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Packing our S&S Tandem - first steps

by Pamela Blalock


We have travelled a lot with both coupled and non-coupled singles and tandems. A coupled tandem for us is the most stress free way to take a tandem on a tour that involves air travel - both in regard to new restrictions airlines are placing on size and weight of luggage, and the ease of transport to and from most airports (where riding to/from may just not be attractive). I've said many times that it's the fact that we can get a packed up tandem in a taxi or small car that is the biggest win for couplers, and I'll stand by that.

For some folks disassembly and packing of the bike as intimidating. This is my step by step guide for what we do. As I said, we have carried non-coupled tandems on planes as well. We did a fair amount of disassembly then too, so didn't actually consider the S&S to be much more. If you've never flown with a tandem, this may seem overwhelming, but after the first time, it gets much easier.

These instructions are detailed. They also are specific to our bike. Your bike may be different.

Our coupled tandem has 26 inch wheels. When we chose our travel tandem, we specifically chose 26 inch wheels, because the wheels fit into the cases, with the tires inflated (most tires - the 26X2.0 that we use for gravel roads are the exception). And when travelling in remote spots, wide 26 inch tires are easier to find than wide 700C.

Co-Motion puts the front couplers in front of the captains seat tubes. This means we have three scetions and the fork, once split. Some other builders place the couplers behind the captain's seat tube. This gives you two large sections, the fork and three tubes. With the style we have, there is also the benefit that we can undo the cable splitters, and the front set of couplers and split the tandem easily into two sections (without touching the timing chain) if we want to get the bike inside a small vehicle.

It also makes it easier to pack in that the front section can be packed with the fork intact. That said, we do actually pull our fork when packing, currently. Due to John's excessive height, it's a tight fit to get the front section with fork and stem into the case. It's relatively easy to pull/reinstall the fork with a threadless headset. But if this makes you nervous, it just makes it a little trickier getting the front section into the case..

We also do a little bit more disassembly than Co-Motion recommends in their steps and than other travellers might. We've occasionally had damage - usually just paint scratches, but we learn from our mistakes.

In the end, some of our disassembly pays off in ease of getting the parts into the case, so the extra time to take a part off is made up when we actually put all the puzzle pieces into the case.

I'll also add that we tour when we travel, so we have racks, fenders and lights. These add time for disassembly and reassembly.

Before you start the first time, you'll want to get a few things.

  • A box of ziploc bags
  • 4 large heavy duty padded envelopes from the post office
  • wheel axle protectors from local shop
  • fork and rear triangle spacers from local shop
  • S&S frame tube padding (Co-Motion have a neoprene version that stretches and wraps around awkward parts better)
  • Anticompression pieces from S&S
  • TSA netting (optional)
  • Two cases
  • (First time) A bright pen for labeling the frame tube padding - we use a silver CD marker.

As I mentioned above, we do a bit more disassembly, primarily

  • We pull the fork. Having the fork as a separate piece makes it easier to fit the various pieces into the case.
  • We also now remove all four cranks. The standard tips suggest removing one crank, but cranks have sharp pointy things that love to gouge paint. It also saves the step of removing pedals, so it's really a wash time-wise. And it makes it easier to fit the various pieces into the case.
  • We put the frame and fork into one case, and wheels, rack and parts into the other. Depending on your hub or cases, you may need to put wheels in separate cases. With our original silver hard cases, in order to fit both wheels in one case, we would pull the end cap from the rear wheel. We have a Phil Wood rear hub, which has a separate end cap to accommodate a drum brake. We remove skewers and that cap, which makes it possible to fit both wheels into a case together. With the new Co-motions cases, there is enough flexibility in the case, that we can get both wheels in without pulling that cap. We use a long rod - the diameter of the quick release skewer, but long enough to go through both wheels, so the wheels align nicely in the case. We got this rod with a pair of Chris King Wheels, but there are probably cheaper ways to get a rod!

Anyway, now we are ready to start. Well first, if the bike is covered in mud and filth, take it outside and wash with soap and water, and let dry. If Dan Morgan is around, let him do this :-) Cleaning bikes is a passion of Dan's, although it ranks after beer..


NOW we are ready to start. Shift into the smallest cog on the back. Middle ring on front is fine.

We make two piles, one for things that go in the frame case, the other for things that go in the wheel case. We also keep track of tools we use. All tools you use must go with you and the bike.

  • We use Esge fenders with the quick release front mounts. These are easy to pop off and then loosen the bolt at the fork crown. Clean the dried mud from the inside of the fender - or give it to Dan to wash thoroughly enough to eat from. Lay the fender in the pile for the wheel case.

  • Remove water bottle cages, wrap them up in a cloth or newspaper and place them in the wheel box pile.
  • Remove the stoker seatpost leaving saddle attached. Wrap the saddle in one of those fancy helmet pink bags - or whatever you have. Wipe the grease off the seatpost. Cut padding to length and put on the post. Write "stoker seatpost" on the padding. Place in pile for the frame case.
  • Then remove the cranks leaving pedals on. Order is important, since this keeps some resistance for loosening off bolts. Modern cranks with self extracting bolts may make this step even easier. We have old fashioned square taper cranks and use a tradition bolt and crank puller. Pamela actually does this step. It's easy! Put all the crank bolts and dustcaps into a ziploc or keep with cranks - dustcaps can be used to keep bolts with cranks.
    - captains right crank first
    - then captain's left, taking the timing chain with it, which we put into a ziploc bag.
    - next stoker left crank and
    - lastly the drive crank.
  • Now, find the quick link and disconnect the chain. Put the greasy messy chain (if Dan didn't clean it first) and the quick links into a ziploc bag. Use rubber gloves - or have hand cleaner ready.

    Now gather whatever tools you used to remove cranks and put them in the wheel box pile.

    We have some US postal padded envelopes that we use for each crank. This keeps all those sharp pointy paint scratching, tire puncturing teeth away from paint and tires. Note that we don't remove the pedals - they stay with the cranks. With modern cranks where the spindle comes out with the cranks, we would remove the pedal in that side. Place the now padded cranks, and bags of chains in the wheel box pile.

  • Next loosen off the couplers so they are still hand tight. Keep the captains seatpost with stoker bars in to allow propping the bike against a wall.
  • Now unscrew the cable splitters. We have a split cable hanger for the front brake, so we can free the front brake cable from the frame. And here is where things may be frame dependent. We have down tube bosses and use the doohickeys that mount there for adjusting cable tension for barcons or STI. We remove those which completely frees the handlebars from the frame. If you have split cable guides you can remove the cable. If you have the infernal threaded guides on a coupled bike, shame on any framebuilder who puts these on a coupled bike. Now coil up all those loose cables and secure them around brake levers and such.