That Pesky Wobble

Mrs. Noob has been complaining about her bike lately. She says it feels like she’s wobbling, especially when going downhill. This phenomenon first surfaced last month, when she was having trouble on a Saturday morning group ride. It turned out her rear hub was shot.

That was fixed by getting a new wheel. Everything should be fine now, right?

“I still feel a wobble,” she said, as we were taking an easy morning ride through the neighborhood.

“Let me ride behind you and see if I can see anything,” I said. But that rear wheel and tire looked solid to me.

She went out by herself the next day. “It’s still there,” she said, when she got back.

“Are you sure it’s the rear again?” I asked.

“No, it could be the front. But there’s definitely something there.”

I rode her bike around the block a time or two.

“The only thing wrong with this bike is that it needs new tires,” I said. She’s had the tires for three years.  They’re a bit chewed up, and the rubber has gotten soft.

I picked up new tires at the LBS two days later. After getting them mounted, I took the bike around the block again.

“It’s smooooth now,” I told her.

Last weekend, we were out on another group ride. She insisted on doing the 28-mile option, because she wants to build up her mileage. She asked me to stay with her. That meant I would be riding at the back of the group all day, even though there were sweeps from a local bike club to watch out for slower riders.

Even going slow, I found myself way out in front of her. On one section of moderate hills, the sweep and I both waited at the top for Pat to catch up.

“I don’t know why she’s that far behind,” said the sweep, an experienced rider. “With her heavy bike [a steel hybrid] she should be passing me on the downhills. But she’s actually slowing down. It turned out that she was braking on the downhills.”

Now, Pat doesn’t bomb downhills, but she’s no chicken. When she caught up to us, we asked if she was okay, and she urged us to push on.

But two or three miles later, I found myself waiting at the bottom of another long, easy downhill. This time when she caught up to me, she had a concerned look.

“This front end is wobbling like crazy,” she said. “I’m really uncomfortable going downhill. It’s not safe.”

Luckily, the ride provided sag, and we opted to stop and sag in.

The ride started and ended at Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop in downtown Austin. We took the bike right inside. The mechanic grabbed the handlebars and yanked on them a bit.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “We’ve got trouble.”

Headsets should be checked once a year. Pat's 1992 bike had never been checked.

A half hour later, everything was hunky-dory. The next day, Pat took the bike out for a ride again.

“How is it?” I asked.

“Fantastic!” she replied. “It’s like a whole new bike.”

She rolled the bike to its spot in the garage, put her helmet and shoes away, and headed for the door.

“But it’s not shifting smoothly in the middle gears,” she tossed back over her shoulder.


  1. Janice in GA says

    So was the headset loose, or was it missing bearings, or what??

    Inquiring minds… :) I find headset adjustments a little twitchy at best, but I’m riding with an old quill stem.

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