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Copper Triangle on a Tandem

  We spotted the green Trek tandem sitting used in a bike shop in Winter Park. As we looked it over, an employee explained to us, "This probably has nothing to do with the bike, but I should tell you, it has been through two divorces." The bike was a mid 90's steel frame Trek tandem. It had been upgraded with drop bars and newer rims. Something about it was calling to us, we were a young couple ready to take on any challenge. Tentatively we each sat on it and were surprised that the bike seemed to fit us pretty well.
"We could ride it in the Copper Triangle!" I said excitedly.

  The Copper Triangle is a beautiful high country loop climbing over three mountain passes. Every year since 2006 the Davis Phinney Foundation has hosted a fund raising ride along this route. The course starts at the Copper Mountain base area, then climbs toward Leadville over Fremont Pass (elevation, 11,318 ft ).
  The ride skirts just along the edge of Leadville before climbing up and over Tennessee Pass (elevation 10,424 ft). Tennessee Pass begins with a rolling cruise through pine forests and past the Ski Cooper ski area. Next the road opens up into bare cliffs that wind along the Eagle river. Riders can sneak a peek at the abandoned mining town of Gilman. Next the route leads into the cute little mountain town of Minturn. From there a series of bike paths and short sections of street gets riders safely into Vail. Every intersection has police guiding traffic and the route was easy to follow. After Vail the ride veers onto a paved bike path that parallels I-70 in a climb up and over Vail Pass (elevation 10,666 ft). The bike path winds all the way into The Copper base area to complete the circuit. I had ridden that inaugural 2006 ride and really enjoyed the route and the support. My wife was an experienced roadie and we had already ridden the MS150 together, so I knew she could handle three mountain passes.
  The tandem wouldn't fit on our car that day in Winter Park, so I had to return later in my VW bus to pick it up. I had to set the bike rack rails so far apart that it couldn't fit single bikes anymore. Apparently when you have a tandem, you commit to the tandem. We made some slight bar and seat adjustments, and started practicing with it. We quickly learned some of the basic techniques and even picked up tips from other tandem couples. Along the way, someone  told us, "A tandem will make a strong marriage stronger, and a weak one won't last."

  When we left Copper that morning and started the grind up Fremont pass we were communicating really well. If my wife needed to stand up and pedal, she'd count "1..2..Up!" and we would both rise together. I'd call out when I was making a shift or if we were about to hit a bump in the road.The rider in back, or Stoker, can't see bumps coming. So if the rider in front, the Captain, doesn't announce bumps, the stoker can take it pretty hard. We fell into a cadence and steadily made our way up the climb. Everyone on the ride was friendly and having a good time.
  An hour later, we reached the top of Fremont, by the Climax mine, and began our first descent.
Something I didn't know at the time, is that a tandem can handle a bigger big ring than any single rider could spin. This bike had been fitted with a massive 54 tooth ring called The Engagement Ring.

 We dropped through a steep section and into a sweeping right hand turn. Then we started cranking, by the time the gear was spun out, we were flying past rows of singles. I snuck a quick look over my shoulder and saw we had five or six single riders in a tight row drafting off of us. Each time we pulled to the left to pass someone, our drafters would follow, like the tail of a kite.
The whole time I kept checking with my stoker to see if she was comfortable with the speed. As we approached other riders I’d ask “pass em?” And she would respond, “yeah, pass ‘em.”
On one straight away we were spun out and flying. I was surprised to hear a bike coming by on our left. I looked over and got a friendly wave from another couple on a tandem. They had their own tail of singles and they must have had a big ring even larger than ours.
  Closer to Leadville the road started getting a few more curves. We dropped out of ludicrous speed and formed a gang with a dozen other riders.There wasn’t a car in sight, and we spread out to fill the downhill lane of the road. Still cooking along at a high rate of speed we came around a corner and found a dozen other riders also filling the lane, but going about ten mph slower than us.
Jamming on the brakes with riders behind us would have been disastrous. Instead our gang filtered through the other riders like a handful of stones thrown at a chain link fence. I’m sure the slower group had some words for us, but in seconds they had faded away. It was a scary moment, but everyone was ok.
  The miles flowed by and the ride had several well stocked aid stations along the way. We encountered a little congestion as the huge number of cyclists funneled into the side streets of Vail. Policemen managed the traffic and kept all the bikes moving through smoothly. As we left Vail the course led us onto the bike path that climbs Vail Pass. This path begins in a forested area and meanders up the mountain. Here the path uses a few wooden bridges to cross little creeks. These wooden bridges could be damp and slick causing a few riders to go down as they came in too fast or unprepared. At the crest of Vail Pass, the trail becomes more exposed. It's also the point where afternoon clouds might begin to roll in. We ended up getting caught in a light rain storm for our descent into Copper Village.
We completed that ride, and took the tandem on a few other big ones like the MS150. But, now we haven't ridden it in years. Coincidentally, I really haven't been that great at communicating lately. Maybe it's time we air up the tires and take that beast for a spin.
The next Copper Triangle is set for August 1 2020.
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