So you thought tandem bikes were just for family fun rides along the beachfront? Well, think again!
Doing any sporting activity in pairs requires perfect harmony and a sense of connection, even more so when you’re actually connected to the same piece of equipment racing downhill navigating trees, boulders and gap jumps.
We discovered Jackson and Rose for the first time via a video (see below) we came across online. It captures them hurtling down a downhill trail, flying off gap jumps… on a tandem! Yes, I said tandem!!
So we just had to get in touch with them to find out who they were and what this tandem thing is all about. Check out the video below to get a taste of this super-cool couple doing incredible things on their tandem!
“Just hold on and close your eyes” Nose cases, Scandi’ flicks, a road gap, and a tandem bike. Filmed in McVicar’s Forest in Christchurch. Work is scheduled to begin in late 2016 on a chairlift to access the trails in this forest. Filming and production support by 360NewZealand.com The music is Winding Roads by Gyom
Posted by Jackson and Rose Tandem on Wednesday, April 27, 2016
T&S: Thanks for the opportunity to meet and chat with us today, we really do appreciate it.
Jackson: Thanks for having us Jason, it’s a pleasure.
Rose: I’m Rose
Jackson: And I’m Jackson
Rose: We’re a married couple and we’re both pretty obsessive mountain bikers. We like to ride together, and sometimes we like to ride together on our tandem. We’ll do all kinds of tracks on the tandem, and we race enduro and downhill on it.
T&S: Ha ha OK, we love it. That’s the elevator pitch yes? We’re sold! But let’s go right back to the start. When did it all begin for you two?
Jackson: We both used to be XC riders back at university and we met through mountain biking when we carpooled to a race with a mutual friend.
Rose: Probably about 2005 I decided I wanted to do the around Lake Taupo road race. But it’s a long way so I thought it would be better on a tandem so Jackson could pull me around. So we borrowed an old road tandem. It was so bendy that it was scary to stand up on the pedals, but we had fun and decided we wanted a mountain bike.
Jackson: We ended up buying an old Burly Rock’n’Roll tandem off Trademe (New Zealand’s EBay). We named it “Rocky”, put suspension forks on it, and did heaps of riding and XC racing. We even set the record for the fastest tandem in the Karapoti Classic MTB race.
That record stood for 8 years I think, and was eventually beaten by our mate John Randal riding with many time Karapoti winner Wayne Hiscock.
Rose: Yeah, it’s nice that our record was broken by two men instead of a mixed team.
T&S: Why Tandem, and not individual bikes?
Rose: We do ride individual bikes too. But on the tandem we get to ride together and I’m not working my guts out while Jackson chats away and does wheelies up the hill.
Jackson: Yeah, and it’s also great teamwork. It adds another dimension to riding and, once you get good at it, you don’t really lose any of the fun or technicality.
T&S: How did you decide who was going up front?
Jackson: Ha ha! When we first tried with Rose on the front she got the giggles so badly that we fell off, and we couldn’t get started again! We do switch it up a bit, but I always go at the front on anything technical.
It is a lot easier for the taller and heavier person to be the captain because when the stoker moves around it can send the bike off course. When I am the stoker, I can steer the bike just like when you ride a normal bike with no hands.
T&S: Does the stoker actually do anything on the downhills? Are they just a passenger?
Jackson: Yeah, the stoker does heaps. Most people can get the cornering right, but Rose can also do the pumping and popping that you need for technical riding. I can’t ride anything hard with anyone else on the back. Jumps can go pretty badly if we don’t get the timing right together.
Rose: Anything with g-forces is emphasised at the back, like in bomb holes I get pushed around much more than Jackson. I have to be able to anticipate the g-out so I don’t collapse and send the bike off course.
T&S: How much of the trail can you actually see from behind, Rose? Is there a lot of trust going on here?
Rose: When there are lots of corners I can see where we are going. The worst bits are fast straights with lots of trees close to the handlebars. But Jackson doesn’t crash his bike as much as I crash mine. And if he does crash I can just fall off like a normal bike, but he is stuck between the handlebars, so he is worse off than me.
Jackson: Except I get a bit of warning when we are crashing. Rose doesn’t know until we hit the ground. I have to earn Rose’s trust though. We’ve been doing this for twelve years now and if I took too many risks then we wouldn’t have lasted that long.
T&S: The frame is custom made. Can you tell us about it?
Jackson: Yes, I made the frame. It’s actually the second one I’ve done. After a couple of years of riding Rocky (the old hardtail), we realised we needed something more when we started doing little jumps. Rose’s feet would get ripped from the pedals and her backside would be flung up above her head. Not comfortable!
Rose: Yeah that was scary- with my seat up too. We didn’t have dropper posts back then.
Jackson: But it was too expensive for us to get a commercial frame. We were students at the time and here in New Zealand it was minimum $7000, and that was just for and XC frame without any components. So I decided that it would be cheaper for me to make it myself.
I’m not an engineer but I’m pretty handy, so I took the plunge, bought a welder and played around with it until I could weld alright. Then I cut up some old bikes and made a practice frame, which Rose still rides as her commuter.
Then I spent months on the computer making a 3D CAD model, bought a bunch of steel, and stuck it all together. It took about a year from when I first committed to when the bike was finished. That bike, “Bruce”, had 150mm travel and was a great XC trail bike and suited us perfectly at the time. And you couldn’t buy anything like that at the time either. Bruce was definitely ahead of the curve.
A few years later we moved south from the North Island to live in Christchurch. The hills are much steeper down here and we found that poor old Bruce wasn’t really up to the terrain, or our improving skill level. So I set to building the current bike, “Trev”. Trev has 190mm travel and all-mountain geometry, but the suspension curve is optimised for pedalling so he is definitely not a DH bike.
We have another bike in the works right now. The front triangle is all done, and I started cutting tubes for the rear triangle today. It’ll be a full on DH tandem, properly slack and with no compromise for pedalling.
T&S: Brilliant! Bruce, Trev…we can’t wait to see the next addition to the family.
T&S: It seems like a tandem would need some pretty heavy duty components. Do you use anything special?
Jackson: Yeah, we’ve got a few special features. The biggest problem is making wheels that are strong enough. We’ve been using Spank Spoon rims recently, which are alright, but only come in 32 hole. We’re looking forward to getting some old school Halo SAS rims in a month or so.
The bike grounds out a lot so we have a home-made heavy duty bash ring on the front cranks and the bottom tube is protected by a piece of PVC pipe we glued to it. On the rear cranks we have a chainguide/bashring combo made from a chopping board. The chopping board is good because it is thin and flexible enough to keep the sync-chain and drive-chain apart but still robust enough to be a bash guard.
Rose: And I use old fashioned bar-ends as moto-style hand guards. It’s important because it is hard for Jackson to know where my handlebars are so he often hits trees with them. The bar ends deflect the trees away from my fingers.
Jackson: Yeah, and Rose’s handlebars have a massive rise, like five inches, so we can get her grips in the right place but the centre of her handlebars are still low enough for me to get my butt back when we’re going down steep hills.
Oh, and our combined weight is 130kg so we need a really stiff spring in the fork. We’ve got an X-Fusion RV1, and the stiffest spring isn’t really enough for us. So we got an extra-firm Boxxer spring and cut it down to the same size as the X-Fusion spring, which makes it even firmer. The cut-down Boxxer spring is perfect.
The weight is hard on the brakes too. We use Zee brakes with finned pads and Hayes 9” (224mm) rotors. We’ve tried a bunch of different setups over the years and this is the first one we’ve used that we’ve never had an overheating failure, and we’ve had it for almost four years now. Those finned pads really make a difference, we overheated our old, pre-cooling-fin Saints a couple of times.
T&S: How do you transport the bike? It’s HUGE!
Jackson: I’ve actually just finished making a roof-rack attachment for it, so now we usually just throw it on the roof. That way we can still open the boot, which is important when you’ve got toddlers and you have to get their sandwich RIGHT NOW!
But for years we used to use a two prong rack and carry the bike vertically. The prongs go under the front seat tube and the back wheel pokes straight up in the air like a giant spoiler. It looks ridiculous!
T&S: Is there a lot of communication going on, i.e. there’s a HUGE gap jump coming up…hold on!
Rose: Jackson calls out obstacles such as when to pump or a jump coming up. Believe it or not but splashing through a wee stream or puddle can give me the biggest fright if I’m not expecting it. If Jackson ducks, I’m pretty quick to get my head low too.
Jackson: For stuff where we really have to be in unison, like big jumps, we’ll always stop and check it out first so Rose has some idea of the shape of it and can get the timing right.
Rose: If it’s a track we know then I sometimes call out features like a co driver. Like, “keep high then low”. Mostly it’s self-preservation actually.
T&S: So tell us, can you do jumps just like a normal bike? It just seems almost impossible.
Jackson: We can jump alright but there are some that just don’t work. We don’t have as much pop as on a normal bike, so we can’t do anything that is really hard to clear. And we’ve got a really long wheelbase, which is a problem on a jump that has too much kick. If it has lots of kick then we always end up landing too nose heavy, which is a bit scary.
Rose: I’m not that confident doing jumps on my normal bike so once I’ve done it on the tandem I know that I can do it on my own.
T&S: Does riding the tandem cause any unique issues that you wouldn’t encounter on a single bike? Such as cornering for example. Did you have to re-learn or create a new techniques to master the bike?
Jackson: Cornering is actually not much of a problem. You’d be surprised how rarely you reach your turning lock on a single bike, at least on purpose built bike tracks. But with the long wheelbase we do get the bottom bracket caught on small humps. You have to keep up enough speed for the front to clear the hump, otherwise you have to get off and lift the bike over.
Technique wise, I think we use all the same skills as you do on a normal bike, but we had to learn them all over again on the tandem.
Rose: But sometimes I learned them first on the tandem then started using them on my normal bike too.
T&S: OK, funniest moments, scariest moments and most memorable moments?
Rose: If Jackson brakes too suddenly when I’m not expecting it, it can get silly. Once we had a goat jump out in front of us and when he braked I face planted into his back so hard that I had a sore nose for a week. In fact I have to wear a soft peak on my helmets because I don’t want to sever his spinal cord. On my DH helmet I replaced the stock peak with one I made out of a clearfile cover.
Jackson: I think the scariest moment was back in the XC days when we had a complete brake failure on a steep downhill. I said something like “Oh shit oh shit oh shit” and steered the bike into a bank. I flew over the handlebars and landed a few metres down the track with the bike another few metres beyond me, but I couldn’t see Rose anywhere. I thought I’d killed her.
Rose: But I had jumped off as soon as Jackson started swearing. He doesn’t usually sound like that so I knew something was really wrong. It was a 4wd track and we were doing about 30km/hr. Surprisingly there was no serious injury
Jackson: We’ve got much better brakes now too. Those ones that failed were Hayes 9’s with 180mm rotors. Madness.
Rose: Just recently we’ve been pushing our jumping. We had one scary moment when I got the timing of the jump wrong and popped at the same time as I would on my single bike (usually when doing jumps, I pop at the same time as Jackson does).
The front wheel only went about six inches high but the back one went probably four feet and we nose manualed right down the transition. It’s just lucky the bike is so long cos it would have been a total face plant on a single bike.
T&S: What’s the next big challenge for you two?
Jackson: I’ve got to get this new bike finished and then we’ll have to see how it rides. Hopefully we’ll be able to push the technical difficulty a bit more. We’ve got to get some good components for it first though.
Rose: It would be great to take it overseas too. There is a couple in Spain who ride their tandem the same way we do, and there are a few others in Spain and some in California too. It would be fun to ride with them.
Jackson: Yeah, so we’re looking for sponsors for components at the moment, and we’ll probably do some fundraising for an overseas tour. We’re still thinking it all through though.
T&S: What would you say to people who are reading this and thinking about giving it a go for themselves?
Rose: Do it now before you get too old and conservative!
Jackson: Yeah, and for the captains, remember that if there is any kind of problem, it’s not the stoker’s fault. It might not be the captain’s fault either, but it’s definitely not the stoker’s fault.
Any captain is really lucky to have a stoker at all, and they’re always doing their best. If the stoker’s not doing what you want, then you’re trying to push boundaries too fast or you’ve not given them the information they need to react the right way.
Well there you have it! What a great couple and family. All of us at Tyres and Soles thank Jackson and Rose for allowing us to take a sneek peek into their adventurous life.
We wish them all the very best for their future adventures, wherever those may be, big or small.
I hope what we do here at Tyres and Soles will inspire people to get out there and experience first hand, the natural wonders that surround them. So, pump up those tyres, don your favourite boots. Grab a mate, a partner, a pet… and head out into nature. But tell us all about it when you get back.