Leave It To The Pros

Well, I finally got around to taking a look at my ruined brake hood. I had the replacement, I had new bar tape to install, and I had a free Sunday afternoon with no distractions.

What could go wrong?

Luckily, my wife was out of the house doing some errands and exercise classes. That meant I could roll the bike into my favorite bike repair center — the kitchen. (Shh! Don’t tell her!)

Cold glass of iced tea, repair stuff scattered on the kitchen table, I think I'm ready to tackle this.

Cold glass of iced tea, repair stuff scattered on the kitchen table, I think I’m ready to tackle this.

I quickly removed the old bar tape, and got the brake loosened. And it all went downhill from there.

When it comes to things mechanical, I think an encounter I had with my son sums it up best. About 20 years ago, I was sitting on the steps of my deck, unscrewing the housing of some kind of powered garden tool — I forget just what — when he came around the corner and saw me.

“Dad! What are you doing?” he cried.

I told him.

“Aw, Dad, you know how this is going to turn out. You’ll get it all apart, and you’ll get frustrated, and you won’t be able to get it back together, and it’ll be in worse shape than it was before you started.”

He had that figured out at a tender age. I, on the other hand, haven’t figured that out yet. And sure enough, the scenario of 20 years ago replayed itself, as I realized I would have to undo one of the brake cables from the brake assembly.

I didn’t figure that out until I had some tiny Phillips head screws lying on the kitchen table, and nowhere to go. I managed to get everything kind of back to where it was when I started.

Oh, crap.

Oh, crap.

Our club’s bike mechanic told me he’s cutting back his repair time, since he’s getting a new full-time job. But I’ll book something with him sometime this week. He’ll have fun looking over what I attempted, and how it turned out. And he’ll fix it in a fraction of the time it took me to wreck it.

Maybe I’ve finally learned my lesson: When it comes to bike mechanicals, leave it to the pros.

Brake Hoods

I’ve been riding the same road bike for more than six years now, and inevitably it’s going to show signs of wear and tear.

But one area I didn’t expect to see problems is the brake hood. These are items we take for granted. They’re a comfortable place to rest our hands during our rides, and 80 percent or more of our ride time is spent grasping these rubber sheaths.

So I was bothered awhile ago when my left brake hood started showing signs of wear. And tear. In fact, my first inkling that there was a problem was a small tear in the hood.

It's easy to see how the hood separates from the top of the brake lever. A tear is visible, too. (Click pix to enlarge.)

It’s easy to see how the hood separates from the top of the brake lever. A tear is visible, too. (Click pix to enlarge.)

Of course, it doesn’t take long for a small problem to morph into a larger one — and that’s what happened here. First, the rounded area at the top where the hood rests on top of the brake lever popped loose. It’s held in place by a small protrusion on the brake lever. On the underside of the hood is an indent that fits the protrusion perfectly. The first few times it popped off, it was easy to pull it back into place.

Trouble is, with our hot, humid summer this year the hood is subject to a lot of twisting action. Because it’s the left hood, it covers the brake lever/shifter that controls the front derailleur. When I shift into the big ring, my hand twists the hood. And with the hood coming loose from that little thing that holds it in place, it just softened and tore some more. Now, I’m at the point where I don’t even try to fasten it down, because I know it will last only until my next shift.

So, what to do? Well, replacement hoods are available. I like the ones called “Hudz.” They come in a variety of colors, and I thought it would be cool to get some blue ones, and put black bar tape on the bike — just the reverse of my current look.

But Hudz doesn’t make hoods for every model. Mine is a Tiagra shifter, and I guess that’s not high-end enough. I couldn’t find any that filled the bill. (Oh, another thing I learned during my search is that every model of shifter has just enough of a different shape that it requires its very own hood cover. You have to find the one made expressly for the type of shifter you use.)

Here they are. Now what do I do with them?

Here they are. Now what do I do with them?

That’s just a simple Internet search. I found some Tiagra brake hoods at bikeparts.com and placed an online order. They came in the mail yesterday. With no instructions.

I’ve been doing another search — this time for online videos on replacing brake hoods. There are more online that you might expect. I seem to have a complication, in that the shift cable is going to interfere with an easy replacement. It looks like I’m in for taking off the bar tape, then taking off the brake/shift assembly, mounting the hood, and putting it all back on the handlebar. I think. I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

Tone Deaf

A few days ago, I posted about a ride I took that tired me out much quicker than it should have. I thought it was because I had had too little sleep the night before. Wrong-o.

The next morning, as I rolled the bike out of the garage to put it in my car for a trip to the bike shop, I noticed the rear wheel was binding a bit. At one point in its rotation, a definite drag could be felt. I examined the brake, and saw that the right side of the rear brake rubbed the wheel at that spot. Ah ha! With that drag on the wheel, it was no wonder I was tired trying to keep up.

Later, I rolled the bike into the bike shop. “I need a new chain,” I told one of the mechanics. “And this brake is binding a little.”

“Let me see that,” said the owner of the shop, as he came out from behind the service counter. He took the bike and put it up on a stand.

“Yep, you’ve got a broken spoke,” he said.

“What?” I exclaimed. I went back to the service area.

“Yeah, here, and here — and here’s a third one,” he said. “That caused the brake problem.”

I told him about the ride.

“Well, one spoke breaks, and that puts extra tension on the others, and they can fail, too,” he said.

I told him I’d pick the bike up later in the week.

“Want me to give the drive train a good cleaning, too?” he asked. “This bike has been…uh…well used.”

Thanks. I told him to go ahead, and stewed in my car the rest of the way home. Thinking back to the ride, I remembered one spot in particular. We had slowed to look at some birds along the road, when I heard an odd sound — like a ping — come from the rear wheel. I thought it was odd, and it was a sound I’d never heard before. But I didn’t think anything of it, and we resumed our ride.

Trouble was, at that point we were still about 15 miles from home. And we still had some rollers to ride, as well as two good-sized hills.

Despite my tiredness, I managed to keep up most of the way home, until the last mile when Maggie pulled well ahead of me. I must really be tired, I thought.

Stupid me. That ping I heard was the first spoke letting go. I didn’t do anything about it, because I wasn’t curious enough to check on where such an odd sound could come from in the bike. I wonder how many spokes had broken by the time we took our rest stop with eight miles to go. I wonder how long it would have taken for the whole wheel to collapse.

Oh, and I have to give my bike a good cleaning, too.

The Squeak

chainOne of the first things a new cyclist learns is how to lube the chain. The advice often given is to lube it every month or so…or every 200 miles…or every third ride…heck, there are as many suggestions about lubing the chain as there are bikes, it seems.

I’ve adopted my own routine over the years. I lube it every two weeks. During that two-week period, I will have ridden anywhere from 100-250 miles.

That has served me well, but a few weeks ago, I was on a ride one Sunday morning when the chain started squeaking several miles into the ride.

This surprised me, because I had lubed it the previous week, so it wasn’t due for another treatment. I clenched my teeth as I saw the ride through to its finish (luckily, I was going only about 25 miles that morning), and went to work on the chain as soon as I got home.

I applied degreaser, cleaned that off, then lubed the top of the chain. Then I lubed the bottom of the chain, and let the whole works sit overnight so the lube could penetrate.

The next morning, I grabbed a rag and wiped off the excess lube. When I took the bike out on an after-work ride the next afternoon, the drivetrain was perfectly quiet.

Imagine my surprise the next weekend then, when it started squeaking again. I repeated the work of the previous weekend.

After that week in England, I couldn’t wait to get out for another ride. The Saturday spin was great, but on Sunday, the squeak returned.

I recently replaced a rather viscous wet lube I’d been using with a thin wet lube. I’m tempted to try a dry lube, but we’ve had some decent rains around here lately, and I was caught in a shower on today’s ride. So I think I’ll wait until we get into the middle of summer when our prolonged drought returns in earnest.

Beyond that, I’m baffled as to why my chain should suddenly start squeaking. Any ideas?

Sticky Shifting, Gummy Lube

Loyal Bike Noob readers might remember a post from last summer, when I complained about an inability to shift from the big chainring to the small one. The diagnosis: I sweat too much, and all that sweat dripping off my brow gummed up the pivot points on my front derailleur. My bike mechanic used some penetrating oil to free it up, and I was able to shift down again.

I noticed with the onset of cold weather that the problem is back. Nowhere near as serious as it was in the summer. Now, when I press the finger trigger on the left shifter to go from the big ring to the small one, the trigger moves, but doesn’t engage, and I don’t shift.

It’s chilly. I don’t sweat.

But, I decided to lube the pivot points again and see if it helped. Ever notice how things often work well in the garage, but once you’re out on the road, not so much? Yeah, that’s what happened here.

I’d be out on the road, and just before shifting to the small ring, I would test the trigger. If it met any resistance, I knew it would shift. Most of the time, it didn’t, and I’d have to press it again and again.

I concluded that the lube I used was just too viscous. When I got a bottle of some really light oil, my problem almost went away.

What kind of lube do you prefer? The stuff I had been using is Finish Line Wet. The stuff I switched to is Purple Extreme. I prefer the light stuff for lubing the chain, too, and not just my derailleur. I’ve got a new favorite lube.

It’s supposed to warm up to 78 (25C) here on Saturday, so this might just be a moot point, anyway.


Derailleur Hangar

Guest poster Don Blount deals with a small, but important, piece of equipment.

BlountOnBikingA derailleur hanger is a simple piece of equipment that attaches a rear derailleur to a bikes’s dropout. If it is a removable hanger, its job is to absorb impact during an accident or mechanical problem instead of damage being done to the bike’s frame.


This piece of equipment usually does not receive much attention until there is a problem with it, as happened to Ray about a year ago.

The derailleur on my five-year-old Scattante CFR Comp was the original. It had been bent a few times over the years but I had always managed to straighten it.

2But during a gear adjustment the mechanic mentioned that hanger had some cracks and should be replaced before the hanger fell apart completely.

Better the problem was found during an inspection while the bike was on a repair stand in a shop instead of on the road miles from home.

My bike is sold by Performance. I was able to find a new hanger on its website. Even better it was available in a local Performance store and cost less than $10. I bought two.

The side-by-side comparison of the new derailleur hanger on the left and old one on the right shows the cracks in the old derailleur.

The side-by-side comparison of the new derailleur hanger on the left and old one on the right shows the cracks in the old derailleur.

Replacement is also simple. Anyone somewhat handy can do it..

An Easy Adjustment

Today I did my monthly thorough bike wash. Good thing, too, since I haven’t done it in about five months.

Besides  getting all the grit and grime off my bike, I treated myself to the always relaxing task of replacing the bar tape. The new stuff, an upgrade from the stuff I usually buy, looks good and feels better. I’m anxious to get out tomorrow and see what it feels like during a longish ride.

But I also thought I would give some attention to something that’s been bothering me during the last several rides. The brake pull for the rear brake really had a lot of travel. I had to pull it almost to the handlebar before I could feel the brakes kick in. The brakes are pretty good — I replaced the pads two years ago, and they’re nowhere near worn down yet. But compared to some other bikes I’ve been on, braking didn’t feel sharp. I guess I’d just gotten used to the way they worked, and I made them work for me.

Adjusting the reach of the brake levers is easy. First, loosen the bolt that holds the brake cable.

Loosen the cable fixing bolt.

Loosen the cable fixing bolt.

Then, squeeze both sides of the brake caliper, and hold them at the distance from the wheel rim you’d like. It should be closer than it is now.

Squeeze the calipers until they almost touch the rim.

Squeeze the calipers until they almost touch the rim.

That squeeze will move the brake cable through the bolt. Tighten the bolt, while still squeezing the caliper, then let it go.

Check the brake lever travel. If it hasn’t changed enough, you can go through the steps again — the process takes less than three minutes — but I’ll bet it works out fine the first time.

Now, I have to get ready to do the thorough monthly cleaning of my wife’s bike. Let’s see — I think it’s been about a year since I’ve done that one.