Spring Tune Ups… Especially For The Gently Used Tandems

For those folks who put their tandems up for the winter, or for any teams that simply don’t give their tandems a lot of love — it’s time to think about a Spring Tune Up!  Seriously, tandems really need attention on at least an annual basis to make sure the things that can come loose, go out of adjustment or get encased in crud get taken care of.  Things like rubber tires don’t last forever either, and you’d be amazing how a fresh set of tires can transform the comfort and handling of a tandem!

Here’s a case-in-point to drive that point home….


A friend — RJ — whom I’ve known through work since our days in Burbank, California recently asked if we knew of any bike shops around Atlanta that worked on tandems as their 2005ish Co-Motion Speedster was in need of some attention.  I shared my opinion  that while any good bike shop should be able to work on a tandem, few of them did it often enough or had staff that owned and was familiar enough with tandems to be proficient at it.  RJ somewhat confirmed my assessment when he shared how  he’d already taken it to one of our local shops to have a shifting issue resolved with no real improvement.

As in the past, I simply volunteered that I’d be more than happy to give it a going-over once we returned from Key West, something I’ve done for a few other friends.  After all, at least for me working on tandems and bikes remains a hobby so it’s more like therapy than work and it furthers my desire to see people out enjoying tandem cycling.  In fact, there’s even a little bit of a backstory on this particular tandem that gives it some special history with me.  I’ll share that as a post-script.

Anyway, last weekend turned out to be a bust as we were still catching up on yard work and other honey-dos so I dropped RJ a note and suggested that if he could drop the tandem by on Friday I’d knock it out on Saturday, as the weather was predicted to be less than enjoyable for outdoor activities.  He was able to drop by late Friday afternoon on his  way to give a flying lesson at McCollum Field so that worked out well.  He explained what the tandem was doing, or not doing.  I told him that I could take care his rear shifting issues without much trouble, but his front shifting issues were most likely caused by poor shifting technique not any mechanical issues.  Being an engineer, a pilot, an auto mechanic and auto racing team owner RJ was a bit skeptical about the technique issue at first.  But, after I described when, where and why it occurs he started to come around to my way of thinking about the issue.

In short, here’s the deal: they were having a hard time getting the tandem to shift into the smallest (granny) chain ring.  As I said, this isn’t all that unusual and it’s usually caused when teams wait too long to shift into the small ring on a climb and try to do so at a low cadence and low-speed when the drive chain is under a very, very heavy load: no way that little front derailleur spring is going to move that chain off the middle ring.  So, the solution is to shift into the small ring sooner while the cadence is still high and chain tension low enough… or by having both captain and stoker soft pedal when making that shift. In fact, all tandems shift better if the captain soft-pedals during the shift.  

Yesterday turned out to be pretty nice day, despite the dire warnings from the weather-guessers. But, Debbie had made plans to visit with her parents so I had the morning to myself and knocked-out the tandem between 11:00 A.M. and 1:30 P.M.  I think I’ve got it all sorted out, noting that test riding an XL tandem when you only have a 29″ inseam is a bit of a challenge!  So, here’s what I found as I went through the tandem:

  • Slightly out of adjustment rear derailleur; seriously, it took about an 1/8th of a turn on the in-line cable stop / adjuster.
  • Front derailleur was originally mounted a bit too high and a bit mis-aligned.
  • Front chain ring had a bent tooth that I straightened; it’d been that way a while.
  • Sync chain was a bit too tight; certainly tighter than it needed to be.
  • Chains weren’t all that worn, but were sadly in need of cleaning and lubrication.
  • Rear DT/Hugi hub needed disassembly and star ratchet cleaning/lubrication.
  • All four front & rear MegaEXO bottom bracket cups needed to be tightened.
  • Crank splines were dry, not properly lubricated & rear crank bolt was WAY under-torqued; I’m guessing it was a noisy, creaky ride.
  • The bike was in dire need of a good, deep cleaning.
  • Front brake pads were glazed and not properly aligned.
  • Rear disc rotor was out of true.
  • Front & rear tires are shot:  front is out of round with other deformities and rear sidewalls are delaminating.  I’m guessing these are the original tires!!

To be fair, this tandem has never been ridden much. It was originally bought in 2006 by another acquaintance —  Eric — whom I’d met through a local discussion forum for our nearby Silver Comet Trail. Eric was a bent rider who I helped convert to upright bikes and who later met a gal named Karen whom  he thought might prove to be a good tandem partner.  We talked a bit about tandems and he ended up buying this 2005ish Champagne/Lemon-Lime Co-Motion Co-Motion Speedster from a tandem dealer up near Clemson, South Carolina.  He and Karen rode the tandem a few times and even attended the 2006 Georgia Tandem Rally but it never really clicked (not all that uncommon).  Eric eventually put it up for sale and low-and-behold our friend RJ stumbled over our tandem website and a note I’d posted about Eric’s Co-Motion Speedster being available back in May of 2008.  RJ was dating a gal at the time and he too thought they might enjoy tandem cycling. RJ ended up buying Eric’s Speedster in 2008 and he and Carmen joined us for their initial tandem outing from the house shortly thereafter.  They’ve since been doing a lot of other things with some tandem cycling thrown in, to include tying the knot!  So, it was good to hear they’re still interested in tandem cycling and it’s been nice to see that Eric’s tandem continues to remain in use!

Fingers crossed, the tandem will perform well when RJ and Carmen jump back on board and perhaps we’ll be able to coordinate schedules so that we can join them for a tandem ride!  I know Debbie really enjoyed meeting and chatting with Carmen and RJ is also a fascinating person who’s always got several irons in the fire and enjoyable to spend time with.  So, we’ll see….


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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