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.

Bike Maintenance Poll Results

The results are in. My goal at keeping the bike repair poll open for three days was to try to reach 100 respondents. Final n: 108.

There’s a nice split between those who do basic maintenance, such as replacing tubes and chain lubing, and those who are more sophisticated and do the work on their hubs and bottom bracket. Here are the results:

(Click to embiggen.)

This, of course, is not a scientific poll, since the respondents were not selected at random. Therefore, the results cannot be generalized beyond this poll.

The consensus seems to be that wrenching is not something to be afraid of. The tools are simple, the mechanics of a bike are straightforward, and there’s plenty of online material — especially videos — to get you going.

Just as I started the poll I ran into a dilemma that required a trip to the bike shop. I was switching out the pedals from my bike to my friend David’s steel bike, but the left side pedal on mine was stuck fast. No amount of pulling with an Allen wrench would get that pedal to budge. I explained the problem to the bike shop guy, who took out a monster pedal wrench and freed it up. In this case, it was not a matter of not knowing how to do the job, or being skittish about doing the job — it was about having the right tool for the job.

So the next maintenance chore I’ll face on my bike will be to replace the chain and rear cassette. It’s not something I need to do right away — the bike is still shifting acceptably — but I’ve gotten more use out of both than I have any right to. I’ll acquire the tools for the job, and tackle it with confidence after reading some of the comments from you folks. Thanks for your participation.

I’m planning another poll along similar but different lines in the near future.

Do You Fix Your Own Bike? (Poll)

I’ve been putzing with my bike more than usual lately. Just this evening I pulled off its pedals to move them to the steel bike my friend David lent me. If you’re a regular reader, you know that I am not Mr. Mechanic, so anything I do maintenance-wise is a departure for me.

But that got me wondering…how many of you like to mess with your bike? This time, instead of just soliciting answers in the comments, I’m going to try something new. I’ve created a poll.

I put the answers to the single poll question in ascending order from least mechanically inclined to most mechanically inclined, as I see it. Because of the way WordPress polls work, you’re limited to a single answer — so here’s what I’d like you to do: Pick the answer that covers the most involved repair or maintenance task that you do. If you adjust the limit screws on your derailleurs, pick that answer — and we’ll assume that you also lube your chain and fix your flats.

I’ll let the poll run a few days, then report back. Ready? Here goes!