6

I'm wondering if you guys can share any knowledge regarding fork failure on old steel tandem bikes.

I just bought a 1988 Santana Elan tandem. It's in beautiful condition. I contacted Santana to ask if they can give me any extra info on the bike, and they told me "replace your fork which is long past it's 10 year "best by" date. your bike NEEDS A NEW FORK TO BE SAFE TO RIDE."

I'm not saying I don't believe them, but surely they have legal and financial incentives to recommend I err on the safest side. I bought a used tandem to save money, haha, but I also want to make an educated decision. Any insights?

Could the fact that it's a tandem expose the fork to greater risk of failure? (2 people on only 2 wheels) On the other hand, you've got to figure that a tandem would have been ridden less over 30 years than a solo, so could that reduced usage give me better odds?

I'm planning to take this bike on our first ever cross-country tour. I'm trying not to be an idiot and risk a catastrophe out in the wild. Just how risky is riding on this 30-year-old steel fork (which seems to be performing well)?

2

Based on my (limited) understanding of metallurgy, steel does not weaken over time. The 2 factors which contribute to failure of steel are the environment and fatigue.

To determine the extent of environmental damage, pull the fork out of the head tube, and carefully look over the entire fork. Rust on the steerer tube would definitely be a problem, but you noted the bike is in beautiful condition, so I doubt you will find any.

Regarding fatigue, while you have the fork off the bike, grab a magnifying glass and carefully inspect all the non-painted metal surface and all the welds on the fork. There should be no hairline fractures or dents. Also look for pitting on the ball bearings and the raceway. If there are any, you will probably need to replace the bearings and raceway.

On a related note, look over this list of common weld failures. All of them have to do with either the quality of the weld or the metal. In other words, time does not play a role in weld failures. Given the fact that Santana is still in business and providing parts for their bikes, I'm sure the weld and metal quality is very high.

Finally, take confidence in the fact that "replacing the forks" is not a common or well known bicycle maintenance item. Everything I have read and experienced regarding ~30 year old steel bikes has been positive. Generally bullet-proof frames, owing in part to the fact that manufacturers were not incredibly concerned with "counting grams".

5

I'm not saying I don't believe them, but surely they have legal and financial incentives to recommend I err on the safest side.

Yes, but now that you've asked them and they've instructed you to buy a new fork, if it fails on you and you try to sue them, they'll laugh you out of court. So they've covered that base already.

you've got to figure that a tandem would have been ridden less over 30 years than a solo

Perhaps, but they recommend replacement after 10 years.

Just how risky is riding on this 30-year-old steel fork (which seems to be performing well)?

If you read the page linked to above by Daniel R Hicks, you'll see that A) the point of failure is hidden inside the head tube, and B) "Tandem fork failures nearly always cause an accident which puts both riders in an Emergency Room."

I'm trying not to be an idiot and risk a catastrophy out in the wild.

Then don't rely on equipment that the manufacturer has told you is prone to catastrophic failure.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.