Preparing a Tandem Bicycle for the Andes and the Amazon 4

Our rear derailleur after four months and 3,000 miles in SE Asia

When we travel on our tandem in difficult places, like Tibet, and SE Asia, keeping the bike clean is the last thing I’m thinking about at the end of a hard day: food, a place to get horizontal and sleep are first priority, maybe changing money, buying food for the next day, trying to understand your host, the market vendors; all this before sunset since it’s often cold then, or sometimes not the best time for a gringo to be wandering the streets. So this is often when the derailleuer looks like after 3 or 4 thousand miles.

The Right Bicycle Oil is the Oil You Can Get

Of course I would never begin a new tour, South America, the Andes and Amazon, without cleaning this mess. It’s not easy. I will also replace both jockey wheels (that little round thing with rounded teeth) and lightly oil the parts. Often the oil we can find in Third World/Developing countries is not great for bicycles; in the case of this derailleuer, too heavy. But the wrong oil IS better than no oil. One good source of chain oil is from roadside sewing vendors; they’ll usually sell you a small quantity of machine oil for a pittance, and it works well. When you can’t find that, motor oil, or heavy gear oil is all you can get, and it makes the mess you see above, but it also keeps the gears turning.

Between adventures, Zippy and I keep our distance

Once we return from these trips, Zippy and I have a mutual aversion to each other. He just wants to rest, and I want to do no more work on a bicycle, any bicycle other than Zippy. Sometimes this lasts for two years. He sits in the shed, happily resting and remembering his adventures and I give my road bike the attention its missed, and rest. But then, something between Claire and me begins to itch, and we begin talking, sometimes in convoluted circles, about a possible bike adventure in some interesting place. Of course we’ll take Zippy. We did take our mountain bikes to Iceland, but 40,000 miles of our world travels has been on Zippy.

But Zippy, like his senior owner and captain, is showing his age

We both have scratches and dents, some of our screws are loose, most of mine in my head, and it’s getting harder and harder to find replacement parts for what wears out. It’s harder for Zippy than me. I can still heal cuts, mostly, and regrow most of the muscle loss I had in the early stages of starvation in the high altitude of  Tibet. But I know the machine (mine) is slowly aging, just like Zippy, and will have to find more tame pursuits: nice flat rail trails are looking better to me than they did a few years ago. But not yet. For a decade I’ve been saying I have one more BIG trip in me, and then there’s ……… where we haven’t visited yet. And so it goes.

Neither Zippy, our tandem, not I am ready yet to fade into the sweet dotage of old age, just yet.

Claire and Zippy and I, leave for Lima, Peru in a few weeks. There I will unpack, and rebuild Zippy once more, and we’ll pedal for the Cordillera Blanca, the high Andes. This time I hope to stoke up on some fat before we leave and avoid the emaciated look I acquired in Tibet in the early stages of starvation.  We should find more high cold passes, it’s winter in the Southern Hemisphere, before dropping precipitously to the end of the road in the Amazon Basin, where will see how Zippy mixes with river travel, before leaving the Amazon toward the Caribbean coast.

There will be some more posts before we leave, like how to pack a tandem to get the stingy airlines to accept it, and our own personal and financial preparations.

Watch  this space.


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