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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 02-25-13, 03:55 PM   #1
ong
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Steering suddenly got wonky!

My girlfriend and I just picked up our first tandem on Craigslist, after trying out several rides on various tandems. The bike is a beautiful, very early fillet-brazed Santana: I believe around 1982, give or take a couple years (it's got the marathon style frame, which Santana supposedly phased out around then). It's in fantastic shape -- looks like it's never had more than a few hundred miles on it, almost no wear on any parts. Everything was perfectly greased and immaculate (owner was a bike shop owner).

We just did our first "real" ride on it, after our first test ride of a few miles, and it was going fine for the first seven or eight miles. Then I noticed -- and my stoker noticed, with some dismay -- that the handling had suddenly gotten really weird. I felt like the bike would lurch right on right-hand pedal strokes (cranks are in phase). And it really took all my strength and focus to keep the bike on a straight line, especially after any steering adjustment. We checked pretty much everything we could find, and did notice that the rear wheel had slipped sideways a bit in the dropouts, so we straightened that out. It helped a little, but the bike was still very hard to ride. When I tried getting on and riding solo, it was much worse -- as though the stoker's weight had been damping the wobble in the rear. We got back on and limped slowly home, but it was honestly a bit of a struggle to keep the bike out of the ditch. My arms were exhausted from trying to track a line -- as though I were fighting the bike the whole ride home.

When we got home we took the (threaded) fork off and examined everything for cracks. The headset didn't appear notched/indexed, but I cleaned up all the bearings and races, anyway. The rear wheel stayed in place for the whole ride home, so I don't think that was the issue.

Any thoughts? I'm kind of mystified. It felt like a different bike than we started out on.
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Old 02-25-13, 04:02 PM   #2
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I agree with your first impression, sounds like a headset. I would try replacing the headset bearings and regrease. If it still does it see if adjusting the headset slightly looser or tighter makes a difference. It is cheap and IF races are good should fix the problem. May need a headset if races are not good.

I always try the cheap fix first and eventually get to the real problem....

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Old 02-25-13, 04:39 PM   #3
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+1 on checking the headset. Wear or incorrect adjustment there can really goof up steering.

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...owner was a bike shop owner...
Maybe contact the previous owner, not for a refund, but for advice.

Hopefully you'll get this straightened out, and you'll be able to get started having a great time riding with your girlfriend! Here's some reading material that may help you get started:

http://sheldonbrown.com/tandem.html
http://www.tandemcycleworks.com/firs...irst_ride.html
http://www.gtgtandems.com/tech/propmethod.html
http://www.rodbikes.com/articles/web...ngstarted.html
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Old 02-26-13, 10:05 AM   #4
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Broken spoke(s)?

That could explain the sudden change
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Old 02-26-13, 11:05 AM   #5
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Once we picked up a goathead in the rear tire which very slowly deflated the tire. So slowly that I did not at first notice it--I just thought my stoker was getting tired. Then on a sharp right hand turn the bike swerved in the way described by the op. Have you checked the inflation of the tires--especially the rear?
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Old 02-26-13, 11:12 AM   #6
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Check headset.
Thoroughly inspect frame/fork for cracks.
Check for broken spokes/cracked rims.
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Old 02-26-13, 11:53 AM   #7
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Bad news is that my best guess is a broken rear axle. I'd certainly check that first before anything else, as it alone explains all that you mentioned. When you both pedal with your, (presumed), dominant leg, the axle flexes at the break and you pull the drive side of the wheel forward slightly, causing you to have to counter-steer to hold a line. But when you look at the wheel, the skewer is still (temporarily) holding the axle together and in place, so it looks OK.

Good news would be that a hub axle is relatively easy to replace. In 1982, there were no "tandem-rated" wheels and hubs, so things like axles breaking were common. If a broken axle IS the issue, there are a couple of options you might want to consider other than just replacing it with another of the same quality.

If it's NOT the axle, then I'd still be looking at the rear of the bike, not the front. I can't think of anything in the headset/fork/front end that is going to cause the direct relation between the power stroke and the sudden lurching you describe. Unfortunately, if it's not a broken axle, the other thing that will cause it is a broken chainstay, typically behind the bottom bracket.

Let us know.

Bill
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Old 02-26-13, 02:09 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by ong View Post
My girlfriend and I just picked up our first tandem on Craigslist, after trying out several rides on various tandems. The bike is a beautiful, very early fillet-brazed Santana: I believe around 1982, give or take a couple years (it's got the marathon style frame, which Santana supposedly phased out around then). It's in fantastic shape -- looks like it's never had more than a few hundred miles on it, almost no wear on any parts. Everything was perfectly greased and immaculate (owner was a bike shop owner).

We just did our first "real" ride on it, after our first test ride of a few miles, and it was going fine for the first seven or eight miles. Then I noticed -- and my stoker noticed, with some dismay -- that the handling had suddenly gotten really weird. I felt like the bike would lurch right on right-hand pedal strokes (cranks are in phase). And it really took all my strength and focus to keep the bike on a straight line, especially after any steering adjustment. We checked pretty much everything we could find, and did notice that the rear wheel had slipped sideways a bit in the dropouts, so we straightened that out. It helped a little, but the bike was still very hard to ride. When I tried getting on and riding solo, it was much worse -- as though the stoker's weight had been damping the wobble in the rear. We got back on and limped slowly home, but it was honestly a bit of a struggle to keep the bike out of the ditch. My arms were exhausted from trying to track a line -- as though I were fighting the bike the whole ride home.

When we got home we took the (threaded) fork off and examined everything for cracks. The headset didn't appear notched/indexed, but I cleaned up all the bearings and races, anyway. The rear wheel stayed in place for the whole ride home, so I don't think that was the issue.

Any thoughts? I'm kind of mystified. It felt like a different bike than we started out on.
OP; Sounds like a really loose headset. Given that and the rear wheel issue; it returns to an old axiom; Whenever buying a used bike, always go completely through it to check its condition and then tune it up fully BEFORE riding it the first time (hire a good LBS to do it if you lack the experience and tools). Apologies for being terse, but the buy and fly away method it a good way to get two folks really injured and also damage a good tandem in the process.
/K
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Old 02-26-13, 04:07 PM   #9
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+1 Onegun
I can't see how it could be the headset as surely you would feel any looseness when braking and manoevering or even lifting the bike.
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Old 02-26-13, 04:48 PM   #10
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+1 Onegun
I can't see how it could be the headset as surely you would feel any looseness when braking and manoevering or even lifting the bike.
Agreed, plus he already said he'd dropped the threaded fork/checked for cracks/examined the headset for pits, etc. Anyone who has the tools and knowledge to know to do that most certainly knows what a loose headset feels like.
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Old 02-27-13, 11:41 AM   #11
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Thanks for all the replies! I'm fairly sure it's not the headset -- I've got a number of bikes with threaded headsets, and am pretty familiar with how loose headsets feel, and how to set them up. But I'll get it all back together and see if it helps.

No broken spokes, although the wheels could use more tension. They're 48-spoke wheels, and are fairly true, but not what I'd call "tight," having built a few wheels.

I should check the rear axle -- that's a good call. I'm pretty nervous about having a freewheel with both our weight. It's a solid axle, which should help, but it's possible that it did snap/shear. It really does feel like the wonkiness is coming from the back of the bike (but not the stoker!). I snapped the rear axle on my classic Mountain Goat last year, and it did seem to have some of the same symptoms. In that case the rear wheel was constantly jamming up into the chainstay and dropping the chain -- but maybe the timing chain is keeping it more in line this time?

Anyway, something to check when I get home! Thanks again.
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Old 03-02-13, 06:47 PM   #12
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Ong, was wondering of there was any update yet?
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Old 03-04-13, 10:16 AM   #13
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Hmm, well, it's not the rear axle. The rear hub is an old Phil freewheel hub with a huge 15mm axle, internally threaded for axle end bolts, and it feels smooth and tight (no play or looseness).

I guess the thing to do is get everything back together and try it again... if the bike still feels that hard to control, I'll try having a local mechanic take it for a spin. I really haven't found anything that's an obvious problem. Maybe I'll true up and re-tension the wheels while I've got them off, but I have a hard time thinking that will fix the very noticeable control issues I was seeing.

I half wonder if it was just me? Kind of like the "yips" in golfers? It seems pretty unlikely, as I'm a daily rider and bike enthusiast, but I'm not sure what else to blame it on.
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Old 03-04-13, 11:30 AM   #14
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Hmm. Could what you're experiencing be what we call "stoker steer"? You said everything was OK for 7 or 8 miles. Could that be the time that your stoker took to get comfortable on the bike, and then she started trying to put a lot of power into the drive train resulting in her pulling hard on the bars or rocking her body/shoulders? This can affect the steering of the bike dramatically.

I know you said you rode the bike whithout her on it, but that's not a test, really. Most tandems feels weird with no stoker, and your older Santana would *certainly* be no different.

Maybe true the wheels, put it back together, and have a talk with your stoker. If she's not a smooth spinner, if she tends to pull on the bars or "pedal the bike with her shoulders", you'll get stoker steer. Ask her to do a test with you, and both of you focus on spinning with zero upper body movement and see what happens.
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Old 03-04-13, 05:35 PM   #15
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I once had the tandem feel unstable particularly at speed. It turned out to be the bearings in the front wheel. It did not feet like it was from the back end of the bike but you might check bearings. Good luck and let us know what you find out.
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Old 03-04-13, 11:02 PM   #16
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Certainly could be either or both of us, although it did seem to happen rather suddenly. I should say I rode the bike solo earlier, and it didn't feel anything like that. In fact the bike felt relatively stable before, even with no weight in the back. I ride a longtail cargo bike a lot, and I'm pretty used to the difference between load and no load.

I think we'll try to get it back together this weekend and give it another whirl. After going over the bike closely, I'm pretty confident there's no cracks in the frame, although it certainly felt like that...

On another note, how reliable are these old Phil hubs, with the very large steel central barrel, aluminum flanges, and the weird axle bolts that actually hold the wheel in the dropout? I've never quite worked with a hub like that. Certainly seems beefier than the freewheel hubs I've had in the past, although it makes me nervous bearing load on those end bolts. Might want to carry a spare around?
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Old 03-04-13, 11:47 PM   #17
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Certainly could be either or both of us, although it did seem to happen rather suddenly. I should say I rode the bike solo earlier, and it didn't feel anything like that. In fact the bike felt relatively stable before, even with no weight in the back. I ride a longtail cargo bike a lot, and I'm pretty used to the difference between load and no load.

I think we'll try to get it back together this weekend and give it another whirl. After going over the bike closely, I'm pretty confident there's no cracks in the frame, although it certainly felt like that...

On another note, how reliable are these old Phil hubs, with the very large steel central barrel, aluminum flanges, and the weird axle bolts that actually hold the wheel in the dropout? I've never quite worked with a hub like that. Certainly seems beefier than the freewheel hubs I've had in the past, although it makes me nervous bearing load on those end bolts. Might want to carry a spare around?
I've got a couple pair of those old Phil wheels. One is exactly like yours, except on a 26 inch rim, that has many years of solid use on a tandem. the other was my touring wheel on my half-bike and "only" had 40 spokes. After about 250,000 miles, the flange basically wore out. It has too much play to ride. I suppose that could be what is happening to yours, but I doubt it.
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Old 03-04-13, 11:48 PM   #18
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On another note, how reliable are these old Phil hubs, with the very large steel central barrel, aluminum flanges, and the weird axle bolts that actually hold the wheel in the dropout? I've never quite worked with a hub like that. Certainly seems beefier than the freewheel hubs I've had in the past, although it makes me nervous bearing load on those end bolts. Might want to carry a spare around?
I had an old Phil hub on one of my tandems. I never had any problems with the axle. The only problem I ever had was the central barrel breaking. The flanges are threaded on the central barrel. It looked like it started cracking at the end of the thread. I think it took time to break, you could see different colors like the crack would get longer and discolor and then the crack would grow again. When it broke I was on a 7 day tour with 2.5 days left. I had to open the break a little. The freewheel and drive flange was on a short piece of the central barrel and the non drive side flange was in the longer piece of barrel. As we would pedal it would pull the rim over. It did affect the handling so I would check the hub, but I wouldn’t carry a spear
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Old 03-05-13, 06:55 AM   #19
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Looks like you have something else to check. If you still don't detect anything at the hub, I think the best thing to do would be to ride it again when it's back together and see how it goes. If it happens again, swap out the rear wheel with something else of tandem quality and then see what happens.

If you're sure there are no breaks in the frame, then I'd still be looking at the rear wheel pretty hard.

Keep us in the loop if you would.
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Old 03-10-13, 11:21 AM   #20
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Got everything back together, and took it out for a spin -- SEEEMS ok now. Maybe overhauling and readjusting the headset took care of the problem? Maybe I was going nuts? Let's put it down to 20-year old headset grease, for now! Thanks for all the suggestions.

I should put up another thread with some pictures of the bike -- it's really lovely (I'm a sucker for slick fillet brazing). Stoker keeps commenting on how comfortable the ride is, too.
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Old 03-10-13, 11:35 AM   #21
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Well, I still doubt that the headset had anything to do with what you described, but the good news is it alright for now! Curious. Let us know if it rears its ugly head again. As a mechanic, I love this stuff. Its like a detective story!

And please do post some pics.
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