We’re gonna need a longer seat post: time trialing Dunlap


A time trial is about as far from transportation cycling as I’m likely to get. But I did say to Ken Beckler I was thinking about riding the Wednesday evening 9-mile time trial that starts just west of the intersection of Route 91 and Legion Hall Road in Dunlap, Illinois.

I said I was thinking about riding the tricycle, or a fixed-gear (64-inch gear) bike. You know, nothing serious–just a lark. For grins. There are plenty of people who train for events like this; no need to act as though I’m one of them.

You see, I am a pig.

He said he had a better idea: the tandem. With him as stoker.

Three things: One: I haven’t ridden singles with Ken in, what, 25 years? Now he wants to ride with me using half the wheels?

Two: The team weighs at least 400 pounds. I calculate that by taking my weight and imagining the minimum weight of somebody over 6 feet tall with all his limbs. Yep, 400. Easy.

Truly, I am a pig. And this is not a flat course.

Three: With Ken on the back of the bike, I’m guaranteed to cross the finish line ahead of him. As long as we stay upright.

Well, okay then.

To better accommodate my stoker, I swap the SPD pedals for Look pedals that work with his cleats, install a narrow Bontrager saddle that didn’t work for me, and trade the mountain-bike handlebar and raised stem for a lower drop-bar arrangement. Ken raises the seat post six inches. (He’s a bit taller than my usual stoker.)

Up front? I take off the big Arkel handlebar bag. Good to go.

Expectations? Low. I’m pretty sure this is going to hurt.

3-2-1. We are the first off the line, headed west on Legion Hall. Other riders start at regular intervals behind us. I figure if they start 30 seconds apart, about five of them will pass us before the finish. I am wrong.

First hill: Yep, legs getting a bit of a burn, breathing labored. Started a bit too fast.

First corner, Mendenhall Road: Start wide, trim the apex, exit wide. Not bad. Enjoy the downhill while I can; bit of a climb to Park School Road. I am still breathing. That’s good. Ken seems to be content with whatever cadence I can manage.

Second corner, onto Park School: Surprised we haven’t been passed yet. Nobody in my rear-view mirror. Yep, mirror on a time trial: I’m a Fred. At least I didn’t bring a water bottle–like Ken did.

Climb and descend. Climb and descend. I’m easing into the rhythm: make sure I’m still breathing; make sure I’m still pedaling. Ken seems happy enough with our progress.

Doggone it: finally passed. But now we’re on the big (for central Illinois) descent to the finish. We reel the single rider back using a 54×12. Which of course is nuts; I can’t maintain that gear. He overtakes a second time, and we cross the finish line.

We circle back and come to a halt, watching other riders roll in. That’s when I’m quickly reminded of what I most worried about before this little jaunt: the temperature: 94F, and the humidity: mid 80s.

That’s right: in my corner of the world, in the midst of battle, it turns out that exploding lungs and imploding legs trump weather conditions. Good to know.

The timer says we finished in 24:26. That’s 22.1 mph–at least 7 mph faster than my normal average on these roads. We now hold the tandem record for the course, mainly because no other tandem has been ridden on the course.

Ken asks me whether I enjoyed the ride.

I don’t think enjoy is quite the right word. But that’ll do.

That’ll do, pig.

About 16incheswestofpeoria

Former bicycle mechanic, current peruser of books, feeder of birds.
This entry was posted in Co-Motion tandem, Report from the road and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to We’re gonna need a longer seat post: time trialing Dunlap

  1. trsnrtr says:

    Excellent story. That took a lot of guts after all these years; I’d blow a heart valve for sure!

  2. Lar Davis says:

    I tried to post a comment earlier, but the computer gods were not with me this morning. I’m still grinning ear to ear at what you crazy guys got up to. Now, just imagine the time you’d make if you could get a triplet and harness some of Dennis’ power plant. Yikes – I’d pay good money to see that missile flying down the road. [great story – stay young, you two!]

  3. Robert Woo says:


  4. echo says:

    What a fantastic story! I love that you guys did this, first of all, and your write-up is just hilarious! Love your sense of humor. This makes me want to ride a tandem! I’ve seen some people do tandem cyclocross — perhaps that’s in your future? It’d be great to see you out there hopping over barriers!

    • I remember somebody in Portland talking to me about how big cyclocross is in the Northwest. So I took a look at a couple of video links the suggested. Turns out big is an understatement. And sure enough, somewhere in the middle of one melee was a team carrying a tandem up a set of concrete steps, taking the race to the next level, as it were. It was like watching a speedboat navigating a fish ladder, something else I’ve never seen. As far as I’m concerned, good for them, but tandem cross is not for me, which puts a serious dent in my bicycle-Plimpton career. However, neither am I bleeding, so I’ve got that going on. Thanks for reading. I’m enjoying your website.

  5. Ron Matuska says:

    Did you run with a seniors handicap? You two look great in the almost matching bumblebee yellow jerseys.

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