Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Chasing Noises And Other Mechanical Misadventures

If you ride your bike, eventually, you're going to have to do some work on it or take it to your friendly local bike shop for the purpose of service or repairs. If you ride your bike a lot, it pays to learn to do minor repair and maintenance functions yourself, not so much due to the minor expense of paying the bike shop boys but for the convenience. You don't have to be a mechanical whiz to perform basic service chores and I will not even suggest any particular degree of self-sufficiency, though I do suggest that it be somewhere this side of that of my wonderful neighbor who regularly took her bike to the shop to have her tires aired up.
I'm near the other end of the range in that I'm mechanically curious and it has occurred to me that bicycles, even with STI shifters and elegant aerodynamics, are wonderfully simple machines. However, simple doesn't always mean easy and, unfortunately, my curiosity and willingness to dive in over my head do not necessarily mean that I know what the hell I'm doing. The result is that some of my learning experiences have required that I repeat a lesson or two. Perhaps you can benefit from my experiences, either by resolving your problem expeditiously with accurate diagnosis and prompt action or by resolving to go directly to your favorite bike shop at the first sign of trouble. Here are a couple of my recent adventures in bike  repair:

A few weeks ago, I noticed that my trusty Litespeed had started making a little clicking sound. At first, it was barely noticeable, but over a few days it wore me down as it clicked on every pedal stroke. I cleaned, lubed, oiled, greased and tightened everything I could think of. I checked the headset, reset my bars on the stem with assembly paste, greased and tightened every bolt I could find, tightened the lock-ring on the cassette, removed my saddle, cleaned, greased and reinstalled my seatpost, lubed the pedal cleat lock mechanism, and finally dropped the chain and checked the bottom bracket. My bike looked like new and worked perfectly, but it still clicked and the clicking was taking my joy away so I gave up and took it to Competitive Cyclist, having come to the conclusion that the bottom bracket was shot but was only making the noise under load, something I couldn't duplicate on the work stand. I'd called ahead and fortunately Adam had a little time on his hands, so he went to work. He repeated many of the steps I'd been through, riding the bike after each, then coming back to the work stand to try again. Finally, he reset the bars yet again AND greased the front dropouts where the quick-releases make contact. No more click. I had called my efforts thorough, but I had overlooked a simple solution. I was embarrassed and out a couple of six-packs of I.P.A., but noise in a carbon, ti or aluminum bike radiates throughout the frame and is damn hard to locate while riding. I'm almost sure the QR's were the source of the noise and a small dab of grease solved the problem. Simple. That is, simple once you know where to put the grease! And if you've ever watched a bike frame being built up, you've seen that just about every contact point gets some grease.

Having my on-the-bike peace returned made me very happy so, of course, I couldn't leave well-enough alone and I was overdue for a new chain. Replacing a chain is an easy task with the proper tool and is a rewarding endeavor. Well, it usually is. Immediately after replacing my chain, I had drive train noise, especially when the chain was loaded up during climbs. The bike shifted perfectly and was quiet while on the work stand but on the road that was far from the case. I have changed a few chains and simply couldn't imagine how the chain could be causing my problems, but the fact remained that things went to hell when I put on the new chain. Things came to a head on Saturday during the course of a 60 mile Log Cabin ride with my friend Heather. My chain rattled noisily and shifting had become erratic and uncertain. I was frustrated, but at least the symptoms pointed me in the right direction. I could adjust the rear derailleur perfectly, only to have it skipping gears a few moments later, which told me that either the cable was seriously sticking in the housing or that the cable was failing, breaking one strand at a time. The coincidental timing of the chain replacement had been a misdirection.

This cable was failing a strand at a time, making for really spooking shifting. The first time I had a cable fail in this manner, I was out on the road when it finally broke. If you ever break a rear cable, you can pick a gear and tie the cable off . You'll at least have big-ring/little ring gearing.

Fortunately, the solution is easy; however, do not start in on the chore of changing your cables without the proper tool to cut the cable and housing. Most folks find it's worth a trip to the bike shop.

Barrel adjusters mystify many riders. When the adjuster is screwed in, the cable housing is effectively shortened, loosening the cable. Screw out, or counterclockwise, to tighten the cable.

My friend Darwin told me very early on in my still-short riding career that if something seems to be wrong with your bike, then there's probably something wrong with your bike.  In cycling, a mechanical failure can be dangerous at worst and inconvenient at best, so it pays to be proactive and find the source of the problem. A creaking noise can indicate anything from an ungreased seat post to a frame failure.

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