Sunday, January 20, 2013

There is no Zen in bicycle maintenance

It was a nice day outside, for January, so I decided I would get out there and work on my bike!

By "get out there," I mean bring the bike into the house. And by "work on" I mean distort beyond all recognition.

There are a number of things that aren't working perfectly on my bike—the rear brake rubs against the tire most of the time, I can't downshift into 5th gear without the aid of a miracle, only one side of the skirt guard is actually attached, and I have a rear rack that I've been meaning to install for months.

After reattaching the skirt guard with a twist tie and some jewelry wire in a fashion that would make any craftsman proud to not be me, failing to attach the rear rack due to my bolts being the wrong size, and dislodging clods of dried mud all over my living room floor, I finally got to the task that inspired this post: derailer adjustment.

There's a saying that goes: If it ain't broke, don't fix it, and maybe, for the sake of us hapless Sunday mechanics, it should be: If it ain't broke to the point where you can't make it any worse, don't fix it.

Adjusting the rear derailleur (the French way of saying it, if you're inclined to use the same word in another language to sound more official) should be a fairly simple task – just ask YouTube – a few twists of some screws and you're done!

Unfortunately, it was not. I started out by repeating the mistake I made the  last time I adjusted my gears—trying to tighten the cable with a socket wrench and pliers rather than using the screws and knobs that are there for just that purpose. And if I'd been thinking clearly, I should have realized that having problems shifting down into one gear out of seven was probably not indicative of a global problem that could be fixed by a simple tightening of a cable. Sure enough, after I was done, I could no longer shift into any gear. It was then that I consulted the internet and was reintroduced to those knobs and screws that could have been my friends a little earlier.

But by then it was too late, and I spent the next 20 minutes sliding back and forth on my butt on the dirt-strewn floor between my rear wheel and my shift lever, spinning the pedals with my hands and trying futilely to get all the gears to shift smoothly. I think 5th gear might be a lost cause, judging from the shiny marks of damage on its teeth, but I will happily settle with just being able to shift into and out of the others—and not either into or out of as I am now.

I'm taking a break, pouring out my sorrows on my sympathetic blog, and will soon give the bike one more shot. If I can just manage to ride it as far as campus (could be difficult with my lazy brake), I can get help at the bike shop.

In the meantime, I'd like to rant a little about the design of rear bike gears! They are just counterintuitive in every sense! Bigger gear equals less resistance? Moving the chain down on the rings shifts up in resistance? Right is not tight and left is not loose? Who ever thought this knuckle-dragger work could make your brain hurt so much?


Anonymous said...

I, as I'm sure know, am not very mechanically inclined. I do make at least minor attempts to do repairs/adjustments on my bike. The derail euros (spell check appears to be political. I leave its correction in place for humor value) are more than I like to tackle. Maybe I will try if they seem to be easily adjusted. Since my large front sprocket has always been used very little, I decided it doesn't need to be used at all and it hasn't worked for several years. Maybe this spring I'll take it to the pros. Probably not.

My sympathies to you with your bike problems. Maybe I'll bring you some hardware when we visit next month...


LORI said...

Hi Valerie!

Jim has done quite a bit of work with bikes, so , if you don't get it fixed by vacation, just bring it with you anyhow, and maybe he can help. Unfortunateley, and alas, since we are forced to the airways for our transportation now, we will be unable to bring our bikes. But I'm sure we can rent or borrow some, because a bike is pretty cool to have!