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Bikexchange logo, link to Home       Is Your Tandem Ready For Spring?    Bikexchange logo, link to Home

By Rodney Moseman

Ed. note: This article originally appreared in Double Edition, the newsletter of TOYS: Tandems of York Society.

Performing routine preventative maintenance tasks on a tandem can mean the difference between a great ride and a bad bike day walk home. There are a few tasks that anyone with a little time can perform regularly on their tandem. These are little things that will give the feed back needed to determine if adjustment is needed.

General Clean Up

Regular cleaning of the tandem will familiarize you with the details of your tandem. It is a good way to detect any frame, fork and rim cracks that may be starting. While frame and fork cracks are quite rare they happen. Rim cracks are more common. They usually occur at the spoke nipples and can result in wheel failure. Side walls can wear thin and cracks on the side wall will give an early warning. Handlebars and stems should be examined frequently. Recently I painted a customer’s frame and discovered the stoker stem was cracked at the weld. A good twist on the stoker handlebars and the stem would have broken in two. Most common household cleaners will work on light dirt. Be careful that they do not contain ammonia as it will harm aluminum. I like Simple Green or citrus based cleaners that are available in hardware stores. Kerosene is also a good parts cleaner. The kerosene sold in gallon cans in the paint department of a hardware store is better refined to eliminate strong odors; however, ventilation is still recommended. Scotch Brite pads or S.O.S. pads wetted with kerosene can be used on the side walls of the rims to remove brake shoe residue. A good low abrasive automotive polish will protect the frame finish. Salts from perspiration can take their toll over time on your frame’s finish. Armor All can also be used on the finish.


Check the condition of your brake shoes. Removing the glaze on the braking surface with a file or emery cloth will restore your shoes to like new condition. While you are at it check to see that the brake shoes contact the rim squarely with the front of the shoes contacting the rim slightly ahead of the rear (usual 1/32 inch toe in is best).

For a dual control brake set (where one brake lever controls the front and rear cantilever brakes) the timing or set up is critical. This can easily be checked by walking along side the tandem and squeezing the brake lever. If the brakes are timed properly, the rear wheel should skid on the pavement with a little more pressure on the lever the front wheel should stop the tandem. The reason for this is the rear cable being longer stretches more and coupled with the rear stay deflection needs to be adjusted to activate earlier. If you do not feel comfortable working on your brakes it should be done by someone with experience such as your bike shop.

Tandems with hub brakes need to have the brake shoes serviced. Remove the backing plate from the hub and examine the brake shoes for excessive wear (A minimum of 1/16 friction material thickness). The glaze can be removed with 120 grit emery paper. A strip of paper 1" wide and 8 to 10 long held at each end and run back and forth over the friction surface of the brake shoes will cut through the glaze to a fresh braking surface.


Hub bearings can be checked by removing the wheels and rotating the axle slowly between your fingers. They should feel smooth and the axle ends should run true. Rear axle breakage can be checked by pulling on the axle ends. If the end pulls out get to your bike mechanic and have the axle replaced. Crank bearings are best checked with the chains off the chain rings. The cranks should rotate smoothly. There should be no looseness in the bearings or bearing cups. Check this by holding each side of a crank and applying side to side pressure. Any looseness should be diagnosed and corrected.

Headset (steering) bearings should rotate smoothly with the front wheel removed. A notching on indexing indicates the headset is worn and needs to be replaced. Headset looseness can be checked by applying the front brake and gently rocking the tandem back and forth. A knocking sound means the bearing adjustment is loose and need to be adjusted. Adjust the bearings and then check the rotation for smoothness.

Drive Train

Cleaning of the chains, chain rings, rear freewheel/cassette, and derailleurs will insure crisp smooth shifting. The application of a chain lube (Pedro's or White Lightning) to the chain insures smoother shifting. A drop of oil to the rear derailleur pulley bearings and pivot points cannot hurt. A light application of oil to the cables will insure smooth operation.


Corrosion can be a problem for any tandem. That is why you should remove the seat posts and handlebar stem and apply a light coating of grease where they contact the frame. Salts from perspiration can corrode these areas so that they can be virtually unremovable in the future. This is especially true for aluminum and titanium bicycles.

The bottom bracket eccentric is another area that can benefit with this care. If you are really serious, the water bottle screws can be removed and a drop of oil placed on the threads.

Another neglected item is your tire pumps. Pumps with leather washers have the washers dry out over the winter. Removal of the plunger and soaking the washer in oil will restore life and improve efficiency. Pumps with synthetic washers can be serviced with a drop of oil to improve the seal with the piston washer and pump barrel.

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