Regular readers may recall that in October of last year I was less than optimistic as to whether or not Debbie would ever give off-road tandem cycling another shot. The full details of my dilemma at the time were covered in a blog entry entitled, No More Mountain Tandem, sniff, sniff.
I’m not sure why, but I continued to hold out hope she might at least give me one last chance to re-introduce her to off-road tandeming before selling-off our 2002 Ventana full-suspension tandem which had not been ridden since April 2010. Our last off-road tandem ride was in November 2010, but on a newer Ventana (Casper) that Alex Nutt from MTBTandems.com had let us borrow.
Interestingly enough, about 1/2 way through that ride Debbie had told me she liked the white Ventana more than our 8-year old, under utilized Ventana. However, by the end of the ride and unbeknownst to me, she had pretty much lost her nerve and interest in riding off-road. To this day she can’t pin point why, but that was the last time we put two tires in the dirt.
I never really got serious about selling either the triplet — which has only seen use at a few tandem rallies and gatherings of tandem friends for rides up in Tennessee — or the Ventana as even a remote chance to ride either bikes at some point in the future was all I needed to justify holding on to the bikes.
Even though Debbie had agreed she’d give it one more try last winter, whenever I followed-up on her offer she just didn’t feel like it or was more interested in riding the road tandem. So, about every six weeks or so I’d bring it up, usually after riding the local loops on my single mountain bikes but with no success. This weekend some friends shot me an Email asking if we might still be interested in selling the Ventana which gave me one last shot to see if Debbie would give it a try: this was definitely an either / or question. Either we give it a shot and confirm that the Ventana has a place in our future riding plans or sell it… to our friends (if it fit and suited their needs / budget) or someone else.
Her initial response was, let’s just sell it. However, I persisted and asked her to give our very nice and not-all-that-technical trail a try on the Ventana, noting I would put about 270lbs of air pressure in the rear shock to minimize the frame bob that she has never liked on either of our Ventana full-suspension off-road tandems. Moreover, the way the trail is laid out, the first mile was pretty much a dirt road with just a couple turns, a very small water crossing and a bridge leading to the actual trail. Therefore, if that first 1/2 mile or so wasn’t enjoyable, we’d simply turn around, call it a day and sell the Ventana.
Much to my surprise, her next question was, “Do we still have the Camelbaks?” I said yes and she agreed to give it a try!!!! Talk about doing the happy dance on the inside; I was jubilant but tried not to show it.
Although there was a little trepidation when we woke up this morning, the weather was so nice that it made the idea of a nice tandem ride of any type a very inviting thing. I got the Ventana ready, which really didn’t take a lot of effort: I do periodic maintenance on all of our bikes so they’re pretty much ready to go with just some air in the tires. However, I needed to move some pedals over to the bike and wanted to double-check the rear shock to make sure it was still holding air from the last PM a couple of months back: it was. I just needed to top it off to be certain that I’d minimized the pedaling-induced bobbing our Ventana tandems had always exhibited. With the front wheel installed, air in tires and a successful solo test ride to the end of our street completed, I slid the tandem into the back of our Toyota Tundra on its side with the front wheel resting on the tailgate in the down position; we were good to go.
We made a couple of short test rides in the dirt parking lot of our local trail and after getting Debbie’s saddle raised up a bit we were off. At the predetermined end of the access trail I asked Debbie; “So do you want to continue or should we head back?” She said, so far so good. I skipped the extra 1-mile loop that adds some higher technical climbs and descents to the ride which Debbie said she appreciated. My sense that our local trails would be more to her liking was spot-on: she really enjoyed our short loop ride. She said she got a good workout, felt like she was able to put power into the pedals without the tandem sucking her energy away with suspension bob, and really didn’t mind the tight corners, narrow tree gaps and other features of the trail. She was very pleased that we were able to easily clear a couple features that I thought might have required a dismount and portage.
Riding the Ventana with Debbie aboard for the first time in 4.5 years was a bit of a re-learning experience for me. I definitely forgot just how much positive steering control was required to keep the Ventana headed where I wanted it to go: I probably need to move the triple clamps to see if I can’t add some steering trail. Over the past 4.5 years I’ve also moved to a more upright position on my mountain bikes, so I was also dealing with being in a much more leaned-over, aggressive riding position than I’m used to. One thing that hasn’t changed with our Ventana that I really wish would was disc brake squeal: I suspect it’s the four piston design.
So, I think I have a green light for some return visits to the local trail over the winter which is goodness. As to whether or not we’ll sell the Ventana, having had it in my hands again I’m pretty sure it’s too small for our friends who expressed an interest in the bike: the fork steerer would have needed to be at least another good 2″ – 3″ for the captain’s bar height to be correct and his wife would need a very long seat post as she’s quite a bit taller than Debbie is at just 5’2″. There are definitely a few things I can do to it to make it “good enough” to take us until next spring, during which time we’ll really know if off-road riding will be something we do more often.
I don’t see us heading off to any trails that are super technical or with advanced riders, as I suspect pushing past Debbie’s comfort zone — and some spills — is what took a toll on her confidence. It’s also noteworthy that she has some bone density issues, which makes the risks associated with a fall in the woods higher for her than the average person who lands on a rock, root or clips a tree with a shoulder.
I can definitely see that a visit to MTBTandems with our bike is in the near future, as I do need to get my stem height and reach sorted out and will most likely move over to Avid BB7’s instead of screwing around with floating rotors for the Hope hydraulic disks that continue to squeak and shriek.