Following the tweaks that Alex Nutt and I made to our Ventana on Saturday, Debbie and I headed back to the trails at Allatoona Creek today to see if the hoped-for improvements were achieved: they were, and then some!
It was an absolutely GREAT day on the trail. The tandem’s fit and handling were vastly improved and that made all of the difference in the world to both me and Debbie; let me explain. Even though we haven’t been doing much off-road riding in the last 6 years, we did a bunch from 1998 – 2008. One of the things that Debbie has always keyed off of was how confident I seemed out on the trail. If she felt that I was having a good day and was on my game, her confidence level went way up and that would allow her to relax and enjoy the ride. However, if I was having a tough day on the bike and seemed apprehensive then she’d tense up and that would usually make matters worse, making for a really bad day on the bike.
Well, after making the changes to my fit, increasing the steering trail and changing out the brakes the Ventana felt and handled better than it or it’s predecessor ever had! It was a “point and shoot” kind of handling where I could pretty much put the front wheel anywhere I wanted to on the trail, do near stall very tight turns through the narrow tree-lined essess, easily set-up for technical sections and then hammer up and over the obstacles without a worry about the front wheel mis-tracking or getting twitchy. And, on top of all of that, hitting the brakes was no longer something I dreaded as the new Avid BB7’s were whisper quiet and smooth: something that I hadn’t ever experienced on this Ventana. Moreover, as I continued to use the brakes the pads and rotors began to bed-in and the stopping power was really coming into its own by the end of the ride.
So, how was Debbie’s day on the tandem? I should probably note that Debbie was the first one to talk about heading off to the trails on Sunday. I’d hoped she’d be ready to head out again — weather willing — and that’s why I was anxious to get the Ventana ‘tweaked’ as I was certain that with a few changes I could vastly improve the quality of the bike’s fit, handling and braking.
However, imagine my surprise when out of the blue Debbie called our son Wesley on Saturday morning before we even did our road tandem ride to ask if he wanted to join us for some off-road riding on Sunday!!! Yet another reason I love this woman so much… When she gives something new a try and likes it, she’s all in. Riding off-road might as well have been something new given how long we’ve been off the trails, but if today’s ride was any indication she’s now as enthusiastic as she ever was!
Although the day started off gloomy and a bit cooler than previous weekends as fall quickly begins to settle-in, Debbie was still the first one to bring up heading to the trails: “So, how about we head to the trail around 10:30?” You betcha… I didn’t blink before I was out in the garage topping off the rear shock and then stuffing the Ventana in the back of the Toyota Tundra and filling up Camelbak’s. Even though the Ventana will fit in the back of the Tundra with the front wheel removed and one of the bar-ends turned down, since the trail is just 5 miles from the house I’ve found I can cut down our time spent at the trailhead buy simply laying the tandem on its left side with the front end sticking out of the bed and resting on the tailgate. I throw a strap across the bike “just in case” as I’d hate to see the tandem jettisoned from the truck if — God forbid — we had a collision going to or from the trailhead: no sense adding insult to injury!
Getting back to Debbie’s ride, while she was definitely enjoying my new-found comfort and confidence with the Ventana, she thought I’d done something to either her saddle height or the tandem’s rear suspension as she said she felt like she was bouncing again. I thought about all of the things we did to the tandem and for the life of me I couldn’t think of anything that we’d touched which would explain the change she was feeling. She asked if I’d checked the air pressure before we started: I had. It had dropped to 240 psi since last Sunday so I’d topped it back off at 270 psi before leaving the house. I think we’d probably ridden 1 of the 4 miles on Turtle Back loop when I finally realized what I’d probably done. I told Debbie to reach down to the bottom side of the rear shock and see if the blue lever that controlled the shock’s compression was pointed to the left (climbing) or in the middle (trail riding): it was in the middle. After she moved it to the left — which minimizes the shock’s movement — she was back in her comfort zone. She just has a hard time with the full-suspension movement and prefers to minimize the bobbing that comes with a less than perfect off-road pedal stroke.
With the rear shock sorted out it was all systems go. After finishing the 4-mile Turtle Back loop I asked what she’d like to do next; call it another successful day, do a second loop around Turtle Back with the extra, more technical 1.3 mile spur or ???? She opted for ????, which was to go and explore Mason’s Bridge Loop.
Of course, to get to Mason’s Bridge we had a good 1.5 miles of double track / gravel road to cover, and then about 3/4’s of the 1-mile Rusty Bucket beginner’s loop — yeah, beginner unless you’re trying to negotiate tight turns between closely spaced trees on a 7-foot long tandem! We also ‘discovered’ a very nice single track trail I didn’t know existed that connected the Rusty Bucket loop to the trail head for Mason’s Bridge loop. In the past, I’d only used the .5-mile double track / gravel road to transit between the two single track loops. The single track loop was really quite nice, very reminiscent of some sections on the Dwelling Loop up at Sixes Road.
The Mason’s Bridge Loop had a lot more roller-coaster sections than I remembered and a couple of very technical features, including a ramped tree crossing that was not negotiable via a tandem unless you were willing to break your timing chain and dent your boom tube! Yeah, we dismounted and climbed over that one on foot. However, we were able to negotiate the other two.
Other than having the rear shock set to be too soft for Debbie’s preference, a creaky eccentric and a little bit of rear rotor rub on the back corner of the caliper body, it was a perfect day on the tandem. Well, Ok. I clipped a tree with Debbie’s handlebar and her wrist got smacked by the tree in the process.
While reveling in the joy of being back in the wood on a tandem, Debbie confessed that she had truly been of a mindset where she would have been happy if I’d simply given the Ventana away; she was “done” with off-road riding. However, today was one of those days when we both really appreciated what it is about off-road riding that makes it so different from road riding, different in a good way. There is no such thing as ‘tempo riding’ or ‘day dreaming'; the tempo is always changing and you never take your mind off of the trail, lest you become one with a tree! It’s a full body and mind work-out and we both liked that!
Anyway, off-road tandeming is definitely back for us! I get the feeling that we’ll be splitting our weekend riding up with a road ride one day and off-road the next. The Ventana should be good-to-go for the foreseeable future. I adjusted the eccentric after the ride and did a little work on the rear brake to eliminate the rotor rub as well.
It’s a bit of a double-edge sword in that while we have a couple of really great motorcycle weekends coming up in October along with the Southern Tandem Rally, that means we’ll only have about one Sunday when we can hit the trail on the Ventana!
More to follow….