Muddymoles: Mountain biking (MTB) in the Surrey Hills and Mole ValleyMuddymoles: Mountain biking (MTB) in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

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Ellsworth Witness review – a bike for TWO!

Posted by Darren, June 13, 2011 There are 6 comments so far

Well here is a review about a bike for two, not just any bike for two, this is about a bike that can sometimes scare people and have them shaking there heads saying ‘no way am I going on that Beast!’

Ellsworth Witness Tandem

But this Beast is easy to tame, providing you have the nerve to tame her, as she is not like any bike you’ve ever been on. Trust me once you’re on the back of the Beast you’ll be laughing like a school girl! You think I’m joking? Maybe you’ll get a chance to find out if you have the nerve, just maybe…

This Beast is called the Ellsworth Witness.

I’ll be honest, this is Amanda’s bike and pride and joy, here is a little story on how we got her.

One day Amanda said to me, ‘I’d love an Ellsworth Witness tandem’. I’d seen one about a year before in Wales and I thought that was so cool, what better way to spend time with your partner and have fun at the same time. So Amanda started looking to buy one. I’ll cut a long story short we, got our tandem from Alex at mtbtandems.

Alex owns a shop that sells tandems only, he is a wealth of knowledge and one of the most helpful people I’ve ever dealt with, he even makes his own brand. One question I asked him was, were looking for a tandem to race, he said, go for an Ellsworth not his own make. To me that say’s something, when he recommends another brand other than his own. Have a look at his web site there is so many makes, including full-sus and hardtail designs from Fandango, Ventana, Da Vinci Desgins, Nicolai, Boulder, KHS, Lapierre and Cannondale

If you want to know how we got it here, you’ll have to ask us… secret stuff!

Ellsworth Witness Tandem front end

We had a Dawes MTB Tandem so we had a bit of an idea on how it was going to handle off road. The Dawes was OK for what we were doing, just going on fire roads, but was rubbish on the single track and the poor stoker on the back was getting a bit of a beating, but more about the poor stoker and what’s it like on the back later.

The first thing you notice about the Ellsworth is the length and stand over height from the Captain point of view, it’s high. I’m six foot and I can almost sit on the top tube! Mind you I’ve got Fox Talas 36 on the front and which are 160mm travel forks at full extention.

A Tandem takes a little bit to get used to when you start, you have to think about your Stoker and synchronise the start. How we start is the Stoker, “Amanda”, sits clipped in and with one foot forward while I hold the bike then say go and as I push down on the pedal I jump on to the seat! Once your riding along you notice that the bike is so much longer that your normal bike that you ride, and for the length there’s not much Flex in the frame but you can feel a little bit.

After you’ve been riding an off-road Tandem for a while, it gives you a great upper body workout as you’ll find the front end of the bike moves, it’s hard to explain but you have forces trying to move the front of the bike from side to side, so you have to compensate for the loading, it can hit the front of the bike at any time and you have to steer into the pull. If the bike pulls to the right you have to steer to the left to correct, if your new to off-road tandems it will make you think about what you’re doing. You’ll find that the learning curve is very steep and before you know it, you’ll be flying down the single track.

The key to be able to ride the Tandem is to communicate with your Stoker, if your Stoker is moving about on the back you’ll feel every movement at the front of the bike, every twist of the hip, head turn, shoulder movement is a change in the forces at the front of the bike. The key is to have a Stoker that listens to the Captain and doesn’t move around trying to look over your shoulder and powers up when you need power and eases off the power when needed. If the Stoker doesn’t listen it’s going to be an unhappy relationship as you both have to work together.

It also helps to have someone who is smaller than the captain. The Captain has to think about the Stoker as they can’t always see what’s approaching, i.e. rock, trees, stumps, etc. When you’re on your bike and you see a little tree stump, on your single bike you’ll lift the pedal up on the side of the stump, you do that on the tandem, but you have to wait 2 seconds before you start pedalling, because the stoker has to pass the stump also. It takes a bit of getting used to, having to delay certain things.

Ellsworth Witness Tandem from rear

We get a lot of comments from people like, ‘she’s not peddling’ and ‘can you get around Switchbacks on that?’ and ‘it must be easy going up hills on that’. After a while you just get used to the comments and just laugh at it. Mind you, we were thinking about making a t-shirt with questions on the front and answer’s on the back. So here are a few questions answered.

Can you do Switchbacks?

Yep we can, it takes practice but it’s not that hard, it all down to balance and the Stoker has to lean into the turn but not too much. The other thing which seems strange is when you are half way around the corner as you start to exit you have you run the wheel up the bank so the Stoker clears the inside corner. Some corners are tighter than others but with practice we make most of them.

She’s not peddling

Oh yes she is, as I can feel the Stoker ease off the power, it becomes a lot harder for me. The Stoker can’t actually stop unless I stop peddling, so I know if she’s not pulling her weight. Amanda is a great Stoker as sometimes I have to ask if she is still there. She doesn’t move one bit, I have asked a few times and she was gone, she bailed some time ago, when things went a bit pear-shaped. It’s very easy for the Stoker to bail, just unclip and bail out the back and let the Captain go down with the bike!

It must be easy going up hills on that

Er, no! You’ll pass us going uphill, as it’s harder on a tandem. Why that is, I have a theory, but this is not the time.

The only thing which we can’t do is board walks. We can’t get around the corners, as the turning circle is too large, because of the wheel base. We then drop off the side with a funny looking wobble then it’s over we go, so we tend to run them. I guess I should get the Stoker to bunny hop the rear end to one side.

People are amazed at what we take it down, we’ve taken the tandem down the Downhill track at Cwm Carn!! Yes it’s not that hard, just a bit tricky, it has been done. You should see the faces on the Down-hillers when a Tandem comes down the track, it’s priceless! You get all sort of comments, I’m hoping Adam will film us going down it soon.

Ellsworth Witness Tandem rear shock

We’ve found that tyres are important on how the tandem handles, she chews through rear tyres, she loves them and side walls last no time at all. So snake skin is the way forward, with good tread, because you’ll put huge power through the rear end, when it’s dry and your climbing it’s easy to wheel spin.

As for gears, you have to go easy when changing gears as it’s easy to snap chains. Some of the Moles have found that getting away from us is almost imposable even on single track, you’ll have no chance on a downward slope as she goes at warp speed.

I like saying to Amanda, things, like put the kettle on love, as someone is holding us up, Or Honk the Horn to get them to move over.

Bikers like the running commentary that I say to Amanda as we’re biking, like

  • Turn right
  • Turn left
  • Bump!
  • Hump! (no, it’s not what you’re thinking)
  • Tree right or left (don’t stick you head out or you lose it)
  • Slip left or right (slippy roots which will make the bike slip left or right)
  • Flicker (again, don’t look out as you’ll get whipped by a tree. That hurts!)
  • Duck!
  • Power (comes in handy to overtake)

But the most important command is “Bail Bail Bail!” Then I’m on my own!

Components on an off-road tandem have to be built well and good quality, you can’t just put anything on the bike as the loading is very high.

I’d say forks and brakes and wheels are the main parts that you have to look at carefully.

For brakes, we’d been using one type of brand and on a few occasions we were going down hill and very fast and we needed to brake hard. I’ve got 203mm discs on her and I had the levers pulled right into the handle bars!! We only just stopped. This happened a few times, so it was time to get better brakes. Hope V2, and man do they stop… I can now brake right at the last second, much to the amusement of the Stoker!!

You see double crown forks on tandems, our bike came with them but the only problem with them is the turning circle, it limits your cornering, you’ll find you can’t get around a lot of the switchbacks, so we binned our T100 magic forks and got a set of Fox Talas 160mm single crown forks, which have changed the handling of the bike. We found you can get over so much more with the Talas.

With wheels you don’t have that much of an option. We have tandem specific White Industries hubs, which we have stripped once and had to be rebuilt. Our next hub will be a Chris King tandem hub with a reinforced axle which will have downhill rims by DT Swiss. You need good strong wheels, as they take huge abuse. Weight is not too much of an issue on the tandem, the parts just have to be strong and up to the job.

I’d say we’ve crashed a few times, well more than a few times, but we always seem to survive the stacks. Lets just say I’ve been asked to slow down on a few occasions and God forbid if I see someone to chase down, it can get a bit scary for the Stoker.

What’s it feel like to be the Stoker?

Well have you seen Star Wars? you know when Han Solo goes in to hyper space and all the stars go from standing still to flying past you, well that’s a bit what’s it like but sitting on your push bike without any control what so ever. No brakes. No Steering. No gears. Just faith!!

The Stoker controls the rear Shock, locks it out when needed and beeps the horn and holds on tight. You can’t move around on the tandem like you can on your single bike, so the Stoker has to just sit there. You definatly need to be clipped in as some times you hit a bump and the poor stoker get’s pinged over the front on to the captain, but your clips stop you from going over the front, so it’s good to be clipped in!! You don’t get that on your normal bike do you?

We’ve heard some stories about tandems over the years and one of the funny ones was from Amanda’s friends in New Zealand when they raced the Karapoti, Rose and Jackson heading downhill in the race and it all went a bit wrong, so Rose bailed, like a good Stoker would and the back of the tandem went over Jackson. So you CAN go over the handle bars! We’ve gone down a large drop and Amanda has almost gone over me before.

But this is our bike of choice, I have more fun on this bike than any other, it always put’s a grin on my face and you can’t help but chat to each other, you have to for the Stoker’s sake. It’s huge fun.

I also hear we may have another Witness in the fold soon, but time will tell.

As I said before you’ll be laughing like a school girl, trust me… you’ll be wanting one, but then your better half might not… it takes two remember, so choose carefully.

See you on the trails.

PS Amanda has insisted on saying, the Stoker will need a peg for their nose, I’m not sure what she’s going on about!!

Frame Ellsworth Witness Tandem 4″ rear travel
Forks Fox Talas 36 160mm
Bars Monkeylite carbon F & R
Shifters Shimano XT
Front mech Sram
Rear mech XT Shadow “Has to be a Shadow”
Cranks Middleburn cranks Captain & Stoker
Chain Sram Chain x 3
Cassette Sram
Chainset Middleburn Uno Left side Chain Rings x 2
Bottom bracket Royce Titanium bottom bracket x 2
Front brake Hope V2 with 203mm disc
Rear brake Hope V2 with 203mm disc
Rims Sun Mammoth rims “heavy duty”
Hubs White Industries tandem
Tyres Schwalbe Nobby Nics 2.25
Rear Shock Fox RP23
Seatpost FSA, but soon to be Thomson
Saddle Specialized seat x 2

Filed under Bikes, Reviews in June 2011

Darren

About the author

Darren spends his time riding bikes in the UK, South Africa and New Zealand. That's right, we're jealous too!

There are 6 comments on ‘Ellsworth Witness review – a bike for TWO!’

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  1. StevenD says:

    You took the tandem down Cwmcarn ! How did you get it around the hairpins ? Either the first or second (and maybe both) are pretty tricky on a single steater MTB let alone on a tandem. Amanda is very brave.

    A great write up on life on a mtb tandem, though I would want to be behind you going down any hills. I imagine you must get some great looks from those who you chase and overtake, a bit like a hare being caught by a supercharged tank, LOL.

  2. Matt says:

    There’s no doubting Darren loves his tandem is there?

    That’s what I like about the group, we have riders who are really committed to their niche. Paul901 and his road ‘lifestyle’, Darren and his tandem, D’Andy and his wardrobe, even Dave and his Mary Bar 29ers! Not sure where that leaves me but white accessories is in there somewhere.

    Seriously, it’s well-worth a ride on the tandem, an experience completely out on its own. Your mind tells you the bike can’t possibly get round some of the turns and yet round it goes. And it’s very fast!

    Highly recommended. And thanks for the write up Darren!

  3. Karl says:

    Outrageous machine!

    Riding along max’d out, I’d hear the heavy bass claxon tone warning, before a bullet train would enter peripheral vision then thunder past, in full steam, leaving me quaking and trying to hold steer in it’s wake.

    A very weird experience seeing this dark vision in the twilight half light on the 2/6 ride. Said Horse of the Apocalypse piloted by Darren and pillioned by Adam, being an engine of brute force.. and supreme skill.

    Madly quick on the ups, and brutal crazy speed on the downs…

    Wonderful…

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  5. Gareth says:

    Great write up. Lusting after an MTB tandem after many years of riding a Longstaff on road. Love the T-shirt idea – beginning to find it hard to laugh at the ‘She’s not pedalling’ after 19years on a tandem!

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    Writing manually takes a lot of time, but there is tool for this time consuming task, search for; unlimited content Wrastain’s tools

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