This is the third of five articles in a series that address Preventative Maintenance for your tandem.  

With the frame, fork and bearings taken care of, lets now look at the “stuff” that makes it a rideable machine: the Components & Accessories.  We’ll start at the top and work our way down.

Non-Drive Train Components & Brakes:

These parts are critical because they are what connect you to and  — by pulling / pushing against these components — along with the cranks & pedals covered under the Drive Train section, these are the components that enable you to propel, steer and stop your tandem.

Handlebars & Stems and Seat Posts & Saddles:

  • Before the advent of SuperLight (aka, SL) tubing and components, the handlebars, stems and seat posts that bear the rider’s weight were often of little concern and seemingly lasted forever.
  • However, in the quest for lighter-weight bicycle, many of these key components are now made from thinner gauge alloy, aluminum, titanium or composite materials that may or may not be as robust and resistant to damage as their predecessors.
    • Cracked Handlebar At Stem ClampAs described earlier for the frame and fork, check all of these critical components for cracks, delamination, disbonds, bends, dings or any damage that could have easily been caused by over-tightening binding bolts during installation or adjustments or from what may have seemed like a minor bump or impact.  Be on the look out for other signs of wear or potential stress risers (i.e., gouges or deep nicks) especially near clamps, as they can be the source of future component failures.
    • If you find any cracks, chances are that part will need to be replaced with or without getting a second opinion from the manufacturer.  It’s far-better to find a small crack or signs of galvanic corrosion now and get a replacement part on order instead of finding yourself with a broken tandem at a rally, or worse, having a handlebar or stem fail when you hit a bump in the road while descending a mountain at 40 mph. Breaking a seat post isn’t a pleasant experience either.
  • Something else you’ll want to consider for your annual Preventative Maintenance Plan is replacing handlebar tape on your drop-bar or wing bars.  
    • In addition to giving you fresh bar tape that will look and feel better than whatever was on there before, it also lets you inspect the bars for any signs of fatigue or damage that might be hidden by the tape, such as a stress-riser or crack where the shifters bolt on to the handlebars.
    • It also allows you to inspect and/or replace your brake and/or derailleur cable housings if they are routed under the bar tape before you put on that new tape.  There’s nothing more maddening to me than putting on fresh tape and then realizing you need to remove it for some reason, i.e., discovering that your derailleur housing became corroded under the brake hood!
    • If you’ve never mastered handlebar tape wrap, here’s a pretty good video that shows one way to do it.
  • Don’t leave those seat posts in your seat tubes forever either. Pull them out, clean, inspect and lubricate the shafts as necessary to ensure corrosion doesn’t fuse them into the seat tubes.
    • FSAandTacxinstallationcompoundWhen installing seat posts, the general rule of thumb is: if the post is hard to insert, lubricate the shaft with an appropriate grease.  If the post seems too easy to install, clean the post and inside of the seat tube and install the part dry.  If it still seems loose, use a composite installation paste; don’t over-tighten the binding bolts!
  • If you have composite posts, stems or handlebars, binding bolts MUST be installed with a torque wrench. It’s the only way to know you’ve gotten a binding bolt on tight enough, but not too tight.  Remember, if you hear a ‘crack’ or ‘snap’ when installing a composite part, the damage has been done and is not reversible!
  • We might as well discuss saddles while since we’re already talking about the seat posts to which they are attached.
    • Saddles have also become items that may require some love and attention on an annual basis, especially if you have a genuine leather saddle or saddle cover.
    • Hopefully you applied some conditioning cream to the leather during the off-season so that it hasn’t been allowed to dry-out and craze or crack.
    • For saddles that have screws, elastomer pads or other parts that aren’t “fused” together, you’ll want to check those and possibly hit them with something like Aerospace 303 spray to keep them protected.
    • If your saddle looks like it may be on its last century ride, now might be a good time to see if they have the same model on close-out from last year so that you can put on on the shelf and have it ready when needed.
    • Give your saddle rails a good look to make sure they’re not showing signs of fatigue or cracks where they are held by the seat post clamp head.


A Note of Caution: These are your brakes; a piece of critical safety equipment.  Moreover, because you’re riding a tandem, it’s not only your safety and well-being that are at stake here, it’s that of your passenger(s). Be very attentive to securing the fixing bolts, brake pad alignment and cable routing, as a mistake in how you maintain your brakes could put you and your passenger(s) at risk.

Brakes sometimes seem like the Rodney Dangerfield of bicycle components when it comes to preventative maintenance.  Admittedly, they don’t seem all that complex and so long as work — that is to say, they stop the bike and don’t squeal like a stuck pig when they’re applied — they don’t get a lot of thought and attention.

  • Rim brakes are fairly straight forward when it comes to cleaning; almost all of the moving parts are exposed for all but the very high-end models that use small cartridge bearings.
  • Disc brakes are a slightly different animal and may require specific service and cleaning to maintain their peak performance. You should consult the owners manual for your brand and model of brakes for recommended service intervals and steps; nearly all of them are on-line.
  • Drum brakes from Arai actually don’t require much attention at all.  However, it’s a good idea to remove and clean them at least once a year so they don’t become fused to the rear hub or develop and hidden corrosion.

However, there are at least three things beyond a good cleaning that you should include in your preventative maintenance plan that will ensure your brakes are truly providing as much stopping power as they can; they are: brake pad replacements, brake track or rotor refresh and cable or hydraulic fluid replacement.

  • Rim Brake Pads: When’s the last time you installed fresh pads?
    • 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 wear through enough brake pad material and hit those little wear indicator marks (small lines molded into the brake pad material that run parallel with the braking surface) that signal when it’s time for replacement.
    • 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 ability to generate friction and stopping power.
    • Therefore, it’s a good idea to change those out every few years for fresh blocks that have more bite 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.  For a bike that’s stored in a climate controlled environment over long winters and used in a place that had moderate to high humidity in the warmer riding months, brake pads may remain nice and pliable for more than 3 years.
      • The only way you’ll know what the right interval is for your tandem is to check those pads with a pick to make sure they haven’t gotten hard because your stopping performance will degrade so slowly that you won’t have an “aha moment” unless you jump on a tandem that has fresh brake pads.
    • Maintenance for pads that are fairly fresh is just an inspection to make sure their fully-seated, wearing evenly (parallel with the rim) and free of any imbedded debris or glazing.
  • disc-pads-wornDisc Brake Pads:
    • If you run discs, check the pad material for wear on a regular basis and be sure to pick up and have at least one spare set of fresh pads on hand for the coming season.
      • Most disc brake pad manufacturers recommend replacing pads when the brake pads have worn to a thickness of 3mm or less.
    • If you plan to head into mountainous areas for a trip, stick that set of spare 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.
    • As for maintenance, I recommend pulling the pads out of the calipers as part of your deep cleaning so you can give them a good look for any uneven wear or other indications that they may need to be deglazed (lightly sanded) or replaced.
    • For tandems with hydraulic brakes, you’ll want to refer to your owner’s manual to see what might be recommended at specific intervals. For example, I found that our Hope Enduro calipers needed to have the pistons removed every other year so I could clean the cylinders.
  • Brake Track & Rotor Cleaning:
    • Bicycle rims are pretty amazing in that we ask a lot of them. They bear the weight of a rider, they provide suspension, they give the tires something to attach to and they also provide rim brakes with something to push against to generate the friction that slows and stops the wheel from rotating.
    • Those rim sidewalls, aka, the brake track, may start off life with or without a machined surface but all of them will eventually be “machined” by brake pad friction. The speed with which they are machined and wear down will be determined by how much dust, grit or grime gets collected on the rims and brake blocks.
    • Brake track maintenance is, therefore, pretty straight forward:
      • First and foremost you must monitor sidewall thickness and replace rims once a significant amount of material has been worn away. This may never happen to a fair-weather-only tandem, but for teams who live and ride year-round in the Pacific Northwest, it’s a different story.
      • splitrimsmIMG_7317A heavily worn brake track will eventually begin to deflect inward on both sidewalls when hard braking forces are applied, reducing the braking power.  But, it also fatigues the rim sidewall and it’s not at all uncommon to find radial cracks forming in a heavily worn rim.
      • After inspecting the rim it’s also a good time to make sure it’s trued-up, which is to say that it doesn’t have any excessive side-to-side movement as it spins.
      • In addition to monitoring brake track wear, the only other thing you may want to do is to clean or fresh the brake track surface by removing the build up of material that has been deposited and embedded in the brake track.  A 3M abrasive pad (Green or Blue) and rubbing alcohol are usually all that’s required, followed by a normal washing.
      • Note that, a refreshed brake track acts a lot like a new rim in that initially, you will not have as much braking power.  As you ride and begin to redeposit material on the rim it will become “seasoned” and regain its full braking performance.
    • Disc rotors aren’t all that different from bicycle rim brake tracks, other than being a bit less forgiving of an out of true condition.
      • Disc brake rotors also wear over time and will eventually require replacement, lest they wear so thin that cracks begin to form. However, it takes a lot of miles or hard, wet & muddy miles to make that happen.
      • Again, like the rim brake track, it’s also not a bad idea to clean the part of the rotor where the brake pads make contact with alcohol to make sure they’re free from any contaminants that might degrade brake performance. Once the rotor is clean, just hold it by the “spider” when moving it around or re-installing in the shop environment as that’s where you’re more likely to have grease or other lubricants and “stuff” that you don’t want on your rotor.
      • As with the rims, after putting on fresh pads or cleaning your rotors your braking capacity will be diminished until the new pads bed-in and the rotor re-seasons.
  • Brake Cables & Housings: When’s the last time you inspected your cables and/or housing to see if they should be replaced?
    • If your front & rear brakes seem to be working just fine and the levers have a crisp, snappy feel when you pull and release them they’re probably just fine.  However, if the brake levers don’t snap back it may be time for brake cable and housing replacement.
    • As mentioned earlier under the handlebar section, the best time to change out housings and cables is when you already have the bar tape off for the pre-season tune-up.
    • Here’s the dealeo: as time and miles go by, contaminants and moisture can work their way into cable housings. As cables and housings get older the teflon liners or other coatings that protected them and the inner wire wear down where the housings aren’t straight and can eventually open them up to corrosion or rust.
    • 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 brake fluid used in older disc brakes absorb water over time and loose their heat absorbing qualities.
      • You’ll also want to inspect your hydraulic lines, especially around the fittings where they tie into your master cylinder or calipers. If you see any signs of leaks or cracks developing in your housing, it’s probably time to string new housing.
      • An overhaul of the calipers per the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance plan is also a must-do, as those pistons and seals can get gummed-up over time and begin to stick.


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