Tandem Riding Mixed-Terrain

Overland is collaborating with Ride Studio Cafe on a mixed-terrain tandem ride happening on June 4.  We're excited about the ride and route; we think it will be perfect for tandem riding.  

Overland Base Camp riders have been pedaling offroad tandems since 1990.  It's one of the funnest, and most challenging, types of riding available.

Some reasons tandem riding is more fun than single riding in the woods:

  • Technical sections are easier.   Rock gardens and rooty sections are actually easier to ride; the long wheelbase provides you a lot of stability and a much smoother ride.
  • More horsepower available.  The power of two riders makes getting through rough sections and short climbs easier than a single bike.
  • Every trail feels completely new.  Even if you've ridden a route a thousand times, the tandem makes every curve and tree a whole new experience.  That perfect line you take on your single is meaningless on a tandem.  Actually, worse than meaningless -- you're likely to end up in the woods.
  • You're always together.  Having differing strengths on-road is one thing, rider strengths and weaknesses -- technical skill, endurance, power -- tend to be a lot more accentuated on the trails.  Tandeming eliminates this.
  • Trust building.  The stoker has to have a lot more trust of the captain than simply riding on the road.  The captain has to have a lot of trust that the stoker is going to remain neutral weight balance -- much more so than on the road.
Tandem on Trail - photo - Rob Vandermark.JPG

Description of the Tandem Rally Mixed-Terrain Route

This 35-mile route provides just about every type of riding imaginable, from well paved quite roads to fairly primitive singletrack, and everything in between.  The amount of time -- not distance -- we're riding on the various types of terrain looks something like this:

  • Pavement:  50% of the time
  • Dirt roads and doubletrack: 30%
  • Easy singletrack:  15%
  • Technical singletrack:  5%

The most technical riding occurs in the first four miles of the route; if you get through that, the trails get generally easier and easier throughout the ride.  There are a handful of hike-a-tandem moments during this ride; none of these sections are more than a couple yards in length.  Also as the ride progresses we get more roads and easier trails.  So, as riders get more tired, the route gets easier.

Climbing:  The route is about as flat as a ride can get, in this area, at 34 feet per mile.  A total of about 1,000 for the entire route.

Urban:  There are moments of urban pavement, road crossings, and busy intersections.  These spots, while possibly frustrating, are worthwhile because they get you to some good trails or quiet roads.  Be cautious on busy roads and obey the rules of the road.

Food Stops:

  • Mile 17.3:  Haute Coffee.  A great place for a snack or caffeine refuel.
  • Mile 22.4:  Bedford Farms Ice Cream.  This is optional but if it's a warm day we know some riders that will stop here no matter what.

Ideal Tandem For Mixed-Terrain Riding

Of course, most riders don't have a true offroad or mixed-terrain tandem, you may still be able to ride a lot of dirt and trails.  If you can fit a 28c tire or larger on your road tandem you can have a lot of fun on the trails.  Put maximum pressure in your tires and you're ready to roll.  

However, having big tires alone does not a fun offroad ride make.  For this specific ride, if you haven't ridden trails and single-track on a tandem before, you're going to have a really frustrating ride because the pace will be high if you're not used to woods riding.  Practice makes perfect, and we'll have more tandem offroad rides so you can join us once you've gotten used to riding offroad.

Call Out Tips For Riding Mixed-Terrain On A Tandem

Aside from the typical captain call outs -- ours are "go," "bump," and "standing" -- there are others we use a lot when in the dirt:

  • Duck:  We use this surprisingly often.  It is what it means -- duck because there's a tree, overhang, or low tunnel we're about to encounter.  On an offroad single bike these types of obstacles are second nature but as a stoker you can't really see any of these items.
  • Bump:  We use this a lot more on trails than we do on the road, for obvious reasons.  Not so many rocks and roots on roads.
  • Walker left:  Or rider, or dog.  We use this because the stoker can't see what's coming and it can be a bit disconcerting when you're passing a cyclist, runner, or excited dog when you can't see it until you're passing it.

Common Offroad Obstacles And How To Manage Them On A Tandem

  • Boardwalks & bridges:  There are only a few on this route.  Watch out for the start of each boardwalk; there is often a step up, and if you ride into one of these you'll get a flat, at least.  Also beware of the end of each bridge; some are easy to ride and some have a fairly large drop-off.  Go slow and be aware.  Also, if there's been dew or rain the night before, any wooden sections will be very slippery.  Us caution.  When in doubt, walk your tandem.
  • Roots:  We find rooty sections to be a lot easier to ride on a tandem than on a single bike.  The tandem's wheelbase is your friend; the distance between the wheels provides you a lot of stability and the odds of getting stuck between roots is practically nil.  The primary two challenges with roots for a tandem is 1) wet roots, and 2) the possibility of getting a flat.  To avoid flats we ride with high pressure -- pretty much at the maximum tire pressure the tire recommends.  Regarding wet roots from rain, dew, or water crossings, approach the roots at a 90 degree angle, to the extent that's possible.  Limit your steering on wet roots, too.  We also come at roots with a steady controlled pace, slower than average.  We use the horsepower of two riders to pedal through any rooty sections.  Using this method will get you through just about any rooty section.  Even steady application of a lot of power does wonders.
  • Rocky sections:  We approach these in much the same method as roots.  The chance of flats tends to be higher so we steer a lot more and do what we can to avoid the larger rocks.  Again, the momentum and power of a tandem is your friend; it's easier to ride through a rock garden on a tandem than on a single bike.  We pick our line carefully and focus on the path of the rear wheel.  We go wide around big obstacles.  Watch the pedal location of the stoker.  Also, on this specific route, there are a couple rock walls we'll be navigating through; one of them is rideable for a seasoned mixed-terrain tandemer; one of them is definitely a hike-a-tandem crossing.
  • Tight turns:  Because were in the woods and on trails, there are more tight turns than you'll find on any road.  Practice makes perfect.  You quickly learn the spacial relations of the tandem relative to trees, rocks, and other obstacles.  Take turns a lot wider than you normally would on a single; go from one edge of the trail to the other in order to maximize your turning radius.  The captain focuses on the stokers handlebars, the stoker's body, the stoker's pedal location, and the line of the rear wheel.  It's a lot to think about but it becomes second nature eventually.
  • Hike-a-tandem:  There are a handful of spots on this ride where you might be hiking for a couple meters.

Please review our trail riding etiquette.  

We hope to see you on the ride!