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Brakes for a touring tandem

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Brakes for a touring tandem

Old 12-02-10, 08:29 PM
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tiggermaxcocoa
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Brakes for a touring tandem

I realize this topic has been done to death. I really do. But, I've searched through old forum threads and just can't come to a conclusion.

I am building up my first tandem. We weigh 300 lbs, and will be touring with ~50 pounds of gear. That will put us at ~390 lbs total. My LBS is pushing Avid BB7 w/ 203 mm rotors, but Rodriguez (who I'm buying the frame from) tells me that there is no reason to go for anything other than high quality cantilevers.

Any information would be appreciated on this topic. I'm sure all of you know how horrible of a feeling it is to spend 4-5k on anything that turns out to not work as well as you had hoped.
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Old 12-02-10, 08:36 PM
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With your weight and 50 lbs of gear coming down a switchback mountain pass . . .
Would go with cantilevers/V-brakes + either a rear drum brake or Avid BB7 on rear wheel only.
Been tandeming for 35+ years . . . better safe than sorry!
Pedal on TWOgether!
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Old 12-02-10, 09:21 PM
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+1 on Zona's comments. If you are riding flats, you can probably get away with cantilevers/v-brakes. But, If you are riding hills or touring in mountains and have to use your cantilevers/v-brakes for an extended period of time, you risk blowing a tire off the rim. The result can be catastrophic.
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Old 12-02-10, 10:20 PM
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We tour with >475 pounds of gear bike and people on a triplet. I LOVE discs and if you do 203s you have enough surface area to dissipate heat so you do not need a drum brake (unless maybe descending the Rockies). Plus if you ever do break a spoke or get a wheel out of true you can still ride as is without having to open up a rim brake or re-tension spokes to keep from rubbing. BIG plus. Disc brakes (esp 203s) and tandems are a near perfect marriage!

Discs also need less hand pressure for same stopping power so less fatigue and more confidence in stopping power when you are really heavy.
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Old 12-02-10, 10:57 PM
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As Rudy/Kay said, I'd recommend at least one hub brake to keep rim temperatures from getting too high on extended descents. Use of the hub brake will also lessen the rim wear that you get with cantilevers, especially if you find yourself in wet conditions with lots of grit getting on the braking surface.
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Old 12-03-10, 07:26 AM
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Cantilevers and a drum will do just fine. Cantilevers alone if you're willing to stop on the worst for the descents to let them cool. We have cantilevers and a drum, which I plan to mount before our next tour. So far on all our shorter, local-ish tours, we've left the drum at home.

We weigh slightly less than you (280 combined), but when touring we make up the difference in load (70-80 lb). So we're talking basically the same thing.

On blowing a tire - that appears to be less likely with Kevlar (aramid) bead (folding) tires, and you can reduce the rim heating by alternating brakes when you need them, and on a major descent (without a drum) slow right down to a near stop, and then let the speed pick up without braking at all to let your rims and brake shoes cool off.

On breaking a spoke - we broke one on a wheel with a Velocity Aeroheat (40H) rim. It was a non-drive-side spoke, which helps (both in ease of replacement and degree of displacement). I thought the wheel was a bit out of true, and went to true it when we got home a day and a half (100 miles) later, which is when I realized we had a broken spoke. But most of my experience with broken spokes is drive side, and they always threw the wheel way out of whack. For touring I would expect to be prepared (with a fiber fix spoke) to repair any broken spoke on the road.

I have Swissstop Green pads, which seem to be getting harder to find this side of the Atlantic; may use CoolStop Salmons. These work pretty well dry or wet. If the road is wet enough that once around the rim (1.9m) doesn't dry it well enough for a solid grip, the tire/road interface will be the limiting factor, not the rim/brake interface.

Yes, rim brakes keep me fussy about having a true rim, but then an out of true rim reduces the stability at high speeds anyhow. And if a disc warps, well, there are those who know how to true them...

Also check out other threads (e.g. on the commuting forum) about longevity of pads. If by touring you mean thousands of miles you can expect to change the pads en route. Take any non-tandem estimate of pad life and cut it in half. Rim brake pads wear too, but they last longer.
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Old 12-03-10, 08:28 AM
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Originally Posted by WebsterBikeMan View Post
Also check out other threads (e.g. on the commuting forum) about longevity of pads. If by touring you mean thousands of miles you can expect to change the pads en route. Take any non-tandem estimate of pad life and cut it in half. Rim brake pads wear too, but they last longer.
I was recently told that disc brake pads will last me significantly longer than canti brake pads, and that is actually another advantage of choosing disc over canti.

What's the real story here???
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Old 12-03-10, 09:39 AM
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Originally Posted by tiggermaxcocoa View Post
I was recently told that disc brake pads will last me significantly longer than canti brake pads, and that is actually another advantage of choosing disc over canti.

What's the real story here???
Rodriguez seems to know what they're doing, I'd trust what they say--after all, you trust them to know how to make a bike for you, why do you not trust them to advise on how to make the bike stop? I bought canti pads from them and they are great. My tandem (Burley Duet) came with canti's and I "upgraded" to V-brakes at some stage. After a year, I decided to go back to canti's after getting disgusted with the way that the V-brakes tend to grab the rim and suddenly exert maximum braking force, and then reading what Rodriguez had to say about canti's versus V-brakes. I called Rodriguez and was ready to buy their Trillium brakes, but they said that the Shimano's that came with the tandem should be nearly as good, so I just bought some Scott Matthauser pads from them.

My MTB has disk brakes and they have their pluses and minuses, but what Rodriguez says about them is true. They're fine for riding in dirt, but they're not so great for the road. Canti's have much nicer modulation. Also, read the Santana web site -- if you're going to go with disks, you need to go with really big disks that can really handle the downhill.

You can't use disks as a drag brake, and it's really nice on a steep descent to just set a drum brake and often that is all the braking I need to do except coming up to hard turns. Just don't forget to switch the drag brake off as you finish the descent -- stokers don't like to find out that the reason they're working so hard on this climb is that you forgot to switch the drag brake off.

Nick
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Old 12-03-10, 10:02 AM
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Another issue my LBS brought up with rim brakes is that on a tandem, you wear through rims much faster than you would on a single, which can further complicate the risk of blowing off your tire. Any thoughts on this? How often do those of you who use rim brakes go through rims?
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Old 12-03-10, 10:22 AM
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In 30 years of tandeming I have only had to replace rims due to wear once. The rim wasn't worn through, it was just scored so bad and I thought it was affecting braking.
I would avoid V brakes as they grab and squeal even though they do provide a lot of braking force. We do light touring with total weight of around 300 lbs and just use Mavic SSC caliper brakes.
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Old 12-03-10, 11:19 AM
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We tour at about the same weight as you. We have Avid V-brakes and run Koolstop salmon/black combi pads. They work OK. I have to be very careful to alternate brakes and conversely, to allow each rim to heat plenty so it gets rid of the heat more quickly. After a bit, I caught onto what a pad feels like that's on the edge of overheating. My V-brakes do demand precise alignment in order not to squeal when hot. I haven't had to stop to let my rims cool yet, but I'm sure I would on a 15% grade with switchbacks. The usual 6% pass grades around here with ordinary corners are not a big problem.

I've replaced two Aeroheat rims due to track wear, but I ride in the PNW where it's wet and gritty a lot of the year.

OTOH, no braking system is perfect. I wouldn't mind having a drum drag brake, but they do weigh and cost more. Light is good. I've stoked disc-equipped tandems and they sure stop faster than my V-brakes. I have heard of people cooking their discs and pads on long descents, similar to what happens with rims. Discs also stress the rim more than rim brakes do.

If you run a drum brake, give the stoker the lever!
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Old 12-03-10, 12:28 PM
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Our touring tandem has Avid Shorty cantis and occasionally an Arai drum when we tour in hilly areas. I just upgraded to the new-style Shorty brakes and they seem a big improvement over the original Shortys we had before. Koolstop salmon-colored pads are the way to go (er, stop) for us. We have descended passes in the Austrian Alps with this setup with no problems (fully loaded, and in the rain, even).

Our triplet has Avid v-brakes with Travel Agents. I honestly don't notice much difference in modulation, stopping, etc., between the cantis on our tandem and v-brakes on the triple. In both cases, our rolling weight is a good bit above your loaded weight.
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Old 12-03-10, 08:30 PM
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Our Rodriguez tandem has their Big Squeeze cantilevers and an Arai drum brake. You won't go wrong if you go with their advice; their brakes are great. If you are getting 26" wheels the greater rim mass and larger tire volume should make overheating the rims and blowing off a tire a non-issue (or at least, far less of an issue.)
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Old 12-03-10, 09:00 PM
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A little lighter than the OPs, we toured in the Rockies (Canadian) with only caliper rim brakes carrying hoteling gear. The Finger Lakes in New York and the mountains in NC & TN are more demanding of brakes than anything we found out west. France is tougher, much tougher, even with SAG support. They built roads up into places you wouldn't believe, at a time when Canadians had yet to build any roads at all. But we toured successfully and safely there for several years without a third brake before we finally sprung for our new bike with two calipers and an Avid BB7.

A few hints if you decide to live on the edge and stick with rim brakes only:
1) When you stop to let the rims cool, walk your bike at a brisk pace down the hill. The turning wheels and the moving bike allow faster cooling from the air flow and you're still making forward progress. Unless of course you want to enjoy the view, in which case just stand there in awe. This is a tour, after all.
2) Let about 20 psi of pressure out of your tires (especially the front) when you stop for your brake-and-systems check at the top of a long technical descent. (No need if it's long and straight where you won't be braking much, or at all.) If the risk of blowing tires is more than tandem folklore, 20 psi gives you a cushion. Pump 'em up again at the bottom.
3) Don't try to boot front tires in mountain country. During normal riding, the booted tire will last the rest of its natural life (but I'd still put it on the rear.) But the edges of the canvas boot are just sharp enough to print an outline of tiny holes in the tube when the pressure rises with braking heat. The tube will then leak. Patched tubes seem OK -- none of ours have ever let go just from heat. But if a valve stem is about to fail at its seam with the tube, it'll fail when it gets really hot. Usually just "ssssssssssss", not "POW!!!!" but you'll easily lose enough pressure fast enough that the next turn is going to be really interesting. So stop as soon as you can.
4) The worst abuse from heat seems to occur in the last few seconds of braking to a stop. Typically you take two or three hairpins then decide, OK, I'm chickening out, gonna stop. So coming out of the turn you stay on the brakes and grind to a halt. Holy crap, that was hard! Rims too hot to touch. If the tube is going to melt or the tire is going to lift, it's going to happen at that very low speed, when all that kinetic energy from your descending speed has been pumped into the rims, not when you're still smoking down at 80 km/hr. This means that the judgement between scooting through the last couple of hairpins scuffing the brakes just a little, or coming to a full stop, is not a no-brainer.

The reason for mentioning all this is that having a third brake is a nice safety enhancement but it did not transform the whole experience of tandeming in hilly country for us. I think this is why there is so much difference of opinion about third brakes -- they aren't same quantum leap in technologic performance that steam over sail was for ships, or that diesel-electric over steam was for the railways. For some teams with some loadings in some types of terrain they fit a niche really well. For many other applications they are either over-kill, or inadequate.
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Old 12-03-10, 10:33 PM
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Have never had a rim wear out due to braking.
Have had front rim last 57,000 miles without any issues.
Rear rims tend to be another story.
20,000+ miles seems to be about the average and then it's usually a spoke pulling through or the rim warping and un-truable.
Got to blame my stoker for all that torque she puts on the rear wheel?!
Best pads we've ever had on cantis were the Scott/Matthauser: 50,000 miles on the rear wheel; front wheel pads went with the tandem when we sold it with 56,000 on the odo.
Pad wear of course is influenced by riding conditions; living in the desert southwest we don't get much in wet/gritty riding.
Our riding weight is a bit lighter: just under 250 lbs. and when we toured we went the credit card way and carried less than 25 lbs. of gear.
Much of the actual brakibng during long/steep desents for us was not to let the tandem build up a huge amount of speed and to alternate braking, quickly, between front and rear brakes.
Yes, we've descended many times at high 40s and quite few times in the 50+ mph range, but there were no real switchback or 15+ per cent grades involved.
Pedal on TWOgether!
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Old 12-04-10, 01:16 AM
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We went for a tour on our old steel Santana, full camping gear on board, >40 lb bike and 305 lb team. Probably over 400lb total weight.

We had just Shamano BR550 Cantis with Swiss Stop green GHP pads.

Didn't feel as confidence inspiring as the BB7 rear (and Mavic SSC road caliper up front) on the Calfee, but it worked out fine.

Yes there were hills, not big mountains, but some pretty twisty steep descents, just not really long.

ride --> https://app.strava.com/rides/177377
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Old 12-04-10, 11:48 AM
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Originally Posted by uspspro View Post
We went for a tour on our old steel Santana, full camping gear on board, >40 lb bike and 305 lb team. Probably over 400lb total weight.

We had just Shamano BR550 Cantis with Swiss Stop green GHP pads.

Didn't feel as confidence inspiring as the BB7 rear (and Mavic SSC road caliper up front) on the Calfee, but it worked out fine.

Yes there were hills, not big mountains, but some pretty twisty steep descents, just not really long.

ride --> https://app.strava.com/rides/177377
Nice ride! Isn't that fun? I used to go out to Pinnacles frequently when I was at DLI in Monterey. What a fantastical place. Drove my Mini Cooper, though, the real one. Must have been nice on the tandem. Hope you got to hike some. I was surprised at the average speed even a couple of old duffers (us) could manage on a touring tandem.
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Old 12-04-10, 05:23 PM
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Have the frame built for cantilevers or v brakes, a pac man for a drum, and a braze on for the BB 7. The drum or BB 7 will require a threaded hub on the rear. You can take your choice for rear braking and the front brake can be changed with the fork and front wheel.
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Old 12-05-10, 12:29 PM
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Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy View Post
Nice ride! Isn't that fun? I used to go out to Pinnacles frequently when I was at DLI in Monterey. What a fantastical place. Drove my Mini Cooper, though, the real one. Must have been nice on the tandem. Hope you got to hike some. I was surprised at the average speed even a couple of old duffers (us) could manage on a touring tandem.
Yeah, it's like a locomotive... takes a long time to get going, but once your at speed you can keep it moving!

If you hit an area with a bunch of stoplights though, it sucks, heh.

We camped at Pinnacles that night, went hiking the next day, camped, and road back the third day (labor day weekend).

PS- I also road with downtube shifters set to friction mode (becasue they were 7 speed suntour levers, but I was using a modern 9 speed wheel/cassette), it worked fine, and I felt more retro
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Old 12-21-10, 11:25 PM
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I'm 350lbs and my stoker is 200lbs and I've learned a lot about brakes over the years. Compounding the matter, we now pull a Chariot behind our tandem.

The disc brakes will get you killed unless you only intend to ride that bike as a complete flatlander. You can not use a disc brake as a drag brake. Don't take advice from folks that are 150lbs dripping wet. You NEED a drag brake with the weight you'll have on that bike.

Your wheels should be Velocity Chukkers 48h with a rear hub with a solid axle (bolt on, not quick release). With your weight you need a solid axle or you'll be bending/breaking axles commonly. Get a Phil Wood rear hub just to be safe.

Source an Arai drag brake and either some vintage Dia-Compe cantis (real frog-leg cantilever brakes think Mafac tandem brake) or some modern Paul cantis.

I have no concerns descending in the mountains of Colorado with an Arai drag brake and "real" cantis. I've never had to heat up my rims because of the drag brake, and I'll never be in an unsafe situation, neither should you.
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Old 12-22-10, 09:27 PM
  #21  
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Originally Posted by mtnbke View Post
I'm 350lbs and my stoker is 200lbs and I've learned a lot about brakes over the years. Compounding the matter, we now pull a Chariot behind our tandem.

The disc brakes will get you killed unless you only intend to ride that bike as a complete flatlander. You can not use a disc brake as a drag brake. Don't take advice from folks that are 150lbs dripping wet. You NEED a drag brake with the weight you'll have on that bike.

Your wheels should be Velocity Chukkers 48h with a rear hub with a solid axle (bolt on, not quick release). With your weight you need a solid axle or you'll be bending/breaking axles commonly. Get a Phil Wood rear hub just to be safe.

Source an Arai drag brake and either some vintage Dia-Compe cantis (real frog-leg cantilever brakes think Mafac tandem brake) or some modern Paul cantis.

I have no concerns descending in the mountains of Colorado with an Arai drag brake and "real" cantis. I've never had to heat up my rims because of the drag brake, and I'll never be in an unsafe situation, neither should you.
Wow,... 350 and 200 lb. What species are you?
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Old 12-27-10, 07:23 PM
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Let me amend what I said earlier. A large rotor disc brake cannot fully replace a drag brake as has been stated, but it can go a longer way to slow you down so you only need a drag brake in the more extreme situations.
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Old 12-27-10, 07:23 PM
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Drac brake

Let me amend what I said earlier. A large rotor disc brake cannot fully replace a drag brake as has been stated, but it can go a longer way to slow you down so you only need a drag brake in the more extreme situations.
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Old 12-27-10, 11:35 PM
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Originally Posted by conspiratemus1 View Post
Wow,... 350 and 200 lb. What species are you?
More Miguel Indurain than Marco Pantani...
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Old 12-28-10, 09:00 AM
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TandemGeek
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Originally Posted by tiggermaxcocoa View Post
I realize this topic has been done to death. I really do. But, I've searched through old forum threads and just can't come to a conclusion. Any information would be appreciated on this topic. I'm sure all of you know how horrible of a feeling it is to spend 4-5k on anything that turns out to not work as well as you had hoped.
If you look past the more provocative comments in this thread, there's a lot of good information out there that has more than addressed just about every aspect of your quandary.

So, have you made a decision? Or, are you still on the fence, so to speak?

The only thing that I'll add to the discussion is that the truth regarding the pros and cons of rim/drum vs. disc lies somewhere in between what you're hearing from R&E Cycles and your LBS. The great unknown in this equation is "How will you actually ride this tandem?" That, more so than weight given your cited 300lb team weight + another 100lbs of bike & gear, is what holds the answer to the only real question here: Are discs a good alternative for you?

I say this because there's no question that rim brakes with an Arai drum brake is the defacto, tried and true brake configuration for loaded touring. So, if you're truly planning on globe trotting with a loaded tandem, the extra net 1lb of static weight you'd have with rim/drums vs. other configurations is a non-issue.

The irony about tandems fitted with drum brake when purchased "just in case' is most teams of moderate weight who like to descend at a brisk pace and who aren't routinely climbing and descending very long and steep (>15%) and twisty grades and/or getting caught behind motorists on moderate, 8% - 12% grades will typically remove the drum brake because they find they don't use it. This is where the argument for rear-only or even dual discs comes in to play: most folks find they like how properly set-up discs perform and accept the minor weight penalty with the knowledge that they'll always have the added heat / brake capacity of their discs if they need it...

Bottom Line: If you want or need a drag brake, you have only one choice: rear drum + whatever else you'd like to use on the bike. The only thing that a rear drum brake precludes is the use of a rear disc... at least at the same time.

Therein lies the win-win decision for any new tandem that 'could' have a need for a drag brake at some point. As our BF brother 'tandem rider' suggested, leave all your options open by having your tandem fitted with with canti-bosses, an I.S. mount for a disc (preferably between the stays: R&E's master builder knows how to do this, by the way), and a pac-man fitting for the Arai drum. This will allow you to run a rear disc or dual rim brakes as your default for non-touring, then switch over to your drum for piece of mind on an epic tour.

As for some of the other questions you asked:

Disc brake pads wear: This is like an economics question: it depends.
How hard you use your brakes and in what conditions is the wild card in all the pro/con debates over rim vs. disc brakes. Folks who routinely ride in wet conditions wear through brake blocks (and rims), so under those circumstances disc brake pads and rotors could be more cost effective over time. For folks who live and ride in relatively flat places and in good weather, they'll never "wear-out" their brake blocks; instead, they simply dry-out and become less effective [Note: I deal with this by putting new brake blocks on the tandems every few years, regardless of how much they've worn]. Again, in this scenario the disc pads would guard against riding around with dried-out rim brake blocks. Somewhere in the middle you'd have folks who do a lot of hills in mostly good, but some wet conditions... we fall into this category.

With a rear disc as our only rear brake and a rim brake up front, I found that I would over-use the rear disc for all but the most steep descents or hard stopping needs because I could, and that heavy reliance on the rear disc was clearly using up the pads more quickly than I ever used up our rear rim brake blocks.

And, finally, the real wild card is how many miles a year do you ride? If you only ride a couple thousand miles on the tandem each year, all of this can become moot, other than the need to replace rim brake blocks that have lost their suppleness.
Rim wear: See above, regarding riding conditions and mileage.
Brother CFBoy in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) lives and rides in the conditions that put a lot of true wear and tear on brake blocks and rim brake tracks.
Tire Blow-Offs:
That's a horse of a different color unrelated to rim wear, but one that does relate to old, tired brake pads or excessive use of rim brakes on long descents. Frankly, I don't think anyone's ever done enough detailed research to conclusively demonstrate why some tandems have experienced tire blow-offs, but the constant has been prolonged rim heating due to riding the rim brakes on a long and/or steep descent. To get to this point requires a rider to ignore the sound and feel of brake fade and outgassing, which is also true when overheating disc brakes. Again, the solution here is making sure you keep your tandem's speed well under control on challenging terrain and using some of the other techniques suggested by BF brothers in this thread.
Let us know what you decide.

Last edited by TandemGeek; 12-28-10 at 09:57 AM.
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