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Tandem Cycling A bicycle built for two. Want to find out more about this wonderful world of tandems? Check out this forum to talk with other tandem enthusiasts. Captains and stokers welcome!

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Old 03-07-11, 12:59 AM   #1
JeffandKathy
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Colorado tandem without a drum brake: No big deal, or a death wish?

Just picked up a used Burley Duet, a later model (previous owner says between '03 - '05), in pristine condition, immaculate drive train, all-Shimano components that are clean, lubed and adjusted.

And the caliper brakes have plenty of stopping power, but the bike does not have a drag/drum brake, though the rear hub is threaded so that it can accept one, and the frame has the necessary bolt receptacle to mount one.

You might have heard: Colorado has some hills. You can go 10 miles or more at grades of 6%+. Our only experience with a tandem is with a rental that my wife and I "rode" down Lombard Street in San Francisco; we had the drag brake set to max the entire curvy, cobblestoned descent. I have a hard time imagining coming off of Fremont Pass, Cottonwood Pass, Vail Pass, Loveland Pass, Rabbit Ears Pass or just about any pass (or even some of the surface streets in my neighborhood) totally freewheeling all the way down. If we didn't kill ourselves, we'd be cited for speeding -- assuming we could even pull over to a stop once the flashing lights appeared in our mirror.

But, being a tandem newbie, maybe I'm worried over nothing. Maybe the regular brakes are sufficient. What's your advice? Leave the bike alone and ride? Or buy a drag brake?
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Old 03-07-11, 08:01 AM   #2
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It depends on your team weight, and your riding style. The problem with braking on a tandem on long descents is not stopping power, but, rims over heating.

A lot of the descents in Colorado while long, and reasonably steep, are not terribly twisty. So if you're comfortable with letting the bike run between the corners, and only braking for the turns, you may well not need a drag brake.

If you want to descend more slowly, and have the breaks on pretty constantly to do so, you would benefit from a drum brake.

Personally, I would go ride it without the drum brake and see how it goes. The worst that's going to happen is that you'll need to stop and let your rims cool. And you'll know whether you want the drum brake.
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Old 03-07-11, 09:01 AM   #3
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You may also have options to increase the "stopping power" by changing pads. This won't help rim heating necessarily, but will help slow things down on a steep grade from high speed. Our somewhat limited experience in Northern California (a 350 lb. team) illustrates merlin's point - it's the switchbacks that kill the brakes, not the grade. The longer the straight runs the less braking and less rim heating.
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Old 03-07-11, 09:07 AM   #4
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I'd agree w/Merlin. We've ridden our tandem mostly in the Colorado mountains for about 10 years. We have a drum brake but it has been in a box in the garage most of the time. As Merlin said - it depends on how comfortable you are with speed. If you are on a long descent with large distances between curves, you can just let the speed build up and use air drag to control your speed. If you want more drag - sit up. We've done almost all of the passes in Colorado. They only time we find that we'd like a drum is descending very steep (~12%) grades with close, tight switchbacks. The upper part of Flagstaff (west of Boulder) or the top of Mt Evans come to mind. In these circumstances, we have to get on the rim brakes hard and often. The rims heat up. Especially on a hot day with hot pavement. I think the only way to get comfortable with it is to find a steep hill, let the bike run and bring it to a full stop several times and feel the front rim. Then you can calibrate yourself. A long way of saying try it without, be careful and see what works for you.
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Old 03-07-11, 09:31 AM   #5
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It sounds like you are on the conservative side, when it comes to descents. This is not a bad thing, especially if your stoker is new to the game. Fast, screaming descents are a blast for the captain, but can be terrifying to a stoker that can't see ahead and has limited control (limited to pounding on the captains back). I would try my best to locate an Arai brake (no longer manufactured), while they can still be gotten. They show up on ebay from time to time and some of the tandem sellers, such as Tandems East and Tandem Ltd, have tried to keep them on the shelves. I would recommend controlling it with a friction shifter; I wouldn't use a dual cable brake lever, as was used on the early (pre STI) burleys and others. They put a big strain on the hand and don't give you the option of independently pre-setting the drag brake, without using the rear rim brake.
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Old 03-07-11, 01:06 PM   #6
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Thanks for all the advice so far. Our team weight is 320, exclusive of the bike. And, yes, as steve53mg surmises, we will be on the conservative side, especially in our early days as a team. We enjoy biking not for the speed but for the experience, the scenery, and the beer at the end of the ride. Our goal is to live to ride another day.

Question for steve53mg: Do you recommend purchase of an Arai brake because A) they are the only drag brake made by anyone, anywhere, or B) it is your preference over any other manufacturer?

Please keep the feedback coming!
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Old 03-07-11, 02:55 PM   #7
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I think most newer models use a disc brake instead of the drum. (maybe instead of the cantilever too)

My right lever controls both cantilevers at the same time, and my left lever controls the drum.

It couldn't hurt to get one if you come across one.
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Old 03-07-11, 03:23 PM   #8
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not sure if this place is in business, I can't get the links to work but it could be due to a crappy work computer...

http://www.gtgtandems.com/parts/drum.html
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Old 03-07-11, 03:25 PM   #9
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Like I said, I'm a n00b: The primary characteristic of a drag brake is that it can be set to a particular resistance level, and left alone -- No need to keep a hand on a lever. Can the same be said of a disc brake? Can you "set and forget" a disc? Or must the rider keep a hand on the disc-brake lever at all times?
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Old 03-07-11, 03:31 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JeffandKathy View Post
Like I said, I'm a n00b: The primary characteristic of a drag brake is that it can be set to a particular resistance level, and left alone -- No need to keep a hand on a lever. Can the same be said of a disc brake? Can you "set and forget" a disc? Or must the rider keep a hand on the disc-brake lever at all times?
We are new to tandems too... it can only be set like that if you use a thumb shifter instead of a lever to control it... sounds like a good idea....
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Old 03-07-11, 04:09 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JeffandKathy View Post
Like I said, I'm a n00b: The primary characteristic of a drag brake is that it can be set to a particular resistance level, and left alone
I'm a tandem noob also. But I believe the proper statement should be "The primary characteristic of a drag brake is that it can be run continuously without it heating up the rim." That you can set it and forget it is a convenience but not its raison d'etre.

I'm building a Peugeot tandem on which the original brake arrangement was also both cantis on the right lever, the drum on the left.
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Old 03-07-11, 04:16 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by JeffandKathy View Post
Do you recommend purchase of an Arai brake because A) they are the only drag brake made by anyone, anywhere, or B) it is your preference over any other manufacturer?
To date, Arai has been the sole source for drag brakes. However, they are no longer being produced and a replacement was -- when I last checked -- still in the development and test phase. I've asked for an update from Tom and will report back once I hear from him. In the mean time, there are a lot of Arai drums to be had on the 2nd hand market and some of the tandem builders and specialty dealers have built up some inventory, so if one is needed they can still be acquired without too much trouble.

Quote:
Originally Posted by AngelGendy View Post
not sure if this place is in business, I can't get the links to work but it could be due to a crappy work computer...
Yes, Gear-to-Go Tandems is still alive and well. For any of the speciality tandem dealers, your best bet is to call or drop them an email. They don't have the kind of sales volumes and inventories to justify the expense of a full-blown on-line catalog like the big Etailers. Additionally, few if any tandem parts are a one-size fits all, to include Arai drum brakes, as there are different axle sizes to consider, as well as different reaction arm and cable configurations.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JeffandKathy View Post
Can you "set and forget" a disc? Or must the rider keep a hand on the disc-brake lever at all times?
An Arai drum is the only set and forget brake.

As for discs, the answer is No, and no. You don't set and forget a disc (or rim) brake nor do you want to apply constant braking force with a disc (or rim) brake while descending. You must manage brake heating on long descents by alternating your fore and aft brake use so that you don't unintentionally overuse the rear (most commonly over-used) or front brakes and induce brake fade or some othere type of brake-related issues.

Disc brakes have more heat capacity than rim brakes which makes them a good fit for tandems as it removes some of the very anxiety that you're having about your brakes. However, as you note, if you're looking for a way to scrub off speed over prolonged descents and/or to alleviate hand cramps from excesive brake use, a drum will be your best friend.

While you probably know all this..., I'm always reminded that we have lurkers and folks who search the archives to consider, hence the slight elaboration.

My recommendation is to do what you're already doing, but with a a more narrow aperature. More specifically, you'll want to check with other folks who ride tandems in your local area, perhaps vis-a-vis the Colorado Tandem Club. See what they're experience has been and what they recommend if you're unsure.

Again, there are two ways to go about determining if you need a drum.

(1) Buy one and if you don't use it a lot, no big deal: it's your choice to leave it on the bike or in a box "just in case".

(2) Get out and do some riding and be conservative on the descents.
-Don't let your speed build up to a point where you will need to use massive brake force to slow your tandem.
- Don't hunker down over your bars: sit-up, open up your chest cavity and get your knees out... and have your stoker do likewise so that your torsos and legs catch more air: air resistance will always scrub off a few MPH and sometimes that's all it takes.
- Alternate the use of your front & rear brakes so that you give each hand a chance to recover while allowing your rim and brakes to cool off for a few moments, and so on.
- If you feel like you're over-using your brakes and they're starting to glaze-over and fade from outgassing (as evidenced by a tell-tail grinding sound and feel), stop messing around and safely bring your tandem to a complete stop and let your rims and brakes cool before heading down the road again.
- Anticipate the need for a brake cooling stop as you crest big climbs. Obviously, what goes up must come down so plan ahead and force yourself to make a few stops on those challenging descents before your brakes and hands start to voice any complaints.
Again, there are many ways to safely manage descents on a tandem that has only rim brakes. If you find that you're encountering challenging descents after a few rides, get the drum.

-----------------

More GOOD info on the Arai Drum can be found here: http://www.precisiontandems.com/arai.htm

Last edited by TandemGeek; 03-07-11 at 04:27 PM. Reason: Link for Precision Tandems added.
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Old 03-07-11, 05:42 PM   #13
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We are not noobs at tandeming.
Been doing it TWOgether sincde 1975.
Our first tandem way back in 1975 had Mafac (centerpulls) front and rear + an Atom (French) drum brake.
The drum was a PIA to keep adjusted and we suffered from regular spoke breakage on the rear wheel.
Our next four tandems (all customs), we skipped the drum brake part.
Used everything from Mafac cantis, rear U-brake, Matthauser brakes, V-brakes, Dura Ace . . . all strictly rim brakes.
We are a rather light duo, pilot @ 135 lbs, stoker @ 105 lbs.
We live in Arizona and have ridden plenty of mountains and high elevations (9,200+'). Have desended twisting 11 mile long 7% grades and steeper shorter ones.
Our method is to alternate braking . . . font/rear and to scrub speed before the next curve, if necessary. Creating turbulence by sitting upright helps also.
So far, so good for us.
As suggested, try using what you have. If you are uncomfortable descending then get an Arai drum. A disc is not intended to be drag brake.
Just our experience . . .
Pedal on . . .

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Old 03-07-11, 11:11 PM   #14
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Excellent advice

Thanks, all, this is very useful information. What we've learned is that:

A) No one is making drum brakes any more, and
B) disc brakes are not meant to be used as drag brakes, meaning that
C) drag brakes are not considered essential safety gear on a tandem. I had assumed it was a necessary piece of equipment.

With all this good information in mind, my wife and I will start conservatively and learn how to manage descents with the brakes already on the bike. If we just can't get to a point where we feel comfortable that we can control our downhill speed, we'll invest in a drum.
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Old 03-08-11, 10:06 AM   #15
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Jeff, It looks like you have had your questions answered. If the non-drive side of your hub is threaded, you only have the Arai brake as a possibility. And, it is the only real drag brake. Like I said, I would recommend looking for an Arai brake, because they can still be found. They will be harder and harder to find and the cost more dear, as time goes on. If you decide that it isn't for you, you can always sell it. This is just my opinion, but if I lived and rode in your area, I would not debate it; I would get a brake! It, in my estimation, adds about 1 lb. to the bike, but would be worth it to me. Again, my recommendation would be to get an old style thumb shifter or a bar con, set in the friction mode, for control.
Newer bikes with large diameter disc brakes have made this a non-issue.

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Old 03-08-11, 03:22 PM   #16
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+1 on getting the brake, it's cheap insurance for about $150 + 1lb ((brake (on ebay), - remover, std gear cable, quick release (need this, it saves time when you fix a flat), friction shifter (if they don't come with the brake) - all still easy to get anywhere)).

Put it on for the 1st year and if you don't use it, take it off and put it in a box till you go touring.

If you've had 2 tires pop on a hot rim like I have, you don't want that to happen to anyone else. Waiting for brakes to cool is no fun. If you lived elsewhere I wouldn't bother, but I'd use that thing in CO for sure.
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Old 03-08-11, 04:20 PM   #17
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Very minimal mileage on this setup: Our new Screamer came with V-brakes as the main brakes and a BB7/203 as the 'drag brake'. Since we are moderate wt, plan on no loaded touring, and have short steep hills but no mountains in our vicinity, I removed the rear rim brake and set up the disc as main rear brake. The V-brake will be available as an option to put back on as an 'extra brake' should we ever have the need.
I'll report back on how our setup works after we get some miles and hills on the bike. Appreciate the advice presented on safe downhill braking.
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Old 03-10-11, 10:19 AM   #18
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Thanks, steve53mg. I'll look for an Arai brake and if I can find one, I'll try to get it and at least we'll have it on hand in case we feel the need for it.
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Old 03-10-11, 11:15 AM   #19
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not sure if this place is in business, I can't get the links to work but it could be due to a crappy work computer...

http://www.gtgtandems.com/parts/drum.html
Pretty sure they are still in business. They moved last spring, but they've been operating the shop and tours out of their Saranac Lake location since then.
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Old 03-19-11, 07:46 PM   #20
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A forum member in Southern California just sent me a private message. I cannot reply via private message until I have made 50 posts here on the open forum. So, if the person would please send another PM and this time include an email address, I will be glad to respond via email. Thanks!
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Old 03-23-11, 08:41 PM   #21
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Just another perspective from from a Colorado tandem - we have a rear disc brake on both of our road tandems and have at least 10,000 miles riding in the Colorado mountains. We're about 270 lb team and have also done loaded touring (aproximately 100 lb bike with gear). Never any problems with the rear disc brake. As mentioned previously, it is key NOT to ride the disc brake. Alternate between the front and rear brake and also let off the brakes entirely on straight roads - this will give your rim and rotor some time to cool down.

We spend most of our time on the mtb tandem now, but are always up for riding with other local tandems. Hit us up if you ever want to ride.

Enjoy the new bike!!!
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Old 03-23-11, 09:57 PM   #22
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It depends on your team weight, and your riding style. The problem with braking on a tandem on long descents is not stopping power, but, rims over heating.

A lot of the descents in Colorado while long, and reasonably steep, are not terribly twisty. So if you're comfortable with letting the bike run between the corners, and only braking for the turns, you may well not need a drag brake.

If you want to descend more slowly, and have the breaks on pretty constantly to do so, you would benefit from a drum brake.

Personally, I would go ride it without the drum brake and see how it goes. The worst that's going to happen is that you'll need to stop and let your rims cool. And you'll know whether you want the drum brake.
I'd have to respectfully disagree. The *worst* thing that could happen is a high speed blowout from the rims overheating. Our Colo experience was two week-long tours, one that included riding from Silverton back to Durango. While there weren't any descents that absolutely required a drag brake, having one sure made me less anxious about rim temps.
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Old 03-24-11, 08:17 AM   #23
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I doubt that overheated rims would lead to a high speed blowout. More likely a low speed blowout. We've ridden Durango to Silverton (as well as most other Colorado mountain passes) using rim brakes only. I think that if the captain is aware that rim heating might be a problem, you should be OK. I think the problems are more likely to occur when the captain is oblivious to this.
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