Double your pleasure

Tandem bikes an uncommon sight on the trails

Tandems are not as maneuverable around tight switchbacks, but, on the good side, they are very stable going downhill. Sarah Mah/Desert Rat Tours

“Whoa, no way!  I’ve never seen one of those before.  How do you…?”

During the past 12 years we have started countless trailside conversations this way. One thing about a mountain tandem: it is a great conversation starter.

We got into mountain tandeming as a way to share the fun of mountain biking together.  We get to ride as hard as we want, stay together, talk, and explore great places.  Now it has also become a family activity as we introduce our six-year-old to mountain biking on the back of a “Big Yellow Tandem” (BYT for short).  Throughout our time riding big bikes we’ve tried quite a few different trails and bike set-ups as well as introducing as many people as possible to tandeming.

One of the hardest things about getting into mountain tandeming is that it is almost impossible to go to your local shop to test one.  Finding the right bike, the right size, and even discovering IF you would like it is a big hurdle. If you want to try before you buy, the best solutions are to ask around at local shops to see if anyone nearby owns a mountain tandem, to check online tandem forums such as Double Forte or’s tandem and regional forums, or to look for a used tandem on Craigslist or other bike site. 

To be trailworthy, especially on the rugged trails in this region, a tandem needs a frame and parts strong enough to handle the stress of two riders; disc brakes and front suspension are highly recommended.  A tandem can’t pop the front wheel up to clear obstacles, so you need something to let you run over things easier.  Brands to look for include Ventana, Fandango (, Ellsworth, da Vinci, and Santana.  In the used market, look for Cannondale, Burley, and KHS entry level tandems.

When learning to tandem, the most important thing to remember is “if the stoker (person in back) isn’t happy, no one is happy.” Start off on pavement first in order to gain confidence in mounting, dismounting, starting, stopping, and turning, then move on to easy trails.  A tandem handles differently due to its mass and long wheelbase and you want to be secure with the basics before hitting too many challenges.  For example, tandems are not as maneuverable around tight switchbacks, but, on the good side, they are very stable going downhill and it is really difficult to go over the bars. 

Having a good experience for both riders is the key to continued tandem riding.  Since the person in back can’t see the trail as well, most teams develop a series of warnings and cues to alert the stoker of what is coming up.  Words like “drop,” “duck,” “shifting,” “big bump,” and “uh, oh” become common trail talk.

The trails in this area can be basically divided into three groups of technical difficulty: easy, moderate and hard.  Easy would include much of the 18 Road area.  Moderate trails are Western Rim (Rabbit Valley), Grand Mesa trails, and most of the Loma area.  Difficult trails are found at Lunch Loops, as well as Mack Ridge in the Loma system.

— Heather, Chris, and Cailan McKim


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