Tandem Maintenance Top 10 Tips

The biggest difference from maintenance and parts perspective is that tandems have to carry considerably more weight and more power transferred to the wheels. The tips below are tailored specifically for tandems bearing this in mind:

  1. Tyres – check the pressure and for any defects before every ride! Tyres on a tandem see a lot more wear and tear than on a normal bike and the mileage you get is sometimes less than a half of what you will get from the equivalent tyre on a single bike. Go for best quality touring tyres – Schwalbe Marathons are personal favourite of mine. Do not skimp on this! An inferior quality tyre on tandem can leave you stranded and ruin your day or worst result in a nasty accident.
  1. Wheels – Check for loose or broken spokes at the end of each ride. It only takes 1 min and catching a problem early can be the difference between 5 min DIY truing and having to get a new wheel. Go for the toughest wheels you can afford build by a reputable wheel builder. The minimum number of spokes will depend on the wheel size and while you can get away with 32 and even 28 spoke wheels if I had the option I will go for 48 spokes even in 26 inch wheels. When choosing a wheel I always visualise 2×300 pound gorillas riding my tandem over nasty potholes.  £30 wheel from decathlon or amazon will not do – it will disintegrate in a week without daily maintenance and while you can keep it serviceable for longer it is not worth the time and effort.
  1. Rear chain – check this regularly for stretching using a chain wear tool. Better to change it at the early signs of wear and get more life out of your sprockets. I tend to go for low-mid range chains – I prefer to pay low price and change the chains more often as they stretch anyways with the high torque of two cyclists. I don’t use degreasers on my chain – I wipe with cloth and apply new lubricant, and wipe again to take off excess lubricant.
  1. Derailleur vs internally geared hub – I would go for IGH everyday on a tandem. The smug feeling when you change gear while sitting stationary on a traffic light is a reason enough but you also get tougher wheels and chain wear is less of an issue. Make sure the range of gears fits your needs.  If you are considering Rohloff vs Alfine 11 I would say that Rohloff is built very robust, whereas the Alfine changes better (but I had mine develop a hair crack near one of the spoke nipples and had to move it back to solo bike use!). And if you do not plan to tackle the Alps Alfine 8 is a great solution and much cheaper that a Rohloff.


  1. Timing chain – refer to manufacturers recommendation for the slack needed, but my rule of thumb is have it as tight as possible while still ensuring there is no tight spots if you spin the crancksets backwards –there should be no visible slowdown because the chain is tight. That said the timing chain should last you a lifetime if you adjust properly.


  1. Brakes – pads will wear much faster than on a solo bike so keep an eye on them. Good cantilever brakes front and back with some Koolstop brake pads should be all that is needed to slow you down on your Alps decent. Just use the right technique – brake hard then release the brakes and keep repeating. A slow but constant pressure on the brakes on a long decent may overheat your wheel rim and cause a tyre to burst.
  1. Periodically check for bearing play in your headset, hubs, and cranks. To check your headset, squeeze the front brake and rock your bike fore and aft. For wheel and crank bearings, pull the wheel or crank side to side. If you feel a wiggle, your component needs an adjustment. Some bits are easier to replace than adjust and if you have a choice go for the sealed version of bearings and cranks.


  1. Cranks in phase or out of phase? – While hardly an existential question you will find proponents of both options.  Setting up the cranks in phase simply means setting them up so that the stoker’s and pilot’s cranks and pedals are synchronized – when captain’s cranks are horizontal so are the stokers, as opposed to out of phase where usually there is a 90 degrees difference. I would personally recommend starting out with cranks in phase as the bike is easier to manage as slow speeds and feel as  a team and as your gain confidence to try out of phase to see if you like it.


  1. Brakes again – squeeze on those brakes before every trip to make sure they do job! If the levers come too close to the handlebars adjust them back up and check your brake pads for wear. If you are unlucky and it rains your brake pads can deteriorate significantly in a day and if your leavers were already close to the handlebars when fully squeezed, they may end up touching the bars and you will not be able to use your full stopping power. Ah, and if you get the dreaded squealing from the cantilever brakes, you have two options – leave it and revel in the panic you create as people cover their years and run for cover or make sure your pads are “toed in”. This just means that there is slight angle between your rim and brake pad. It gets rid of the squealing and ensures smoother braking. I usually pinch a penny between the rear of the pad and the rim by squeezing the brake lever, then tightening the bolt to secure the pad in position. This gives me adequate toe in.


  1. Saddles – while not really a maintenance tip, this is so important that I need to mention it. The biggest comfort improvement you can do is find a saddle that works for you. This is even more important for stokers and in many cases your stokers can be put off from riding a tandem if her first experience is of an uncomfortable saddle, ambitious captain and lack of forewarning about road imperfections. Chances are the stock seat that came with your bike is not what is best for your posterior. May be you are lucky and have already found a seat that works for you. If so buy 1 or 2 spare as there is no guarantee you will be able to purchase the same model a few years later. The thing with saddles is that you cannot say in advance what you will find comfortable. Some people prefer hard and supportive, other soft and springy. The position you ride and the time you spend on the bike also makes a big difference for what seat will be right for you.  Trying is the best way of finding out. After trying a good dozen of saddles both me and Bobby have gone for Brooks leather saddles. With time these mould around your “contours” and become so comfortable that I tend to ride without any padding in my shorts even on weekly tours. That said, Brook saddles are personal possessions and I would not recommend them if you are renting your bike.  For such applications I find the quirky looking Selle SMP a very adequate and comfortable saddle.
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