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MTB Tandem Nut
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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Before I start: no pictures, no video. Sorry; we're electronically challenged...
We joined another tandem team yesterday (Sunday) for a loop around a semi-local trail that we hadn't ridden tandems on before. We were there so our kids Trace and AJ could join a team ride for their CycleYouth team (http://cycleyouth.homestead.com/index.html) as a start to the 2010 racing season training.
So we met with Al & Jan, (a local team who used to ride a Fandango 26" tandem, but have since upgraded to a Ventana el Conquistador) for some easy riding and holiday weekend relaxation...
With 10 or 12 kids to organize, we left the boys with the team manager/coach, and decided to leave the ride leaders and head off along the trail, figuring they'd catch us soon enough.
I haven't ridden at Fort Yargo ( http://yaba.homestead.com /) for 10+ years, but had worked a few of those years building trails and running the annual Hi-Tec Adventure races, so I was semi-familiar with the part and the general layout of the trail system, or so I thought. Apparently the area was struck by a tornado within the past year or so, and the densely wooded park now features open fields of grass and low-growing shrubs. It's a strange feeling to be somewhere you know you've been before, but not be able to recognize part of the trail. Anyway, since neither of us had ridden tandems there, we didn't know what to expect.
We were pleasantly surprised! The entire trail (with one expection to be addressed momentarily) consisted of buff singletrack in scrub woods or fields, with semi-tight turns, small climbs and descents, and lots of dips/drops/ravines of anywhere from 3-4' deep to over 10 feet deep.
We ended up enjoying ourselves immensely for most of the trail. The tight stuff wasn't too tight to ride, and the dips were fun (at least most of them were). There were some low, wet spots on the trail, and we picked up (and flung up) lots of mud along the way. We experienced some chain suck after getting good and mucky a few times.
About 2 miles into the trail, we came to a fork, with one side pointing to what was described as a hard section, and the left side a short-cut. We opted for the hard section (someone happened by and said they didn't think we could make it on a tandem...). So we headed up the "3 sisters", expecting the worse. A mile later we rejoined the main trail, still expecting the worst, having seen nothing that wasn't very doable on the tandems.
So, with smug self-satisfaction, we headed on to the next section of trail, which also included an outer loop and/or inner, short-cut loop option. Of course we took the outer loop, since that was the race course route, and again, had lots of fun, no obstacles of much note until the bog, and continued to enjoy ourselves. As the trail reached the bottom of the dam, we came to the notorious mud section, and could tell very quickly why it was locally famous. Georgia red clay is positively slimey as bat-crap when wet, and this 60 foot section was on the side of a slope. Being as everyone had told us we couldn't make it through, we downshifted to the granny, engaged the traction control (Kim leaned way back) and monster-trucked our way completely through with nothing but mucho muddier bike and huge grins to show for our efforts.
Our other team didn't fare as well, having chain-suck issues and a more race-oriented tire on back of their Ventana, they bogged down and spun out halfway through and endured silent humiliation as they pushed/dragged their tandem through while we watched.
Which brings us to the "monster mile'...
Up to this point, we'd been told we couldn't ride various parts of the trail, thumbed our tandem noses at the nay-sayers and trucked right along, laughing off the perceived tandem obstacles as nothing. So, completely full of ourselves, we didn't pay much attention when folks told us we couldn't ride the Monster Mile on tandems, and off we went.
The highlights of the moster mile can be described as follows:
Straight upslope fall-line trail with lots of roots on slick red clay, dip, dip, DIP, dip, back down the same hill parallel, dip, dip DIP, DIP, dip, back up the hill, and so on, until THE DIP, which was at least 8' deep and pretty near vertical on each side. This wasn't a dip, it was a TRAP for very large animals and tandems. This thing was so steep there were steps cut into the side for the unfortunates (mere humans) who couldn't actually ride it on a bike. Even then, we had to hand the bikes up to each other to get them out of the trap.
After the dip, we climbed for what seemed like a helluva long time for ANY trail in Georgia, until we re-joined the mortal trail and continued along our much diminished merry way the rest of the way back to the trail head.

Total ride was 12 miles, 11 of which were great fun.

The most intersting thing to me was the difference in the tandems we were riding; the hardtail Fandango 29'er handled the terrain and mud very well, with very little slipping or spinning anywhere to speak of. In the past I've been leery of tandems on muddy trails because the front end gets pushed so much, but we didn't have any problem this time. I'm sure the 29" wheels and the WTB Stout tires are the reason for this. These tires continue to amaze me with the traction they provide in so many less-than-ideal off-road conditions. We did not ever run out of rear wheel traction at any point on the ride.
Our riding buddies had a WTB MutanoRaptor rear tire in back on 26" wheels, and it didn't work nearly as well for them. They had traction problems all day, and seemed to start/stop much more than we did, and also seemed to have more difficulty with trail noise and obstacles.
Al and Jan are much more accomplished riders than we are, both have raced competitively, so the difference in ride quality has nothing to do with skill. We are way outclassed by these guys. It had to be the wheel sizes.
After the ride, I asked Al what he would choose to race this course in a tandem class, and he thought a hardtail 29'er would be ideal.
I have to admit, I'm becoming more of a retro-grouch as far as tandem choice; we have the choice of virtually any viable off-road tandem in our test fleet to ride, and we find ourselves on the Fandango more and more often.
Am I biased? Probably. After all, the Fandango is what I think an off-road tandem should be. But when it comes down to riding comfort and enjoyability, I have no pride, and will happily choose from our demo fleet whatever brand of tandem provides the best comfort and performance, regardless of who/where it came from. The fact that we're choosing the 29'er hardtail more often is an eye-opener for me, because I've been a vocal proponent of full suspension on mountain bikes since my first Pro-Flex boinger nearly 20 years ago.

And while my 29'er single bike offered a marked improvement over my previous 26" single bikess, the difference wasn't nearly as obvious as it is with the tandems. One would think that spreading the 12+ - % difference in wheel diameter over the greater length of a tandem wheelbase would dilute the advantage of the big wheels, but I think it may actually enhance the advantages. Or maybe something else is going on here that really makes the 29" wheels a magic combination for a tandem.

Was the ride all peaches 'n cream? No. On some of the switchback dip tops, I felt, again, more flex in the front wheel than with a 26" wheel. I'm still working on solutions for this, including different rim choices, and even custom forks with 120mm or more dropout spacing, but nothing yet has come into production in anything near a marketable price.
The WTB Stout tire that has always pushed us through everything we throw at it is showing obvious wear on the rear tire after not that many rides, and it's obvious it won't last nearly as long as many other tires. At this point though, I'll trade the short lifespan for the phenomenal traction. We suffered chain suck, but so did lots of other folks on the ride, so I can't say that's specifically bike-related.

Anyway, sorry for the long post. But if you can't tell, I am absolutely tickled with this 29'er platform!
 

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I know what you mean. We have over 500 miles on our Fandango 29er since we bought it in November. The Ventana felt very comfortable, but it was clear after riding it and the Fandango back to back the trade off was efficiency. The hardtail just puts so much more of your effort into output. The 29er format gives the captain a more upright position that is but more comfortable and easier to control the bike. It handles the sand wonderfully and just feels very stable on the trail. Its the best tandem I have ridden, at any price. What a value for such a nice machine.
 

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MTB Tandem Nut
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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Actually, I didn't mean for the ride report to come off sounding like a sales pitch, but it does, kind of. My apologies to the members of this forum for what looks like a borderline commercial/spam post.
I was more interested in commenting on what the different wheel size seemed to make in a particular situation, conditions and/or terrain.
I've always considered Ventana's el Conquistador as the benchmark for tandem performance in 99% of off-road conditions/circumstances. Compared to a 26" hardtail, I still think the ECDM is a much better choice for most teams in most conditions. And while I still consider the ECDM as the benchmark for a full-sus 26'er, our experience with the 29'er platform is causing me to reconsider that position for specific applications somewhat. IOW, I'm broadening my horizons a bit :).
We plan to ride South Loop here at Blankets Creek, the red-headed step-child 3rd loop of our "home trail" on the Fandango soon. South Loop is nothing but rocks, roots, steep pitches, switchbacks, off-cambers, ruts, and whatever other aspects of the terrain could be incorporated into a trail challenge (except mud). I'm thinking the 29" wheels may not be as much of an advantage (if any) under those circumstances.
As for wheel strength, I'm thinking along the same lines as you, Nate. We've finally gotten our paws on some Velocity Chukker rims (a 29'er version of the old mountain Deep V). We've built up a set of wheels or two for some comparisons. Because of the tall rim, spoke length is measurably shorter, which should equate to a laterally (and vertically) stiffer and stronger wheel. I'm not fond of the 24mm rim width, given our preference for 2.4" tires, but we'll try some 2.2" WTB Wolverines and some others to see how the new rims do. I'm pretty sure the Chukker is a stronger rim than the Rhyno Lites, at least vertically.
I've been looking around for a higher flange front hub, but so far haven't found much.
 

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TandemNut said:
...I didn't mean for the ride report to come off sounding like a sales pitch, but it does, kind of...

As for wheel strength, ...we've finally gotten our paws on some Velocity Chukker rims ...I'm not fond of the 24mm rim width...
Don't worry. If you had included pictures, it only would have driven me closer to the brink.

I emailed Kris Holm regarding his infamous rims under tandem usage -- 38mm wide, eyeletted, and a reputation for taking a beating. He's got a 36H front, but I'd prefer a 40. The current production is using a 5mm spoke offset to either side. I'm not sure of the real-world effect, but on paper is sure sounds like a good idea!

I'd go with one of his 32H rims in the rear with the Speedhub. Wonder what it would take to drill a set of 40's?
 

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MTB Tandem Nut
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Discussion Starter · #6 · (Edited)
We built one of the first Rohloff Fandangos with Kris Holm rims. Those things are HUGE! Haven't pinged the owner lately to see how they're holding up, but I don't think strength will be an issue. Weight and size might be though; a 2.4 tire on the rear on a KH rim actually got pretty close to the seat stays on a Fandango, and will likely rub on many frames.
Did a little research last night; seems Phil Wood's 20mm front disc mtb hub has a 67mm spoke circle diameter, while most others (WI, CK, DT) are around 58-60mm. Interestingly, PW's Tandem front disc hub only has a 54.7mm scd. Go figure...
The Chub Hub http://bythehive.com/collection/chub-hubs/chub-fixed/ has a 73mm scd, not as much larger than the PW as pictures would seem to indicate. I've pinged them on availability of 36 and.or 40 drillings and OE availability.
Either one, unfortunately, will double front hub costs at the builid level, plus I'm not sure how mixing a PW front and WI rear will affect the tandem's karma...
 
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