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.

Cutting It Short

With the end of the semester rapidly approaching, I’m spending more time at the university, putting out fires that flare up regularly as students realize they haven’t done enough to get that A they so covet. And with standard time bringing about darkness earlier than before, I’m not getting in a lot of riding at the moment. So when the weekend comes, I’m ready to saddle up and hit the road.

But this past weekend didn’t pan out the way I expected. On Saturday, I set out to do about 25 miles, just on roads in my immediate area. It’s easy to rack up the miles without straying too far from home, and that would keep me close to get back for the Christmas shopping my wife had planned for the afternoon.

But as I set out Saturday morning, I had a vague sense of unease — that something wasn’t quite right. I couldn’t put my finger on it right away, and I headed for the part of my route that would take me farthest from the house.

And then I realized what it was. I had an inordinate amount of flatulence. So much so, that I finally decided to pack it in. I headed back to the house, and attended to the problem. Then I tried to figure out what I had been eating that brought this situation on. Never did figure it out — my diet over the last two days wasn’t really any different than it normally is. Oh, well. Sixteen miles still isn’t that bad — at least I got in an hour’s worth of pedaling. It would get better Sunday, right?

Sunday’s weather was similar to Saturdays: chilly and overcast, but with a dampness in the air that led me to add leg warmers to my wardrobe. There wasn’t much in the way of wind, so that was a plus. The bike seemed to be rolling all right — a little snik-snik-snik noise coming from the wheel, but that wasn’t anything important.

I climbed the nice hill on Blazyk Drive, and hit 32 mph roaring back down. Then, I clattered over the chip seal on nearby Zyle Road for a few miles. Out along State Highway 45, the newly-resurfaced shoulder made for a fast section. On the return leg, I turned into a nice residential neighborhood to take advantage of a smooth asphalt loop where the houses haven’t been built yet.

But the snik-snik-snik was getting louder, and when I glanced down at my rear wheel, my heart sank. It was out of true, and wobbling noticeably. I pulled over to the curb, got off the bike, and spun the wheel. Sure enough, it was still clearing the brake pads, but it wasn’t good. I put my spread fingers across the spokes, and immediately found a broken one. On further checking, it was the only broken spoke on the wheel, so I thought I could get the bike home if I went directly, and didn’t continue on my planned route.

The homeward-bound trip was made without incident, although I pedaled more slowly than I normally would. Instead of 30 miles plus, that I had planned for the morning, I wound up with 19. Again, not a bad ride, but that was two weekend rides in a row I had to cut short. I need to make up for lost time on the bike, especially in view of my total mileage in November that came in at less than 200.

The bike will spend some time at the mechanic’s this week, and I’ll have it overhauled in addition to the work on the wheel. By the time the really cold weather gets here, I should be ready to roll. I just hope the rain will hold off.

The Wife and the Mountain Bike

I came home from work today to find my mountain bike standing on the garage floor. This is unusual, because it normally hangs from hooks in the garage ceiling.

“Did you go for a mountain bike ride today?” I asked my wife.

“I did!” she replied.

Her own bike was over at our local bike mechanic, getting an overhaul.

“And did you take it down by yourself?” I asked. “That isn’t easy.”

“No,” she said, “it’s not.”

“How was your ride?” I asked. “Say, compared to last week, when you took it out.”

“You know, it was a lot tougher,” she said. “Those gears just didn’t want to shift.”

I’ve been meaning to run the mountain bike in to my mechanic for awhile now. It won’t shift into the lower gears on the rear, and it won’t shift from the middle ring to the small ring up front. But while she thought her trouble today was about the shifters, I suspected it was something else.

“When you took it out last week, I pumped up the tires beforehand,” I said. “I knew you would ride only on streets, so I gave you 60 pounds pressure. But I didn’t know you were riding today, and when I took the bike out Friday, I deflated the tires so I could ride the singletrack. They’ve only got about 35 pounds in them, maybe less.”

“Ah, that explains it,” she said. “When was was coming back up the hill by the supermarket, it felt like I was being pulled backward.”

I got an email from the mechanic today that her bike was ready, and after supper, I went over to pick it up. In the meantime, I dropped off the mountain bike. The next time she rides it, it’ll shift smoothly.

Although now that she has her own bike back, I’ll bet she won’t ride the mountain bike anytime soon.

But Sometimes, You Can Handle it Yourself

Huh? The headline refers to a post earlier this week, when I gave up on a repair and decided to take my bike to our club mechanic. Sure enough, he did the repair in his driveway in about five minutes. Total cost: $5 for his labor, $3 for a new brake cable. A bargain, I thought.

But guest poster Don Blount is more adventurous than I. He chimes in with his own view on doing your own work.

BlountOnBikingThe latest Bikenoob post got my attention. I changed the shifters and brakes on my bike a few weeks weeks ago. I had Shimano 105 shifters that earlier this summer a mechanic had pointed out were in need of replacement. This was not an imminent need but something that could wait until winter. And then I came across a sale at Probikekit, the Internet retailer, for Shimano 105 shifters with internal cable routing.The cost was about $160, or about 55 percent off regular price. I consulted with a bike mechanic who confirmed it was a good deal and urged me to buy them.

And I did. I also bought some bar tape.

Well, I had the shifters for about a week. The mechanic said to bring the parts and the bike by his shop and he could install. The only problem was his shop was closed on Sunday and Monday and I literally had no time to get my bike there during the week.

So I decided to take the job on myself.

I measured where the old shifters rested on the handlebars and removed one.

I started the install of its replacement and hit the same roadblock as you on how to remove one of the existing cables. I could not find this step anywhere in the instructions. So I scoured the Internet. It took me a bit but I eventually found instructions on how to remove that blasted cable — a small screw removes a panel and then after that panel is removed the old cable comes out and the new cable can be routed in.

Of course that would not be the only roadblock I encountered.

I discovered the front brake was moving oddly. It was loose. That more than likely explained a grabbing action and squealing I was getting from it. The decision to replace it was easy as it broke in my hand as I removed a fastener. Fortunately, I had an old brake set on hand and used one of those until I could get a replacement.

I have had this new set up of shifters and brakes for a few weeks now. They work fine, although when I get a chance I would like to take it to a bike shop to have my work checked.

A moral to this story would be to review the directions beforehand, decide if you can actually do the job. In my case, I had removed shifters and installed brakes. But I had never changed cables.

Also, take your time as you work and keep in mind that the Internet can be a font of information full of videos and instructions on a number of jobs.

And keep a good bike mechanic on speed dial in case you get in over your head and need a professional to finish the job.

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.