the C&O Trail

A Rest Break on the C&O Trail

The dirt surface limited our speed to about 13-15 m.p.h., probably about the same as we would carry on the open road. But, we weren’t getting blasted by the wind and my knee felt much better with no hills to climb.

At White’s Ferry the flags were snapping in the wind and we froze waiting for the ferry.

On the Ferry. Notice the Flag in the Background. SNAP!

On the Ferry. Notice the Flag in the Background. SNAP!

We were glad to get back on the bike after the short ride across the river and made our way into Leesburg. Arriving with 22 fewer miles ridden than the century group, we used the GPS to find a coffee shop, the Coffee Bean of Leesburg. It was right on the route along King Street. We stopped for a truly happy hour to warm up, dry out and wake up.

All Good at The Coffee Bean of Leesburg

All Good at The Coffee Bean of Leesburg

Trying to time the group’s arrival, we rode to nearby Andy’s Pizza and Subs. We ordered a ham-and-pineapple pizza and waited for the group. They arrived in about a half-hour with just Chuck, Crista and Chris still on the ride. Carl turned back early and Jeff and Rudy also peeled off along the way.

A Winning Combination

A Winning Combination

At 2:30 p.m. we remounted and began the ride on the W&OD with a nice strong tailwind. Clouds gathered and temperatures dropped to the lower 30s, but we were fine all the way into D.C. We arrived just after dark, happy with our accomplishment. Hearty good-byes ensured before MG and I zipped back to her place.

Headed Home on the W&OD Trail

Headed Home on the W&OD Trail

The best part of Saturday? MG and I have learned to stop and sort out our options when the going gets tough, and we always end up pleased with the results. Today was proof again that good things come when we don’t give up!

Our route, via MotionBased: