Tandem Tribulations part 1

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Tandem Tribulations Part 1


Just occasionally, you get a repair to do that baffles, challenges and infuriates you in equal measures, and this was definitely one of those occasions. Fortunately I enjoy a challenge, because the end result is so much more satisfying if you manage to sort it out. Anyone witnessing the occasional profanity in the workshop would have realised that this one was more of a challenge than most.

The customer (hereafter referred to as Bob, not his real name) had mentioned on a number of occasions, when bringing other bikes for service, that he had this tandem which had been bought, in France, some years before (like 20 odd years to be precise. Or not) and had been troublesome since new, having some kind of breakdown on just about every outing.

We chatted about it a few times, then one day he called and said he thought he might like to see if it was worth sorting out, so I went and collected it in the van (bit big to strap across the back of his car) and brought it to the workshop.

The issues with the tandem (Gitane Decouverte) are mainly spoke breakage in the rear wheel and poor brakes. The spoke breakage may have had a combination of causes; the weight that was carried on the rear rack and the apparent poor quality of the spoke metal, even though they were 12 guage 2.5mm. Bob said that he got quite proficient at roadside running repairs on the rear wheel so that they could actually get home on the thing. The bearings were also in a poor state in the rear wheel, which in itself would cause a lot of movement and undue stress.

The brakes were another thing altogether – there was a cantilever brake on each wheel and also a Sachs drum brake on the rear wheel, but the pads in the cantilever brakes were old, hard and deteriorated and the drum brake was almost ineffective. This was partly due to the cable arrangement – the left lever had a dual cable which fed the front brake and the rear drum brake (example pic shown, not Bob’s bike because I forgot to take ‘before photos!), with the rear cantilever brake operating from the right lever (as is the European way – here in the UK we have front brake on the right and rear on the left). As you might imagine, trying to balance the cable adjustment on the left lever for the front brake and rear drum was a nightmare, in fact Bob said that he was never able to get it adjusted so both would work efficiently.

My brief when taking the tandem away was to make it usable, which meant as follows:

  • Rebuild the rear wheel with new stainless spokes
  • Try to improve the braking capability
  • Change the front drop handlebars for a Dutch style bar to give a more upright and relaxed position
  • Move the gear changers from the downtube on to the handlebars
  • Give the bike a general service / check over
  • Fit new tyres and tubes – the old ones were 700×23 and not only very harsh on the road, they were perished anyway.

Part 2 coming soon.

Tandem Tribulations part 1

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