Out of Commission

I haven’t gotten in a lot of biking lately. Not only have I been caught up in the end of the semester crunch at the university, but my road bike has been acting up.

A week ago, I found myself unable to shift from the small chainring to the big one. I had to abandon a ride and get home, although that was the same ride where I discovered the broken spoke. I finally got the bike into the shop on Wednesday, where the mechanic listened to my shifting complaint and examined the bike. The chain is okay, since it’s fairly new. But he didn’t like the look of the big chainring.

“You’re missing the little pin that grabs the chain so it can move onto the big ring,” he said. “You’re going to need a new chainring.”

He thought he could get one into the shop the next day. But that didn’t happen, and I didn’t pick up the bike until Friday afternoon, after getting home from some Christmas shopping. Because of the lateness of the afternoon, I was unable to get the bike out for a shakedown cruise.

Saturday was mountain biking day, as we headed for a mountain bike park more than 60 miles from home. The ride was great fun, and although my friend Maggie and I took the “beginner” ride with an experienced leader, we agreed it provided plenty of challenges for us, and was just the ticket.

We figured that Sunday would be a recovery ride day on the road bikes. On the way over to the meetup place, I noticed that shifting to the big ring wasn’t as smooth as I’d like, but at least it worked. I liked the sound of a silent bike again.

We broke away from the main group several miles into the ride, and pointed ourselves toward the Veloway to do some slow laps. But as I pedaled along, I felt a snap.

The errant shift cable.

The errant shift cable.

The shift cable for the rear cassette broke away from the shifter. I was stuck in the smallest rear cog, and while I could pedal, it wasn’t going to be easy. I parted ways with Maggie and limped home.

After parking the bike in the garage, and showering and changing, I went back out to get a picture of the problem. And there it was — the rear tire had gone flat. First flat on the tire since I bought it last summer. Fixing the flat will be no problem, but the bike goes back to the mechanic this week — and I hope the shift cable can be repaired without me having to buy a whole new shifter.

In the meantime, I’m back to mountain biking for awhile.

The Kinda, Sorta Garmin Edge Review

Guest poster Jeff Hemmel is back, with a look at an item the Bike Noob has so far successfully avoided.

HemmelsRide2Judging by the stems and handlebars of an increasing number of riders, Garmin is taking over the cycling world. Or at least, the bike computer part of it. Seemingly everyone has, or wants, one of the brand’s pricey little, GPS-equipped Edge units. Ray confirms he’s about the only one in his group who doesn’t use one. Fellow guest blogger Don Blount is a longtime user. I’m not immune to the little gadget’s allure. When I got the chance to test ride an Edge 500 for myself (I have a relationship with Garmin through my real-world job in the boating industry), I jumped at the chance. Normally, that would result in a standard-issue review, but considering that by now endless other outlets have already done that job quite well, I decided to take a different approach.

Jeff's Garmin Edge. Yeah, he recently did a century. But he says he's not bragging. (Click to embiggen.)

Jeff’s Garmin Edge. Yeah, he recently did a century. But he says he’s not bragging. (Click to embiggen.)

To be blunt, I decided to look at why so many riders had happily purchased a computer that costs several hundred dollars, when far cheaper alternatives — that do the basics quite well — could be had for much less.

For my friend John Matthews, part of the answer was the unit’s multitude of features. “It goes so far beyond the standard wired or wireless bicycle computer that there really isn’t any comparison,” he says of his compact Edge 500, referencing the computer’s ability to display not only speed, time and distance, but up to 61 other pieces of data including cadence, heart rate, elevation, lap times, and grade. Don agrees. “Lots of data,” he notes, while also pointing out the Edge’s accuracy, long battery life (12-18 hours), and auto shutoff feature. “That saves me from putting my bike away, forgetting to shut it off and discovering before my next ride that it is not charged.”

John also points out the unit’s ability to be easily transferred and configured to multiple bikes, and the Edge’s extensive customization potential. On the 500, up to five separate screens can be individually configured, with as little as one — or as many as eight — information fields per page. John also found the customization process, and the unit’s overall operation, highly intuitive and “ridiculously” easy to learn.

It seems to me that an equal part of that answer, however, is that a lot of us take our riding pretty seriously. As the Edge units are ANT+ compatible, they work seamlessly with any number of external add-ons, including wireless heart rate monitors, cadence sensors, even power meters. They can also record and store all sorts of stats from multiple rides for those who like to upload the information to sites like Garmin Connect or Strava. Don notes Garmin’s online log allows him to “download my data and compute totals and compare as far back as when I first began using a Garmin.”

Stats recording was a compelling reason for another friend, Tim Robinson, who purchased a touchscreen Edge 800, a larger device that includes color maps and can display turn-by-turn directions. Tim likes to track his rides, but found fault with the current slate of smartphone apps. “I had been using MapMyRide and Strava on my cellphone, but it would die part way through a big ride,” says Tim. “I wanted something that would do the same thing, but keep my cellphone fully charged for emergencies.” As part of our local group had recently taken to heading out of town for hillier rides in preparation for Georgia’s Six Gap Century, he also wanted a unit that would show his position and a route map so he wouldn’t get lost if he got dropped from the group.

As to Edge model’s high price points, all seemed willing to make the investment. John contends his 500 is actually a great deal. “I have not found anything else that comes close to this functionality,” he says.

Initially, I thought I’d go back to my previous computer after my test period with the Edge 500 ended, but now I, too, have grown pretty attached. Why? All of the above. Like Tim, I also got frustrated with the Strava iPhone app killing my phone battery. That same app also seemed to not accurately record my elevation, a minor detail but something I like to track when I get the chance to do some serious climbing. I also like the Edge’s ability to be recharged via the same USB cable that uploads its data to my computer. My old computer’s battery indicator was woefully inaccurate, and batteries died unexpectedly several times.

What’s not to like? Don notes the somewhat flimsy, rubber O-ring mounting system. He’s opted for a stiffer mount from BarFly that also puts the computer ahead of the handlebars. I’ve tried a similar mount from K Edge that I would recommend. Don also adds the 500’s side-mounted buttons can be cumbersome to use if you’ve also got a light close by on your handlebars.

Still, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives…but is that enough to justify the expense? I guess the answer will depend on how serious you are about your cycling, how obsessive you are about your stats, and maybe just whether or not you think there’s better stuff to spend your money on.

Clearly a lot of people, however, are living on the Edge…pun intended.

Pull It Down

On our Sunday club ride, we were joined by our friend Jerry, whose bad crash and broken leg I detailed in a post earlier this year.

Although Jerry has done some riding on the tandem he shares with his wife, this was his first ride on the roads with the club since his crash. Jerry has always been one of the more cautious riders I know, which is funny, because he’s also one of the faster riders in the club. But to ease back in, he decided to ride with the B’s today. He had decked himself out in a new kit, all in hi-visibility green — including his new helmet. He would be hard to miss.

Our ride was more like an A- group. A lot of folks decided the planned A ride wasn’t to their liking. Jordan came up with a good route, so some of us scrapped our plans in order to go with him. We had some strong riders, several who just wanted to take it easy after a grueling ride Saturday.

The ride got off to an inauspicious start. Just miles in, Maggie called out that she was abandoning. She had gotten a new crankset Saturday, and it wasn’t working out well. A clicking sound that started almost immediately got worse and worse. She decided to head home, and run her bike back to the bike shop for an adjustment.

After a quick run out to the zoo area, which features a nice, fast, twisty downhill, we had to turn around and head back up the hill. The group stayed together, which helped to negotiate the traffic, that was heavier than normal this morning.

Kenny was the next one to go. He had done one of the tough rides the day before, so he peeled off to head home after about 12 miles. Six of us were left to head east, and take a leisurely ride through a nice neighborhood on its ring road — a wide, smooth thorofare with almost no traffic.

It was after we left that spot, and were headed back to the start, that we regrouped at a stop light. Laura turned around to make sure we were all there, and noticed Jerry at the back.

Not Jerry.

Not Jerry.

“What’s with your helmet, Jerry?” she asked.

We all turned around to look.

Jerry’s lime green new helmet was sitting funny, way back on his head. He wears an orange cycling cap under his helmet, but his forehead was now mostly unprotected.

“Pull it down, Jerry!” exclaimed Laura. “You look like an amateur!”

I’ve never had a problem with wearing my helmet too far back on my head. I’ve caught my wife doing it, and gently had her pull it down. If your forehead isn’t covered, an important part of your head isn’t getting the protection it needs.

Kids seem to have the biggest problem with this. Maybe it’s because their helmets are too big off the shelf anyway. Maybe they think it’s more comfortable to wear the helmet back.

Be sure to do your kids — and your riding companions — a favor if you see this problem. Just tell them to pull it down.

My New Wheel

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

It took longer than I was hoping for, but I got my new wheel last Tuesday, and have had a chance to ride it several times since then. I must say I’m very pleased.

My choice was a Mavic Open Sport. Now, this wheel has been around for awhile. It’s one of Mavic’s “Open” series of wheels, with the Open Pro probably the better-known one among cyclists. The Open Sport, like the Open Pro, is a box styled rim — old school, a lot of cyclists would say, in this day of carbon fiber and deep dish wheels. But I made the choice for several reasons.

First, I was fed up with the long wait for the wheel I had originally ordered, a Mavic Aksium. Second, since I was making the purchase from a Performance gift card, I felt obligated to buy from Performance, so I was limited to what they had in stock. Third, the Open Sport has some features I like: 32 spokes, which gives me confidence that the wheel will hold up under my Clydesdale body type, and a low profile, which makes it somewhat easier to mount tires. Finally, it’s a popular rim with a good reputation.

One side benefit was that it was less expensive than the Aksium, so I’ve got some more money on the gift card for future purchases, if I want.

So, how is it?

Smooth. I mentioned in the last post that my bike is utterly silent now. In fact, on our Sunday club ride, several members mentioned in passing that they weren’t hearing any odd noises coming from the bike. When other cyclists comment on your noisy bike, you know you’ve got problems.

We headed out on a round trip to Creedmoor, about a 35-mile jaunt. The day was warm and very humid. I set the pace from time to time, and felt (imagined?) that there was less drag on the rear wheel. When we reached our turnaround point, I had averaged 15.1 mph for the16-miles. Not bad.

Two weeks ago, on that same trip, I had been left far behind by my co-riders. I thought it might have been because I had ridden hard the day before, but now I’m not so sure. I rode hard yesterday, too, but felt that I could keep up with other B-level riders today. I think that lack of drag may have something to do with how I felt.

On the other hand, just as a clean car always run better, my new wheel and cassette could also have teamed up to make my bike run better (or is it all in my head?).

As it stands now, I have mismatched wheels on my bike, since I only bought the rear. My front is fine. But it’s one of those deep dish wheels, and looks a little odd paired with the old school rim. That’s okay. I’ve ridden mismatched wheels before, and I can’t see replacing a perfectly good wheel just so my bike is cosmetically sound.

Things are back to normal now in Bike Noob land.

Those Noisy Rear Hubs

Just as they promised, the bike shop called today to say my new cassette had come in. I took the bike over, and they mounted it right away. And they mounted it for free, “Because we like you,” said one of the clerks (They have no idea I write a blog — I’m just another customer to them). Well, I like them, too, and I think I’ll try to throw more of my business their way.

I couldn’t wait to try out the bike with its new cassette and new wheel — even though the temp outside in mid-afternoon was in the high 90s (37C), and the humidity has been higher lately than is typical around here. I told my wife I wouldn’t be gone long, and took off.

Glorious! Not that I had a new wheel and cassette on the bike, but something else entirely. It was my first ride in several months without noise coming from my rear hub. And that got me to thinking about a common noise I hear when riding with a group.

Our club peloton rolls up a short hill in unison from our starting point, but we then hit a longish, gentle downhill on the other side. As soon as we start rolling down, the group puts up a racket. As they coast downhill, about half the bikes emit a buzzing/clicking noise from their rear hubs. The others are quiet.


The noise comes from the freewheel’s spring-loaded pawls moving over the ratchet teeth, which are moving in relation to the fixed position pawls, according to one forum I checked. I thought the higher-end hubs were the source of the noise, although it appears that any price level hub can buzz. It all depends on the design. The more pawls a hub has, the louder its sound.

One Bike Noob reader, Bill in Colorado, hates that noise. He describes it as “cheap” and “tinny.” Other cyclists like it.

Depending upon your tastes, you can look to the make of wheel — and especially the hubs — the next time you’re thinking of replacing them. Some brands, like Shimano or American Classic, are known for spinning quietly. Others — notably Chris King, DT Swiss, and others — are reputed to have a louder buzz than most.

What’s the advantage of the noisy hubs? The ones with more pawls are usually designed to give more engagement points.  With more engagement points, the pedals need to be rotated a shorter distance before they initially engage the drive and start to propel the wheel forward. There is some debate over energy loss. Since there is friction between the pawls and ratchets, some riders contend that the noisy hubs are energy wasters. Others say the energy loss is negligible, if any.

So, what’s your preference? Do you like the buzz from your hub, or would you prefer to ride in silence? Send an email with your choice to rainycamp AT yahoo DOT com.

It Shouldn’t Be This Hard

As promised, I went over to the Performance store Saturday to see what could be done about my backordered wheel. I had already decided to cancel the order and substitute a different one. But when I told a sales person what I had in mind, he was doubtful.

“It was a ‘red phone’ order,” he said. “But you paid for it in the store. Usually, you don’t pay until the order ships.”

I patiently repeated to him what I wanted to do. He decided to get on the red phone himself and work it out. And he did. In minutes, I had a canceled order, a new wheel (Mavic Open Sport — I’ll write about it sometime in the future), and some money back on the gift card that I had used to purchase the wheel in the first place.

“Thanks,” I told him. “This worked out better than I expected.”

He asked me if the service people could pull the cassette off the old wheel and put it on the new one. I got the bike out of the car, and wheeled it back to the service department.

The mechanic was a cheerful, talkative fellow. I expected a lot of work backed up on a Saturday, but he took care of me immediately. He got the bike on a stand, took off the wheel, and took the cassette off in a jiffy.

“Oh, oh,” he said.

There went a perfectly good morning.

A slender pin that holds the cogs of the cassette together had worn through its hole, right at the edge of the cassette. It wouldn’t hold the cogs together anymore, and the cog it went through was ruined, anyway.

“This cassette is ruined,” he said.

“Well, okay, I’ll buy a replacement,” I said. “Nine speed, 11-28.”

He nodded, and went into the back room. I knew they wouldn’t have one in stock. If they did, that would be too simple. Some minutes later, he came out, walked past me, and went to the display case for bike components.

“I already checked,” I said. “The closest thing is a 10-speed.”

He called the other Performance store in town. Nada.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I can order one for you.”

“You know, I’d rather try my luck at other shops,” I said. “Thanks anyway.”

I put the bike back in the car and headed for Bicycle Sport Shop. In my experience, they carry a pretty extensive inventory, and I figured they would be my best bet. But the girl at the service desk came back empty-handed.

“I’ve got an 11-25,” she said.

“I need the 28, or I can’t get up hills,” I replied.

Jack and Adams’ is right across the street. A mechanic there thought they did have what I needed. But he was wrong.

Down the street a couple of blocks is Austin Tri-Cyclist. Looking at the high-end time trial bikes there, and all the highly sculpted physical specimens that made up their clientele, I knew this would be hopeless.

“A 28?” asked the clerk.

“That’s not the kind of thing you guys would carry, is it?” I asked.

“Uh, not hardly,” he said.

Okay, oh-for-four. I headed back to my neighborhood, to ATX Bikes. To their credit, they came closer than the other shops to having what I needed, with a much larger selection of cassettes. But still not the one I needed.

“We’ll order it for you,” said a mechanic. “You’ll have it Tuesday.”

“You’re on,” I said.

It appears the 9-speed cassette is headed the way of the dinosaur. I was surprised by the number of 11-speed cassettes all the shops had. Really, do that many bikers ride 11s now? When they came out, I thought they were gimmicky. Still do. But then again, I will never own a high-end bike that needs an 11-speed cassette, so what do I know?

I do know that a lot of folks run the kind of components I do. Nothing fancy, but they get the job done for us. However, it seems that when we need to get our humble gear serviced or replaced, we take a back seat to the current bling items.

In the future, I’ll try to anticipate my needs in time to get a local shop to order the necessary parts. But in the event of a catastrophic failure like the one I had Saturday, I know I’ll be cooling my heels for awhile.

In the meantime, I broke out the mountain bike for the first time in a year or so, and spent a shorter-than-usual Sunday morning ride bashing it around the neighborhood streets.

Backorder Blues

Back around Father’s Day, my wife asked me what I wanted. I didn’t have to stop and think.

“I need a new rear wheel,” I declared.

My bike mechanic had been after me to get a replacement rear wheel for awhile. Lately, his warnings have become more urgent.

“This wheel is shot,” he said.

He suggested I pop for a wheelset that was not all that pricey, but was a lot more than I wanted to spend. We kicked around some ideas for a wheel that would be more in line with my needs and my budget. When I mentioned the Mavic Aksium, he agreed it would be a good choice, and would still be an upgrade over the wheel it would replace.

It just so happened that Performance had Aksiums at a good price. My wonderful wife gave me a Performance gift card for Father’s Day loaded with enough money to cover the cost of the wheel. I headed down to our local Performance store that weekend.

Darn! They’d just sold their last one. The sales guy pointed me to their “red” phone, where I could phone in an order and bypass the oversized shipping charges. In addition, I had been emailed a coupon for 20 percent off. So I would be getting a new wheel for $151.

Except for one thing. It was backordered.

“When will it be in?” I asked the salesman on the phone.

“Don’t know yet,” he said. “We’ll email you when we get it.”

A couple of weeks later, I called again. The local Performance guys told me I’d get more up-to-date information on the order if I called their 800 number. They were right. That is, it didn’t take as long for the guy on the phone to tell me it would be in around mid-July.

In the meantime, my bike rides have been punctuated by a clicking sound from the rear hub. The wheel seems to be holding its trueness, but when I had the bike in to my mechanic on another matter, he  warned that the wheel was in dire need of replacement.

On the 17th of July, I called the 800 number again.

“Well, that’s supposed to be here in mid-July,” the lady said.

“And here we are,” I replied.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” she answered.

I’ve continued to ride on the clickety wheel. My recent rides have been shorter — nothing over 25 miles — but I’m getting antsy.

I called the 800 number again Thursday.

“Yeah, that won’t be in now until mid-August,” the guy said.

I could understand if it was a rare wheel in low demand. But an Aksium strikes me as something pretty common.

I think Performance gets another in-person visit from me this weekend. And if I can’t resolve the situation to my satisfaction, other bike shops will see me in their places, too.