A Cracked Thomson Stem = Always Keep Track of Your Nicks & Scratches

Our weather was anything but conducive to a pleasant tandem ride today as heavy rain fell on and off from 9am until 3pm.  And, if the weather’s hardly ideal for tandem cycling, it’s also not a good day for a recreational motorcycle ride either.

Since I was otherwise sequestered at home, I spend the better part of the morning running expense analysis and obtaining health care insurance quotes to figure out if we’ll truly be able to go into at least semi-retirement at the end of the year.  Yeah, that’s some sobering stuff to be sure: about $15,000/year for health + long term care and rising fast. So, we’ll see if Plan A holds up or if we’ll have to spend a few more years stacking chips. But I digress…

DSCN1260With the cheery business of retirement cost analysis behind me I decided to go out and give our Calfee tandem a little love in the form of new chains.  I’d been keeping a close eye on the chain wear and after last week’s PEACHES ride decided I’d probably gotten about as much life out of them as I could before the chain rings and cassette cogs would begin to wear. Personally, I find it far more economical to throw away $30 chains than to add the cost of a new cassette and chain rings to that chain replacement cost.

Incidentally, let me take a minute to plug “the mother of all tandem maintenance blog entries” that I penned for the Tandem Club of America’s blog last February. It covers just about everything I could think of when it comes to tandem maintenance.  I really do follow my own advice, albeit at a somewhat reduced pace in that no single bike in our fleet — except perhaps the Calfee tandem and Debbie’s single Calfee Luna Pro — to warrant the complete annual tune-up.

There weren’t any surprises with the chain replacements.  Both chains showed different amounts of wear in different places around each chain, but for the most part the average wear was scoring a 75% on my Park chain checker tool.  2.5 new chains were pulled out of the parts drawer (I tend to stock up and when work down my on-hand inventory so that I’m never without), thrown into a container filled with solvent to strip off the factory lubricants, then into a citrus bath to neutralize and strip off the solvent residue. After that, it was a cold water rinse and into the cold Fry Daddy where they’d sink into a hot melt wax bath and be heated up along with the wax, lest there be an explosion of hot wax if the cold wet chains were tossed into the hot wax.

With the chains cooking I turned my attention to the rest of the tandem, giving it a good once over before hitting the derailleurs, cassette and chain rings a hit of citrus cleaner before a wash down.

Imagine my surprise when I looked at the handlebars and noticed a crack across the top of my now 7-year old Thomson X2 road stem.  No way this was a scratch; it was clearly a crack and a new one at that.  I say this because my Garmin 705 Edge goes on the stem so the stem is something I look at before every ride.


Further investigation confirmed the stem had cracked all the way through, where the point of origin appeared to be at the back-end of the upper bolt hole.

DSCN1255  DSCN1258

I must say, I never expected to see an aluminum stem clamped around a composite handlebar fail, never mind a Thomson stem.  You would normally expect the composite to be the weak link.

Fortunately, I happened to have a couple spare Ritchey stems on hand so the Thomson was quickly replaced in the event that a ride opportunity comes up before a Thomson replacement stem shows up, although I may go with an X4 (4 bolt) model this time around.

DSCN1256  DSCN1257Anyway, that was my excitement for the day and an ever-present reminder of how important it is to keep an eye on your tandem and bikes for new creaks, squeaks and anything that could be an emerging crack in a critical place, like a stem!


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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6 Responses to A Cracked Thomson Stem = Always Keep Track of Your Nicks & Scratches

  1. Kevin Vinson says:

    Mark, good catch! Like you, I have a Garmin Edge 705 and it is mounted in the same place that you have yours mounted. On our Trek T2000, I have FSA carbon handlebars and stem (4 bolts). I was just telling Linda about your discovery and I told her I need to make sure I perform closer inspections of such things when detailing the bikes. I need to go back to your “the mother of all tandem maintenance blog entries” for a refresher course. Changing subjects, it’s hard to believe you and Debbie are discussing retirement. I guess we are approaching that next stage of our lives. Linda and I just met with our financial planner this past Tuesday. If Linda had her way she would retire right now. LOL! We’re both looking to work 6 more years. Like always, thank you for your insightful blogs. You and Debbie take care and have a great week.

    • TG says:

      Early retirement is a long-shot, but we figured we’d run the numbers and look at options. I’ve even considered semi-retirement and trying out perhaps a ‘bucket-list’ job that may not pay much but would provide some benefits as a way of moving out of the suit & tie world. We’ll see: Plan B is easy, just keep putting on the suit. Best to you Linda!

      • Kevin Vinson says:

        Mark, I don’t blame you and Debbie one bit for looking at early retirement. With Linda and I, several of our close cycling friends are now retired and several others are closer to retirement than we are so we are thinking early retirement might not be so bad. Like you, health insurance really plays a big role in regards to early retirement. I hope early retirement is in the cards for you and Debbie this year.

  2. leissp says:

    Good catch on that stem, I’m thinking design flaw.
    Retirement is a big step, I’m up next spring and already planning a cross country ride in Canada. Of course we don’t have the same Health Care issues.

  3. Eric F. says:

    What kind of solvent do you use on your chains? Acetone? Something less volatile?

    • TG says:

      About two pints of diesel fuel that’s been sloshing around in the bottom of a 1 gal plastic fuel container for 20 years. The chains come out stripped of their original factory lube with a light oil film. That, in turn, is dissolved by the citrus degreaser which leaves the chain pretty much stripped clean.

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