What does it take to be a couple that takes on crazy challenges like the Dirty Kanza 200 on a tandem? Texas' Andrew Coetzee had a pretty simple answer.
"I would say have one word for tandem success: trust," he said. "If that breaks down, there are problems and sometimes we have to talk."
Dori and Andrew Coetzee were in Emporia earlier this month for their fourth Dirty Kanza 200 riding together in tandem. Since it was not their first try at the race and they keep coming back, something must be working for the Texas couple.
"It's a great way to be together and it kind of equalizes us being able to ride together," Dori said. "We go all over, we do long rides, short rides and go exploring. We're getting ready to do some traveling around the U.S. on the bike as well."
Trust and teamwork are an essential part of tandem success, but you also have to have a good bike to help you with the ride. The Coetzees are on their second tandem after a challenging first try at the DK200.
"The first year we rode DK on another tandem. We won't mention that company," Andrew said. "We sold it a couple months later. It was heavy, it was rigid and stiff and didn't work for us."
Their current bike is a steel Ritchey Double Switchback Break Away designed by Tom Ritchey for his own tandem riding. I took a closer look at the travel gravel bike during Friday's race eve.
The Coetzee's Ritchey Double Switchback Break Away Tandem
Tom Ritchey likely needs no introduction around these parts with the famed frame builder in the business for nearly 45 years now. Ritchey himself is an avid tandem rider, and he originally designed the Double Switchback Break Away so he and his wife could have a travel tandem equally capable on pavement and gravel.
The Coetzees were riding the bike at Dirty Kanza because Andrew happened across the frame by accident at the perfect time. Dori and he were looking to replace their old tandem, and the Double Switchback just kind of popped up. "I totally stumbled upon this bike on Ritchey's website looking for something else, I'm sure. I had never heard of it," Andrew said.
Ritchey built the frame using a combinaton of Logic tubing and function-specific steel tubing. Tubes are joined with tig welds, and the frame has been painted with a red, white and blue colorway.
As the name suggests, it features Ritchey's Break Away system to allow for easier transport of the long bike. The red-painted front connects to the white-painted middle using two lock rings, and the rear blue section connects to the white middle via a double seat clamp on top and a lock ring on the bottom.
"It fits in two suitcases," Andrew said. "We've got to Hawaii with it, we've traveled cross-country and never had to pay fees for travel."
The bike has a steel fork, and it was designed around both 650b and 700c wheels—650b for gravel, 700c for road. The rear cross tube has a unique design with two small-diameter tubes providing support (and a convenient place to strap an extra tube).
With their extensive tandem gravel experience, the Coetzees have made a number of modifications to their Ritchey tandem since purchasing it.
The Coetzees have their drivetrain set up in phase with a timing chain connecting 42t RaceFace rings that are mounted to throwback Race Face Forged crankarms on the left side.
On the right side, they ran a "super compact" configuration with 46/30t rings mounted on the two inner spots of a Race Face triple crankset. The vintage crank pairs with a modern—but not that modern—SRAM Red eTap front derailleur.
In the rear, the Red eTap derailleur shifts over an 11-40t cassette Coetzee fit using a Wolf Tooth Road Link hanger. Both derailleurs are connected to SRAM Red eTap Dual-Control levers.
Ritchey built the steel frame with IS mounts, and the Coetzees mounted BR-CX77 post mount mechanical disc rotors using SM-MA-R203P/S adapters.
Dori rides in the back as the stoker, and her spot got a comfy upgrade with a Cirrus BodyFloat 2.1 suspension seatpost. The alloy post uses adjustable springs to provide compliance, taking the edge off the rough gravel of this year's Dirty Kanza 200 route.
In front of her, she had a Modolo Brevettato stoker bar with a conveniently placed water bottle cage for easy hydration during the long ride.
At the front of the DK200 races, we saw some riders opt for aero bars, while others went without. During Friday's Expo, I cracked wise on Twitter about a tandem with aero bars rolling by ... turns out, it was probably the Coetzees.
Andrew's bars were alloy Profile Design Legacy bars attached to an alloy Zipp compact handlebar. He also put some blue bar tape on the ends for a more comfortable grip. Andrew further customized the setup to fit his needs.
"It's a shallow drop bar. I run it reasonably high on the steerer tube, and then I spend a lot of time in the drops. I run the aero bars and I've got the blips in the ends of the aero bars so I can shift from the aero bars or from the conventional hoods," he said.
Since Andrew spends so much time in the drops, the last bit of customization he did was to install flared mountain bike grips on the ends of the drops after experiencing numb hands one too many times.
The Coetzees opted for 650b wheels on their Ritchey Double Switchback. In the rear, they ran a wheel built with a SunRingle Helix TR27 SL alloy rim and DT Swiss hub, and in the front, they had a wheel built up around an alloy Stan's Crest rim. Both are tubeless-ready with 24mm and 21mm internal widths, respectively.
Front and rear tires were both 650b x 57mm Schwalbe G-One Allround tubeless tires.
Rounding out the Coetzee's setup were plenty of fixtures to make the travel tandem adventure ready. The back had a total of four water bottle cages and the front two. Dori had a Serfas Speed Stem Bag rotated to attach to her suspension seatpost and a Bontrager saddle bag beneath her, and Andrew had a Banjo Brothers Frame Pack underneath him. They also packed a frame pump and attached two CO2 cartridges next to one of the front water bottle cages.
The Coetzee's Ritchey Double Switchback proved more than capable in the Dirty Kanza 200. The couple finished in just over 15 hours and placed second among mixed-gender tandem riders. As mentioned at the top of this profile, success goes back to trust and chipping in to a team effort.
"If you're on a tandem and the person in the back thinks you need to be a little bit further to the left or right, it can cause accidents going through narrow spots," Andrew said. "Honestly, the captain has to trust the stoker is doing their piece. We talk about it when that doesn't seem to be the case."
"I still have to be a strong pair of legs back there and not talk too much because if I'm talking I'm probably not pedaling," Dori joked. "The 'Are you pedaling?' question comes up once in a while."
If you are eyeing the Double Switchback Break Away for yourself, the bike has unfortunately been discontinued, but fear not, Ritchey is expected to have a new gravel-friendly tandem out this fall.
For a closer look at the Coetzee's Ritchey tandem, see the photo gallery and specs below.