This is the first of five articles in a series that address Preventative Maintenance for your tandem.  You can find links to the other four at the bottom of this entry.

One of the best things you can do to keep a tandem clean and running well is to wipe down the chains after each ride with a dry cloth. Just give the cranks a couple backward revolutions with your right hand with a terry cloth towel in your left hand wrapped around the drive chain on the lower run. Do the same for the sync chain.  That alone will go a long way toward keeping “gunk” from growing on your cassette cogs and chain ring teeth, never mind turning that chain into something you just don’t want to touch without latex gloves!

Beyond that, a good cleaning after a few hundred miles or getting caught out in the rain will allow you to get away with only one deep cleaning a year while still enjoying a fairly clean and efficient drive train.  Here’s the quick and dirty on how I go about doing a 30-minute periodic cleaning for our tandems, to include the drive train:

  • The tandem goes in the work stand held by the stoker’s seat post and resting on the front wheel
  • The rear wheel comes off
  • The cassette comes off the rear hub and gets thrown in a diluted citrus degreaser bath to soak
  • The drive chain comes off with a quick-release / reusable link and it gets tossed in the degreaser bath to soak.
  • The sync chain gets derailed and thrown in the degreaser bath to soak
  • The citrus degreaser bath gets moved under the front cranks as a catch basin, timing ring and the bottom bracket interface gets a light cleaning with a stiff bristle brush and citrus degreaser
  • The citrus degreaser bath gets moved to the rear cranks where the derailleur rear crank / chain rings and timing ring get hit with the stiff bristle brush and degreaser.
  • The citrus degreaser bath finally gets moved under the rear derailleur for it’s brush down.
  • The entire tandem gets washed with soapy water using a wash mitt, rinsed with clear water then left to air dry while I scrub the cassette and chain with a nail brush, rinse and then let them air dry.
  • The chains get thrown in a hot melt wax bath to “cook” while the derailleur pivot points get hit with a touch of lube and the wheels / hubs / spokes get cleaned and checked, the cassette goes back on and the rear wheel goes back on the tandem.
  • The tandem gets a quick wipe down with a dry towel, and then the frame gets a quick coat of wax or, for the unpainted composite Calfee, a coating of Aerospace 303 UV protectant.
  • Once the chains have cooled-off after their wax bath, they go back on, the wax gets buffed off and we’re done!

However, at least once-a-year just about every bike and tandem should get a good, deep-cleaning and detailed inspection which usually entails a couple hours of work.

For readers who don’t get to enjoy mild, year-round riding weather and who didn’t give their tandem an end-of-season tune-up before “putting it up” for the winter, now might be a good time to start thinking about giving the tandem tune-up and addressing some other preventative maintenance steps.  

Why bother?  Well, it’s been my experience that preventative maintenance seems to be the key for folks who typically enjoy having a trouble-free, reliable tandem that stands the test of time.

A Preventative Maintenance Checklist

  • Frame
  • Fork
  • Headset
  • Handlebars
  • Stems
  • Seat Posts & Binder Bolts
  • Saddles
  • Brakes
    • Calipers / Arms
    • Cables & Housing
    • Pads / Linings
    • Rim Brake Track & Rotors
  • Shifters
  • Cables & Housings
  • Derailleurs
  • Crank Arms
  • Bottom Brackets / Bearings
  • Eccentrics
  • Chains
  • Chain Rings
  • Timing Rings & Sync Chain
  • Timing Pulleys & Belts
  • Pedals
  • Rear Hub
  • Cassette
  • Wheels
    • Skewers & Axles
    • Spokes
    • Rims
    • Tubes & Tires
  • Accessories
    • Bottle Cages & Hardware
    • Pumps & Inflators
    • Lighting Systems
    • Computers
    • Tool & Tire Bags
    • Mud Guards / Fenders
    • Luggage Racks
    • Panniers, Trunk & Handlebar Bags

If you prefer to let your local tandem speciality dealer, shop or private mechanic perform the maintenance on your tandem,  give them a call and set-up your appointment.  Chances are you’ll have a better shot of getting you bike in now than you will in a few weeks after more articles like this one send cyclists into action.

If you do your own bicycle maintenance, there’s no better way to spend one of February’s cold and damp Saturday or Sunday mornings than giving the your tandem a once-over so it will be ready to go when better weather arrives.

Either way, what follows are a few things you might want to consider as you decide what to include in your tandem’s preventative maintenance checklist.

Reality Check: Do I Really Need To Do All This For My Tandem?

The amount of maintenance a tandem needs varies greatly depending on the age of the tandem,  the original quality of the frame and components, how many miles are logged on the tandem each year, what type of weather conditions it’s ridden in, where it’s stored and how much year-round maintenance it receives.

mud_fandango_fullerPhoto by Team Fuller to MTB Tandems @ FB
For example, an off-road tandem ridden hard on muddy single track and epic adventures where drive trains are submerged in water will need a lot of attention, often after each ride, to keep it running reliability and prolong the life of its various parts.  However, a nice, premium quality road tandem that’s only ridden on warm, dry days a few times a year won’t need much attention at all. In fact, tires and brake blocks will likely need replacement based on their age not mileage.

Therefore, the number of things to include on your checklist should be greatly influenced by aforementioned factors and how much, if any, of your own maintenance you perform.  And yes, it’s just as easy to over-do and replace perfectly good components or get into trouble pulling things apart without the right tools or skills.  So, by all means, temper your enthusiasm and find the right balance between prudent maintenance and a little neglect.

That’s the sweet spot for better quality bikes and tandems.  They’re pretty durable and don’t need lots of attention.  Just a little attention on a regular basis such that everything that wears out or needs replacement gets touched before those things start to detract from your cycling experience, leave you stranded on the side of the road or damage expensive parts.

With all that said, you’ll find some things to consider including on your  preventative maintenance checklist in the following sub-articles:

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