Teaching a 1/2 biker new tricks
Alex at MTB Tandems inc. recently ask the Tandem Mountain Bikes Facebook group “Why do you ride tandem mountain bikes?”. It is interesting to read all the responses. You can tell that for many, riding tandems is very important and meaningful to them. One of the reasons I (not Lisa as it does not apply) like riding our tandem is that it’s like being a beginner again. Every time we ride or race we learn some new skill, get better at something, have a list of things we could do better. Not that I am the best rider on a 1/2 bike, but mostly I need a bigger motor if I want to go faster.
Two skills Lisa and I have been working on recently are; 1- Easing the rear wheel up ledges or logs on steep slow climbs and 2- Keeping the rear wheel from launching into the air when descending at high speed over large bumps. I think we have #2 figured out, more on that later.
Easing the rear wheel up ledges or logs on steep slow climbs:
Lisa and I are racing the Whiskey Off-Road 50miler in 2 weeks and we have been working on getting up ledges and water bars on steep climbs. Last year at the Whiskey I remember this really tough section of steep climbing with large water bars made from those round logs they seem to use. Last year I had no idea what to expect, and I hear the course is different this year, but I assume the skill will still be useful. Not being 3 weeks out from a badly broken sternum should help also. I think it was the 48 – Aspen Creek trail. In fact, in the description, it says “This trail is very tough with steep ups, downs, and very large water bar sections…” It is on climbs like this that I am happy we have a 24th chainring with a 42cog.
On my 1/2 bike, I can get up really large logs and rocks at low speed. This is a skill, which If done right on a 1/2 bike, the motion is so subtle you can hardly see how it is done. It looks like the bike magically climbs the log. Lisa and I have not previously really worked on this; I have just avoided the situation by avoiding the low speed. I steer the front wheel up the easiest path then back to center, dig deep for a little more speed and just get up it. On the Aspen Creek trail avoiding low speed is not an option. In most cases getting the front wheel up is a matter of steering it to the edge of the trail where there is some sort of dirt ramp. Even if I must drive the front wheel over the log, traction is not a problem and I can help it up a bit. The rear wheel–that is the challenge. How to describe to Lisa who does not have this skill on her own bike how to do this on a tandem?
Let’s get to what we are trying to do. Quickly let’s go over how this is done on a 1/2 bike. As you approach a water bar you start to sit more upright, then, getting the timing right, you raise your front wheel by lowering your upper body, and pulling yourself toward the bars. You do this just enough to get your front wheel up the water bar. Then, and this is the part we are trying to replicate on the tandem, you raise forward off the seat, and again getting the timing just right, you lightly pull the rear wheel up as you push forward on the bars. This basically has the effect of bringing the seat back to you. This works because basically, you are using the moving of your body to “ratchet” your bike up the water bar. The advantage of this is that you don’t lose momentum from your front or rear wheel hitting the log or your rear wheel spinning trying to climb the log. I call this “easing” the bike up because if done right, it takes little energy and is a really fluid motion. Now back to the tandem, I have explained this all to Lisa now all she needs to do is implement it. Did I mention this took me years to get really good at this on my 1/2 bike? Jeff B. Shared with me a good video of how to do this on your 1/2 bike by BikeRadar.
Here is what we have learned while practicing:
- I should mostly help by pushing the bars forward; me trying to lift the rear does not seem to really help and maybe hurts.
- Don’t both try to do something different, only make 1 change at a time.
- More of a comment–its ok if the rear wheel spins after it is over the log.
- Lisa’s initial attempts were too extreme.
- The timing takes practice. The speed is slow, Lisa has time to see and react but the timing still takes practice.
- It is easier to practice when it really has a benefit. Practicing on easy stuff is hard–I think this is because you don’t get as much feedback as to if you did it right or wrong.
- It is awesome when you get it right! This is well worth practicing.
At the end of the day, remember you get better riding and you get better with some intentionally focused practice and problem-solving. Adding stills gives you more options when riding challenging terrain and riding is always better than walking.
Lisa and I are feeling prepared. My fitness is not great but the plan is to build up to the Brek Epic in early August. On the other hand last year I was 3 weeks out from a badly broken sternum and was only able to take a deep breath 2 days before the race.
Here is a short onboard video of Lisa and I riding a technical set of rocks ledges on the Cottonwood Canyon trail in North Table mountain park, Golden Colorado. The set of rocks ledges is difficult on a 1/2 bike, I can make it 90% of the time on the tandem we are about 50/50 now that we have gotten better at easy the rear wheel up. On the tandem, it all about keeping traction so that you can keep the momentum.
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