Sometimes it’s not what it seems

I showed up for the Sunday morning B ride feeling somewhat apprehensive. The rear tire on my bike had a noticeable warp. It wasn’t really a bulge, but the main tread of the tire got off center at one spot. I was worried it might fail during the ride.

I put the bad tire on the bike last weekend, after I got a flukey flat. A screw had punctured the tire — maybe you saw the picture I linked to from my Twitter account. Anyhow, that tire was no longer usable, but I happened to have an older one hanging in the garage, so I put that on as a quick replacement.

It worked all right, but not great. I could feel the warp when the tire rolled, and Saturday I had to stop to re-center the rear brake, which turned out to be rubbing at one spot on the wheel. But I completed last Sunday’s group ride, and rides on Friday and Saturday with no other problems, so I thought I’d take  chance on the tire one more day.

About 10 miles into the ride, my friend David ran over a radial tire wire in the road, and it stuck into his tire. He pulled it out, but warned us all that he might be stopping to tend to a flat down the road. The two of us rode more or less together from then on.

Southwest of the small town of Buda, right after turning onto a busy two-lane highway, I felt something give on my bike. Suddenly, I couldn’t shift anymore, although I could pedal all right in the small chainring. David stopped with me, and Scott turned around to join us while the rest of group continued on. Last week, Scott broke a shift cable on our ride, and rode 15 miles on only three gears through some hilly terrain. Our first thought was that I had a snapped cable, too.

The rear tire rubbed against the front derailleur at one spot, and we couldn’t fix that. David, the most adept tinkerer of the three of us, played with the shifters while I held the rear wheel off the ground. He confirmed that the problem was a broken cable. I decided to turn around and head back to Buda, about three miles away, and have my wife perform sag duties from there.

One of our club members, who was riding with the A group this morning, is an expert bike mechanic. I contacted him after my wife got me home, and he told me to bring the bike over. He glanced at it when I pulled it from the back of the SUV, and said, “You’ve got a broken front derailleur.”

We put the bike up on a repair stand in his workshop, and he checked it over thoroughly. I mentioned that we had all diagnosed the problem as a snapped cable. He disagreed. He didn’t stock a replacement derailleur, and sent me out to get one. The local Performance store had what I was looking for — an Ultegra, on sale (the broken was a Tiagra). I bought it and took it back to his shop. He had it on and working perfectly in 10 minutes.

“Your cables are fine,” he said. “I checked them out carefully while you were gone.”

He adjusted the trim of the shifters as precisely as possible, and charged a whopping five dollars for his trouble. “The good news is, this replacement derailleur you bought is more solid than the other,” he said. “You should never run into the same problem with this one as you did today.”

I thanked him for his work and loaded my bike back into the SUV. As always, a trip to bike shop racked up more expenses than I’d planned on — the derailleur and a new tire, plus some stuff came to a round $100. But the bike is running again, which it wouldn’t be if I’d stuck to the original assumption about what was wrong.

Patched tubes vs. new ones

Last weekend, I flatted on my Saturday morning ride. I was only two miles from home, and was too worn out to change the flat then and there, so I called my wife and had her perform sag duties.

That evening, in the cool of my kitchen, I pulled out the tube and replaced it. The replacement tube had two patches, but they looked pretty sturdy. I generally will patch my flatted tubes and reuse them, so doing this again wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for me.

Sunday morning, I went out to the garage 20 minutes before the club ride was due to begin, and to my horror, found that the tire had gone flat overnight. Yikes! I pulled the wheel from the bike and hauled my tire levers and floor pump into the kitchen again. Then, I grabbed a new tube that was still in its box, fresh from the bike shop.

I scrambled to get the tube replaced and the tire remounted on the wheel. Everything seemed okay, so I quickly filled my water bottles and dashed to the coffee shop to meet the club ride. I got there within five minutes of the start — a record time for me at replacing a flat tire.

Then I proceeded to worry throughout the ride that I had been too hasty, and that the new tube might not be seated correctly, or any of a dozen other things that could cause me to flat again. But the tire performed well, and caused me no problems.

Obviously, I had missed a leak in the repaired tube — the one with two patches. There should have been a third one in there. The question is, when do you patch tubes and when do you replace them?

I’ve got four older tubes hanging from the wall in my garage right now. Each has one patch. Each would be called upon as a replacement tube if I get a flat (although since I’m running a new tube in the tire now, I would probably just go ahead and patch it, and remount it).

But is that a wise policy? Are patched tubes less durable somehow than new tubes? How many patches can you put on a tube and still have it give good service? How do you deal with the question?

Dealing with biking tickets — not so easy

Ever since the bicycle ticket incident, the four hapless riders have been trying to decide how to deal with their citations.

Pippa (“I shall go to court because I’m British and like a good argument” – gotta love her) filled in a form stating that she wished to contest the fine and mailed it in. She should hear from them within 30 days regarding the next step.

Bob is mulling it over. He wanted to go to deferred adjudication or take a bicycle safety class (similar to a defensive driving class) to reduce or eliminate the fine, but those are not options. Another blog quotes a local judge as saying a bicycle violation will not affect your driving record, and since that’s the most important outcome Bob is seeking, he might pay the fine. But he hasn’t decided.

Judy is going to fight it. She thinks $217 is excessive, and the way the ticket is written it looks like she ran a red light (she turned right without stopping, but after slowing).

And Penny, seen getting the ticket in the original post, decided to just pay the fine and get it over with. But she found it’s just not that easy. Penny tells the story from here:

It’s funny how a society will create its own rules in the absence of structure. Daughter Emily and I arrived at the Manchaca municipal court substation to find a line out the door. But these folks weren’t standing. They were sitting in a row of chairs lined up along a wall. It was apparent that we would be in for a long wait. So we took our place in line.

As each person was called to the service counter, the whole row of people would get up and move one chair down. Everyone understood the implied order — everyone moved.

Penny with her ticket. You'd look a little put off if you'd waited in line for an hour, too.

Penny with her ticket. You'd look a little put off if you'd waited in line for an hour, too.

When we reached the counter, I presented my ticket, explained that it was for running a red light (on my bicycle) and asked if it would reflect on my insurance. This discourse on my part was met with a blank stare. The clerk didn’t know so she offered to let me speak with a prosecutor. No thanks, I told her. I wanted to pay and do whatever I needed to do to keep this off my record. Bicycle traffic offenders are not offered the deferred adjudication or defensive driving options.

So, she tried to call a prosecutor to get the answer. Dial, busy signal, hang up, dial, busy signal, hang up — this went on for awhile. I watched mesmerized as the partially-painted fingernail punched relentlessly at the telephone keys.

No answer in the prosecutor’s office so she called the judge. Well, actually, she called his office. They didn’t know but said they would ask the judge when he got out of court. They would call back.

Waiting, waiting, waiting…

In the meantime, Bubba next to me gets his call to the counter. He peels off $168 in small bills and hands it to the clerk.

“Well, how ‘bout that,” he muses. “I still have enough for a beer.”

The clerk thinks this is a great idea and comments that she would go with him if she didn’t have to work.

“Oh, you don’t wanna go with me,” he exclaimed. “I go to Expose’.”

I could see my daughter’s face — giving some thought to this.

“What’s Expose’?” she asked as she watched me roll my eyes. “Oh, I get it…Mom, can you do that with your eyes again?” Bubba is still talking to the clerk. He doesn’t have a clue.

Finally, the judge returns the call. If the ticket is coded properly for bicycle violation it does not go against insurance.

I pay my ticket — $217. Bubba pays his ticket, and we walk out together. How special. Bubba comments that he’s just wasted $168. We’re thinking he must have been fined for “child riding in bed of truck,” or “too many people in vehicle.”

I looked at Emily. She looked at me.

“I guess that means he doesn’t have enough money for a lap dance tonight,” I said.

She rolled her eyes.

A confusing hand signal

I see that hand signals continue to be a topic of interest on some biking blogs.  We all know the basic signals (As in the diagrams on the linked page, I signal a right turn by pointing my right arm straight out — I think there’s less chance of confusion).

But this discussion got me wondering about a motion I see on some group rides. Cyclists will put their (usually) left hand down when signaling slow or stop, and waggle the hand if they’re pointing out road debris.

"Bad stop" from Conejo Valley Cyclists (

"Bad stop" from Conejo Valley Cyclists (

But sometimes, they’ll move the left hand to the small of their back. And sometimes, they’ll hold it there stationary but other times, they’ll move it back and forth, as though they’re pointing to the right with their left hand — behind their back. To make matters more confusing, sometimes they’ll do the same signal with their right hand.

I’ve read that this can be considered an alternate sign for stop, but I don’t think so. I think it’s to indicate that bikers should move over to avoid an upcoming obstacle — for example, if a car is parked in a bike lane and we have to move left into the traffic lane to get around it, the signal would be made with the right hand.

But I’m just guessing. I haven’t come across any explanation of this signal in biking books or online.  Because it’s a non-standard signal, it can cause confusion. And confusion can cause problems. What do you think? Is this a hand signal worth keeping around and promoting, or is it one best done away with?

Random (Noob) Tips

Jeff Hemmel diverts us from talk of stop lights and tickets with a sampling of tips for noob riders.


As noobs, we have a lot to learn. I originally found this blog when I was trying to find out how to align my cleats. Chances are, many of you have also stumbled across it because you were searching for useful information. On today’s ride I started thinking about whether I had anything worthwhile to share. Not the basic stuff you see on bike sites everywhere, but random little tidbits people often overlook. Here’s a few items that made the list…

Helmet Pads – I don’t know about you, but mine get soaked in sweat. That gets nasty after a while. The best suggestion I’ve heard as to how to wash them is simply take your helmet in the shower. Gently lather the pads up with shampoo, rinse thoroughly, and allow to dry. Simple.

HelmetPad Inevitably, however, those pads will start to peel apart if you ride enough. I’ve found that by talking very nicely with the people at the helmet companies, they’ll send you a new pair free of charge. The rep that helped me most recently mentioned it’s supposed to be a one-time courtesy, but I’m pretty impressed that Bell has replaced the pads on my old Ukon twice, and just took care of my current Furio. That’s good business…just don’t tell them I sent you.

Silver Sharpie ­– Noobs are still dialing everything in, and as such should be encouraged to experiment with the position of handlebars, seat height, even the cleats on their shoes. Problem is, a lot of us are probably hesitant to try anything for fear we’ll never get things back where they were should we not like the result.

SharpieEnter the silver Sharpie marker. It shows up on things like black handlebars, seat posts, and shoe bottoms. As a result, you can mark anything you decide to change and, if it doesn’t work, find your way home again. My handlebars have a nice little dot that shows just where they should line up with the seam on my stem, my seat post shows my current preferred height, and my cleats are traced perfectly against the soles of my shoes, so when the current cleats wear out, the new ones can go in the exact same position.


Thanks silver Sharpie.

Cleat Markings – And speaking of cleats, most noobs probably know they should be roughly centered under the ball of your foot, at least as a starting point. But did you know that most cleat manufacturers mark that spot so you don’t have to estimate? Look closely and you’ll notice a small hash mark that designates the center for fore-and-aft adjustments. Thanks, uh, cleat-middle-marker-designer dudes.

Trim the Front Derailleur – Here’s a biggie. The chain on my road bike had the annoying tendency to rub against the front derailleur cage when I ventured into the highest gears. I mentioned this at the shop where I bought it; they originally told me it was just a simple cable adjustment. After the fix, friends mentioned it to me; they could still hear it chattering when drafting behind me. I even mentioned it at a different shop during a ride; they told me the crank wasn’t true, and that to fix the problem it would have to literally be pounded into submission with a mallet. Yikes. Thankfully the original shop owner finally revealed I just didn’t know how to “trim.”

Important noob point: I don’t ever recall that lesson when I bought the bike, and never saw anything about it in the owner’s manual, but many front derailleurs can be micro-adjusted on the fly to allow the chain to clear the inner and outer plates — those parallel metal bars that push it left to right — when the chain starts to rub. With my Shimano components, if the chain is on the big chainring and one of the smaller sprockets, a slight inward press of the larger (brake) lever on the left shift (listen or feel for a slight click) will push the front derailleur slightly outward, creating enough space to silence the noise. Conversely, when on the small charinring and largest sprockets (the “easiest” gears), a slight inward push of the small, inner lever will slide the derailleur to the inside to silence the chatter.

Amazing insider information that will make you ride faster than a speeding bullet and able to leap up tall hills in a single bound? Nah…just the random thoughts of a fellow noob.

Police crackdown

I missed our Sunday ride two weekends in a row while on vacation, and it turned out that the first weekend  was much more eventful than usual.

The B ride took a loop route that included some moderately challenging hills. Everything was going well, until the group reached an intersection just two miles from the finish. It’s a stoplighted intersection, with a right turn to a southbound road with a bike lane at that point.

The light was red for the bikers. They rode up to the intersection, and turned right without coming to a complete stop at the light. Next thing you know, an Austin Police car was pulling them over.

TicketPenny gets her ticket while two other club members stand by in disbelief.

The officer issued tickets to four riders for failing to come to a complete stop. Each ticket carries a fine of $217. Meanwhile, one of the riders saw three cars roll through the same red light while making a right turn onto the same street, and wondered why the officer wasn’t ticketing them, since a two-ton automobile is a greater hazard than a 20-pound bike.

The officer told the group he was issuing citations because of the grief the Austin Police Department has been getting over cyclists breaking traffic laws. Letters to the editor in the newspaper seem to be getting more vociferous lately over cyclists, but I don’t think it’s any different here than in any other city.

The recipients of the tickets agree that they did not follow the letter of the law — they did not come to a complete stop — but they also think that since no safety issue was involved, the officer should have let them off with warnings instead. Now, they’re faced with paying a large fine. Pippa, the ride leader for the week, said, “I shall go to Court just because I’m British and like a good argument.” The others are still debating whether to join her.

One benefit of the incident has been increased discussion within the club about obeying traffic laws more strictly. The B ride this past weekend was led by a club member who is a League Certified Instructor, and required stops at all lights and signs. He said there was not a single instance of a rider rolling through a stop sign, and called it an “impressive” sight.

In the end, I suppose the ticket episode will be beneficial (although those who got the tickets will have a bad taste in their mouths for some time to come) because of the new emphasis on obeying laws within the club. It seems like a tough way to learn the lesson, though. Have any readers run into similar police enforcement crackdowns in your areas?