Back in April 2000, and at the suggestion of a fellow off-road tandem enthusiast who was also a fellow subscriber and contributor to the Tandem@Hobbes listserve I created a newsgroup / discussion forum for off-road tandem enthusiasts called Double Forte.
For those who aren’t old enough to remember listserve’s, they were to groups of like-minded people what Facebook and Facebook Groups are today. The Tandem@Hobbes listserve was launched in August 1993 by Wade Blomgren. Except, it worked strictly by Email: you’s subscribe to the list and when anyone else who belonged to the list would write an Email for the group — analogous to posting something to Facebook — it would be sent to all of the list members. Tandem@Hobbes was and still is an all text-only Email without any ability to handle .html or attachments so any photos had to have .html strings included in the text to point to photos hosted out on other Websites. Hey, it worked and believe it or not it’s still up and running today! Message traffic is way down from where it was in the 1990’s when I first signed-on, with perhaps ~30 to ~60 emails a month being generated vs. ~700 to ~1000 a month during when we joined.
The only issue with Tandem@Hobbes is that the crazies who had an interest in off-road tandems were a very small minority and of the Hobbes readers and the discussions on off-road tandeming were just not a good fit for the rest of the discussions at Hobbes. So, as I said I created Double Forte. The following are taken from the “FAQs” page at a companion Website I created for the discussion forum that is still on-line. It hasn’t been updated in over a decade, but there’s still some interesting information ‘archived’ on the site that somewhat benchmark’s the state of off-road tandeming around 2005.
What is Double Forte?
Double Forte is an international subscription based electronic mailing list established to promote interest in and to facilitate the exchange of information regarding the sport of tandem mountain biking. The group’s members are cycling enthusiasts who have discovered the enjoyment, excitement, and camaraderie of riding mountain bikes built for two. The group provides its members with a forum where they can share technical information, riding tips, trail reviews and event information related to tandem biking. Membership is moderated but granted to anyone interested in tandem mountain biking to ensure discussions remain non-commercial, topical and free from objectionable language.
What Double Forte Isn’t
Double Forte is not a cycling club:
- It does not collect dues,
- It does not publish a newsletter
- It does not have by-laws
- It does not have a leadership structure
- It does not host events
- It does not endorse or certify ride leaders
Since Double Forte isn’t a club any group tandem rides that may come as a result of forum discussions will always be no-host events. Individuals who volunteer to identify dates, times and ride routes do so as a courtesy to others who are interested in participating and are otherwise just another participant on the group ride. The rides may or may not be held in conjunction with a social event arranged by the same individuals who organized the ride.
Everyone who participates in a ride has a responsibility to follow the rules of the road and extend care and consideration to the other ride participants as they do to all other road users. Ride “organizers” may elect to offer suggested ride routes of varying length and point out challenging aspects of the various routes; however, are not expected nor encouraged to take on a role as ride leaders. Again, each participant is responsible for their own actions during a group ride, including knowing their limits with regard to bike handling skills, knowing the rules of the road, ensuring their tandems are in proper working order and is expected to be self-sufficient during the ride. Social events held in conjunction with group rides are looked upon as separate and distinct events that are defined by their hosts.
When do I use Double Forte vs Tandem@Hobbes or the rec.bicycles newsgroups?
This group is intended to be a quiet companion to the Tandem@Hobbes list which is THE LIST for tandem enthusiasts. Tandem@Hobbes is an international subscription based electronic mailing list for all forms of tandem bicycle enthusiasts, whereas Double Forte is targeted to the much smaller community of tandem mountain bike enthusiasts. Suitable topics for Tandem@Hobbes include questions and answers related to tandem components, riding technique, brands and equipment selection, repairs and upgrades, prices, clubs, tandem anecdotes, rides, rallies and other activities, cooperating on FAQ (frequently asked questions) material etc.
We strongly encourage members to post road, touring & other general tandem related topics or questions to the Tandem@Hobbes list. This guideline is intended to ensure the DF list does not in anyway detract from the purpose of the Tandem@Hobbes listing while, at the same time, keeping the DF list focused on tandem mountain biking topics. Additionally, this list is not intended to replace the various other rec.bicycles newsgroups. Items of general interest to the broader audience of bicycle enthusiasts should be posted to the rec.bicycles newsgroups (if you have access to them). Links to these other resources are available on the “links page” at the Double Forte Website which can be reached through: http://www.TheTandemLink.com
What are the benefits of subscribing to Double Forte?
The expected benefits of this list are to provide members with:
- a group whose members are all interested in tandem mountain biking,
- more focused responses to specific questions related to tandem mountain bikes,
- a slightly more private forum in which opinions regarding tandem mountain biking can be expressed with reduced fear of repercussion,
- a place to discuss tandem mountain biking far beyond what might be considered “polite” on Tandem@Hobbes or the rec.bicycles newsgroups.
Why the name Double Forte?
- The Group’s Name: The complete name of this group is ‘Forum for Off-Road Tandem Enthusiasts’.
- The Group’s Nickname: The nickname for this list is DOUBLE FORTE and it is derived from the group name’s acronym, ‘FFORTE’ or ‘Double-F ORTE’. In music, Double forte (or fortissimo) means, “to play loudly, strongly and with great force”. Somehow, this just seemed appropriate for those of us who enjoy the sport of tandem mountain biking.
- The Group’s Icon: The Icon for Double Forte is it’s musical notation, ‘ff’ overlaid by the group’s name. The double f is symbolic of the group’s name and, coincidentally, the tight bond that exists between the two members of a tandem mountain bike team.
When I stopped maintaining the Website Double Forte had about 240 list members. Interesting enough, it grew to over 400 members at one point and according to the YahooGroups server there are still 394 Email addressed linked to the group!
The message traffic peaked between 2002 and early 2004, but fell-off as other web-based discussion forums like MTB Review‘s forums emerged. More importantly, in February 2004 this thing called Facebook was launched and the world changed.
As you can see below, message traffic fell of precipitously shortly after February 2004 and by 2013 Double Forte monthly message traffic was dropping into single digits on a regular basis and during the past few years is almost non-existent unless someone posts a technical question that almost anyone should share an opinion on, e.g., tires selection.
As Facebook as evolved it has also embraced the concept of groups and while a few of the regional tandem clubs have dabbled with Facebook Groups, nothing on the scale of Tandem@Hobbes or even Double Forte have evolved. Well, I say that: Tandem Club UK has a very healthy and public (not private) Facebook page with 613 members, so they’re leveraging FB pretty well. Alex Nutt has also created a Tandem Mountain Bikes public page on Facebook that is very active with 295 members, so that one should eventually eclipse Double Forte’s 394 members.
However, not too long ago a new Facebook group was created called S.O.O.R.T.A. (Self-Organized Off-Road Tandem Adventures) by off-road tandem enthusiasts Chris & Monica from northern Florida, just short of a year ago on 2 April 2016. The purpose of the group was to see if other tandem enthusiasts might be interested in gathering for a no-frills / no-formal structure / no-registration fee off-road tandem gathering at one of the trail systems somewhere in the Southeast. The first such event was held on 15 April at Mulberry Gap near Elijay, Georgia. The second meet up was in 10-12 June at the Tsali Recreation Area near Bryson, North Carolina.
The third event was a gathering at the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area near Oneida, TN, in mid-September. In mid-January 2017 S.O.O.R.T.A. went west to Tucson, AZ, for “winter camp” with the Russell’s hosting. At the end of January quite a few off-road tandem enthusiasts had a quasi-S.O.O.R.T.A. event when they invaded the annual Ididabike Ride, 50-mile endurance event at White Springs, Florida. More recently a gathering was held at the Santos trails near Ocala, FL, in mid-February. So, it’s a concept that’s definitely gained traction.
Now, truth be known, the name of the S.O.O.R.T.A. group is a spin-off of an off-road tandem event name created by Alex Nutt of MTBTandems.com‘s called A.O.R.T.A. (Appalachian Off-Road Tandem Adventure), the first of which was held back in May of 2010.
I think there have been two subsequent A.O.R.T.A. events since then that we were not able to attend and there will be a Mid-Western Edition to be held in Missouri this year on 12-14 May at the Bass River Resort in Steeleville. While A.O.R.T.A. was originally coined to denote off-road tandem rallies that would be held along the various trails that line the southern half of the Appalachian mountain range — from Georgia up and into Virginia — it’s now something of pseudonym for off-road tandem rallies as Alex looks towards other locales that clients have said would be great places for an off-road tandem weekend.
Now, the original A.O.R.T.A. events are actually a spin-off as well. The predecessor events were the three Western North Carolina Off-Road Tandem Weekends organized and hosted by David Lee from Asheville, North Carolina, a long-time off-road tandem enthusiast. We attended two of these; the second one in October 2001 hosted out of the Bent Creek Lodge near Asheville, and the third in October 2004 where the Lakeview Lodge served as home base for two days of riding at the Tsali Recreation Area near Bryson, North Carolina. The 2004 edition also incorporated the name of my off-road tandem discussion forum, Double Forte which by this time was into its fourth year after I launched it in April 2000.
What prompted this retrospective was the posting of the photo above from the October 2004 gathering at Tsali on the S.O.O.R.T.A. Facebook page earlier this week by David Lee. All but one all of the teams in attendance were looking resplendent in their brand new Double Forte jerseys. Yes, I even did a jersey, for posterity sake. If memory servers, there were about 115 of the jerseys made… so they’re collectors items at this point. I was asked to see if there was interest in doing a second run a couple of times and could never generate the quantities it would take to make it economically feasible.
So, it’s been very satisfying to see Alex Nutt’s specialty off-road tandem business continue to do well enough to be his full-time job and to see the off-road tandem community growing. Yes, growing. S.O.O.R.T.A. is really exciting because there are a lot of new, younger riders (well, OK… younger is relative compared to the road-tandem scene) coming on board.
Mind you, there are a couple of other off-road tandem events including two that predate the Western North Carolina Off-Road Tandem Weekend. The second oldest is the Fall Allegany Rally for Tandems (aka., F.A.R.T.) which was first held back in 1994. However, it gets top honors for the being the longest, continuously running off-road tandem rally!
The granddaddy is the Eastern Tandem Off-Road (ETOR) Rally which was first held in 1990 at Atsion, NJ, hosted by Tandem Club of America founder Malcolm Boyd and his beloved Judy Allison. The Eastern Tandem Rally is, in and of itself, the granddaddy of tandem rallies with the first gathering of seven tandem teams for a two-day weekend at Cape May, New Jersey, back in 1973.
The ETOR rallies were held from 1990 through 1994, but then went on hiatus until Malcolm & Judy resumed hosting the events in 2007. It has been held every year since with Brenda & Larry Isherwood now carrying the banner for the 2017 edition which will be held on 6-8 October at White Clay State Park in Newark, Delaware.
So, there you have it. At least to the best of my knowledge. I suspect someone will post a comment to correct me on at least one of my references and/or to let me know about another off-road tandem event or discussion forum that I’ve not mentioned.