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.

I Am A Lousy Learner

Summer has hit Central Texas with a vengeance. It’s been hot, yes, but because of more rain than I’ve seen in several years, it’s been humid, too.

I was out on a club ride last weekend when suddenly my derailleur started acting up. I had trouble shifting from the big ring down to the small ring. I stopped to fiddle with it a bit, and got the problem straightened out.

But then during the past week, it cropped up again. I put the bike up on my stand and went after that derailleur. It took me two hours to do what a competent bike mechanic could do in 10-15 minutes, but the adjustments worked, and later that day I did a local 21-mile ride.

The next morning though, it was balky again. Not shifting from the big to the small ring. Again, some less than gentle ministrations and I was rolling, but this time, I decided to take it in to our club mechanic.

I explained to him about the derailleur adjustments I’d made, and how my ham-handedness probably screwed things up. He didn’t comment, but put the bike up on his stand and flicked at the front derailleur cable.

“Did you lube the pivot points?” he asked.

“Ahh, that’s about the only thing I didn’t do,” I replied.

Then the light went on. “Are they gummed up from my sweat?” I asked.

He moved the derailleur with his hand. “Looks like it,” he said. “Summer’s here, and up until about a week ago we didn’t have to worry about it too much. But now, we sweat on rides. And the front derailleur is a prime target for sweat.”

I did a face palm. We’d been through this before. But as he said, we’ve had nice conditions for our morning rides until just recently, and I hadn’t been sweating much.

He got the derailleur moving nicely between the big and small chainring. I paid him his usual pittance, and red-faced with embarrassment, loaded the bike into my car.

This morning, we did a hilly club ride and I was using all my gears constantly. The derailleur performed flawlessly.

I sweated like I was in a sauna. The first thing I did when I got home was wipe the bike down.

I’ve had this lesson before. Somehow, I just didn’t retain the information.

Letting Maintenance Slide

I was looking forward to this morning’s ride. It would be my longest since the crash last weekend, and while I knew my hip would be able to handle it, I still craved some longer than usual road time.

I went through my usual procedures prior to a ride, topped off the air in my tires, and pulled out of the driveway. And about a mile down the road, it hit me — I hadn’t lubed my chain.

bike-chain-lube-162f48Now, I’m pretty good about doing that. I try to lube it once every two weeks. But there are times when it just doesn’t get done. This time around, I think it’s been about a month.

My problem is, I’ve never really set a routine for maintenance of the bike. Often, I’ll grab a few stray minutes before the Sunday morning club ride and run the chain through a rag, then apply the lube. What I really need to do is set a time, like Saturday afternoon, where I give the bike more attention than just the chain.

Besides the chain, the bike could use a thorough washing. Last week’s wet weather left lots of grime on the wheels and tubes, and while I flicked a towel over them to get the worst of the gunk off, I can’t honestly call my bike clean right now.

Luckily, my indifferent maintenance hasn’t caused any problems yet. The bike performed well on today’s ride. Okay, sometimes the shifts weren’t as smooth as they could be. But overall, I’m satisfied with the way things are. They just can’t keep going along this way.

It looks like we’ll be having nice weather for the rest of the week. I’m sure some day I’ll set aside an hour and give my bike the kind of attention it deserves.

Back on the Bike — Sort Of

I thought I was out of the woods. After my derailleur hanger blew up last weekend, our club mechanic took a quick look at it and told me to order a new one from I did. They sent it out midweek, and the other day, I installed it on the bike.

So far, so good. It’s a simple job of screwing the new hanger in place. If you order the correct model, there’s no problem.

But when I tried to mount the derailleur to the hanger — problem.

What neither I nor the bike mechanic noticed was the extent of damage to the derailleur itself. I was less shocked to see the broken arm than I was to see that a large chunk of the jockey wheel was gone. I’m not sure if that happened when the hanger broke, or if it had been wearing away stealthily for a long time.

I hauled the bike back to the mechanic, and asked him to find a replacement and give me a call when everything was shipshape. He figured he could find one locally, and that it would cost about $100. Ouch.

But one of the benefits of being a semi-famous biking blogger surfaced the very next morning, when one of my readers emailed me to tell me he had a spare derailleur in his parts box. (I gotta get a parts box going myself.) Not only that, but he was generous enough to offer it to me gratis. I jumped at the offer. Maybe, by this time next week, I’ll be back on my own velocipede.

In the meantime, I still had to get some riding in. Saturday morning, my wife wanted to do her long ride of the week, and I took the mountain bike down from the hooks in the garage, pumped up the tires, and joined her. It’s not in the greatest shape, but it goes all right, if I can ever get used to the way the front suspension dives when I put on the brakes. I feel like I’m going to launch myself over the bars sometimes when I stop quickly.

That’s okay. On the return leg of our ride, I found myself behind two young lovelies at the stoplight just before HEB Hill. Now, this isn’t a steep hill, but it’s long enough to be a tester. I recalled being passed by mountain bikes going up the hill, and felt cocky enough to think that I might be the mountain bike doing the passing this time.

The light turned green. The young women pushed off slower than I expected, given the fact that they were a lot slimmer than I, and were on some decent road bikes — a Scott and a Bianchi. I stayed on their wheels up the hill, past the entrance to the supermarket parking lot, when I saw that I probably could pass them. But I didn’t. You’ve gotta know you’re racing to be in a race, right? They were chatting with each other while pedaling easily up the grade. I could feel myself starting to push hard just to stay with them. At the top of the hill, I crossed over to the left turn lane, and while doing so, drew even with them. They glanced my way, then kept on at their steady pace. No reason for them to care about another old fart on a bike, right?

It’s good that I have the mountain bike as a backup if I need it, but I prefer my road bike. That afternoon, I visited my friends Rick and Penny to once again borrow Rick’s titanium Airborne — the same one I had used several months ago. “The rear tire has a lot of miles on it,” Rick said. “You’ll want to keep an eye on it.” No big deal, and I was glad to have the option to ride a decent bike.

It rained Sunday morning, canceling our regular 8 a.m. club ride. But the skies cleared rapidly, and in another hour, the club president was posting a 10 a.m. start for those who didn’t mind riding on wet streets. I was among the first to show up.

The sun was shining brightly, but the streets weren’t drying as fast as they might have if the humidity hadn’t remained so high. We planned to head south to Buda, then across Interstate 35 into a rural area before heading back — perhaps 50 miles or so. As we pulled onto the bike lane along the major thoroughfare that runs past the coffee shop where we start our rides, I could see that the usual grit and gunk was heavy on the road surface after the rain. I made sure to keep the bike’s wheels pointed away from the trouble as we turned east.

But it was bound to happen. Pffffstt! I heard. “Flat!” I shouted, as I braked to a stop. The peloton zoomed ahead, but one rider, Rob, stopped along with me.

I was grateful that he did. Not because I can’t fix a flat — it’s one of the few bike maintenance tasks I can handle competently — but because my seatbag with the spare tube and the tire levers, along with my pump, was still on my own bike, which is ensconced in the bike mechanic’s garage. Rob gave me his spare tube, and the use of the mini-pump he carries. By the time things were back to normal, he was well behind the group.

“I’ll pedal like crazy and see if I can catch them,” he said. “If I can’t, well, I’ll have a nice ride of my own.”

He took off. I turned back the way I had come. It was just prudent to head home, rather than risk another flat. Anyway, I got a new personal best out of it — at about five miles, it’s the shortest club ride I’ve ever ridden.

Out of Commission

Riding Saturday morning in delightfully cool weather (Everything being relative — it was 63 degrees here [17C] — and that’s cool in Austin, Texas), I decided to push it a little bit. After an easy Mopac Loop with my wife, I dropped her off at home and continued on with my normal Saturday ride toward Convict Hill.

The cooler weather really helps. I wasn’t at all tired when I started to climb the hill (it’s not that steep, but a good test) and I pedaled harder than usual. When I reached the top, I found that I had done the climb two seconds faster than my previous best.

Buoyed by the good news, I crossed the hill to Wolf Creek Pass and took that drop down to Highway 290. Turnaround, and sprint up the hill. Well, sprint for about 25 yards. Then it was tough going as I pushed one gear higher than I have been on that hill. But I got to the top still feeling almost fresh, and less winded than I’ve been in the past. This was going to be a great ride.

I gained speed going down a residential side street and leaned hard into the corner at the bottom. Then it was a short coast to the rise at the end of the block, where I had a right turn. I shifted down two gears, saw there were no cars coming from the left, and stood on the pedals to turn onto the cross street.

Suddenly, a sharp metallic clunk sounded from the rear hub. Something clinked against my spokes. I stopped pedaling instantly, and the bike almost came to a complete halt.

In danger of tipping over in the middle of the street, I managed to clip out of the right pedal and slam my foot to the pavement. A glance back at the rear wheel revealed a sickening sight:


The derailleur hanger had snapped in two — clean break. I checked the spokes. Despite the contact, they hadn’t been harmed. But it was obvious I wasn’t going anywhere. The rear wheel wouldn’t turn.

I was only two miles from the house. I called my wife, and she grabbed the keys to the SUV and was on the scene in minutes.

Back at the house, I made an appointment by email to run the bike over to our club mechanic that evening. He took at quick look at it in his driveway, and said, “”

“What?” I exclaimed. “You’ve gotta be kidding.”

“No,” he replied, a little miffed at my disbelief. “Come here — I’ll show you.”

We went into the spare bedroom he uses as a workshop and he got online. Sure enough, there it was. He called up the make and model of my bike and showed me which hanger I should order. Not bad — $22 plus shipping.

“These replacement hangers are better than original equipment,” he said. “As you can see, the originals can break from riding. The replacements can break, but only from impact. They’re a tiny bit thicker than the originals.”

He pointed at his own bikes which hung from the walls in the room. “I’ve taken off the original hangers and put replacements on each of these,” he said. “They’re just better.”

He told me I would be able to swap out the hangers myself when the new one arrived. “It’s a five minute job,” he said. Okay, that means it’ll take me at least a half hour. I loaded my bike back into the SUV, and got his assurance that I could bring it back to him if I ran into trouble with the installation.

I ordered the replacement hanger online this morning, and got the confirmation email almost immediately. Then I sat back with another cup of coffee and watched the morning talk shows. No club ride for me today. No riding until the repair is done.

Bar Tape — A Quick and Easy Fix

Guest poster Don Blount has some suggestions about changing your bar tape.

I recently changed handlebar tape from a synthetic leather tape that looked great but provided absolutely no padding, to something not as flashy but much more comfortable. It was a quick, easy job.

Old tape on left, new on right.

Changing bar tape is an inexpensive way to give your bike a different look, from black to red, white or blue, you can accessorize your ride.

I stick with black tape. It matches my bike and doesn’t show dirt easily.

For some, taping handlebars can be frustrating. But with a little practice just about anyone can handle this job.

Here are a few quick tips I received from a bike mechanic to get a clean, professional-looking job:

Start the tape at the bottom of the bar. And instead of starting the tape with a half-inch or so hanging over the end of the bar, align the tape with the edge of bar. This will provide a clean look while eliminating the task of trying to stuff the tape in the bar end and getting the bar end plug to stay in.

Don shows how he wraps electrical tape around the base of the bar plug.

Many handlebar tapes come with a sticky backing, which helps it stay in place. If it does not have this backing, you can use a small piece of electrical tape to hold it in place.  This will be out of view when the bar is wrapped. You can also wrap pieces of electrical tape around the inside of the plug, the part that goes inside the bar, to help it stay in place.

And, with a few exceptions, remember to wrap over the bar and away from the frame, this tightens the tape naturally as you ride. Look at how you twist your hands in the drops and this will help you determine how to wrap the bar. If you turn you hands in, wrap in that direction and vice versa.

Also, use the small rectangular piece that comes with the tape to cover the bottom of the brake levers. Finally be sure to stretch the tape as you wrap but not as if you’re playing tug of war, and check your work so you don’t leave gaps.