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Old 02-08-04, 09:43 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by Offroad team DK
New to tandeming, we are wondering if everyone talks as much as we do. And how often? We´re trying to achieve a certain level of telepathy. Will that be possible? Or are you captains calling every single action?
You'll excuse the length of this response; it probably needs to be a chapter in a small book. Anyway, I've responded to this question in the past and I just dug out the answer and tweaked it a bit. It probably covers much more than you're interested in or need to know, but I think it will help answer your communication question. Interestingly enough, the couple this was written to were buying an MT2000 as well.


I guess I'd ask if in your on-line reading you've come upon Bill McCready's "The Proper Method" (TPM) for stopping and starting on a tandem: The article is longwinded -- something I'm familiar with -- but introduces quite a few important concepts, observations and rules for captains. Moreover, "The Proper Method" that is discussed in the article is about the only way you can get an off-road tandem started on an incline or in technical terrain so it is a fundamental technique to master.

But wait, you wanted to know more about communication? Well, I also like TPM because it reinforces all the tandem basics - Teamwork, Communication and Predictability - during the two most challenging events that occur in an otherwise uneventful tandem ride; the start and stop. Quite simply, by having the stoker firmly settled in the seat with no reason to shift their weight around a team eliminates half of movements that can make starting or stopping a tandem a challenge. As teams practice TPM they reinforce the basics each time they start and stop.

If you can master TPM it's a good indication that you can also develop other techniques that you can fine tune into a repeatable, synchronized process that minimizes unnecessary body movements or that help you learn to move "as one" on the tandem. That's the key to starting and stopping as well as climbing and just about anything else you do on a tandem -- learning to cooperate so that you work as a team.

Any experience on solo mountain bikes, with regard to technique, fitness & knowing the hardware, will all translate directly to the mountain tandem. Interestingly, you may find that the mountain tandem will be easier to captain & control than your solo mountain bike was in certain conditions or situations. A lot of the time it's basically "Point & Go" on the mountain tandem as with the added weight, wheelbase, and a sturdy suspension fork (or better yet, rear suspension) you'll be able to take some straight lines through rugged trail sections that you would have picked your way through on your solo. Additionally, while climbing might be slower, you don't have to worry about keeping the front end down. The downsides, there will be some singletrack turns that you won't be able to make and, if your stoker is super light, rear wheel traction can become a problem on steep climbs where you need maximum traction to put all that torque you have available at the rear wheel to good use. Another problem with single track turns is that, unlike a solo mountain bike, you can't use a slalom turn technique when rounding the trees without running your stoker's handlebars or body into the tree. Instead, you'll need to learn how to go through tree-lined singletrack and delay your lean and turn move long enough to let your stoker's shoulder clear the tree. In fact, I've always put curved bar ends on both front & rear handlebars on our off-road tandems to act as "bumpers" for the trees. That way, if I misjudge by just a little bit the curved bar end will hit the tree and "push the bike back into play" instead of a hitting a hand or the blunt end of the handlebar. Anyway, the long bike will ultimately make you change your normal riding line through trees so that you set up outside the normal riding line and then turn late -- which often times puts your front wheel right on top of the soft berm pushed up by the solo riders at the apex of the turn. Fortunately, most popular trails are ridden by enough folks who don't take corners all that well and the lines through the trees are made wide enough not to be a bother. Lastly, while you can clear a lot of fallen tree obstacles and rocks there are two things to be mindful of. First, as a seasoned off-road solo bike rider you've probably learned to instinctively place your cranks in the safe position when traversing obstacles that could catch your foot or the crank and how to ratchet the cranks as you clear logs. As a tandem captain you also need to consider how to position your cranks to ensure you don't slam your stoker's foot into the log you just cleared or stumps and rocks that sit just along the edge of most trails; this can be more challenging that it sounds in that you'll now need to consider if you'll be able carry enough momentum over an obstacle so that you don't have to leave the safe position until the rear tire hits the obstacle or be positive that if you do ratchet and crank that you're not carrying too much speed to preclude making a full crank revolution before your stoker's feet will come into contact with the obstacle. Second, is your tandem's boom tube high enough to clear the obstacle once your suspension is compressed? Dragging timing chains over obstacles isn't a big problem if you run it with a little extra slack; but if you misjudge the drop on the far side of the obstacle and nail your boom tube you could do some serious frame damage.

If you haven't ridden as a tandem team on the road there is one benefit from road tandem riding that you will miss out on and that's related to developing a smooth, cooperative team cadence & team bike handling skills. You'll no doubt develop a technique on the trails as well, but it has been my experience that the long miles on the road together will made you a much better mountain tandem team than strictly riding off-road. Power and endurance aren't so much the issue as it is developing the ability for the Captain & Stoker to almost intuitively know what each other are doing and how to react -- the telepathy you spoke of which allows you to "just know" when to lighten up on the pedals to reduce the load on the drivetrain for shifts (particularly dropping into granny) without any hesitation -- knowing how to feel how each other are performing though the pedals -- and similar things that the longer 3 hour rides on smooth roads will give you time to learn without having to worry about avoiding rocks, roots & berms.

As previously mentioned and as you've already noted, you'll need to communicate your shifting, braking, turns, stops, etc... out loud at first until you develop more subtle communication methods. A lot of it WILL become intuitive to most stokers as experience, habits, and the "feel of the bike" develop. However, one thing that will always require a verbal command on the mountain tandem will be shifts from the middle ring to granny & middle to big -- you'll have to both ease up on the torque being applied to the drive train in order for the chain to drop or climb smoothly into the neighboring gears. You can grind on them a bit and they'll eventually drop or climb to the next ring without easing up on the new equipment, but it'll kill your momentum and cause you to get hung up every so often. You'll also want to be mindful of shifting under load as it has proven to be quite easy for even moderately strong teams to fold over the larger cassette cogs on the more common XT and XTR cassettes as well as alloy middle chain rings.

Back to basics, just be sure to develop your starting and stopping technique and take some time to get familiar with each other on the bike. Never forget that your stoker has given up all control to you and that your collective safety is in your hands. It is up to you to tell them what is happening up front on the bike, to include calling out terrain shifts & obstacles as you see them. You should find yourself talking to your stoker almost all the time if you're riding single track or even the least bit technical terrain; call out the bumps, low tree limbs, berms, etc... and always remember that there is someone attached to you at the ankle and a mere 2' behind you. Therefore, any branch that you run into and push forward will be snapping back into your stoker's face UNLESS you tell them to put their head down. Every obstacle that you clear with your feet must also be cleared for the stoker's feet. Also, bearin mind that because they are looking around your back and can't see straight ahead, drop offs and close obstacles to the right or left of the trail will look much more ominous as they appear. Again, you'll want to be very vocal about calling out all of the terrain & your activities as if your stoker was blind. It'll take some getting used to, but it will build the trust factor up as you two learn to work together on the tandem and that is something that you must have if you're both going to enjoy the activity. Over time, familiar trails won't need a running dialog, but be mindful that if you stop talking on home trails it will be harder to start again when you venture onto new trails.

But, back to communication. Never forget that to talk about everything before, during and after your rides. Whether your about to take on your first trail with a river crossing or steep single track over slick roots in a dense forest, as a team, decide before hand what techniques you'll use during your rides, agree on who says what to whom and when so that you move in-sync, and then just do it. But, by all means, talk about it first instead of assuming what ever you want to do will be OK. Surprises are a bad thing on an off-road tandem. Additionally, critique yourselves often and adjust your techniques until you're satisfied then practice, practice, practice. Watch how other teams ride and try to adopt the things that work well for them and make sure you're not doing some of the things that make them look awkward or that cause them trouble. Over time, as your techniques continues to improve and becomes old hat you'll find the verbal cues and commands are replaced by predictability and instinctive actions that are the hallmark of seasoned tandem teams. It is not at all unusual to hear tandem teams who have been riding together for some time say things like "we communicate through the pedals", "I just kind of know when he's going to shift" or "when he stands I stand".

Lastly some trite, but key rules to keep in mind:

Rule #1: The stoker never makes a mistake. Rule #2: It is the job of the Captain to keep the Stoker happy & safe. Rule #3: In the event the Captain believes the stoker made a mistake, see Rule #1.

Stoker's due what Captain's teach them to do, intentionally or not. Therefore, if something bad happens because the stoker did or did not do something, the first thing a Captain needs to do is figure out if they communicated everthing they needed to know to react correctly in a given situation.

Most important rule is #4, always have fun!! If you aren't having fun, you're doing something wrong -- everyone will smile at you in amazement (and call you crazy, nuts, brave or insane) as negotiate the trails. We have on many occasions been asked if it's OK for folks to follow us so they can just watch us ride because it IS so unusual looking and seemingly impossible to those who've never tried it.

Last edited by livngood; 02-08-04 at 01:20 PM.
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