The Saga of the Broken Derailleur

Guest poster Don Blount has been dealing with a frustrating situation.

It is never comforting to show a mechanic or an experienced cyclist a broken bike part and hear them respond: “Oh wow, I have never seen that one before.”

I received that response several times when I told people of my bike’s broken front derailleur. (Click photos to enlarge.)

It did not make any unusual noises before it broke. Nor did it go out with a clang. It just went. One moment I was pedaling and attempting to shift into the big ring and there was no shift. I looked down and saw the now oddly shaped derailleur.

I could not fully assess the damage on the road, so I cut my ride short and returned home. I called a few bike shops and found one that said they had the part in stock.

The next day, Saturday, I stopped by that shop only to discover they did not have the style of derailleur I needed. My Scattante CFR Comp uses a clamp-on derailleur, like the name indicates the derailleur clamps onto the seat tube of the bike.

There is also the braze-on derailleur, which attaches by fasteners directly to the frame. They too would have to order the part or I could pay an additional $15 or so to buy an adapter to fit the braze on derailleur to my bike. Nah, I passed on that.

At home I removed the chain, removed the derailleur and cleaned my bike. After everything was reassembled I realized there was no reason I couldn’t continue to ride the bike provided the course was relatively flat as I could not shift from the small ring to the big ring.

Sunday night I ordered the replacement part ($60), upgrading from a Shimano 105 to a Shimano Ultegra. That same day, I rode 22 miles and the bike handled just fine. Until the new one is installed I will continue to get in rides as long as I remember to not attempt to shift the front rings.

The new derailleur is here.

GPS, Ride Mapping, and Competing With Yourself

I’ve made it clear in posts over the last year or so that I have settled into a style of cycling that suits me. I like to hang with the B-level riders. I’m not going to knock myself out to keep up with the strong guys on the Sunday morning club ride.

At the same time, I am an almost obsessive record keeper. I have four years’ worth of rides on Bike Journal, and can compare how I’m doing this year with how I’ve done in previous years. I can also compare how I’ve done on a favorite ride compared to how I might have ridden it a month, or six months, or a year ago.

But record keeping has gotten a lot more sophisticated over the last four years. Now, you have to have a GPS device that collects data during a ride and can be downloaded to your computer. Much more detailed information is available than had been before.

The big new player on the scene is Strava. It presents itself as an easy way to track your rides and collect all sorts of interesting numbers. Not just the ride time, average speed, maximum speed, etc. — heck, my $12 bike computer does all that — but Strava does so much more, and it displays the results in a colorful, attractive layout.

Want to see how today’s ride went? Here’s how Strava shows it to you*:

(Click on these pictures to enlarge them for easier reading.)

If you want to see how well you stack up against other people who’ve ridden the same route, or maybe just a particular segment of your route, you can do that, too:

Not to be outdone, the ride mapping site I occasionally use — Map My Ride — has added segments, too. It offers a lot of the same data as Strava, but since it only started doing that recently, it doesn’t have as many comparisons available — yet.

Now, in order to get all this information, you have to have a GPS device, from Garmin, or an iPhone or Android smartphone, or a Blackberry. Well, that counts me out. Don’t have ‘em, don’t particularly want ‘em.

But…I did a nice 19.2-mile ride after work this afternoon, and really felt good. That long weekend ride must have built up my legs, because today they were generating some power that’s not usually there. I finished with an average speed of 16.6 mph — about 1.5 mph faster than I typically do that route. Maybe if I was more diligent about comparing my times on various routes — or segments within routes — that would help me raise the level of my performance. But I’m not sure we’ll ever know, because purchasing those items is out of my budget for awhile.

And really, does all this competition that the data sets up really offer any benefits? I can’t answer that, but maybe our readers can. What do you think? Do you use Strava? Map My Ride for GPS? Like ‘em? Hate ‘em?

*Screen grabs from Strava and Map My Ride websites.

 

The LBJ 100

Spring must be here. We can tell, because it’s time for the LBJ 100 again. This would be the third year in a row Pat and I have ridden this one. It starts at the ranch of former President Lyndon B. Johnson near Stonewall, Texas, and is a fundraiser for the preservation of the ranch’s history. It’s also a scenic ride and well supported, and seems to grow in popularity each year.

The Bike Noob anticipates a good ride.

Although I had ended last year’s ride suffering from slow slogs up endless hills, and had pledged to ride only the 42-mile route this year, I felt that I was in better shape and decided to tackle the 62-mile route (100k — hence the name of the ride. There is no 100-mile version). Pat would once again do the 30-mile ride.

The forecast had looked promising all week, with temperatures at the start expected to be in the mid-50s (12C). What hadn’t been predicted was the dense fog that settled in during the early morning hours. Prognostications that it would burn off by the 9 a.m. start proved inaccurate.

Some of my fellow Circle C Ranch Cycling Club members inch their way toward the starting line, which is still partly obscured by fog.

The ride starts on the runway of the ranch, behind the house. When Johnson was president, he would fly into the ranch on a small jet, which is still housed under an awning nearby. The ranch is operated by the National Park Service. We were a little late getting to the start, and heard the air horn go off to send the 85 and 62-milers on their way while we were still halfway up the runway. I caught up with some friends from my bike club, just in time to hit the bottleneck past the former “Texas White House.” The crowd of riders was in good spirits, and accepted that they would be dismounting and walking, instead of making a brisk getaway at the start.

Cyclists file slowly past the “Texas White House” just after the start of the ride.

The road past the house is a major bottleneck. We walked our bikes. But I heard no complaints.

Once we cleared the house, and the cattle guards in front of it, things opened up a little. I fell in with my friends Rick and Penny, and we soon caught up with another familiar rider. It was Pat. How she got ahead of us was a mystery, but she must have skirted the crowd at the ranch house. We said our hi’s, passed her, and moved on. We stayed together for about the first six miles or so, but Rick gradually pulled ahead out of sight. I, in turn, got well ahead of Penny. Then I ran into a problem I’d never had before: When I shifted my hands on the handlebars, I clipped the edge of my cyclocomputer, and it fell off the bike onto the road. I stopped, put the bike on the side of the road, and walked back to it, hoping none of the oncoming riders would roll over it. None did.

The delay allowed Penny to catch up to me, and we rode together to the third rest stop — but our first of the day — in Willow City. Willow City is a small hamlet, about 24 miles out from the LBJ ranch. The roads in the area are popular with cyclists, but also with motorcycles. We saw a large group of them today. On the way out of Willow City, a Porsche passed us in the oncoming lane. Then another. And another.

“The Porsche club must be having an outing today,” I remarked to Rick, whom we had caught at the rest stop. We didn’t count them, but guessed there must have been 30 in an unbroken line, adding their presence to the crowd in Willow City.

Beautiful downtown Willow City.

Penny heads for the Willow City rest stop.

By now, the field was well strung out. We were on a 17-mile stretch of road from Willow City to the easternmost point of the ride, in Sandy. It features lots of rolling hills — none terribly difficult, but they do take their toll on riders. This is where I first ran into trouble last year. But last year, it was sunny and warm. This time, the fog still hadn’t completely lifted. It had covered my sunglasses with a film of moisture, so I took them off and rode with my regular glasses, which didn’t get wet as quickly, for some reason.

Bluebonnets along the road.

When we got to Sandy (It must have been a town once — there’s a Sandy Cemetery, but not a building to be seen now), the rest stop was a welcome sight. Recent rains have eased the drought Texas endured last year, and the crop of bluebonnets — the state wildflower — is excellent. A carpet of bluebonnets decorated the rest stop, and provided a major photo opp for many riders. There’s just one problem with the rest stop at Sandy: From here, the ride turns back west, and is more uphill than down. I knew I was in for the most challenging part of the ride.

Prickly pear and bluebonnets coexist behind the Sandy rest stop.

Left: Celebrity biking dog Oleta relaxes with a friend while her owner is off to replenish food and drink. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the man in the shot is Rick Ankrum, the author of biking blog texbiker.net.
Right: She can make the idea of drinking pickle juice palatable. I had one.

This is where I ran into trouble the last two years I did the ride. I left Sandy before the rest of my group, knowing that they’d catch me anyway. The still-cool temperature (and I hope, my better conditioning) left me feeling much better than I did at this point before. But I was in one of the lowest gears of my small ring as I hit the long uphill section.

A typical look at the rollers we faced during the ride. The chip seal roads made it hard to hold the camera steady.

Rick and Joe, the president of our club, passed me easily about four miles out from Sandy. Penny and Joe’s wife, Judy, caught me at the next rest stop when I stopped to refill my water bottles. I had neglected to do that at Sandy, and was doing a much better job of drinking regularly than I do on most rides. Judy got out in front a way, and Penny and I slogged up the endless hills.

“Ya know,” I said to Penny, “my goal coming into this ride was to do this section better than I did it the last two years. And I am — but it doesn’t feel any better.”

Then, it happened again. I moved my hand position, brushed against the cyclocomputer, and it flipped off onto the road. Once again, I had to stop and walk back to retrieve it. Penny had been a little bit ahead of me, and so didn’t know what had happened. By the time I was ready to get going again, she was out of sight.

A nice, long downhill leads into the final rest stop, and I rounded the corner into it with elan. Penny and Judy were just about to pull out when they saw me.

“Don’t wait for me,” I told them. “I’m refilling my water bottle. You two go on ahead.”

I was hoping to catch them during the last four miles of the ride, but was never able to do it. So, I think I have the dubious distinction of being the last of our club to finish. By the time I got through the food line and found a place to sit in the big tent at the finish line, most everyone else had left. Pat had pulled the car closer to the tent than where we had parked it originally, and I scarfed down the sausage wrap and potato salad and spinach salad — good food!– and we packed up to head home.

Pat had her own assessment of her ride. As she described a particularly tough hills section to me, I said it must have been only on the 30-mile route, because I didn’t recall anything like that. “That’s right,” she said. “I was riding next to a guy who had done the 62 and 42 in previous years, and he said that part of the 30-miler was tougher than anything on either of the longer ones.” She doesn’t ride a lot of hills, and was plenty sore that evening.

I’ve ridden a little more this year, and done more hill work, so I thought I was better prepared for this ride than in past years. I was, but at the end, I was still worn out. Pat drove the 60 miles home, and when we got there, I flopped on the bed and slept deeply for two hours. Then I woke up rested and refreshed. As my baseball hero, Ernie Banks, used to say — “Let’s play two!” I’m ready to go out and do another one.

The Bike Butterfly

From time to time, we’ve vented here about road hazards we encounter. Pedestrians cause me even more problems than drivers. In each case, a near miss is often followed by them sheepishly saying, “I didn’t see you.”

But that’s a universal complaint. Bike Noob reader Paul Dixon of the U.K. sent along this video, produced by inventor and cycling enthusiast Michael Wallis. Could it catch on here?

Club Kit

When I posted about my new Penn State jersey last week, I mentioned that I had run into our club ride that was departing in the afternoon after a postponement because of morning rains. I noted that most of the riders were wearing their club kit.

“People who regularly go on club rides usually wear club kit?” one commenter wrote. “Huh. Would never have occurred to me to do something like that.”

Well, I don’t know about your club, but we like the look of our club jerseys. Up until last year, a new version came out every year. The picture below shows our current look.

The name of my club is the Circle C Ranch Cycling Club (CCRCC), after the name of the neighborhood in which most of us live. The white version of our club kit came out in 2011, and we haven’t created a new one for the current year. The blue one in the middle is the 2010 version. I’m also in the 2010 version in the banner at the top of this page. The CR emblem is the logo used by the Circle C Ranch subdivision — a “circle” with the letters C and R (for Ranch). We’ve had the circle changed into a sprocket ring. We’re cyclists, after all! This picture was taken on a warm summer day, but club members can also get a load of accessories, all color-coordinated, such as shorts, tights, arm warmers, wind vests, thermal jackets, and cycling caps. Lots of our members have all these and more.

In addition, on many rides you’ll find people in older versions of our kit. After all, the jerseys don’t wear out that quickly, so they’re still wearable.

Other clubs in the Austin area have their own kit as well, such as Lake Travis Cycling, the Austin Cycling Association, Tough Cookies, Austin Flyers, and more. They’re all well represented at area group rides.

So I was wondering, in light of the comment above, do you cycle with a club that has its own kit? Do you wear it on club rides? And if so, what does it look like? I’d love it if you sent me some pictures of your own club’s designs — preferably being worn at a local event. In future weeks, I’ll revisit this topic with some more samples of what folks are wearing out on their rides. Send pictures to rainycamp AT Yahoo DOT com.

Tweaking Saddles

“Yesterday, I stopped at the new bike shop for some lube,” I said as I passed my wife while out on a morning ride. “They’ve got some saddles in there you should check out.”

“That’s OK, I feel pretty good now,” she replied.

Wow, that’s a turnaround. Just last week she was complaining that her saddle was so uncomfortable that she wanted to get a new one. Why the sudden change of heart?

Well, after she complained last week, I took a look at the saddle. It’s the original Trek gel that came with the bike when we bought it in 1992. But it hadn’t been on the bike for some years — not until I put it back on after the saddle she’d been riding failed on a New Year’s Day ride. As I suspected, there was a problem with the saddle’s set up. The nose was sticking up. I must not have tightened the set screw tight enough when I installed the saddle, and her riding had pushed down the back, and pushed the nose up.

I got out the carpenter’s level and set about correcting the problem. Just before I finished, Pat came out of the house to take a look.

“It’s perfectly level now,” I told her.

“You know, I’d like it if you lowered the nose a little bit from where it is.” she said.

I complied. “It’s half a bubble down from level,” I said.

Which brings us to the ride that started off this missive. I questioned her closely about the saddle and its feel.

“Lowering the nose made all the difference,” she said. “This feels just fine. You don’t have to change a thing.”

Once again, the big difference made by a small adjustment hit home. But I had my own version of the story. Just before that morning ride, I had once again tweaked my saddle position — edging it back ever so slightly. I’d been doing that over the last two weeks, a little bit at a time. Each time, it felt better, but each time, I thought things could improve even more. This time, it felt pretty good.

I’ve had a chance to confirm that in subsequent days. My rides on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday were all good ones, with no discomfort on the seat. This morning, I led a B ride out into the country for a 36-mile round trip. I think I’ve finally found the magic spot. The saddle stays right where it is.

It’s a game of millimeters, but if you have the patience to keep at it, eventually you’ll get it right.

Sticky Tires

I was out for a ride with Mrs. Noob the other day. We were doing a Mopac loop, which is fast becoming an unfavorite of mine after riding it lo these many years. It’s just getting too busy. Traffic whizzes by, faster than ever, and thicker than ever. The shoulder is consistently covered with grit and gravel. And yet, it’s a traditional biking route around here, so it’s something most of us do without even thinking about it.

Anyway, I was tootling along, out in front of Pat by a good margin, when I noticed something odd about my front tire. It appeared that something was flapping on the tread with every spin of the wheel. I was concerned, because it looked like a flap of tire tread. And with the poor condition of the road’s  shoulder, I wouldn’t be surprised if something had cut it. It occurred to me that rather than keep riding on a potentially dangerous tire along an  increasingly dangerous road, I’d better check it out.

I slowed to a stop, liften the front wheel off the ground, and spun it slowly. There it was — it wasn’t a flap of rubber at all, but a pebble stuck to the tread. (I use the word “tread” advisedly, because the tires I run have no tread — they’re slicks. But I mean the center of the tire where it contacts the ground.) Somehow, I had picked up a spot of road tar, and it in turned picked up a sharp-edged pebble. I flicked the pebble off the tire with my fingers, and saw that it left a depression in the rubber, but hadn’t cut into it or, more importantly, pushed all the way through it. I gave the wheel a gentle spin again, and found another pebble — smaller this time — embedded in the tire exactly opposite where I’d found the first one. Because of it’s smaller size, it hadn’t made nearly the mark on the rubber as the other one. But two in one go — yech!

By this time, Pat had caught up to me, and I told her what happened. Her tires do have a tread design, and from time to time I have used an awl to pry small stones from it. She shrugged and said, “Well, no harm done,” and pulled around me to keep riding.

When I got home, I grabbed a rag and rubbed the tar hard, trying to make it disappear. My efforts weren’t 100 percent successful, but at least I haven’t picked up anymore potential flat makers.

Riding Away A Saddle Sore

Last week, while I was not riding because of my head cold, I developed a bad saddle sore. How could that happen? Well, I assume I contracted it during that metric century I did on my birthday. After all, it was my longest ride of the year by far, and there was probably some rubbing going on down there. But I wasn’t bothered during the ride. Or after the ride. It was only as the following week wore on that I realized I had a problem. Even walking was painful.

I took a look, and sure enough, there it was — only bigger than saddle sores I’ve had in the past. Typically, they’re about the size of a pimple. But this one was el zitto supremo! I waited for it to diminish, and even got two extra days for that to happen when my Friday and Saturday rides got rained out.

On Sunday though, my wife wanted to ride. I was leery about going with the saddle sore, but I threw caution to the winds and joined her for a nice 16-miler. The ride was comfortable for me. I felt no rubbing, no soreness. Nothing like I’ve gone through in the past when I’ve ridden with saddle sores.

Back home, I found the sore had almost disappeared. Just that one ride took care of it.

I’m baffled as to why. I’m guessing that it must have popped during the ride, but I would think that that would make it even worse because rubbing would aggravate it. So I’m not entirely sure what went on, but I’m glad it did. Today’s 25-miler went off without a hitch.

I think I’ll still be careful about riding with saddle sores in the future, but at least I know now that riding with those little buggers won’t necessarily knock me off the bike for several days.