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  1. #1
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    Tandem bike skills

    I am a newcomer to tandeming (love my ECDM!) and have been looking around the internet for articles or videos on improving mtb tandem skills, but have found none (though I have found a number of articles dealing with non-mtb tandems).

    If you know of any, please send a link.

    Alternatively, I would appreciate tips that you write on this thread.

    I am particularly interested in tips re climbing and descending trails with lots of loose rocks, and in comparisons between regular mtb and tandem mtb methods.

    Thanks!
    Mark

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    Climbing slowly on loose rocks,sand, gravel or roots my stoker puts the rear shock in full suspension and sits more upright to keep her weight over the rear wheel. This gives more bite and less slipping. She has a natural tendency to lean foward which unweights the rear wheel and allows it to spin. FWIW.
    Ed and Pat Gifford
    the Snot Rocket tandem(ECDM)

  3. #3
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    You'll want to learn to embrace the differences between a single and tandem MTB, riding style can be very different. The tandem is much more stable on the move, you don't have to worry about hitting the brakes and going OTB, or pulling up the front tire while climbing, etc.

    But different tandem teams tackle obstacles differently. For us, we've found rocky and/or loose climbs benefit from a much faster cadence. This allows us to keep momentum up, even if overall speed is still very low. In essence, we're not fighting turning over the pedals, and so we reduce the tendency to lose traction in the rear as the torque loads are lower (or at least less peaky). Stoker positioning is also very important as mentioned, and can be easily overlooked by assuming that having the stoker at the back is enough for traction. We've run out of traction more on the tandem than on single bikes.

    Descending is, of course, different. In normal or rocky conditions, giving the tandem its head (keeping control but not dominating the control of the bike) works well, due to the long wheel base, momentum, and (generally) large volume tires. Again, this is what works for us. Sandy stretches are not taken at speed as the high center of gravity of an ECdM isn't, IMO, helpful to keeping the bike upright.

  4. #4
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    This article was sent to us when we first started riding... thought it would be a good read for you as well.

    Tandem Bicycles

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by giff07 View Post
    Climbing slowly on loose rocks,sand, gravel or roots my stoker puts the rear shock in full suspension and sits more upright to keep her weight over the rear wheel. This gives more bite and less slipping.
    Thanks for the tip!

    What about the captain's position on a climb? Should the captain be leaning forward in order to keep to keep the front wheel weighted (as is done on a single bike), or is this not necessary?

    On a descent, is it best for both riders to be off the seat in the "attack position"?

    Mark

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    Hi Mark,
    I adjust my position in relation to the climbing conditions. Very seldom is it necessary to over weight the front wheel. On rooty or ledgy climbs I keep the front wheel "light" in order to not rebound off the obsticle.Sometimes I pre load the fork and then lighten it to help me up onto an obstcle. Same with sandy conditions even on the flat I take weight off the front so it can float through the sand.I would lean foward on anything smooth and rediculously steep.
    On a steep or technical descent we both are off the saddle with weight back, attack position. Anything that is straight foward or smooth packed descending we stay in the saddle. Our team weight is 320 lbs and pretty evenly distributed. Pat is about 20 lbs lighter than me. Hope this helps.
    Ed

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by moshemark View Post
    Thanks for the tip!

    What about the captain's position on a climb? Should the captain be leaning forward in order to keep to keep the front wheel weighted (as is done on a single bike), or is this not necessary?

    Mark
    If you have to lean forward, you are climbing a wall.

  8. #8
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    Cool thread.


    I suppose it goes without saying that the captain must draw a wider line around obstacles, which sometimes puts the front wheel out in the rough. Usually not a deal breaker b/c of the added momentum. Either that or cut the corner. An on-the-fly decision. Esp for the latter, captain can minimize pedal strikes by keeping or putting crank position where it needs to be (usually not an option while climbing).

    Agree with Okayfine on the stoker position. The stoker can't really lean too far back. In fact we replaced the stoker flat bar with a rise bar with that in mind. Helps keep her helmet visor outa my back, too. Now we plan to chop those bars down a bit. No reason for wide bars on back; they only serve to snag things. A rise bar in back also will better enable a Gravity Dropper, since you can position the stoker stem lower. (What we really need is a QR stoker stem to work with a QR seat tube collar.)

    Much of the critical rear/forward weighting on singles is pointless with the long wheelbase of a tandem.

    Now, if we could dial in a stoppie turn for the switchbacks...

    Mike

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    Quote Originally Posted by moshemark View Post
    On a descent, is it best for both riders to be off the seat in the "attack position"?
    Given the responses, this would depend. We find we rarely are off the seat on descents unless they are very technical/rocky, and those are few in our area. Mostly fire roads and well-worn singletrack, in which case we stay seated - suspension will take up the bumps and such.

  10. #10
    Schipperkes are cool.
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    Keep the stokers pedals as small as possible. Meaning do not put the big Shimano platform SPD on the back cranks. They will get hung on rocks and the sides of the trail.
    Practice with the stoker to lean into the turn; perfect for switchbacks and slow move problems. Your bodies are weights, so if you lean into the turn, the bike will corner faster.
    Quote Originally Posted by mikesee
    Better suited to non-aggressive 125# gals named Russell.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by banks View Post
    Practice with the stoker to lean into the turn; perfect for switchbacks and slow move problems. Your bodies are weights, so if you lean into the turn, the bike will corner faster.
    I actually disagree, I try to lean the bike, not the riders. If you lean your body into the turn it will take longer to recover for the next turn and you can miss your line. If the stoker is very relaxed I can maneuver the bike like it is a single bike, when the stoker is tense I can't hit a line to save my life. Just my two cents.

  12. #12
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    Pat and I do the same thing Chris. A very good point about a relaxed stoker. Which brings up another good tip. Do Not Spook Your Stoker!....... worth saying again.... Do Not Spook Your Stoker!.
    Ed and Pat Gifford
    the Snot Rocket tandem

  13. #13
    PMK
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    Often heard from my mouth when riding is me telling the stoker she is riding to "tight". This does not allow me to flick the tandem or even corner well. When Jeanne is riding relaxed, the bike moves beneath us like a dirt bike. Sometimes our shoulders follow the bike as in fast sweepers, but most often the bike is leaned in hard with the outside pedals down and pretty much 100% of our weight driving the tires into the dirt. The bike is leaned but we are a bit more upright.

    If the stoker ever leans, the steering gets very heavy.

    Also, I am not a skidding fan, but will admit that sometimes, I grab a lot of rear brake and slide that rear end. Either to get a better corner exit with good momentum, or just to get the bike pivoted and turned.

    The stoker pedal comment can be seen in a couple of different ways. On our Fandango we both ride smaller LX level clipless pedals. Pretty much typical xc style pedals. For the ECDM, we run the Shimano clipless with the floating cage and the ability to clip into both sides. We have found that there have been a time or two (possibly more that will not be admitted to), I have chosen some "aggressive" lines through some hacked up terrain. It has happened where we have accidentally become unclipped. The large pedal platform allows the rider to find the pedal and get through the section without worry of clipping in immediately. As for additional pedal strikes, that may be, but honestly, for us, I would expect similar strike counts for either pedal style. Probably much of this is where and what you ride terrain wise.

    Don't spook your stoker, I have ridden with CLJ and Giff07, plus some others that post here. Overall we have some very dedicated, relaxed, and most times tough to spook stokers. If you know their concerns, don't push them where they are not within their safe zone. This is not advice I truly adhere too as I have many times pushed the envelope gradually. This built a bit of confidence. It also allowed us to become a better team, and going back to having a stoker not riding "tight", this is part of it.

    Overall, if we had a black box voice recorder, this entire forum might be pleasantly amused at some of our discussions.

    These stokers are good, brave too.

    PK
    Reps! We don't need no stickin' reps!

  14. #14
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    I agree with amping it up gradually and do that too. But, beware as there is an inviible line drawn in the sand that should not be crossed. Sometimes when we get to a section of trail that one of us is apprehensive about riding we dismount and walk the section and then go back up and ride it.A stokers courage and trust is built on knowing that the Captain won't do something really stupid. At one time or another we have all crossed that line and then it takes some time to regain that trust.
    Ed

  15. #15
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    fantastic thread...

    I would add that there are all different kinds of corners and all different ways that they need to be approached as far as body position, lean etc. You need it all out on the trails! In general the faster the bike is going and the smoother or wider the turn, the more you will most likely lean the bike... the tighter/ slower the turn the more likely you are to benefit from leaning your bodies and not the bike.... think big fast wide downhill turn vs. tight uphill single track turns.... vastly different.

    As far as stoker input, a couple things that have worked well for us: on wide , fast trails with more sweeping type turns, stoker steering input helps a lot (leaning, shifting body weight).... but when things get really tight/ technical and a little slower, I try to get her to keep her body weight as neutral as possible to give me 100% control of the direction / steering of the bike. This way I can make corrections on the fly around roots or other obstacles that she might not see.... there have been more than a few times when we had to stop because we were laughing too hard to ride after she leaned too far into a tight turn and I couldn't straighten the bike out fast enough after the turn to keep the bike on the trail.... experiment and have fun!

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    Good point Andy,
    another thing about tight, slow, twisty single track is I tell Pat to keep her power level and pedal stroke moderate and consistent. This way it allows me to modulate our power using the brakes or by varying the power I apply. In really tight stuff she has trouble seeing around me to read the trail.
    Ed

  17. #17
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    This IS a great thread! I read the original post and could not really think how to articulate an answer. I agree with most of the posts here. I will reiterate one point. When we are in tight corners at slow speed, sometimes I need to tell her "easy". This is just so that I can control our effort and not have her power right through the corner or obstacle.

    Best advice I have is just get out and ride! You will figure it out.

    I still want to learn how to do the 180 degree switchbacks (although I don't think it's possible without some kind of track stand combined with a hop or two). If anyone has mastered, please describe, then post a video!

  18. #18
    PMK
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    Quote Originally Posted by ds2199 View Post
    I still want to learn how to do the 180 degree switchbacks (although I don't think it's possible without some kind of track stand combined with a hop or two). If anyone has mastered, please describe, then post a video!

    Yes there is a lot of good info here.

    In regards to the switchbacks, can you offer some dimensions and descriptions.

    Some of our trails have switchbacks. Depending upon which trail and where on the trail can see them with different types of dirt or rocks, some lined with trees, others no trees but a very well defined groove or rut. Some spots are kind of flat turns, while others will have you enter the switchback along the slopes face, then turning exactly up the slope, then back onto a straight along the slope climb.

    For many of these switchbacks, I estimate the radius of the true corner to be approximately (never measured it exactly) 4 to 5 feet. So about a 9 to 10 foot diameter of the 180.

    If the 180 has a rut and no trees defining the outer perimeter of the turn, we must typically enter wide, keeping the rear tire in the rut (but not climbing the side of the rut). Get the bike pointed, if you can envision this, so the frame alignment remains in a tangent direction relative to the rut. As the bike continues around the turn, the front is then swung back towards the main line of the trail. Yes, this often means our front tire may be a foot or more wide of the rut. Power wise, the gear is selected well before entering the switchback, we pretty just roll into the corner, then add increasing power as the bike is pointed up the slope and rounds its way back into alignment with the next straight. Once aligned, back to normal business.

    Switchbacks with trees or with extreme off-camber outside the main riding line we possibly ride like others. I enter the turn as wide as possible, keep the rear tire in good grip if available and can be accomplished. The bike will cut in slightly as we apex the turn, and many times we exit wide. This would be for slower type corners.

    On any faster switchbacks, if I can get the bike leaned over, and stupidly try and rail around the turn I will. There have been other switchbacks, especially with round stones, where the brakes have made the turn possible, basically pivoting or squaring it off. This is normally for descending stuff when momentum helps. I doubt I would suggest this type sliding around for a newer team, it took a while for my stoker to realize that it is sometimes ok to be going sideways and understand she won't be ejected.

    We have ridden a bunch with CLJ on Florida trails. Possibly he can add to what I posted or since we often share the lead bike slot, he may have a different perspective of what actually happens. I would speculate that what I try and do, vs how ugly it turns out, but yet a foot does not touch down, maybe these descriptions need a little adjusting.

    PK
    Last edited by PMK; 11-01-2011 at 02:52 PM.
    Reps! We don't need no stickin' reps!

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by banks View Post
    Keep the stokers pedals as small as possible.
    Yes! Consider a shorter crank if your stoker is a smaller person.


    I guess everybody's got commands they use to alert the stoker to changing situations. We started out with a series of different ones, but we have de-volved into using "bump" as the generic term for "heads up, something different is about to happen," and "push it" for increased power to surmount a grade or obstacle. I'm sure additional commands would be useful to a team with a bigger repertoire...alas.

    Mike

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    Smile

    Quote Originally Posted by She&I View Post
    Yes! Consider a shorter crank if your stoker is a smaller person.


    I guess everybody's got commands they use to alert the stoker to changing situations. We started out with a series of different ones, but we have de-volved into using "bump" as the generic term for "heads up, something different is about to happen," and "push it" for increased power to surmount a grade or obstacle. I'm sure additional commands would be useful to a team with a bigger repertoire...alas.

    Mike
    Not for us, we like to stick to short and consistent terms so they can't be confused with a normal conversation. Log, drop, cadence and power are about the extent of ours, unless we are having a really bad dayLOL!

  21. #21
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    Great feedback so far. For our team we handle stoker inputs differently than others have commented on here. As captain I actively and constantly communicate with her as we move down a trail. This is important for several reasons: 1. she can't see what is coming 2. any weight shift from her impacts the handling of the bike 3. she has way more control over the bike than she even realizes.

    We have laid the tandem down 3 times over the last 8 years of riding and in each case the problem began with my error, line choice or inattentiveness, but was exacerbated by her lack of knowledge on the problem. Basically in all 3 cases if I was riding a single bike there would have been no crash but with the unexpected weight shift... down we would go. The last crash was 5 years ago and that was when we made the adjustment to near constant communication.

    With the added communication there have been a handful of times where I placed us into a crash situation and her weight shift has righted the tandem. We ride a lot of tight singletrack trails where she has learned and practiced weight shift extremes.

    Another important factor to consider is that when descending you as the captain know when it is a good time to coast and relax but your stoker has no clue. It can be very painful for one member of the team to start pedaling while the other thinks it is coasting time. For the stoker this means they are forced to always be ready to pedal (a tiring proposition). Again communication is vital.

    We have some more information on our website TandemBicycling.com

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by tsetsaf View Post
    We have some more information on our website TandemBicycling.com
    Finally, a site containing mountain bike tandem skills! Definitely worthwhile reading.

    Thanks!

    Mark

  23. #23
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    Smile Tandem bike skills

    Great thread on tandem skills. Tandem riding skills will develop naturally over time and every team is different. I asked my wife if she would be interested in riding a tandem mountain bike in 1994 and the rest is history. For years we did off road riding both single and double track. We now ride road and off road. We have ridden with a lot of great tandem teams over the years and so far we seem to be the only team that doesn't talk while doing technical riding. I never have to tell my wife what to do as she automatically leans, moves back, gets off the saddle, and so on. She instinctively seems to know what I am going to do. She did this 10 minutes into our first ride and it feels like I am on a single bike with a magic carpet ride given the long wheelbase. I have been a stoker for others and have had many different stokers on our tandem. Only one stoker was remotely close to my wife but he was a talented motorcycle rider and also rides a tandem. For us tilting the bike not the riders works the best as you will keep your weight centered over your tires. Once you get going downhill and garnish up enough speed you level your pedals and float over just about everything. Steep climbing will automatically have the captain leaning toward the bars and my wife leaning back over the rear wheel. The number one thing that made us better was riding on our tandem rollers! Nothing comes close for improving your balance.

  24. #24
    "the big red train"
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    It was interesting to read all the good input in this thread. My .02 is to get out and ride. Start riding some of your easier local trails and build confidence in both the captain and stoker. Then as you become more confident in your skills as a team you can branch out and try some more technical trails.
    One thing that I don't think was mentioned about switchbacks that I try to do is let the front wheel roll around the corner. I stay off the front brake, tell the stoker to back off and control the speed with the rear brake. This will keep you on your line and not wash out the front end. Then once the front wheel is around the corner and pointed straight up the trail we apply the power to the pedals, tell the stoker to "hit it" to bring the rear around. This seems to work well for us.

  25. #25
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    One technique I picked up from Team Zibell on tight switchbacks is to let your front tire run up the top side of the turn. For us, this made the tighter switchbacks much more possible, and allowed us to clear a couple on our regular trails that we had not. I followed Team Z one day and started to mimic their line through the tight turns.

    So, in addition to Patrick's advice to get out and ride, get out and ride with other tandem teams.

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