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Is off road and trail riding a good idea for tandems ?

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Is off road and trail riding a good idea for tandems ?

Old 10-25-20, 08:31 PM
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preventec47
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Is off road and trail riding a good idea for tandems ?

I could get very excited about riding tandems off pavement but I worry about the loss of control-ability and recoverability if -when you
encounter some unexpected technical obstacles or just trying to make small turns going slow but on rough ground etc.
I hear from some people that Mountain Bike Tandems and off road action is becoming very popular and I have dozens of State
maintained bike trails within an hours drive.... but I worry about the level of difficulty for a tandem. The good thing I know is
that they rate all the trails like the do in snow skiing ie beginner, intermediate and advanced etc.
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Old 10-25-20, 10:13 PM
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We have ridden plenty of gravel roads and a few single tracks of varying surfaces on our entry level tandem, the 2 spills we have had were slow speed u-turns where the front wheel has buried itself we ride clipped in and the stoker doesn't think to clip out so once the tipping point is reached down she goes. Wide tyres are a must we ride 42mm and don't have front suspension, if its really rutty the downhills can be slow and painful. Good fun and its nice to have a bit of variety although it is hard on your gear
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Old 10-25-20, 10:16 PM
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All you can do it try and see for yourself how the challenges are dealt with and what the benefits gained are. I know a few teams that love to ride trails but not really rough stuff. One has a dual suspension/dual rider rig... Andy
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Old 10-26-20, 02:19 AM
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Originally Posted by headasunder View Post
, the 2 spills we have had were slow speed u-turns where the front wheel has buried itself we ride clipped in and the stoker doesn't think to clip out so once the tipping point is reached down she goes.
I can see right away that when if-when I do it, it will be mandatory tennis shoes and plain pedals just like when I was a kid on my stingray banana seat.
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Old 10-26-20, 09:21 AM
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We have ridden some pretty serious trails on our Ritchey Tandem. A couple of times in Scotland when they were the only way to get where we were going. And a few times in France when Google Maps put us on them even when there was a real bike route. We use clipless pedals, so we were definitely locked to the pedals. You just need to know your limits. When the trail gets too much for the bike and your ability, stop and walk.

Don't confuse this with riding gravel roads. A tandem can be a lot of fun on gravel roads, as long as the wheels and tires are capable of dealing with the road conditions.
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Old 10-26-20, 10:15 AM
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As a side note, beware of the directions from Google maps:
https://www.google.com/maps/@58.2136...2!8i6656?hl=en

If you look at the attached PDF you will see the junction of A858 and Pentland Road on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland. If you look closely you can see a goat track that goes off to the left. That is the route Google says to take. Hey, it is about 500 feet shorter. Not a problem here, we just went to the right. But imagine you have gone down 5 miles of gravel and it turns into this. If you are touring on roads that you are not familiar with, beware of Google Maps or be prepared to ride off road!
Attached Files
File Type: pdf
A858 - Google Maps.pdf (3.05 MB, 11 views)
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Old 10-26-20, 12:33 PM
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We bought our new tandem specifically to ride gravel. With a gravel tandem, I.e. road bike with the ability to take wide tires, we’ve ridden dirt roads, double track trails and some easy to moderate single track without significant incident.

Gravel paths, fire roads, are a lot of fun.

We prettty. Inch avoid single track. While we found we could do it, my stoker didn’t really like it and it was more work than fun.

I wouldn’t hesitate to ride forest roads gravel roads, double track trails with a regular tandem and some wide tires. For any significant amount of technical riding, I’d want an actual mountain bike tandem.
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Old 10-27-20, 08:04 AM
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We have had fun riding hard pack trails. But my wife is blind and lots of sharp turns and ups and downs freak her out. our tandem is a mid drive e tandem and we can climb some pretty steep trails and that works pretty well.
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Old 10-27-20, 03:50 PM
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Originally Posted by merlinextraligh View Post
We bought our new tandem specifically to ride gravel. With a gravel tandem, I.e. road bike with the ability to take wide tires, we’ve ridden dirt roads, double track trails and some easy to moderate single track without significant incident.

Gravel paths, fire roads, are a lot of fun.

We prettty. Inch avoid single track. While we found we could do it, my stoker didn’t really like it and it was more work than fun.

I wouldn’t hesitate to ride forest roads gravel roads, double track trails with a regular tandem and some wide tires. For any significant amount of technical riding, I’d want an actual mountain bike tandem.
What is the ( or your) difference in definition of road bike with wide tires and actual mountain bike ? I am kind of thinking drop race handlebars vs straight bars with a more upright position.. Or are you also talking about suspension and change of gearing components ?

Since I have never ridden any tracks either single or double..... I am envisioning a trail across a field where trucks have been traveling and there are two tracks where
the wheels have been vs a single track where if you meet someone head on you have to stop and pull over..... But why are single tracks more work ?

What do you consider the minimum width tire to be wide enough for off road trails on your (GRAVEL) road bike ? 1.5", 2", 2.5", etc. I am shopping for tires right now
for my 26 inch wheeled tandem.

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Old 10-27-20, 03:56 PM
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Originally Posted by fooferdoggie View Post
We have had fun riding hard pack trails. But my wife is blind and lots of sharp turns and ups and downs freak her out. our tandem is a mid drive e tandem and we can climb some pretty steep trails and that works pretty well.
Pretty well except that you can't get your 400 lb. down them under control without burning out your brakes. Or have you fixed that?
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Old 10-27-20, 04:02 PM
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Originally Posted by preventec47 View Post
....
Since I have never ridden any tracks either single or double. . . . ... But why are single tracks more work ? . . .
You might want to do a little on-track research with a single-seat mountain bike before you risk your stoker's neck (literally) taking the two of you out into single track when you know that little about it. At least watch some of those YouTube video compilations of spectacular mountain bike crashes (or "fails" I think the hipsters call them.) Just remember that the cameras don't show the rider being evacuated strapped to a back board.

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Old 10-27-20, 04:19 PM
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Originally Posted by headasunder View Post
. . . the stoker doesn't think to clip out so once the tipping point is reached down she goes. . .
No worries, there's lots more where she came from. What happened to the rule, "Never make your stoker cry?" It's a bummer, or ought to be, when you make a mistake, which includes riding where you lack the skill or the bike can't do it, and she gets hurt.


The RAF's Vulcan bomber had a crew of 5. Two pilots on an upper flight deck and 3 navigator/engineer types in a lower compartment. Only the two guys up top, the ones with pilot wings, had ejector seats. The three lower had to just open escape hatches and drop out, if they could. There were several crashes over the "Aluminium Overcast's" long service life where the only survivors were the two pilots ejecting upward. Similarly on a tandem, the stoker gets the worst of it a crash. You'll often do a parachute roll over the handlebars, she gets tangled in the stoker bars and your saddle and gets whacked on the pavement. She might tell you that she didn't sign up for this.
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Old 10-27-20, 04:36 PM
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Originally Posted by preventec47 View Post
What is the ( or your) difference in definition of road bike with wide tires and actual mountain bike ? I am kind of thinking drop race handlebars vs straight bars with a more upright position.. Or are you also talking about suspension and change of gearing components ?

Since I have never ridden any tracks either single or double..... I am envisioning a trail across a field where trucks have been traveling and there are two tracks where
the wheels have been vs a single track where if you meet someone head on you have to stop and pull over..... But why are single tracks more work ?

What do you consider the minimum width tire to be wide enough for off road trails on your (GRAVEL) road bike ? 1.5", 2", 2.5", etc. I am shopping for tires right now
for my 26 inch wheeled tandem.
As to Width of tire for Gravel, You can do it on 28mm tires, but to really be considered a gravel bike, Id say you need to be able to run at least 35mm, and most people these days want bigger. Currently, were using 42mm Panaracer Gravel Kings which are a good all around tire. Given that we can switch out wheels with road tires on them, I think were going to go to a 48 or 50 mm tire with a bit more aggressive tread.

As to the difference between a gravel tandem, and a true mountain bike tandem, Id say the biggest difference is drop bars. Gravel bikes,typically set up to be reasonably fast on hard packed roads, and pavement usually have drop bars. A MTB tandem would have flat bars. In my experience you can ride technical single track on drop bars but its much easier with flat bars.

Next difference would be bottom bracket height, For the most part you want a relatively low bb on a road bike to keep the center of gravity low. A gravel bikes tend to have a bit higher bb for ground clearance, but not as high as mountain bikes, where clearing big rocks and roots is important.

Suspension would be another difference. Most gravel bikes dont have suspension, most mtbs do. However first learned on and raced rigid mtbs, I honestly dont find suspension that important.

Finally a full on MTB will take wider tires than most gravel bikes, which are often limited to about 50 mm.
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Old 10-27-20, 04:39 PM
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There is an entire subset of off-road tandem mountain bikes. The most common American model is the Ventana ECDM. The company is located in California and they also make a fat tandem. Their biggest dealer is MTBTandems in Georgia. That shop also sells a simpler hard tail and a gravel tandem under their own house brand, also welded by Ventana but a lot simpler frames. Calfee and Da Vinci will also sell you mountain tandems. The latest attempt by a bike store brand was the Salsa Powderkeg, which was sort-of a tandem version of their El Mariachi steel hardtail. The serious critics found it noodly and too low. Cannondale sometimes makes mountain tandems, but it sometimes seems like they make a batch every half a decade and wait for them to sell out. I wonder what the current status is. The mountain tandems by KHS are pretty much really hybrids.
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Old 10-27-20, 04:43 PM
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As to why are single tracks are more work, the double tracks you environments are typically roads that a forest service truck could pass over, and a bike can roll over at a decent pace.

Many single track trails have extreme pitches, roots, big rocks, steep drop offs, sharp switchbacks, deep ruts, etc.

The difficulty of single track varies from easy to extreme. But even most relatively easy single track trails require you to put the bike on a precise line, and avoid some degree of the above listed obstacles.
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Old 10-27-20, 08:25 PM
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Originally Posted by conspiratemus1 View Post
Pretty well except that you can't get your 400 lb. down them under control without burning out your brakes. Or have you fixed that?
fixed it went down a 5 mile trail with no problem with brakes pretty much always. . but my wife get freaked out so we don't do it often. if the track is smother its not so bad for her. Plus I should change tires but we spend most of the time on the road so I have not done it.
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Old 11-05-20, 03:25 PM
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Absolutely!

Originally Posted by preventec47 View Post
I could get very excited about riding tandems off pavement but I worry about the loss of control-ability and recoverability if -when you encounter some unexpected technical obstacles or just trying to make small turns going slow but on rough ground etc.

I hear from some people that Mountain Bike Tandems and off road action is becoming very popular and I have dozens of State

maintained bike trails within an hours drive.... but I worry about the level of difficulty for a tandem. The good thing I know is

that they rate all the trails like the do in snow skiing ie beginner, intermediate and advanced etc.
But it really depends on the two riders involved. It would be a big advantage for both of you to have mountain biking experience so you know what to expect. Learning the skill set off road on a single is a huge benefit. Making mistakes and learning from them BEFORE embarking off road as a captain would have a lot of benefits. Depends on your relationship and trust level as well. I'd add that if you have no tandem experience at all, then it's probably best to not start tandemming off road. WAY too much stuff going on! Plus, a couple should first know if they're compatible on a tandem together first by renting to "test the waters."

My girlfriend (now wife) and I had mountain biked together a lot (four years) before getting our road tandem. Then four years later we decided to get a mountain tandem. I innocently assumed we'd use the new tandem for fire roads. Well, that lasted all of about half our first ride. Once I saw single track, I simply HAD to ride it. And it turned out to be even more fun than I expected. I attribute this experience to having a "perfect storm" of good variables: a small stoker, who had already ridden on the back of motos her whole life, we were VERY compatible on the road tandem and never experienced any of the typical pitfalls, I had been seriously racing road, so had the fitness, but also spent a TON of time off road. Raced as well, but not as much as road; even competed in observed trials. So I think my level of experience and competence gave my stoker a ton of confidence in me, so she never had much reason to worry.

What I also found was that mountain tandemming was like discovering a new sport that you were already really good at - it just presented a new set of challenges that were really fun to take on. I've always enjoyed technical riding and the challenges of a gnarly, loose climb. So hitting these on the tandem was welcome. The different dynamics of the bike were cool too: Far less rear wheel traction loss on steep, loose climbs, and virtual impossiblity of going over the bars on descents. So it was just a hoot. So what was initially intended for "mellow fire roads" turned into very challenging single track. In fact, we've attempted stuff that has exceeded the bike's ability to withstand, notably the Slickrock trail that has found us blowing up our Hugi rear hub and splitting a Phil Wood tandem hub in half. And then we've gone through four more hubs, and now three sets of Phil internals. Trails ridden include Porcupine Rim, Hole-in-the-ground outside Truckee, Hermosa Creek in Durango, Trail 401 in Crested Butte and lots of Bay Area single track.

The only trails I would avoid would be extreme technical stuff that involves lots of trial-type riding. The wheelbase is simply too long for the really challenging stuff. That and a LOT of hairpin turns. We can navigate a lot of them, but the super sharp ones are almost impossible when the wheelbase is equal to or longer than the turn's radius. We can bunny hop (and track stand) the tandem, but it's of little actual value since you can't really "clear" anything due to the wheelbase length. Climbs on a tandem seem to always be harder than on a single, so you might want to skip REALLY hilly terrain with endless steep climbs. One local area I haven't ridden is El Corte Madera open space because the climbs are (or were) pretty endless and we just never ventured to that area on the tandem.

Also, we ride clipless pedals front and rear. Not that it's an issue for the stoker - she never has to unclip. And in 27 years of riding, I have never dropped my wife.

So there you go. I hope my experience helps you decide. All that said, gravel riding is a no brainer.

PS I can add that with a really experienced captain, mountain tandem could give a less experienced stoker the ability to ride stuff they wouldn't on a single. This example just occurred to me: Hole-in-the-ground in the Sierra is a really challenging ride. We rode the tandem with another super fit couple. However, the woman hadn't done THAT much technical mountain biking, much less that of the Sierra type - hard! By her third crash, she ended up crying on the side of the trail. We felt terrible for her; she had all the fitness and decades of bike riding, just not the experience with endless granite obstacles there to throw you off your bike. And my wife has admitted several times before that we've ridden stuff that she definitely wouldn't have enjoyed on her single. So in some ways, the mountain tandem can allow a couple to ride more challenging terrain as a team (again, given the right dynamic between the two, trust, etc.)

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Old 11-05-20, 08:24 PM
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Thank you LV2TNDM that all sounds very encouraging. I was beginning to have 2nd thoughts about buying my tandem mountain bike but I have received some
great tips on how to prepare, practice and be cautious. At a minimum I think riding the trail on a single bike first is a great idea unless you absolutely know for sure
it is a beginners easy going trail like a well maintained gravel road etc. One of the things I practice a lot is riding in circles and doing figure 8's on a residential
street. Many times I run up over the curb and onto the sidewalk. It is not easy on a long tandem let me tell you. I must admit this practice is solo so far
but I would like to be able to do it later with a stoker I think one thing I might do is lower my seat 3 or 4 inches below the ideal efficient position so that it will be
easier to put my feet down when stability is needed more than efficiency. For brief spurts if needed I could stand on my pedals for extra power while the seat is lowered.
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Old 11-05-20, 08:35 PM
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Originally Posted by fooferdoggie View Post
fixed it went down a 5 mile trail with no problem with brakes pretty much on always. . but my wife get freaked out so we don't do it often. if the track is smoother its not so bad for her. Plus I should change tires but we spend most of the time on the road so I have not done it.
If you ever have to declare an emergency with your brakes you can jam the bottom of your shoe onto the top of your front tire right behind the forks and modulate the
pressure quite well as needed. You probably need to back off a bit which ever happens first, either the appearance of smoke or your foot beginning to get really hot :-)
I have never been to the Rocky Mountains or any of the other really really long and steep downhills but it is hard for me to envision any long hill where I could not just
take turns using my front then my rear brake to keep the speed down.
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Old 11-05-20, 08:38 PM
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Originally Posted by preventec47 View Post
If you ever have to declare an emergency with your brakes you can jam the bottom of your shoe onto the top of your front tire right behind the forks and modulate the
pressure quite well as needed. You probably need to back off a bit which ever happens first, either the appearance of smoke or your foot beginning to get really hot :-)
I have never been to the Rocky Mountains or any of the other really really long and steep downhills but it is hard for me to envision any long hill where I could not just
take turns using my front then my rear brake to keep the speed down.
we also have a back rim brake I have her use it on long recents so she has something to do. but she does not really know how to modulate braking since she never did it and cant see the results of her braking.
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Old 11-07-20, 09:53 PM
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Every good thread needs pictures! These were all taken on tandem rides. 2010 Cannondale road tandem with 32mm or 35mm tires.


















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