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?

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.

Waited Too Long to Replace My Cassette

I’ve never been vigilant about maintenance to my house, or my car,  or my bike. That gets me into trouble from time to time. The house is okay, now that we replaced the air conditioning system a year ago. But the car sounds like it needs brake rotors. And the bike has been giving me fits.

I mentioned in the last post that I replaced the chain, but that didn’t solve shifting problems I was having. The new chain skipped just as badly as the old one, because it was having trouble with the worn teeth on my cogs.

I figured a chain might take care of the problem, because I had gone way longer without replacing it than one is supposed to. I think the chain easily had 6,000 miles on it. Most bike books say to replace it after about 1,500 miles, although posters to some online forums I’ve visited maintain that a chain could last about as long as mine did with no trouble. Cassettes are supposed to last three times as long as a chain, so most riders can replace them every year to year and a half. I’ve had mine three years. I know. I’ve been bad. But like I say, no problems until about a month ago.

Now, I ride a cassette that isn’t all that uncommon, judging by comments and emails I’ve received here at Bike Noob HQ, as well as other websites I visit. It’s an 11-28, nine speed. I need that 28-tooth cog to negotiate some of the steeper hills around here, and frankly, even it’s not enough on some of them.

So, I called around town Saturday morning looking for a replacement cassette. No one had it. This, in a city that has 33 bicycle shops, according to one source I’ve seen. (I didn’t call all of them, but probably 10 or so.) Most had 11-23s, or 12-25s. No one carried an 11-28. One shop told me they aren’t made. That would be news to Sram. I went back to my first shop, only a mile from my house, and ordered one.

Great service. It came today. When I went over to the bike shop to pick it up, there were some moments of panic because the outer cog ring — the 11 tooth — wasn’t on the cassette. It turned out it had fallen off in the shipping box with all the other items the shop had received by truck today. A few minutes later, I was on my way out the door with a shiny silver cassette standing out against my black spokes, and my black chainstays, and my black chain. I gotta be more regular at cleaning that thing.

I was all ready to ride and check out the new purchase, but the skies to the north threatened rain. I think I’ll be able to ride tomorrow afternoon. Maybe even in the morning, if I can get out before work. I can tell you one thing — a few pedal strokes were enough to show me that skipping is a thing of the past.

With the new cassette, I’ll be in a position to start targeting that century I talked about the other day. Finally, I’ll be able to apply some power to the pedals. Can’t wait.

Replacing Your Chain and Cassette

Guest poster Don Blount tackles a daunting task — and finds out it’s not so bad.

Never in my life did I think I would be using whips and chains on a Saturday evening, but I had put it off long enough. It was time.

That is, it was time to replace the chain and cassette on my bike.

And this time I was going to change the cassette myself.

I try to replace my bike chain about every 1,500 miles. The cassette is replaced annually unless it shows excessive wear or the gears begin skipping. Skipping is one sign of chain and cassette wear. Cassettes also wear down so the sprockets get that shark-teeth look.

This would be the first time I had changed a cassette. This seemed like the type of maintenance I could do, saving me both money and the time of going to the bike shop.

I was as prepared as I could be. The last time the cassette was replaced the mechanics at my LBS showed me how it was done, I also looked up information online. The entire procedure seemed simple enough.

I only needed a few tools for this job: chain whip, cassette lockring tool and socket wrench.

Removal was actually fairly simple: remove the skewer from the wheel, place the lockring there in its place. The chain of the chain whip goes over one of the sprockets to hold the cassette in place. Then use the socket wrench to loosen the cassette for removal.

Slide it off…

Old cassette (Yes, quite dirty), new cassette

Wheel after cassette removal

slide on the new cassette…and then use the lockring tool and sprocket wrench to lock it in place. Spin it to make it sure it spins freely and then put the wheel, and chain, back on the bike.

I was done within 20 minutes, and I was moving slowly, double-checking my work. I have seen bike mechanics do it in less than 5 minutes.

New cassette

I was surprised at how easy it all went. And I was pleased to add another item to the repairs and regular maintenance services I can perform on my bike.

My sick bike

One of the requirements of the MS 150 is that bikes be inspected at an MS 150-approved bike shop.  Luckily for me, the shop where I bought my bike and have it serviced is one of those.  I called, and asked to make an appointment to bring the bike in.  They said I wouldn’t need an appointment for that, so I put the bike in the car, and drove over.  

I was waited on by the only mechanic in there who didn’t have arms, neck, and other places decorated with tattoos.  (I’ve come to believe that tattoos are part of a bike mechanic’s uniform.)  He put it on the stand, and started going through the inspection, spinning the pedals, shifting through the gears.  Then he picked up one of those gizmos you use to measure chains.

“Uh oh,” he said.  “This chain is worn.  In fact, I’d call it ‘beyond worn.'”  Was it shifting OK?  Yes, I told him.  “Ugh.  That’s bad,” he grunted.  Huh?  “It means the cassette has worn along with the chain,” he said.

How many miles are on the bike?  About 3,000, I said.  “You really need to replace the chain every 1200-1500 miles,” he said.*

He went into a back room, and came out with a new chain.  “This is a Shimano 105 chain for nine speeds,” he said, “so it’ll match your drive train.”  He put on the new chain, adjusted the cable tension, and told me to do a parking lot test with it.  “Really mash down on the pedals when you shift gears,” he said.  “But be careful.  The chain might pop off.”  

I took it into the parking lot for a quick spin.  The chain didn’t pop off, but shifting was clunky.  Back in the shop, he made more adjustments.  I took it to the lot for another spin.  This time it was better, but still clunky.

“Yep, you need a new cassette,” he said.  I was surprised to see that his computer search of their inventory turned up no 12-28 nine speed Shimano 105 cassettes.  I thought it was a model in wide use.  “The 10-speeds are taking over,” he said.

He found another, a SRAM, that he said would work fine, and put it on order.  In the meantime, I can ride the bike, he said, but he again warned me about the possibility of throwing the chain.

When I first saw that the MS 150 required bike inspections (they put a little sticker on your stem to show that you’ve had it), I thought it was just another pain in the butt.  After today’s experience, I’m glad I went.  The new chain and cassette together, and the labor to install them, will come in well under $100, and I’ll have peace of mind that on a 180-mile bike ride, at least I won’t be worried about that.

*There is apparently much debate about that.  The late Sheldon Brown’s thorough discussion of chain wear doesn’t mention how often it needs to be replaced.