Rob's Blog Archive

May 17, 2015

It Should Work










The worst my dogs ever do is annoy me.  That actually doesn’t happen very often.  On the other hand, equipment failures can send me into a full rage.  I’ve loved my mountain bike but it has had an issue since I got it.  The rear derailleur never shifted as well as it should have.  I’ve brought it into the bike shop and, free of charge because that’s where I bought it, they tried to fix it. 

In theory, stops on the derailleur itself are supposed to keep it from shifting the chain off.  Unfortunately, after multiple adjustments, I still managed to shift the chain into the gap between the lowest gear and my rear hub bringing the bike to a quick and often catastrophic stop.  The shift failed often and I screamed.  My family is from the east coast, not the far east, and this was my cultural norm.  To the extent that very loud cursing provides catharsis that extends beyond the immediate stressor, in this case my failing derailleur, I’m probably going to be stress free for a year or two. 

Finally, after a bunch of free adjustments over two years, I figured we weren’t going to fix it and I needed a new derailleur.  Given all the other money I’ve spent---cleats and shoes ran several hundred dollars---I was certainly willing to spend good money to replace the derailleur I had with one that worked.  Discussing this with Kathy---she and Mike own the bike shop that did all the work and from which I bought the bike, she offered to install a new derailleur, free, as long as I bought it there.  The great news was that the derailleur I bought only cost $30.00 and was still a step up from the one on the bike.  It wasn’t a hard decision.
That was Tuesday.  It wasn’t until Saturday that somebody could get to the bike, but before noon, I had my bike back.  I was anxious to ride, but cool dreary weather as well as some rain kept me off of the bike until Monday.  Even then, it was breezy and overcast enough for me to wear a windbreaker over a long-sleeved thermal underwear top and be comfortable.

The route I chose was Archibald Loop.  It’s not as steep or prolonged as some of the other tours I do, but it has its hills.  It’s also more than seventeen miles on gravel and, like every other ride that begins at Silly Lake, starts with the driveway from hell.  The steep section of my driveway is where I first learned that, while climbing steep hills with a mountain bike, you have to lean a little forward.  The first shifts down and finally into granny gear were flawless.  This was looking to be a good ride.

Starting the main climb of Archibald loop, it became clear that the new derailleur was making riding a lot more fun.  With the first derailleur I had on this bike, I could use all the gears, but it was always a little more random and, particularly in the middle of the cluster, I took what the derailleur gave me.  With this new derailleur, an up click or down click always switched the single gear.  I had a real choice.

A working system of cleats was last year’s upgrade for the bike.    Since I started using them, I’ve been very impressed with the engineering that went into them.  It takes a bunch of times before clipping in is easy, but it happens.  Actively clipping out is easier, just a slight rotation and pull.  Releasing during a fall isn’t too dissimilar to what happens with downhill skis.  The pedals I have are about the same weight as the ones without clips and I could have gone for a bare clip without a pedal and had a much lighter system.  With this, I get the ability to use my legs throughout the stroke, not just while I’m pushing down. 

I’m far from mid-bike season shape, but I expect that when that happens, even though I plan to ride significantly less than two years ago, I’ll still best all my fastest times.  Clips and a good derailleur should make this pretty easy.

The ride was definitely cooler than I had hoped for.  The ups and downs on West Side Bypass, four mile climb up Archibald Loop, then ups and downs returning on West Side Bypass kept me warm.  Only during the four mile drop off of the top of Archibald did I feel at all cold. 

I turned onto my driveway.  I hit the line correctly, but the front tire still found some sand and, for the first time, simply slipped out on the turn at the bottom of the steep section.  I hit hard, the crack against the ground splitting my helmet.  Actually, that’s what’s supposed to happen---it broke, not my head.  The cleats had also done just what they were supposed to and released.  As I regained my wits, I realized I was going to walk away with a few cuts, a very slightly ripped windbreaker---its lack of damage still surprises me---and a broken helmet. 

My belief is things should work.   On my Monday ride, my new derailleur was flawless. Happily, so was my helmet.

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