What a Great Ride! 15 Miles of Smiles….

20140928_122020Following  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!

20140928_105747Although 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.

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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….

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About TG

I've been around a bit and done a few things, have a couple kids and a few grandkids. I tend to be curmudgeonly, matter-of-fact and not predisposed to self-serving chit-chat. Thankfully, my wife's as nice as can be otherwise we'd have no friends. My interests are somewhat eclectic, but whose aren't?
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2 Responses to What a Great Ride! 15 Miles of Smiles….

  1. Rick Lindstrom says:

    Mark-

    Glad to hear you are back on the trails with the ECdM- nothing can beat being in the woods when the seasons are changing. And avoiding wind-chill when it finally gets cold. LOL

    Instilling confidence in your stoker is important on a tandem, and crucial on an off road tandem. As you know, my stoker, Terri, is blind, and one of the early tasks I had was to convince her that she’d survive our rides in the woods. In a sense, all tandem stokers are blind because they can’t see what is coming up to prepare for it. Not so important on a road tandem maybe, but very much so off road where you have log crossings, drop-offs, sharp climbs, twistys, lumps, bumps, “duck for this tree limb”, and you-name-it. Telling your stoker about what’s about to happen really adds to her feeling of security on the bike.

    I was next going to wax eloquent about the advantages of using an intercom on your off road bike, but I’ll make a wild guess that you use intercoms on your motorcycles and already know how fine they are. Terri and I have been using a Tandem Talk for years, both when we were riding on the road, and off-road, which is all we do now. I can easily keep her informed of what to expect on the trail, and usually we keep up a running conversation during the ride, which to me just enhances the experience. If you get used to using an intercom and then have to ride without it (if the battery dies for instance), you’ll appreciate exactly how nice it is not to have to yell instructions to your stoker over the shoulder and hope you are understood. Especially when things get hairy as they sometimes do off-road. 🙂

    In short, we wouldn’t enjoy riding without our intercom now that we’re accustomed it. The one we use is wired, which is a small inconvenience that you quickly get used to and is well worth it when you weigh the benefits. One of my hopes has been that a decent wireless unit would appear on the market for bicyclists, but the last time I looked, nothing was available. Wireless units do exist for motorcycles, but they’re cumbersome and not really well adapted for use on a bicycle. There is a wireless unit for bicycles (I forget the brand name), but it’s expensive and much larger than the Tandem Talk which is light, small and barely noticeable in your jersey pocket.

    Anyway, I recommend that you give one a try. It’ll probably go a long way toward getting your stoker firmly into the off-road camp.

    • TG says:

      Hey Rick

      Thanks for writing and sharing your and Terri’s insights.

      I’m very fortunate in that Debbie has come full circle in the last two weeks and can’t wait to get back out on the Ventana. Unfortunately, our schedule will only give us one day in October when we can return to the local trail before it closes on 1 Nov – 1 Jan for deer season; yes, we share the wood with sportsmen. Thankfully, I think there are some other trails near the kids home about 30 minutes away and that will give Debbie a chance to visit the grand daughters before we hit the trails: a two-fer!

      As for on tandem communications, so far my hearing is still good enough that we haven’t needed to go to an intercom and, well, we really don’t talk all that much when we’re riding. I’ll call out bumps road riding, but that’s about it and that’s Debbie’s preference… even for off-road. In fact, I confirmed that with her yesterday, i.e., “Do you want me to call out the bigger bumps and obstacles?” Debbie’s response: “Not really; I’d just rather follow your lead and body movements.” I’m truly blessed with a wonderful stoker who has great on bike body control, both on the pedal bikes and the motorcycles. Having had a couple guest stokers in my time I can tell you that you get spoiled by really great stokers!

      Now, that’s not to say that there won’t come a time when we might try an intercom again, noting we had them on our BMW R1150RT sport touring bike. There wasn’t much from that BMW experience that Debbie liked — the riding position, the feel of that bike, the look of that bike, AGATT or the intercom — so it was a short chapter in our two-up lives.

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