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For a volunteer project biking with blind riders (NiewidomiNatandemach.pl), we've been partnered up and provided a tandem bike, that seems new enough and in good condition.

Unlike the guy behind me--about my same weight and pedaling strength--as the pilot in front I get to see the upcoming terrain and decide to gradually steer or shift gears (5-speed) before it is "felt" and becomes tactily intuitive.

I can't quite figure out why the timing chain(front) keeps dropping out of its front chainring, jamming to the right, between the teeth and disk separating the pedal. Almost always we have to come to a full stop and re-seat it by hand.

There is a sprocket 10-teeth wheel supporting the lower part of that chain, pulling it upwards. I had adjusted it higher & lower to test various tensions; often it too easily loses the chain.

The top part of that chain is nearly a straight line with little to no drooping. The whole configuration is thus (actual bike photo now...evidently wasn't clear enough that previous was just smth similar from Google Images):

front chain, rings and sprocket aerial view

Some findings:

  • No matter how much I try to "aggravate" it with sharp turning, gear-shifting, breaking, etc., I cannot get it to derail when riding alone. Then it works fine. No slipping nor skipping either.
  • Our latest working theory vaguely points to situations when the rear rider is momentarily applying more pedaling torque than the front. Unfortunately these are inevitable and unforeseen, as much as we try to communicate and coordinate maneuvers. (Comment response: yes, we thoroughly talk or otherwise signal while biking. Again, there are situations despite this when the pilot has to make unplanned but instant judgement calls for our safety, though these are not dramatic nor unusual for the bike itself.)
  • Yet the rear chain never slips off, even though that's the only place gear shifting happens: at the rear wheel only. There is no left-handed gear shift.

Any ideas?

Other things tried that didn't seem to change much:

  • Switching to an 11-tooth sprocket
  • Bypassing the sprocket entirely by removing 4 links in the front chain

Local mechanics & standard bike shops in our small town happily mucked with it, but don't appear to know exactly and be able to remedy.

EPILOG

This band-aid at least kept us going pretty well the whole week:

enter image description here

The strings/cables suspending the sprocket directly upwards added tension to supplement its thick spring/coil. Again, shortening the chain by even the minimum possible made it already too short to fit.

  • Related? forums.mtbr.com/tandem-mountain-bikes/… But not sure what to apply. – Marcos May 20 '16 at 16:14
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    The chain may a) have one link too many or b) be out of line. On our tandem it looks a bit tauter. – Carel May 20 '16 at 18:07
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    Based on the lack of paint and fresh welds it appears to be a non factory tandem. It is possible that some frame flex is occurring with two riders but not when a single rider is aboard. The flex may lead to misalignment and chain drop. Purely speculation on my part from looking at the photos. – mikes May 20 '16 at 22:52
  • Commenting because its not the answer, but you may find rides get easier by increasing your communication. Your stoker is blind, not deaf. The peddling will smooth out if you consistently call "power" or "coast" or whatever words seem appropriate. Also avoid backpeddling to stop forward peddling, that alone could contribute to the timing chain problems. – Criggie May 21 '16 at 3:19
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    @Criggie Uploaded actual bike photo to avoid hasty confusion :) – Marcos May 23 '16 at 10:49
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This answer has been significantly changed since being accepted because the accepted answer cannot be deleted.

Based on the new photo, your timing chain needs checking. Its quite uncommon to see both chains on the right side of the bike, but not impossible.

Do both timing chainrings have the same number of teeth, or do pedals go out of phase over distance ?

Are the chainrings in line? You might need a keeper on the front chainring - essentially a front derailleur mech that doesn't move.

Check for timing chain and chainring wear too - if its worn/elongated then fit a new 1/8" timing chain. Leave it too long and the chainrings will wear out as well.

1/8" chain will last much longer too, and will slip less because it doesn't flex left and right as much as normal 3/32" chain.

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    Good answer, but I think that picture isn't the OP's chain, just one which looks like it. – James Bradbury May 21 '16 at 21:14
  • @JamesBradbury Good spotting - you were correct. I will delete this answer as irrelevant and do a new one. Bother I can't delete the accepted answer. – Criggie May 23 '16 at 22:14
  • @Criggie Just make new answer, but let's keep this one (valid thoughts & history). Both chains and all cogs are new/no wear/no stretch, and stay in phase/same #teeth, so: 1. shortening front chain by 1 inch caused it to be too taut (no sprocket). 2. tied thin rope to suspend sprocket with extra pressure to topmost frame tube near front seat....that seems to help so far. – Marcos May 25 '16 at 20:29

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