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Learn to do your own bicycle maintenance and save big!

"Bicycle maintenance is easy with the resources you provided." You are probably dreading the thought of what is involved in the regular maintenance needed by your tandem.  

With all of those chains, extra gears, heavy duty this, beefy that. It must be a lot of extra work.  Maybe you are just the eternal procrastinator and you are putting it off because you don't have a plan.

Don't worry.  Bicycle maintenance for your tandem is no harder than any other bike and that in and of itself is really easy.  There is no magic involved in keeping your bike in top running shape.  You just need to know a few basics to do most of the work yourself.  Leave the major stuff, bleeding the brakes (if you have hydraulic) like we talk about in our tandem brakes section , truing your wheels , and rebuilding freewheels to the shop unless you are really that comfortable with the advanced stuff.

A good idea is to get your hands on a copy of this book |. It will give you a good understanding of how to do general bicycle maintenance but doesn't focus on the needs of a tandem bicycle.

Items to pay special attention to during regular bicycle maintenance:

You have a few critical bicycle maintenance items on your tandem that will need special attention: (click on any of them to jump to the section)

A note on chain wear:

If you plan on doing your own bicycle maintenance, you can't really plan out when you should replace your chain. This isn't like driving a car. Many conditions affecting chain wear can vary dramatically. The grit and grim encountered when you ride MTB trails on a mountain bike (single or tandem) or the junk that gets on your chain if you ride your road bike in the rain where you can eat up a chain in 250-300 miles is the very high wear extreme. Clean road conditions on a road bike can allow you to put a season on your chain of 5000+ miles with no problems.

Condtions are never the same from ride to ride even on the same routes you always ride. The seasons, amount of lube you use, type of lube, city or country route will all affect the life of your chain from year to year even riding the same routes over and over.  Just like "knowing" your oil in your car is dirty at 3,000 miles when your driving conditions are different than the next guys.  If we were all smart we would get our oil analyzed like the big trucks do to "know" when the oil is dirty.

The timing chain

During regular bicycle maintenance, your timing chaing should get a good look over every season beginning and end.  The timing chain, if you don't know, is the chain that runs from the captain to the stoker and keeps their cranks in sync.  bicycle maintenanceIf the timing chain breaks, the captain can be thrown off the pedals or even crash the tandem.  A simple check of chain stretch as part of your bicycle maintenance with a tool that comes with your tool kit will give you an indication of your chain's health.  Use of this tool is pretty straightforward.  It does measure on the conservative side meaning it will indicate wear faster than a more accurate method of acutally measuring over a 12 or 24 link pair span. 12 link pairs on a brand new chain should measure exactly 12".  You should replace your chain at .5% wear overall.  This equates to 1/16" or 1.5mm over the 12 link pairs.  The park tool shows "replace" at 1% but their 1% acually measures out to around a true .5% wear so that is good.  At 1% wear you would have done significant damage to your chainrings so the conservative nature of the tool is good. Since you are doing regular bicycle maintenance now, this won't happen to you will it!

An alternative is to measure over 48 link-pairs. Remove the chain from the bike which is easy if you use an SRAM type "power-link" or any other of these universal type links ; clean the chain to remove any dirt packed into its joints which could affect the measurement ; hang the chain up with a small weight at the bottom ; use a long steel rule or a brand new piece of chain of the same length that you keep aside just for a reference, to measure the total pin-to-pin distance. The +0.5% stretch will now be 1/4" or 6.1mm which can be measured more easily and accurately over the longer chain length.  The longer length makes it easier to get an accurate measurement because you are getting more links involved and this will give you a larger number of links to measure the wear over.

See the section below on eccentric bottom brackets for setting your timing chain tension.

The drive chain

What you need to know about the drive chain over the timing chain is that it will tend to wear a little faster due to the amount of torque that it is subjected to. Think about this: Both riders are putting their power through this chain to the back wheel so you can imagine the stretch this chain will experience over time.  A broken drive chain can leave you stranded. At the best you can fix this yourself on the side of the road. In the worst case, you are going to crash and your wife is going to kill you or simply not ride with you anymore. Then where will you be, back to single bike riding, that's where.  As with any chain, conditions will affect the life of your drive chain. Doing your preventive bicycle maintenance here is truly a good idea. Don't skimp!

The eccentric bottom bracket

No, this isn't a strange guy who dresses up in a dickie.  This relates a little more to the adjustment of the bottom bracket so you can set your chain tension.  Rather than re-inventing the wheel, you can get a really good, simple explanantion on the tension for the timing chain from Precision Tandems bicycle maintenance article on timing chain tension:

bicycle maintenanceYou adjust the bottom bracket on most tandems by loosening the two set screws on the underside of the bottom bracket shell.

This bottom bracket on my Davinci tandem clearly shows those set screws.

Loosen them, rotate the bracket with a wrench until you acheive the tension as described above and tighten the set screws.  Simple.  Be sure to make this part of your regularly scheduled bicycle maintenance.

Brake Pads

With the extra weight that a tandem carries, it makes sense that the brake pads would be subject to more wear than those of a single bike. Regular bicycle maintenance must include checking your brakes pads.  On or off-road conditions can really change the wear on your pads.  This applies to both rim brakes and disc brakes.  tandem maintenanceBe sure to watch the wear on  your tandem rims if you have rim brakes.

You can see in the photo to the left the rim is split.  This is caused by high amounts of wear on the rim by the brake pads.  If you are going through pads really fast because of using a high stopping power rim brake pad that works great in the wet conditions be sure to remember than they can cause a lot of rim wear.  You really don't want a rim failure.  That would be bad.  


If your tandem is like ours, it gets ridden a bit, but the riding frequency isn't anywhere near what our single bikes see.  This can lead to some situations that you don't really see all that much on bikes that get used. If you don't ride much at all, dry rot can creep up on your tandem tires before you actually wear them out.  This can lead to a premature trip end if you don't inspect them for this.  As I mention in the bicycle tire section of this site, I have noticed that the tires on my tandems (all Continental brand) seem to wear "square".  I would put a picture of this up today but I put new tires on this year so I will have to wait for them to wear this way to post a photo of this.  Make tire inspection a regular part of your bicycle maintenance.

You are putting two times as much weight on your tandem tires so being absolutely sure they are in top condition before setting out on a ride will not only prevent an unwanted stop on the side of the road with a pair of eyeballs drilling into the back of your head (you did check the tires didn't you!  Your answer doesn't want to be "NO" in this situation.)


note this only applies if you have a tandem "coupled" with S&S or similar couplers.  This is not normally included in most instances of bicycle maintenance.

The couplings that hold your bike together must be kept clean from all abrasive materials during assembly and use. If you do not keep them clean, the contact surfaces can begin to wear and the fit will not be precise resulting in a weakend connection. Also, if they are not kept clean the will not open and close smoothly. This will result in damage being caused to the teeth and shoulders as well as the threads.

Inspect where the couplings are brazed onto the frame at your regular bicycle maintenance times. This will ensure you are aware of the condition of the couplers and the integrity of the brazing.

Clean the couplings periodically, if you are doing regular maintenance on your chain as you should it is a good time to clean the threads also. if you detect debris inside or turning it feels rough clean it with a firm plastic brush from your tool kit or you can get one here .

1. Be careful not to push particles into the threads, retaining ring area, behind the retaining rings, or into the frame tubes.
2. Blow out the couplings with air while shaking the nut if necessary. I really don' t have to tell you to wear some sort of eye protection do I?
3. Unless you want junk down inside your frame, don' t blow the air directly down the frame tube. It will carry the grime and grit down in there. It wasn't there from the factory so you probably shouldn't put it there yourself.
4. Make sure there you do a thorough job of cleaning everything so nothing is on the threads, shoulders or teeth.
5. Total disassembly of the couplings for cleaning also works well for extremely dirty couplings.
6. Only use fluids for cleaning the couplings when absolutely necessary. Gasoline is a really bad choice unless you don't like your hands, paint job and basically anything else. Use a cleaner recommended for cleaning that won't damage the finish or your. White Lightning makes a good degreaser.
7. Make sure everyting is dry before you put the bike backtogether. Fluids should never enter the coupling bores as trapped fluids may cause damage to the frame tubes, bearings, etc.

After a good cleaning I highly recommend placing a small amount of 100% Dupont Teflon Bearing Grease , or the included special oil you got when you bought the bike from the manufacturer or builder that put the couplers on, inside the nut on the retaining ring shoulder and on the threads.

If the threads should ever feel rough when turning there is something in there, STOP!

If the nut is turning roughly, there is something in it, don't force it. Synco/Superlube will work well. Just don't use any old spray on grease.

1.Spray the fluid into the threads from both ends to be assured of adequate penetration.

2.Work the nut slowly back and forth with the wrench. For God's sake don't use pliers or a vice grip! It should begin to loosen almost immediately. If as the nut is being loosened, it begins to turn with difficulty again, reverse the direction, apply more lubricant and try again. Repeat until the nut turns smoothly and cleanly. No binding.

3.After the coupling is opened, clean thoroughly according to the above instructions. Repeat.

These are just the tandem items that you should watch on a regular basis.  I can't stress enough the need for proper bicycle maintenance. I will write more about single bike maintenance and keep adding to it. If you take care of your bike, it should last you a long time.

Tandem maintenance isn't only to protect your investment in an expensive bicycle but to also keep you safe while you are hurtling down the road with more than just yourself on the tandem. Remember, there is no I in "Team".



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