This was our first year at A.O.R.T.A. (Appalachian Off-Road Tandem Adventure) organized by Alex Nutt from MTB Tandems (www.mtbtandems.com). The rally coincides with our purchase of a Ventana ECDM (El Conquistador de Montanas) mountain bike tandem a few weeks before. For us, A.O.R.T.A. would be our christening in this new sport.
We are not mountain bikers and neither of us even own a solo mountain bike. My total MTB experience accounted of borrowing my brother’s budget MTB to try it out in a local race a few decades ago. It wasn’t a bad experience; sure I was apprehensive going down some hills which seemed more like a vertical wall to me. After the guy in front of me miraculously made it to the bottom of the hill still attached to earth, I figured “if he survived, I guess I can too.” I did finished 3rd in that race but gave up MTB racing in lieu of road riding.
My wife and I have been tandem biking for a many years. We consider ourselves “sport” category, which means that we train with our primary focus being health rather than speed. Whenever we can, we love to race. For us racing is just a way to establish a goal and to see how we are improving.
Living in the northeast means that we usually stop riding as the winter chill sets. We jumped into the MTB tandem primarily as a way to extend the riding season during the cold months and beat the winter blues. And “jump” is about how it felt. There are few MTB tandems to try and Alex at MTB Tandems (www.mtbtandems.com) is located near Atlanta – nowhere near our home. Still we were committed to make it work, so we contacted Alex and began the process of picking the right bike for us.
Initially we debated between full-suspension or hard-tail tandem design. For us, the full suspension tandem seemed to be the better options in terms of off-road capability, however the benefits also comes with a significant cost premium. Alex has superb options for both designs and with his help we decided to purchase the “low end” of the full-suspension tandem knowing that we would likely keep the tandem for many years to come. When we made the purchase we also signed up for A.O.R.T.A. We figured it would be a way to meet other riders in a social setting.
Somewhat apprehensively we drove with our new tandem to the start of A.O.R.T.A. outside Ashville, NC. Both my wife and I are somewhat reserved, so social events are not our forte. Further we are going to a mountain bike event with a new tandem! Surely we will be swallowed up by a big dragon on our first ride.
A.O.R.T.A. was really fun and well organized event. Alex did a wonderful job in bringing a huge group (40+ riders) of MTB tandem enthusiasts together with Rachel Wingo-Hager who was an amazing event coordinator. Each ride was divided into easy, medium and advanced groups something which immediately made us feel comfortable that we had choices. We selected advanced group and it turned out just right for us.
Rides were arranged at DuPont State Forest and at Bent Creek, both beautiful areas. Bent Creek combined gravel paths with singletrack trails, and DuPont had really smooth, long and well developed singletrack. Each ride was led and followed by a local MTB expert on their singles. At the end of each day wonderful food was waiting for us to be shared with our new-found friends.
A.O.R.T.A. was a wonderful first event for us to experience MTB tandem riding with a great set of people. We are grateful for all of the new friends we made and are looking forward to riding and meeting again.
P.S. It turns out that our Ventana 29er tandem is an amazing bike. It is considerably bigger than our road tandem and while standing next to it, it looks more like a motorcycle than a bike. Yet when we ride, it rides extremely well. I always understood that a MTB tandem would go off-road, through dirt and gravel, but I never thought it was possible to go down stairs on a tandem (and live to tell about it!) Or ride worry-free through potholes while zooming down the road. Turns out that we now ride the MTB tandem a lot more than the road bike, even when riding on the road. It gives us worry-free, can-go-over-anything riding.