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.

Garage Flats

Boy, I was excited to get out for a rare weekday afternoon ride! I hadn’t been on the bike in several days, and my body was craving for some fresh air and exercise. 

I grabbed the bike and guided it between the garage wall and my car, out to the driveway where I was going to top off the tires with air. But something didn’t quite feel right.

I looked down at the rear tire. It was flat.

That was really odd, because the last time I had been out for a ride, everything was fine. I had no inkling that the tire had been punctured, or even that it was lower at the end of the ride than it was at the start. But there it was.

I took the wheel off the bike, and took it and my flat-fixing gear into the kitchen.

Finding the leak was a problem.  I finally had to submerge the tube in the kitchen sink to discover the telltale trail of bubbles that indicated a tiny hole in the tube.

I patched the tube and got it back on the bike. My afternoon ride had to be cut short — to around only 12 miles. Better than nothing, I suppose.

But if it hadn’t been for the “garage flat,” I could have gotten in something closer to a full hour.

I’m pretty sure the garage didn’t cause the flat. Something punched the tiny hole in the tube out there — on the road. But it was in the chilly air in the garage that the tire deflated, so the garage gets the blame.

I’m hoping that now that spring is just about here, garage flats will disappear until the cold weather returns.

The Bulging Tube

My wife’s bike needed some attention. It’s an old steel hybrid, but she rides it like a road bike — sort of. Anyway, it gets a lot of use.

Lately, I’ve noticed that the tires were showing signs of wear. Heavy wear. They’re excellent tires — an “urban” model called the Session by Fyxation. It’s just that when the bike is ridden as much as hers is, the center tread wears out, and a flat spot appears all around the circumference of the tire. I rotated the back to the front and vice-versa, but then she got a puncture in the front tire. It was worn past the point of replacement. I paid a visit to the bike store where I had bought the tire.

Sure enough, none were in stock. The alternatives the sales person suggested were too race-oriented. I ordered a replacement tire and waited. About a week later, it was in.

Some tires, when they’re new, are the uncooperative sort. That was the case with this one. Those last three to five inches over the rim refuse to seat. I did what you’re not supposed to do — I used a tire lever to get the bead over the rim, checked the seating, and pumped it up.

Or at least, I tried to pump it up. Sure enough, the tire lever had punched a small hole in the tube.

I retrieved another tube from the garage and started the process again. This time, it took even longer, because I was determined to get the bead seated only by using my fingers. Finally, it was there.

Again, I tested the bead to make sure it was in properly. I pumped the tire to 30 pounds and carefully checked it again. Then I pumped it up and put it on the bike.

A few days later, my wife went for a ride in the middle of the day (She works from home — she can do that). I figured that since the tire survived its shakedown cruise, things were well.

Saturday, we decided to get in a quick morning ride before the weather turned foul Sunday morning. I got the bikes onto the driveway and pumped up the tires of my bike. Hers, I let sit. Based on my past experience, her tires wouldn’t need topping off for another week.

I stood in the driveway with my bike, watching the comings and goings at a garage sale down the block while I waited for my wife to finish getting her helmet and shoes on. Suddenly, the peace of a Saturday morning was shattered by a loud bang! At first, I thought the sound had come from somewhere else. But then, I glanced at her bike. Three inches of tire bead were outside the rim.

I brought the offending wheel and tire into the kitchen. “The ride will be delayed,” I said. “Your tire blew.”

“Oh, I was going to tell you about that,” she answered. “When I was riding the other day, I noticed the tube sticking out from under the bead.”

Since she had made it home, she didn’t consider the situation to be too serious. But I showed her the ruined tube, with a half-inch hole where it had blown out.

I retrieved another tube from the garage. This one had been patched, and when I pumped it up, air escaped from a weak seal on the patch. Another trip to the garage for another tube.

As short as her ride had been the other day (less than 10 miles), it must have had the effect of getting some of the stiffness out of the tire. The tube went in easily, and I had little trouble getting the bead over the rim this time. After two or three checks to make sure the tube was staying where it should, I pumped up the tire (a little less than normal) and we set out on our ride.

Except for being cut off twice by impatient drivers who think it’s just fine to stick their cars out into the bike lane when bikes are coming at them at 15-20 mph, the ride was uneventful. I hadn’t had to deal with a tube that peeked out from the rim in almost seven years, so this was a good reminder that those things can always happen.

But I reminded her that whenever she sees a tube sticking out from under the tire, that means there’s no ride in store, and she should have me fix it right away.

Changing a Flat

I was delighted when my friend Debra invited everyone out to ride with her and Russ south of Dripping Springs. I haven’t been out there for some time. Debra is just about recovered from foot surgery, and is easing back into riding. So I responded that I would be there.

The usual B contingent bowed out, because of injuries or out-of-town commitments. I thought I would be the only one joining them on this morning’s ride.

So I was pleased see a group of people unloading bikes when I arrived at the park on the west side of Dripping Springs at 8:15 Sunday morning. Brian, one of the B’s, had just returned from out of the country, and George and Steve, two A riders, had showed up. So had Don, who is new to the club. An eighth, Ira, was running late, but said by phone that he would catch up to us.

He did, about nine or ten miles into the ride. Ira is really fast when he wants to be, although he maintains that distance riding is what he does best. It wasn’t long before he and the other A’s were well ahead of us.

But we had agreed to meet him at the crest of a hill with a great view, and even though he joined us before that point, everyone stopped when we got there. Debra was befuddled, and wondered why we weren’t going down the hill. But we all seemed content to rest and chat a bit.

Debra anticipates the big downhill we'll soon enjoy.

Debra anticipates the big downhill we’ll soon enjoy.

A curious sound made everyone pay attention. It sounded just like air escaping from a tire. We pinpointed it to Ira’s bike.

“Yep,” he said, pinching the rear tire. “It’s dead.”

The group watches Ira work at changing his flat.

The group watches Ira work at changing his flat.

Okay, we were going to be here awhile. There are worse places to take a break. Ira fiddled with the tire a bit, trying to find the cause of the leak. And why, when he was stopped for several minutes, would it suddenly start leaking?

He narrowed it down to a faulty tire valve, and began the process of replacing the tube.

Ira works on his flat.

Ira works on his flat.

Now, Ira is old school, and prefers to use a hand pump to inflate his tires, but he had neglected to bring one on today’s ride. Don offered him a mini-pump, and Ira started pumping up the tire, but the process was slow, and another rider suggested he use a CO2 inflator.

“Here, I’ve got the kind with threads,” said one.

“I’ve got this kind, unthreaded,” said another

Debra was getting impatient. “I’ve got this, I’ve got that, you got that? I got this!” she muttered.

Ira came up with one of those hand-held containers for a cartridge, but couldn’t figure out how to get it to trigger. He was concerned his cartridges would misfire, and wanted to get it right the first time.

He tried a little chuck that screws onto the cartridge, and fires by turning it slightly. “It works!”

“Hey, I got this one to work, too,” said George, who had been messing with the plastic unit with the trigger.

Didn’t matter, Ira was satisfied with the pressure in his tire, and he mounted it back on the bike.

"I know what you're doing," Steve says. "You're getting proof that I do slow rides, too."

“I know what you’re doing,” Steve says. “You’re getting proof that I do slow rides, too.”

The odd thing about this whole adventure was, every one of the riders out today has been at it for years, and every one can change a flat in about 10 minutes. And yet, we resembled the Keystone Cops getting this one tube replaced.

And that’s probably why our Sunday B rides are such low-key events. No pressure, no sense of urgency to complete the repair and get back on the road. We flew down the hill, through a ranch, and then decided to take the short route back to the start. It would mean only about 26 miles for us, although with the hills it felt like 40. Several of us capped off the ride with Mexican food for lunch at a nearby restaurant.

“What do you think?” asked Ira, sipping his iced tea. “Was that a typical B ride?”

“More like a B-minus, I think,” I replied. The A’s did 57 miles and had several flats on messy roads. Once again, their ride broke up as some riders shot off the front, and others were unsure about the route. We finished mostly together.

“I like riding out here,” said Steve, who has been the state champion in his age group for both the time trial and the road race. “I can look at the scenery and talk with my friends. Not every ride has to be a hammerfest.”

I agree.

Patch Party

After my flat tire disappointments the last two weekends, I decided it was time to take action. So this evening, I spent some time at the kitchen table with a couple of patch kits and a pile of tire tubes.

I don’t mind patching tubes, it’s easy enough to do. And I don’t mind riding on them, either. I have in the past ridden on tubes with as many as four patches, and that held together fine. Some biking acquaintances tell me they’ve put on even more — one guy said he was happy riding on a tube with a dozen patches.

It turns out I’ve been slipping in my repair routines. I had several tubes in boxes — not their original boxes — stacked in a cabinet in the garage. I’d marked the condition of the tube on each box, so I was able to grab a new tube to replace the one that flatted on me Sunday. But I like to keep a stock of patched tubes handy. Several of the boxes indicated that their tubes needed patches. Wonder why I didn’t attend to that some time ago?

I carefully examined each tube by eyeball — then inflated them and took them over to the kitchen sink, which I had filled with water. One by one, I submerged the tubes to find the telltale trail of air bubbles that indicated a leak. Some of the leaks were so tiny, they were hard to see — even after the bubbles told me where to look. That’s what happened with the tube I used Sunday. I patched one puncture, but missed another one altogether.

I hope my efforts have paid off. I’ve got a new tube in the tire of my bike, and a freshly patched tube in the seat bag, ready for use in the future if I need it. And in that cabinet, three other patched tubes in their boxes — labeled “OK.” I hope they stay that way.

New Derailleur – Old Tire Trouble

Thanks to the generosity of Bike Noob reader Mel Hughes, I’ve got a new Shimano Ultegra rear derailleur on the bike. He shipped it out earlier this week, and my super local bike mechanic, David V., installed it Friday. I had a good Saturday morning ride with it, made better by an unplanned meetup with David D., or “my friend David” as Bike Noob readers know him.

One of the local hills I like to climb in the neighborhood has the colorful name, “Convict Hill.” Recently, I started timing my climb up it. (No, I won’t become a Stravaphile — I don’t use Strava. An old-fashioned stop watch works just fine.) Anyhow, the first time I put a watch on it, I clocked two minutes, 43 seconds. As I gradually improved, my target became 2:30, which I almost hit two weeks ago, with a 2:32. On Saturday, it was 2:27! It must be the new derailleur, right?

Because it’s a long cage derailleur, David V. warned that it might not shift as smoothly as I’ve been used to. “It’s really for a triple,” he said. And I did encounter some minor issues, like skipping between shifts. But a quarter turn of the adjustment barrel fixed that. I was looking forward to the Sunday morning club ride.

The club ride promised to be a small affair. Sunday was the day of the Livestrong Ride in Austin, and most of the club turned out for that — with several riders going for their first century. I posted on our Yahoo group that I’d be up for a ride to Creedmoor, if anyone was interested in joining me. Six others were — and they were all A riders. This was going to be interesting.

I stuck with them, courtesy of a few well-placed stoplights, for about 10 miles. At one point, we came across all the Livestrong riders as we tried to cross a city street that was part of the route. The traffic cop on the corner refused to let anyone cross the street, but he said we were welcome to turn onto the same route as Livestrong, then make a left turn at the first cross street. We did, and avoided getting caught up in the large peloton.

After our little group crossed Interstate 35 and headed for the country, the As took off. I was suddenly on my own, but had more to worry about than not keeping up with the group. My rear tire felt funny. Not funny ha-ha, but funny hmmmm. I turned into the driveway of a closed dance hall and checked my tire. It wasn’t quite flat, but well on its way.

This was a problem. When I flatted last week on a borrowed bike, I made sure to put a fresh new tube in its seatbag. But that left me with suspicious old tubes for my bag. I decided not to trust the replacement tube I brought, but instead, took out my patch kit and set to work.

Patching is an easy process, but takes more time than replacing the tube. I got ‘er done, and figured I’d save time by using a CO2 cartridge to fill the tire instead of my trusty frame pump. I’ve had bad luck through the years with cartridges. They invariably misfire. Or I misfire them. Sure enough, that happened here, too. I turned to the pump.

It took some effort, but I got the tire pumped up to an acceptable pressure, and set off again. I was headed for the convenience store in Creedmoor, where I could assess my situation. Only one dog chased me on the road to Creedmoor, but it was a particularly nasty Chihuahua (ever notice how aggressive those little guys are?) and I was glad to get by him. At the store, I took a large gulp from my water bottle, then felt the tire. It was soft.

Okay, pump it up again and set out on a return trip, rather than the loop I had planned. I had a nice tailwind behind me, and made good time to I-35 again, when I stopped at another convenience store. Sure enough, the tire had gone soft.

I threw in the towel. I could have pumped it again, then stopped to pump again in another five miles, and hope I would get home. Or, I could risk the dicey replacement tube. Or — and this is what I did — I could call my domestique to sag for me.

It’s good to be on the bike again. I like my new derailleur. But why I’m having this run of flats baffles me. I’ll let it sit for a couple of days, and then try again.

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 derailleurhanger.com. 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.