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  1. #1
    RDRash
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    MTB Tandem Advice Needed

    Hi Fellow Tandem Riders. I'm hoping that there are some MTB tandem riders on this forum.

    I've been riding a road tandem for a few years with my wife. We ride about 3000 miles per year. I also ride a good deal on the mountain on a single. I would like to combine my love of mountain biking with my love of tandem riding with my wife.

    The challenge is that all the hills around where I live are quite steep with 20%+ grades. I don't know if we'll be able to climb those types of grades on a mountain tandem. I know we can't climb that type of grade on our road tandem (max of about 14% on extended climbs). Of course the MTB gearing will help, although the extra weight won't. I also never see any mtb tandems on the hills around here in South Orange County Calif. Does anyone on this forum ride an MTB and climb these types of hills?

    In addition to the climbs my wife is a bit apprehensive about mtb riding. However, she was also very skeptical about road tandeming, but now she wants to ride it every chance we get. In fact it's really pushing out all my trail riding time. I either need to find more time to fit in mtb single riding (not likely) or I need to combine tandeming and mountain bike riding.

    Any advice on mtb tandeming would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks,

    Paul

  2. #2
    PMK
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    We ride both off-road and on-road on our tandems. It's pretty flat around here so sustained climbing is pretty much out. Some of the local locations do have shorter climbs that are pretty steep.

    For some great insight, I'd suggest you give Alex of MTBTandems.com a call.

    PK
    2006 Co-Motion Roadster, flat bars, discs and carbon fibre fork, size 22 / 19
    2006 Ventana ECDM full suspension mountain tandem
    Some single bikes and a couple of KTM's
    And most important, someone special that enjoys them with me (except the KTM's)

  3. #3
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ocbiker View Post
    The challenge is that all the hills around where I live are quite steep with 20%+ grades.
    Like most things in cycling, it's really a question of the fitness and skill of the tandem team combined with having the right tires/psi for the trail conditions. A really strong, but lightweight tandem team can usually attack just about any grade... so long as they can continue to get traction with the rear wheel.

    We're not all that heavy, but on 15%+ grades that are longish our cadence falls off and then the rear tire ends up spinning out as the soil gives way to rear wheel torque and we're done. Then it's time to push that 45lb Ventana the rest of the way and sometimes I swear that's twice as hard as riding the thing up those grades.

    Quote Originally Posted by ocbiker View Post
    Any advice on mtb tandeming would be greatly appreciated.
    It's a lot of fun, but it takes a lot of trust and exceptional team work. Being a road tandem team before heading to the trails gives you a huge advantage over anyone trying to start out riding two-up off-road because you should have already learned to work as a team and build that trust. Once you get off-road you'll need to work your way from wide open trails to the more technical stuff in a gradual way so that you don't spook your stoker. The sensation of speed on the back of an off-road tandem is much, much higher than on a big old paved roads. You must also be more mindful of obstacles like tree branches, rocks, trees and stumps and how your actions up front will affect your stoker. If you push a tree branch out of the way with your helmet, shoulder or hand guess who it's going to slap once it clears you? When you're steering around obstacles on single track you must over-stand your turns a bit and be mindful of crank positioning so that your stoker's bars and feet will not be slammed into those obstacles.

    Oh yeah, expectation management: off-road tandems tend to fall-down go boom (FDGB) just as often as single off-road bikes. It comes with the territory.



    Anyway, I do believe there are some off-road tandem folks near where you live and a couple of them have become subscribers to my off-road tandem enthusiast's discussion forum, Double_Forte. It's hosted on Yahoo Groups and has several hundred subscribers, although most simply lurk. It's not a chatty place unless someone brings up a topic that's controversial or when a newbie actually gets up the gumption to ask questions. Alex Nutt is one of the more active posters given that he is the only fully-dedicated off-road tandem specialty dealer in the US, to the extent that he even has his own house-branded tandems produced by Ventana per Alex' spec.

    You can a little more info and links to the DF forum here: http://www.thetandemlink.com/Double_Forte.html

    As PMK recently discovered, the rest of the content on that DF Web site is pretty dated. I need to add some trail info PMK recently provided and remind the list members that the site is still there. Again, the real motherlode of information that the DF forum has to offer can only be tapped by asking questions.
    Last edited by TandemGeek; 02-06-10 at 11:36 PM.

  4. #4
    RDRash
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    Thanks for the replies.

    TandemGeek, it's encouraging that you have heard of some MTB Tandem teams in my area. I went and joined Double Forte to learn more info.

    You aren't supposed to talk about crashing until after I get the tandem. I don't want to scare my wife away before she has a chance to get addicted. It looks like you guys were having a ball in the pic.

    If I do pull the trigger I'll also get a Ventana FS. I know that she wouldn't be happy with the pounding of a HT.

    Take care,

    Paul

  5. #5
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ocbiker View Post
    I went and joined Double Forte to learn more info.
    I've approved your request to join DF so welcome to the group.

    Again, you'll want to post an introduction to the list with what is
    essentially the same information in your greetings note. However,
    go ahead and be very specific as to where you live and plan to ride. The
    more specific your questions, the more likely that folks will chime in
    with feedback. Also, be patient. Unlike some of the more active tandem
    discussion lists like BikeForums and Tandem@Hobbes, it may take a day
    before folks receive your note as many subscribers are in 'digest mode'
    where they only receive one email per day with all of the day's message
    traffic at once.

    As for the Ventana, as PMK noted Alex Nutt is a very good person to talk
    to. He sells nothing but off-road tandems and is Ventana's #1 volume
    tandem dealer.

  6. #6
    PMK
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    Not only is Alex good to talk with, he is fun to talk to and a wealth of info.

    In addition to the DF forum, you'll want to head over to MTBR.com and check out the tandem section there. For off-road tandem stuff, while still slow, it does seem to see the most off-road specific posts, though they get quite varied on topics.

    I will say, that if you do get into off-road tandem riding, and I hope you do, while similar in many ways to riding a single, the rides are totally new. Things you seldom have issues with on a single, like floating the front wheel over a log or jumping small things (or a bunnyhop) even navigating seemingly easy corners can raise the bar and become huge triumphs, just like when you first started riding off-road.

    TG's comments about the stokers needing trust and teamwork is so true. Nothing makes me more proud of my stoker than her willingness to ride technical stuff. It's even more rewarding to ride a section clean and hear from the back, I have never ridden that on my single and wouldn't, but was a blast on the tandem. Go figuire.

    Talk bikes with Alex, he is offering that sweet 29'r, plus almost everything else.

    I heard this video was Napa Ca., every time I watch it, you just need to ride. Play the sound too.
    http://forums.mtbr.com/showthread.php?t=462314

    There are some others on MTBR of off-road tandeming from all over. Some give a good representation of the rides, but never the true difficulty of the descents.

    Have Fun

    PK
    2006 Co-Motion Roadster, flat bars, discs and carbon fibre fork, size 22 / 19
    2006 Ventana ECDM full suspension mountain tandem
    Some single bikes and a couple of KTM's
    And most important, someone special that enjoys them with me (except the KTM's)

  7. #7
    Senior Member colotandem's Avatar
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    Mtb tandem - go for it!

    I think PMK and Tandemgeek covered it already, but here's my .02 cents.

    Similiar to your situation, my wife and I ride our tandem 2-3k miles a year. On one of our tandem trips, we did a little off road riding and my wife thought it would be fun to get a mountain tandem. It did not take a lot of persuading for me - a few calls and a few more emails with Alex at mtbtandems.com and we had our new Ventana ECDM on its way. I highly reccomend Alex, he is a wealth of information and great to work with!

    Our Ventana is the most ridden bike in the garage over the past 15 months. We REALLY like riding that bike. I'll reiterate what Tandemgeek said, where you can ride a mountain tandem is mostly a function of your fitness (tight switchbacks seem to be the biggest limiting factor, but you can walk them). Living at the base of the Rockies here in Golden, Colorado, the majority of our rides entail a lot of climbing. We can definitley ride grades in excess of 20%, but not sustained for miles... also depends on the trail, really loose stuff is can be challenging like on your single bike.

    +1 on the DoubleForte group on Yahoo. Good group.

    +1 on mtbr.com tandem section. Not a lot going on there lately, so definitely join and ask questions! I'm "DS2199" on mtbr.com - PM me here or there if you have any other questions.

    Like most around here, I love to talk tandems and lately favoring the off-road ones!

    Dan
    Dan

  8. #8
    RDRash
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    Test MTB ride

    Colotandem, that's very encouraging that you are able to climb 20%+ grades. I don't need to climb those types of grades for miles. The average grade on some of the climbs will be about 14% for 8miles with some maximum pitches at 20%+. However, the real steep parts aren't more than about 50yards at a time.

    I was able to round up a hybrid tandem from a friend for a test ride this weekend. It's an old KHS Tandemania Alite. It's fully rigid so I'll be sticking to a fireroad. However, I was a bit disappointed to find that it's gearing is more like a road bike with a low gear of 28 front and 28 rear. That's higher than my road tandem with a 28/34 (we have pretty steep road hills around here too).

    I'm a bit concerned that it might spoil the prospect of getting a tandem if I take my wife out and we end up pushing the thing up a long fireroad climb. I need to do so trail research to find an easy fireroad to wet her appetite and build her confidence. The kind of trail we all avoid when riding mtb singles. I figure I might only get one chance to convince her so I don't want to blow it.

    I spent a few hours getting the tandem tuned. It was neglected for many years. I replaced the brake pads, swapped the slicks for 2.1 knobbies (tried 2.35 but they wouldn't fit), trued the rims, swapped stoker's seatpost and saddle (she has a Thudbuster), installed our pedals, and lubed it up.

    I'll let you know how it goes.

    Thanks again for all the feedback.

    Paul

  9. #9
    PMK
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    Any chance you have a smaller granny gear laying about. That is pretty simple swap and can be a big difference.

    If you could find a decent used 32-xx cassette and that granny you would know for certain.

    Reason I mention it was your road tandem may need to be a donor of the cassette for a few miles of off road use.

    I forget what we have on our off-road tandems but probably 24/32 and like TandemGeek mentioned, if we don't get tired, normally it becomes a traction problem. One section of a local trail has us climb straight towards the top. From riding the climb for many years and using this little wikki "eyeball it chart" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grade_%28slope%29 it is around a 100+ feet at I believe 50% or slightly more. I'll ask some of the others that ride theirand get their thoughts on the grade. I'm likely overestimating it but hate seeing it come into view. My estimate is also not from riding it, but accomplishing many hours of trail work most of it cutting grass with a bushhog mower. It is a "B" to do and I fear breaking the chain every time. This trail also has many other climbs in the 10 and 20% range, though nothing is of a long distance. If you wonder how such a flat location can have these climbs, years ago, West Palm became home to the first MTB trail on a reclaimed landfill. It's not near as bad as it sounds. The landfill was allowed to do what it does for many years then covered with soil, years later Solid Waste Authority and the county converted the entire place into a huge park with ball fields in the flat areas, an RC airport, and two mtb trails, plus for this team, a place to ride the road tandem with a little bit of climbing.

    PK
    2006 Co-Motion Roadster, flat bars, discs and carbon fibre fork, size 22 / 19
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    Some single bikes and a couple of KTM's
    And most important, someone special that enjoys them with me (except the KTM's)

  10. #10
    Senior Member garethzbarker's Avatar
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    wow...i didn't even know there where mtb tandems. sounds like a crazy way to kill your friend

  11. #11
    RDRash
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    Quote Originally Posted by PMK View Post
    Any chance you have a smaller granny gear laying about. That is pretty simple swap and can be a big difference.

    If you could find a decent used 32-xx cassette and that granny you would know for certain.

    Reason I mention it was your road tandem may need to be a donor of the cassette for a few miles of off road use.


    PK
    I was thinking along the same lines. Unfortunately, the hybrid tandem is quite old. It has a 7 speed cassette while my road tandem has a 9 speed. I searched to buy a 7speed 12-32 or similar. They do make them and they are cheap. However, my plan was spoiled due to incompatible standards. The tandem has a Suntour which is a totally different freehub design. I couldn't find any old SunTour's with a 32. I was just wondering if the rear spacing on an MTB tandem is the same as a standard MTB hub? If so, I could put on a standard rear wheel and buy a 7 speed shimano 11-32 cassette.

    I'll check it when I get home from work today.

    Thanks,

    Paul

  12. #12
    RDRash
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    Well after a bit of research I realized that the MTB rear dropout spacing is not the same as the tandem. 135mm for standard MTB and 145mm for tandems (160mm for Santana Tandems). I knew this but I guess I selectively forgot in the hopes that I could get a reasonable climbing gear by this weekend. Looks like I'll be sticking to the flatlands this weekend.

  13. #13
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ocbiker View Post
    135mm for standard MTB and 145mm for tandems (160mm for Santana Tandems).
    Not in all cases. Yes, there are some brands of tandems where you can be certain as to what the rear spacing is, e.g., Santana's @ 160mm, but Ventana uses 135mm as their standard spec. They'll build 145mm on request, but 135mm is standard. Cannondale has settled on 145mm, but models built in the 90's have 140mm and 145mm. So, the point is, you really need to check on each specific brand/model and in some cases the specific example you're concerned with to be sure.

  14. #14
    RDRash
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    Quote Originally Posted by TandemGeek View Post
    Not in all cases. Yes, there are some brands of tandems where you can be certain as to what the rear spacing is, e.g., Santana's @ 160mm, but Ventana uses 135mm as their standard spec. They'll build 145mm on request, but 135mm is standard. Cannondale has settled on 145mm, but models built in the 90's have 140mm and 145mm. So, the point is, you really need to check on each specific brand/model and in some cases the specific example you're concerned with to be sure.
    Hmm,

    Good to know. I guess there's still a little hope that it will fit. I'll check it tonight. However, I'm thinking back when I removed it the other night, and it looked like pretty wide spacing. The rear doesn't have a quick release either. I had to remove it with a cresent wrench. I guess that's the old school 15MM thruaxel . We've come full circle.

  15. #15
    Senior Member stevegor's Avatar
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    Can anyone suggest a set of forks that is suitable for a MTB tandem, with lock out etc?
    I'm lame,
    I'm sore,
    I'm stonkered.

  16. #16
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stevegor View Post
    Can anyone suggest a set of forks that is suitable for a MTB tandem, with lock out etc?
    No, but he can.

    Seriously, it's slim pickin's on the open market and Alex has been able to work with a couple fork builders to ensure there are at least a few different options out there that are suitable for tandems.

  17. #17
    Senior Member stevegor's Avatar
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    Thanks TG.
    I'm lame,
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    I'm stonkered.

  18. #18
    RDRash
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    First Ride

    We took out the KHS hybrid tandem today. The weather really cooperated. It was an amazing day with blue sky's and 70 degrees. We started out with an easy gradual downhill ride. It's been raining heavily here the last couple weeks so there are lots of deep ruts. The stoker was very nervous of the ruts. So was the captain but the captain couldn't show it. However, we navigated the ruts OK and our confidence increased. We then took to a small climb that hits 16%. The climb wasn't nearly as bad as I expected mainly because it was very short at only about 100 yards. Regardless, it added to our confidence even more.

    Coming back down the short hill was a bit of a challenge. Lot's of ruts and debris, but we made it OK. I was really surprised at how much compliance there was in just the tires and frame. I've ridden fully rigid singles before and was punished by them. This wasn't too bad. We were able to go much faster over rough terrain than I expected. However, I will say that I kept to very tame trails. I didn't want to have a tumble on our maiden voyage. That would have guaranteed a non-repeat performance.

    We then took to some singletrack. There isn't too much singletrack in this wilderness park that I felt comfortable tackling. However, it was nice to get a feel of riding the mtb tandem on the singletrack. At that point we had done pretty much everything in the park that I thought we could handle on the hybrid, but it felt like our ride was just getting started. Luckily the stoker felt the same way. She was interested in attempting one of the main climbs. I really didn't think we could make it up the climb and I was a bit worried about spoiling a good outing with defeat. Remember, the main goal was to convince her that mtb tandeming is fun so we can get a real steed. We tackled Mathis which is about 1 mile and hits a grade of 22%. It was extremely rutted in some areas but we managed to stay out of the big ones. We made it up the steepest part of the trail without dabbing. However, it was brutal. We stopped about half way up. At that point I asked her if she wanted to go down or up. I was torn. I didn't really want to climb since I was felt like I was going to toss my cookies. However, I also didn't want to ride down the steep rutted grade. Some of the ruts on the steep pitches were about 2 feet deep. She opted to go up.

    We started our slog to the top. I instructed her to rest when the grade was more gradual and we didn't need to stop again. We did crawl up many parts of that climb. There are about 4 false summits on this climb and at each one she was shattered when she learned we weren't at the top yet. It made me laugh since I remember feeling that way when I first climbed that hill on my single. We finally crested the top and surged up the last part of the climb. Powered by the fact that we finally made it to the top. There were lots of heads turning and congrats from the riders that were resting at the top of the climb.

    We started our way back out of the park and I considered doing a more technical descent. I did have my stoker wearing knee/shin, and elbow pads just in case. However, I thought the better of it. In hindsight it would have been foolish on our first ride with a fully rigid bike. We rode on the road back home and my stoker couldn't stop talking about how much fun the ride was. Mission accomplished.

    Now I need to turn my attention to the Ventana. I'm curious what sizes you guys are riding and your height's. I'm thinking about either a 19/16 or a 17/16. Normally, I ride a 19" frame. However, the standover on the 19 is 32.5. That's 1" higher than any of my single bikes. However, the top tube of the 17/16 is only 22.1". Normally, I ride singles with more than a 23" TT. If it was a single I would probably opt for the larger frame and deal with the standover. However, I suspect I'll be needing to straddle it quite a bit when the trails get more technical. Any advice?

    Thanks,

    Paul

  19. #19
    PMK
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    I personally don't know which Ventana frame would be the one for you. I have studied their sizing charts and talked with Alex about this, when I though we were buying one.

    My stoker knows that within reason she gets what she wants in regards to the tandems, she has decided so far, she is fine on the hardtails with a thudbuster.

    Our squadron, has two hardtail Cannondales, one is the earlier style frame, the other is a later style frame. Although the older bike has a shorter stoker top tube, it seems to be our preferred technical singletrack ride. The frame has much more standover for me, and a much shorter wheelbase for better turning. The newer and larger bike has less standover, (basically zero unladen) and while not yet a big concern, I'm glad we didn't start on this bike. I haven't dropped her yet, but know that with sketchy terrain beneath my feet one day it will happen. This bike however does work well in more open terrain and was built for the less technical stuff we also ride.

    Advice, ask on MTBR, and consult with the place you are getting it from, hopefully Alex @ MTBTandems. Alex knows these bikes and has some very nice build packages that save you some of the frustrations when building an off-road worthy tandem.

    Glad it worked out for you, if you ride the tandem more, be wary of getting overconfident, stay within the existing bikes limits. Last thing you want to do is reverse this effort.

    PK
    2006 Co-Motion Roadster, flat bars, discs and carbon fibre fork, size 22 / 19
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  20. #20
    RDRash
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    Frame Sizing

    Quote Originally Posted by PMK View Post

    Advice, ask on MTBR, and consult with the place you are getting it from, hopefully Alex @ MTBTandems. Alex knows these bikes and has some very nice build packages that save you some of the frustrations when building an off-road worthy tandem.


    PK
    Thanks for the advice. It makes sense that a shorter standover and shorter TT would make for a more confident technical handler in the tight stuff. I normally go with a larger frame for stability through the rough stuff at speed. However, I suspect that with a tandem maneuverability is even more important than straight line stability.

    I plan on getting the bike from a local bike shop, Adrenaline Bikes. They are right in my neck of the woods and also have some great packages. I like the idea of supporting a local shop and having a place to wrench on it when I'm over my head. I've consulted with them about sizing and they recommended the 17/16 but said they understood my concern about the short TT. Since I'm kind of in the middle they said it just depends on if I want to deal with the high standover. That left me in my garage measuring all my bikes and measuring my standover. I think I would rather have the confidence of having some clearance so I don't struggle to keep the bike up on uneven terrain. If it was just me I wouldn't worry too much but I don't want to drop my stoker as a result. I can always adjust the cockpit (saddle back and longer stem) to get the reach I'm more used to.

    Thanks,

    Paul

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