Braking technology has come a long way for tandems over the last decade. In times past a good drum brake or cantilever setup was the only option available for tandem teams and it was not uncommon to see a dual setup of cantilevers combined with a rear drum brake.
Thanks to cross over technology from motorcycles and the popularity of free-ride and downhill mountain biking, brake system manufacturers have advanced the curve on bicycle disc brake systems. With technology once reserved for indy cars our tandems can be equipped with multi-piston parallel push hydraulic disc brake systems.
The advantages of modern disc brake systems make them ideal for most every tandem bicycle (as long as the frame is designed with disc brake caliper mounting tabs).
When first installing a tandem brake setup the brakes must be properly “plumbed” from the brake lever body to the caliper. Most modern mountain bike brake systems come from the factory pre-bled. A tandem teams mechanic will need to drain the old fluid, remove the stock brake hose, and install a longer length of hydraulic brake tubing for the rear caliper. Following the manufacturers recommended bleeding procedure the lines must be cleared of all air pockets to ensure proper performance after refilling the brake lines.
When riding with disc brakes it is important for the captain to modulate the brakes during long or intense braking cycles. While disc brakes are good at dissipating heat they are not perfect and can succumb to heat induced fading. By alternating braking with non-braking the captain can offer the caliper an extra moment to cool.
Also of note is that following an intense downhill run a tandem brake calipers and rotors will be dangerously hot to the touch. Avoid contact with these components until they have time to cool. Depending on the model and design pouring water from your bottle or hydration pack can speed up this cooling process.
Modern disc brake setups afford tandem teams a consistent and safe method for slowing, stopping, and controlling their rigs. This added safety has further extended the ability of tandem teams to go anywhere and do anything.