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  1. #1
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    Hey TandemGeek - tandems and climbing centuries

    I noticed that you list yourself as "near Atlanta"
    Have you ever taken the tandem to any of the closer climbing centuries?
    My idea of close being 3 state 3 mountain, 6 Gap or the Cheaha Challenge. If so, what are your impressions as they relate to riding a tandem at these events?

    Other folks are more than welcome to offer their opinions as well.

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    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    We've ridden most of the epic climbs in Georgia, Alabama, southeast Tennessee as well as a few near Asheville and Brevard, North Carolina. However, we have in most cases ridden the routes as part of smaller group rides and not as a registered participant in the organized centuries. That said, many of the folks whom we ride with have done one or all of them at some point, and many others, e.g., Bridge-to-Bridge, Mt. Mitchell, etc..

    We did the metric part of 3 State last year just to see what it was like but, again, have ridden all but the infamous Burkhalter Gap. Decending the big hills with the masses who may or may not have the best bike handling skills is probably the most unnerving part of these rides and we've since learned that some of our friends from Tennessee who do the 3-State each year go off some well before the official mass start to eliminate that particular problem. If we decide to do 3-State again this year, that's likely how we'll approach it.

    6 Gap is another ride where we have climbed all but the also infamous Hogpen Gap as part of other rides and avoid the mass-chaos of the organized 3 / 6 Gap centries. Our preference is to ride 3 Gap from downtown Dahlonega, Ga. We've also climbed most of the mountains near Ellijay and Fort Mountain but have not as of yet taken on Brasstown Bald. Again, we know a few other teams who have done the 6 Gap Century and who have ascended most if not all of Brasstown Bald.

    Cheaha is the same story: been to the top of the mountain and ridden various parts of the scenic drive along the ridgeline of the Talladega National Forest, but have not ridden the Challenge. Friends have who lived to tell about it as well.

    In general, all of these routes can be ridden by a tandem team in average shape provided they have the right gearing and are opposed to grinding out 7 - 10 mile climbs with average gradiants of 5% - 8%. The more challenging climbs up places like Hogpen and Burkhalter Gaps where gradiants well into the double digits abound require sheer determination but are doable from all accounts. However, when it comes to taking on any of these epic rides as part of a mass-rider event where you must share the road with some 2,000 other riders of varying skill and judgement -- noting that it's often times strong riders with poor judgement who pose the greatest risks -- you either learn to deal with it or find another way to enjoy the sense of accomplishment you can get by taking on these routes. Again, we've elected to take most of them on with small groups of our friends as the added stress of riding with a bunch of strangers with questionable riding skills lost it's appeal many years back.

  3. #3
    It Takes Two BloomingCyclist's Avatar
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    My wife and I have ridden the full 100 miles of 3 State 3 Mtn the last three years. The first two were on singles and last year we rode it on our tandem. The organizers increased the number of allowed riders each of those years. Last year and again this year, they are allowing 2500 riders but I think our first year they only allowed around 1700 and then the next year up to around 2000 and then 2500. It was noticeably more crowded on the road last year but not so much that it was an unpleasant ride for us.

    We have always liked the atmosphere and the challenge of the ride. Riders don't have to commit to the 100 miles until the lunch stop giving riders a chance to opt out for the 62 mile ride at that point. It is the only ride we have done where the city itself is one of the sponsors of the ride. At the end of the 100 mile ride coming down off of Lookout Mtn into town, they have traffic police stopping traffic at all of the intersections all the way back to the ride end. It makes what would be a very unpleasant trip through that part of town into a piece of cake.

    Some of the riders are not ready for the downhills. Our first year, there was a terrible accident on the first sharp turn on the first descent with a bike going out of his lane and head on into a car. He's a quadriplegic. The second year there was another accident (I think on the same turn but not sure) and that rider recovered completely but after some significant time in a hospital. Last year they had people before that turn with signs warning people. There were also people posted on other significant sharp turns of the descents. I didn't hear of any bad accidents last year.

    In my opinion the downhills would be more pleasant if there weren't as many bikes and for the number of bikes and cars some riders do ride too aggresively going out of their lane and are far too trusting that bikes in front of them will hold their line when they're in this unfamiliar arena of steep long descents. The last descent down Lookout Mtn is the most technical with steep slopes and switchbacks and cars.

    We put a disc brake on our tandem for that ride to lessen the chance of blowing up a tire. I also found that I didn't like the original pad on the Winzip brake because it wore so quickly. After that ride, I switched to the EBC gold pads (sintered metallic).

    For the most part, my wife and I like to climb. We take Burkholder Gap as a challenge. Last year's Southern Tandem Rally also did that climb and it also provided the opportunity to climb Signal Mtn which was an awesome climb with European-like switchbacks near the top that a few couples did. It was tough but very neat.

    I don't know if there were more than a dozen tandems at 3 state 3 mtn but we enjoyed it on our tandem. We will like it more with the EBC pads this year. We saw Tandem Geek last year at a rest stop at the bottom of the first descent as we were adjusting our disc brake pads. This year coming down Haleakula with the EBC pads, we didn't have to adjust them at all and it was a much more demanding descent in terms of the braking required.

    The 3 state 3 mtn website lists people who have signed up by state and city and you may see some tandem couples you know.

    Bloomington, IN

  4. #4
    sch
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    I have ridden 3 S/3 M, Cheaha and Cherohala all on singleton both DF on all three
    and long wheel base bent on 3S/3M and Cheaha. In addition to the comments above
    I would say that the first climb at 3S is bland, only about 3mi long in the hilly part and
    will be very crowded. Beware that cyclists will be all over the road at the rest stop on
    top. Unfortunately there are two switch backs on the Suck Creek downhill, the first of
    which is in a rocky area with 50' cliffs on the uphill side and should be approached no
    faster than 30mph on a tandem. The problems are that nearby cyclists inadvertently
    overshoot into the L side of the road (where the quadriplegic drilled an oncoming car)
    and can knock each other down. The second hairpin is not quite as tight. The metric
    cuts out the 2d and 3d hills. The second hill is a VERY nice hardwood forest on what
    used to be a horrible road but is now repaved. It has a 100yd 15% grade early but
    is easily ridden on a tandem, though steeper than Suck Creek. It is also about 3-3.5mi
    long. A second cutout for those too tuckered to consider Burkhalter after the first two hill
    climbs is to turn LEFT
    on Highway 11 at about the 75mi mark instead of RIGHT. You ride towards Chattanooga
    and about 3-6mi down the road there is the last metric century rest stop about 500yds
    up a road to the L. At this point you have joined the metric century course and your
    ride will total 91mi, skipping Lookout mountain, the final and worst hill at 4mi and even
    steeper grades. My experience is that the downhills are a bummer not meeting expectations
    after the rides up to where they start. Frankly they would scare the hell out of me on the
    back of a tandem.

    Cheaha is much less tandem friendly as the ride is really a roller coaster with constant up
    and downs for about10-12mi after the second rest stop which itself is at the top of a
    nasty 12% or so 500yd climb. Once you get through the roller coaster part there is a
    2mi or so section of 10% + grade that ends about 1mi from the crest. 3S/3M has ~12mi
    of intense climbing. Cheaha is more like 20mi, but chopped up. The downhills would be
    wide open with high level of comfort for me on any bike. One of them is probably a 60+
    mph downhiller on a tandem, I know I hit 50mph on the bent three yrs ago.

    Cherohala always seems to have a few tandem teams that are always pretty strong.
    It is up and down rollers with a lot of flats til you hit the Dragon, the road at the
    southern edge of the Smokies that is a lot of fun, very twisty and not really hard.
    You can really cut loose on the descent, as the hairpins are pretty obvious.
    That is 4-5mi long but does not really hurt you. The entrance to Joyce Kilmer preserve marks
    the start of the serious climb- 7-10% for the next 19mi with a 1mi downhill in the center.
    The reward climbing this is 2-3mi of flat on the top at 5400' (it can be cool above 4000'
    so bring a wind breaker) then 30mi downhill (with 3mi of uphill in there in 3x 1mi sections).
    On a singleton it is not very fast, maybe 40mph, but a tandem would easily roll out to 50+.
    The draw back is a LOT of motorcycles and RV/SUV with trailers can be a hassle. So
    although it is a 115mi century, the 30mi downhill makes it more like 85mi. The road is
    sweeping and I would have a high level of comfort wide open on the Cherohala.

    6 Gap is a significantly more challenging century with half a dozen 5-7mi hills with 7-10% grades and
    rider # in the 2000 range. I have not done it but talks with others suggest you best be
    a very strong team to tandem ride this. Early October can be cool and wet.

  5. #5
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    Given y'alls descriptions of the descents it seems I would want at least a rear disk brake. As I may have previously mentioned we are not a small tandem team at 400 + the weight of our CoMotion Speedster. Interestingly, it's my wife's idea to take our tandem to the Cheaha Challenge this year. Her big concern is my willingness to let it fly on the downhills. My big concern is cranking the bike up to rest stop #3. I enjoy riding with her and I'm certain that we have enough fitness and gear to reach the top of the mountain. I just want to do safely. Thanks for all your input.

    The number one reason we bought the tandem is for my wife to continue riding. She has MS and her last exacerbation left her with some balance issues and a lessening of sensation in her hands. She still rides a single but has to be more attentive to whether or not she's truly gripping the handlebars. She has really been enjoying the tandem since it lets her relax and stay with the main group of riders. The only downside is that I'm losing my 13 year old daughter as a stoker and I can't afford a triplet. http://main.nationalmssociety.org/si...79&pg=personal

  6. #6
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Murf524 View Post
    Given y'alls descriptions of the descents it seems I would want at least a rear disk brake. As I may have previously mentioned we are not a small tandem team at 400 + the weight of our CoMotion Speedster.
    An Arai rear drum might be more appropriate for your intended application. A disc is a nice compromise solution for lighterweight teams that 'might' need something with more heat capacity than is afforded by dual rim brakes. An Arai drum brake (which will eventually be scarce, as they are no longer being produced) is what you want for high / constant-on brake demand on long, steep, or challenging descents. On the bright side, the Arai drum is an easy-to-put-on / easy-to-remove supplemental brake that you can leave off except when headed for the mountains.

  7. #7
    pan y agua merlinextraligh's Avatar
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    The descent down the backside of Hogpen on a tandem would be fast. It's no trick to hit 50mph on a single bike.

    With some cornering skill, and some hutzpa, 65mph would be easily obtainable.

  8. #8
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by merlinextraligh View Post
    With some cornering skill, and some hutzpa, 65mph would be easily obtainable.

    ...but not when you're sharing the road with a bunch of single bikes riding 2 and 3 abreast at 45mph and must ride with your brakes covered or applied nearly the entire time. This is the crux of the issue of doing these popular centuries on challenging terrain aboard a tandem.

    As in any group riding situation, operating your tandem at a speed that is significantly higher than the traffic you are over taking is imprudent, to say the least, and can easily rise to reckless given how unpredicatable other riders may be or if the high-speed descending skills of the tandem captain are not exceptional. IMHO, and based on my experience riding both tandems and single bikes, what would otherwise be exhilarating descents quickly degrade from challenging adventures into stressful and angst-filled moments that overshadow much of the satisfaction of these rides. Moreover, it's the constant application of your brakes to keep your speed in check with the limits of the single bikes that warrants the supplemental brakes, moreso than simply managing the natural descent speed you'd achieve if riding alone or with other tandems.

    Again, this is why we tend to shy away from these events and prefer to do these rides with small groups of friends where it's clearly understood who goes first and who hangs back.

  9. #9
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    I appreciate all the advice. The event rides with the larger groups can be a bit annoying. We participated in a century ride last fall and we had a number of singles (usually little dudes 130# or less) get in front of us on the downhills. Obviously they failed physics and were genetically defective. These are the folks I worry about. The tandem flies don't bother us at all. We had a sweet 1-2% decline that let us pull a line of 7 riders for a mile or so at 30+. The road then turned up and the train came on by. Such is life with a tandem.

  10. #10
    pan y agua merlinextraligh's Avatar
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    I'm not suggesting you ride at a speed inappropriate for circumstances. My comment went to the steepness of the grade.

  11. #11
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by merlinextraligh View Post
    I'm not suggesting you ride at a speed inappropriate for circumstances. My comment went to the steepness of the grade.
    I understand and assumed that to be the case.

    However, given the context of the original question and for those who may be following this thread who haven't "been there and done that" on group rides with single bikes intermixed with tandems, it's one of the biggest issues you'll encounter and is the source for most anxiety and a let down for teams who attend these rides "looking to let 'er rip" with their tandems.

    Again, what we have found time and again is that many of the strong amateur wanna-be racers, recreational/sport cyclists and tri-geeks who ride in the B and C groups at these rides have horrible bike handling skills and can't hold a line to save their lives, never mind knowing how to corner or understanding how a bicycle actually turns. Now, to be fair, there are a bunch of tandem teams that also have horrible bike handling skills as well. However, the point is, having the road ahead of you littered with these types of riders simply shifts a much higher demand for bike handling and braking skills not to mention patience and road manners onto the tandem teams. If tandem teams don't appreciate this going into one of these rides it can be a less than enjoyable experience.
    Last edited by TandemGeek; 04-10-08 at 02:56 PM.

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    I'll keep it all in mind. Handling skills of other riders are always a concern. Of course, nearly everyone thinks he has the skill of a formula one driver. My favorite are the folks that have to swing wAAAAy outside and then come across 3 or 4 lines to make a corner at 14 mph. We've got a lot of tri folks in Northwest Florida at 90% of them can't take a corner worth a hoot.

    Back to the original.
    I'll consider the drum brake if my wife decides she definitely wants to try the ride on the tandem. I'll also get an air horn to let them know were coming. Cheaha has steep sections but you can see through nearly all the turns. We thought about the Georgia Tandem rally this year but there were scheduling conflicts. There are/were 3 other tandems in our area but 2 of the 3 have broken stokers and the 3rd lost his 16 year old stoker. Sixteen years old explains that one. It would be nice to do a large TANDEM group ride but it will have to wait until next year.

  13. #13
    sch
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    That is one advantage of Cheaha over 3S/3M or 6 Gap, the number of riders is much smaller
    and by the time a tandem gets to rest stop 3 the vast majority of riders will be ahead of you.
    My last trip up Cheaha was on the bent and I turned around at the top, making it an 85mi day.
    The run in from Piedmont to the base of the mountain is fairly flat and 20mi each way. On a
    singleton the roller coasters mean hitting 40 at the bottom of the dip and 6mph over the next
    top. There are about 10 of these between rest stop 2 and 3. They get old after a while.
    Cheaha is so wide open that you won't be hitting the brakes all that much. Keep track of what
    the terrain looks like at the entrance to the park road as you can be moving a a pretty good
    clip here on the return trip and could over shoot. Car traffic is pretty benign as well, some motorcycles.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by TandemGeek View Post
    An Arai rear drum might be more appropriate for your intended application. A disc is a nice compromise solution for lighterweight teams that 'might' need something with more heat capacity than is afforded by dual rim brakes. An Arai drum brake (which will eventually be scarce, as they are no longer being produced) is what you want for high / constant-on brake demand on long, steep, or challenging descents. On the bright side, the Arai drum is an easy-to-put-on / easy-to-remove supplemental brake that you can leave off except when headed for the mountains.
    We have an Arai drum brake on our old tandem and found it very nice to be able to remove it for Paris-Brest-Paris last year. On the other hand, the Arai does not provide as much stopping power as the disk we have on our new tandem. (We also have dual rim brakes on each bike) When we were training for the Planet Ultra - King of the Mountains series last year we blew a front tire off the rim on a 18% to 20% downhill on a hot day with the Arai maxed out. Very scary! Still, I feel the Arai is an excellent brake for the overwhelming majority of applications.

  15. #15
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by reversegear View Post
    ... we blew a front tire off the rim on a 18% to 20% downhill on a hot day with the Arai maxed out.
    Makes you wonder what you'd have experienced without the Arai?

    An Arai drum won't stop a tandem by itself any more than a rear rim brake will, and they really don't go a good job of reducing speed above a certain point. They seem to work best when they are applied early at lower speed that are close to the targeted controlled descent speed vs. bringing them into play at very high speeds where the shoes quickly glaze. In other words, if you're sailing along at 45mph and need to get it down to 30mph, sit-up and use aggressive rim brake action to quickly slow the tandem, and then apply the Arai so that you can then alternate front to back rim brake use for the rest of the descent as the Arai works to help you from building up speed.

    BTW, were you running a wire bead or foldable / kevlar bead tire?
    Last edited by TandemGeek; 04-11-08 at 07:53 AM.

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    We were probably going 10 mph when it blew off - which is why I can tell you about it today. The section we were on is very steep and has many sharp turns - this lasts for about a mile and a half or so and we were half way through it. We are a fairly heavy team and if I let off the brakes on the steep stuff we will accelerate to the point that we can not make it around the next turn no matter how much I try to slam on the brakes latter on. That would be bad - so I keep the speed down on that stuff. On a more open road I will let roll a little more. We did the last 45 miles of the Breathless Agony ride in an hour which has some uphill sections and a long section of 1% into a headwind, but does drop around 7,500ft. overall.

    Our new tandem (a Steve Rex) has a disk on it. We have just done one training ride on it and the San Diego Fleche, but I can say that the disk does a better job of stopping us. I will say that so far I feel safer with the disk, but I do not have much experience with it yet.

    As far as tires go - I am a little fuzzy on what we were running then. I think it was a Contenintal Duraskin 28 with a wire bead.

  17. #17
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by reversegear View Post
    I will say that so far I feel safer with the disk, but I do not have much experience with it yet.
    It has been my experience that they are definitely more effective than a rear rim brake of any type -- both in terms of their ability to manage heat and pure stopping power. Noting that we are a lightweight team, I found myself using the rear disc about 75% of the vs. a more traditional. 60/40 front to rear brake bias. However, and I think I've covered this in another thread once before, the down side to the disc for me was something I found to be true on our dual disc-equipped off-road tandem: instead of enjoying the added safety margin provided by the improved performance of the disc I found that I merely pushed out the performance envelope of our tandems to where all of that added margin was consumed by greater demand. After cooking the rear disc enough to induce nearly 100% brake fade on a few occasions, I finally started to back-off a bit.

    Quote Originally Posted by reversegear View Post
    I think it was a Contenintal Duraskin 28 with a wire bead.
    I've pondered a theory that wire beaded tires are actually more prone to blow-offs vs. foldable kevlar bead tires given that most of the blow-offs seem to happen to wire-bead tires. However, I suspect if I factored in the number of tandem teams that ride with wire bead tires vs. kevlar folding tires that ratio alone would be so skewed towards the wire beaded tires that one factor would invalidate my theory. Moreover, once you factored in gross bike weight, the probability of finding very many non-wire bead tires that were used on tandems in conditions that would likely cause a blow-off would be miniscule. However, that's the reason I always ask folks who've had blow-offs what type of tire they were using.

  18. #18
    Senior Member 72andsunny's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BloomingCyclist View Post
    We put a disc brake on our tandem for that ride to lessen the chance of blowing up a tire. I also found that I didn't like the original pad on the Winzip brake because it wore so quickly. After that ride, I switched to the EBC gold pads (sintered metallic).
    Bloomington, IN
    BloomingCyclist: I thought I'd follow your advice and upgrade to the metallic brake pads. Do you happen to know which one fits the Winzip?

    Beyondbikes is the only place I can find them...and they have quite a few choices: http://www.beyondbikes.com/bb/Items.asp?Mc=EBC

    Thanks!

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    Quote Originally Posted by TandemGeek View Post
    I've pondered a theory that wire beaded tires are actually more prone to blow-offs vs. foldable kevlar bead tires given that most of the blow-offs seem to happen to wire-bead tires. However, I suspect if I factored in the number of tandem teams that ride with wire bead tires vs. kevlar folding tires that ratio alone would be so skewed towards the wire beaded tires that one factor would invalidate my theory. Moreover, once you factored in gross bike weight, the probability of finding very many non-wire bead tires that were used on tandems in conditions that would likely cause a blow-off would be miniscule. However, that's the reason I always ask folks who've had blow-offs what type of tire they were using.
    In the past I have had trouble with tires with thin sidewalls.

    I live in an area with a lot of code red days in the summer. Everyone is warned to stay indoors because the pollution is so bad. Not good for a thin layer of rubber.

    I weight almost 250 pounds. I have to run the tire pressure high or I get tube pinches. The pressure was higher than the rating of the tires. The sidewalls also get a lot of scuffs from the way I ride.

    What I found is that there were cracks in the rubber coating over the threads. I believe moisture traveled down the threads to the steel bead, which would then rust. The rust cut the threads and I would have a massive blowout. Every time I have had a blow out the bead has been rusted.

    I haven't had this problem since I switched to gum wall tires.

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