Tandems & Spring Maintenance

In addition to all of those pesky household chores that must be attended to each Spring, it’s also time to attend to that Spring bike maintenance stuff.

Regardless of whether you ride through the winter or not, Spring is a good time to mark your calendar for a heavy-duty dose of preventative maintenance for your tandem, and in particular for dealing with any issues that you were having last year but didn’t bother to address before putting the bike up for the winter.

For those folks who ride through the winter — particularly in the colder climates that get snow and ice — this is an especially good time to give your tandem a thorough once over and good, soapy cleaning to make sure corrosion isn’t left to run amok from salt residue in spokes, rims, cable housings, seat posts, and just about any other place that moisture can form or migrate to in cold, wet weather.

Frame & Fork – This is the heart and soul of your tandem and it’s often the most neglected part of the bike short of an occasional cleaning.  While these are things that warrant attention all year-long, be sure to use your Spring cleaning as a time to not only wash away the grime, but a time to get in there with some cleaning compounds to remove any residual grease and grime and as a way of making sure you run your fingers across all of the tubes, welds, and fittings. You’ll want to look for dents, cracks or other damage as well as cleaning and touching up any scratches in the finish to prevent corrosion or rust. Give it a good coat of wax after you’ve cleaned and polished the finish.

Brakes – When’s the last time you installed fresh pads?  Just because you have lots of brake pad material left doesn’t mean you have good brake pads. Over time, brake pad materials dry-out and harden, which can reduce their grip and stopping power.  I tend to replace brake blocks every 2 – 3 years, which seems about right for our climate.  In more dry and arid places, the interval could be shorter. If the pads are fairly fresh, inspect them for any imbedded debris and consider sanding off any glazing.  When’s the last time you replaced the cables and/or housing?  As time and miles go by contaminants can work their way into cable housings.  At a minimum, once a year I loosen the cable stops and move the cables back and forth in the housings by hand to make sure they move freely and aren’t being impeded by corrosion or kinks, as either condition can degrade brake performance. This also tends to coincide with the replacement of handlebar tape, which is always a convenient time to replace brake (and derailleur )cable housings. If you have hydraulic brakes, how old are the brake fluid lines and if you use DOT brake fluid, when was it last replaced?  Magura and other hydraulic brakes that use Mineral Oil aren’t a concern, but brakes that use DOT fluids will absorb moisture and degrades their heat resistance properties.  Don’t forget to clean the brake track on your  rims if you have rim brakes using a solvent and abrasive pad that will remove oxidation and brake residue.  Remember that after replacing brake blocks or cleaning brake tracks and disc rotors that you’ll need to be careful for the first few stops until the brake system beds itself back in.

Components – We’re talking about the shifters, chain, cassette, chain rings, cranks, and your front and rear derailleurs. These are things that should be routinely cleaned and in some cases lubricated to ensure they don’t become degraded by corrosion and grime. Frankly, if you make a point of changing your chain and derailleur cables on a regular basis most of these components will last for 10’s of thousands of miles. Since chain lube and cleaning methods are about as controversial as, well… just about anything that’s controversial, lets just say both need to be attended to.  Chain wear is the key thing to keep an eye on, since a severely worn chain will quickly damage your chain rings and cassette.  Lots of good resources on the web for chain maintenance and measuring wear.

Bearings – Your hubs, headset and bottom bracket really aren’t maintenance free, they’re just low-maintenance compared to earlier unsealed bicycle components. Therefore, you have two ways to go with regard to maintenance.  You can use them until they become damaged, or you can make a point of cleaning and regreasing them every year as preventative maintenance. Of course, if you don’t have the tools or skills needed to do this maintenance, you can probably have a qualified bike mechanic attend to this on bi-annual or perhaps even ever three-year cycle if you don’t log big mileage in good and bad weather conditions.  If you opt for the run ’em until they stop running, you’ll want to use your annual spring check up to spin the axles and other rotating parts by hand to see if you can detect any excessive play, binding, or a gritty feel that may be indicative of a worn part.   Eccentrics are also something that needs at least annual attention.

Handlebars, Seat Posts and Stems – Oh yeah, don’t forget about these things, particularly if you’re riding a tandem that has go-fast goodies, like SL (superlight), thin-walled or composite components.  All of these parts are critical in that they are what connect you to your bicycle and, more importantly, they connect you to the steering and stopping parts of your bicycle. As with the frame, check for cracks or any other signs of wear, being attentive to any stress risers (gouges or deep nicks) near clamps, as they can be the source of future component failures.

Tires, pedals, etc. – Yes, basically now is the time to check everything, to include the spare inner tube and patch kit you carry in your saddle pack and your pump or C02 filler.  Nothing worse than getting a flat tire only to discover your spare tube was punctured by the presta valve that didn’t have a cap, your patch kit’s glue has dried-out and your pump doesn’t work.   Tires can die from old age, pedals have bearings that need cleaning and lubrication and even those cleats in your shoes will need replacement from time to time.

I’m about 1/2 way through my spring ritual.  In fact, I finally got around to truing our Topolino wheels and fitting them with fresh tubes and fresh tires.  We’re now giving our 36h White Industries / Deep-V wheelset a break and enjoying the ‘bling thing’ our Topolino’s give the Calfee.

Of course, as I put the new tubes on the Topolinos I discovered I was down to just 2 new-in-the-box spare 700c inner tubes with two patched spares + the spares we carry in our seat packs.  I also discovered I was down to just one spare 10 speed chain and that our last Shimano CN-7701 sync chain is on the bike.  So, I have dutifully stimulated the economy once again by ordering up a 10-pack of inner tubes (they’re a lot cheaper that way), restocking my 9 and 10 speed chain inventory (boy, those suckers are getting expensive), and picking up a few other farkles and a rebuild kit for my antiquated Park TS-2 truing stand. With any luck, we’ll be good to go for the season and then some.

Next weekend, the Ventana gets a once-over along with the 1/2 bikes.

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About TG

I've been around a bit and done a few things, have a couple kids and a few grandkids. I tend to be curmudgeonly, matter-of-fact and not predisposed to self-serving chit-chat. Thankfully, my wife's as nice as can be otherwise we'd have no friends. My interests are somewhat eclectic, but whose aren't?
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One Response to Tandems & Spring Maintenance

  1. Pingback: Chain Maintenance & Keeping An Eye On Chain Wear « The TandemGeek's Blog

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