If you haven’t done so yet, perhaps now would be a good time to think about cleaning and looking over your tandem(s) to see what it needs to get ready for the cycling season here in the lower 48. These recommendations are based on wear & tear for a tandem that’s ridden 3,000 – 5,000 miles per year in a variety of weather conditions. Obviously, if significantly less miles are logged on a tandem and only in fair weather, derailleur and brake cables/housings will last far longer than the change intervals suggested below and bearings will likely last a very long time. However, brake blocks and tires are still subject to aging issues depending on where you live and where you store your tandems and should therefore still be inspected at the start of each season. Chain wear is also a function of use which is why only wear intervals, e.g., chain stretch, are offered as a gauge.
- Handlebar tape: Pretty much a no-brainer each spring for bikes that get a lot of use.
- Derailleur cables: When’s the last time you replaced those? I used to replace cables about once a year in the old days of plain stainless steel but the newer, teflon coated ‘slick wire’ can go about two years or more; a quick inspection of the cables is all that it takes to confirm if you’re good for another season. However, it does take some home mechanic skills to do this since the cable needs to be partially removed, i.e., disconnected at the derailleur and pushed back through the shifter: easier said than done for some. This is really a must do for STI, Ergo or DoubleTap users where the cable ends buried in the shifter can start to become a maintenance problem as the cable begin to fray at those tight bends around the shifting cams.
- Derailleur housing: If you find your cables don’t easily pull out of the derailleur housing or if the cables became corroded sitting in the housing you may want to change out the housing while you have the bar tape off and are changing the cables. If the cables pull out and thread back through your housings without any binding or dragging they’re probably just fine.
- Brake Cables & Housing: Pretty much an inspection item… If the brakes seem to be working just fine and snap-back crisply when you release the levers — and for folks with V-brakes & drop-bar levers, there’s no sign of fraying around the round cam on V-brake adapters (aka, Travel Agents) — then they’re probably OK. However, if those brake levers don’t snap back it’s probably time for brake cable and housing. Again, the best time to change out housings and cables is when you already have the bar tape off for the pre-season tune-up.
- Brake Pads: For rim brake-equipped tandems, when’s the last time to put ‘fresh’ brake blocks (aka, brake pads or shoes) on your tandem? Unless you ride in very hilly terrain or ride an off-road tandem and use your brakes A LOT, chances are it will take a few years before you actually hit the wear marks that signal when it’s time for replacement. However, since most brake blocks are made out of materials that tend to dry-out and lose their stopping power, it’s a good idea to change those out every few years for fresh blocks that have more bite and stopping power. If you run discs, check the pad material for wear and be sure to at least pick up and have at least one spare set of fresh pads on hand for the coming season. If you plan to head into mountainous areas for a trip, stick a set of those pads in your on-bike repair kit: you’d be amazed at how fast you can wear-out a set of disc brake pads if you find yourself in new, challenging terrain that requires a lot of rear braking. For hydraulic brake users, unless you’re using brakes that use mineral oil or synthetic DOT 5.1, when’s the last time you changed your fluid? DOT 4 used in older disc brakes absorbs water over time and looses it heat absorbing qualities.
- Chains, Cassettes & Chain Wheels (Rings): Before spending any time cleaning those things, if you didn’t give your tandem a pre-winter service and wash before putting it in cold storage, check the chain, cassettes and chain wheels for wear. Chances are, if the chains have ‘stretched’ beyond a standard replacement interval (1/16″ – 1/8″) you’ve probably put some excess wear into your other drive train components and they may be due for replacement. You can sometimes forestall the very expensive cassette and chain wheel replacements by making a point to change out your chains when they stretch to the first / lower wear interval of 1/16″, as it’s typically the increase in chain pitch (elongation) that puts the really heavy wear-and-tear into cassette cogs and chain rings. Park Tools website and CaptainBike.com both have very good articles on brake service that are worth checking out.
- Tires: Look for nicks, cuts and thin spots in the casing and tread or signs of aging. If you don’t need tires right now, it may still be a good time to stock up on some spare tires for the coming year while last year’s models/excess inventory is on sale.
- Wheels: Good time to check to make sure your wheels are true and that the rim is still in good shape and not showing sings of excessive wear along the brake track (big concern for PNWers) or any stress cracks radiating out from spoke holes. For rim brake users, perhaps its time to clean that brake track?
- Bearings: You’ve got them in your headset, bottom brackets, wheels and various other places and while even sealed cartridge bearings are low-maintenance they’re not NO-maintenance. Again, if you don’t ride in the rain or deal with adverse conditions you may get many years of great service from your sealed bearings. But, if you ride in the rain or are a high-mileage rider and plan on keeping your bike or tandem for many years, it may be worthwhile to check all of those bearings to make sure any seals are still intact, that they bearings are fully lubed, and the moving parts are always moving smartly.
- Seat Posts, Stems and Bars: Before the advent of SL (aka, lightweight) components, those highly stress parts that bear our weight were of little concern and lasted seemingly forever. However, if you have some of those really light aluminum, titanium or composite parts, the start of the season is a good time to make sure they dont’ show signs of fatigue or pending failure. Better to find a small crack or signs of galvanic corrosion now and get a replacement part on order rather than finding yourself with a broken bike at a rally, or worse. Don’t leave those seat posts in your seat tubes forever either. Pull them out and either clean or clean and lube as necessary to keep them from becoming ‘stuck’. Also, if you’ve got composite posts, stems or handlebars you MUST use a torque wrench. It’s the only way to know that you’ve gotten the fixing bolt on tight enough, but not too tight… to tight sometimes being realized when you hear a ‘crack’ which is a bad thing.
- Carbon forks and other carbon bits, e.g., cranks, rear stays, wheels, etc… as already noted bear some additional attention. Just make a point of ‘baselining’ what those high-dollar carbon bits look like now so that you’ll be able to recognize any changes that occur later on this season after a drop, hard hit, travel, etc… There’s nothing worse than seeing a possible crack in a part and then wondering, “How long has that been there?”
- Suspension Forks and other ‘suspended’ parts. How are those seals? Any leaks? If you have an oil dampened fork, when’s the last time you changed that fluid? Also, be sure to check all of the clamping components and crown for any signs of fatigue. Those older Cannondale FR4Ts and many other older suspension forks from the late 90’s and early ’00’s bear monitoring.
- Batteries: Computer batteries, light batteries, etc… why wait until your riding partner says, “My ‘puter just died; how may miles are you showing?” to realize that your batteries are also about to go. Now is a great time to get those fresh batteries. For lights, if you’re still using throw-away AA and AAA cells, consider a more “green” approach by getting some rechargable AA & AAA batteries. They’ll save you money in the long run and generate less solid (and hazardous) waste.
Well, you get the idea. This list is not intended to be all inclusive or exclusive, it just a ‘stimulator’ that will help you take a critical look at your beloved ‘bicycle built for two”. I just received my new derailleur cables and black Cinelli cork tape for our two-season-old Calfee and will begin to tear into it this weekend.