Thursday, July 31, 2014

If it ain't fixed don't broke it

My various bikes have been passing through the LBS (Local Bike Store) in a steady procession over the last few weeks. First up was the Conor mountain bike I keep up in Asturias which finally succumbed to the humidity, in spite of being kept indoors. The gear cables had completely rusted up and I ended up having to have the cables and the controls replaced. But just like when you go to the doctor for a routine checkup and he finds something completely asymptomatic that you didn't know you had, it turned out that the chain had stretched so much that the the cogs on the back and the front had all worn out prematurely, so I basically had to have the whole drive chain and cranks replaced too! I couldn't help thinking about the old adage of whether an axe with a new handle and stone is still the same axe or not. Just when I was worrying whether I should have scrapped the bike entirely and bought a new one instead, the total bill turned out to be only €150 (the bike cost €500 originally). Still, that's €150 I wasn't counting on spending. The good news is that, as a result, I now have permission to keep the bike in a room upstairs which should hopefully avoid the humidity problem recurring; the chain stretching is another matter - I'm surprised, really, that I had done enough kilometers on it for it to have become so chronic. Perhaps the lower end components on the bike wear out that much more quickly.

After the cautionary tale of not replacing the chain in time, I bought a little device to measure how much give there is in a bike chain. Armed with my new gadget I set about measuring the chains of my other bikes and, sure enough, almost all of them needed replacing, some more urgently than others. Next up was the Giant (or "Gant" as my wife refers to it) road bike for which the chain measuring tool's verdict was "replace immediately". Within two seconds of handing it over to the LBS, the mechanic noticed that the head assembly was loose - thank goodness he had spotted it as the frame could have ended up becoming damaged as well as it leading to a very nasty accident if it had decided to give while descending a hill, for example. He told me off (nicely) for letting my chain accumulate so much gunk but thought that I had probably got away with not having to replace the sprockets or chain rings. He also noticed that I had the handlebars at a slightly unusual angle - having never known which bit of the curved handlebars was supposed to be horizontal, I had set them to exactly 0 degrees according to the marker. Apparently, the bit which is supposed to be horizontal is just behind the brake hoods. He was surprised that I could ride the bike comfortably like that but I guess I have got used to it being that way.

While the road bike was being tended to, I took the Giant triathlon bike for a spin. For some reason I had never paid much attention to the creaking noises it would make when I put on the torque - for example, when standing up on the pedals. I assumed it was something to do with my shoes, the cleats or the cranks, the noise being amplified by the massive bottom bracket but after the scare of the loose head assembly, I thought I should probably do something about it. When the mechanic got his hands on the bike, he noticed that the noise was in fact coming from the rear wheel which twists ever so slightly, making a very worrying sound - worrying because it clearly shouldn't have any give at all. Not quite so dangerous as a loose head assembly I guess, but potentially as expensive, as we are talking about a Zipp disc wheel here... Considering I have probably done less than 500 kilometers on that wheel, it is surprising and a bit disappointing, especially is it is out of guarantee by now. I can't remember when I first noticed that creaking noise and I feel a bit silly for not having checked it out sooner - not unlike someone who refuses to go to the doctor. I don't avoid going to the LBS because of the cost - it is a bit of a false economy if you let the problems get to a expensive extreme - but rather that bikes represent self sufficiency for me: I hate the idea of depending on some external infrastructure. I like to think that even if there were a Zombie Holocaust, I'd still have my bikes (although perhaps the triathlon one wouldn't be the most practical choice).

The mechanic was also surprised that I could tolerate the aero position on the bike. It's true that it is a very aggressive position but I'd always followed the philosophy that I could train the position so why compromise and it's true that I did manage to do a Half Ironman on the aero bars (even though the run afterwards was a bit of a disaster, but that's another story). What was interesting was that he reckoned I couldn't deliver as much power if I couldn't pull on the bars, thereby using my arms and back to propel the bike forward. Quite a few people seem to have put upward sloping aero bars on the Giant - not least of which Timo Bracht - so I have invested in some with a "ski bend". I want to avoid spending lots of money tinkering with the position especially when I am not planning to do any triathlons any time soon but, on the other hand, it is a shame to have spent so much cash on a bike that is neither comfortable nor even significantly faster than my road bike, The other advantage of raising the hands is that it is often accompanied by lowering the head, thus obtaining an even more aerodynamic position. This is perhaps an extreme, but some people - Floyd Landis to name just one - have adopted a kind of "praying mantis" position:

The only bike not to have paid a visit to the LBS yet is the Merida mountain bike which is also the bike I most use. The chain stretching measurement tool thingy didn't detect any problems but after the experience with the other bikes perhaps it is due for a check up after all. All in all, this is becoming quite expensive... A bit of a shock after the relative low cost of just replacing running shoes every now and again.

Lastly, I finally got the 50cc moped up and running, so it really has been a week of mucking about with bikes. It was just a question of buying some petrol in a canister and charging the battery (which I managed to connect the wrong way round when I installed it in the moped, blowing a couple of fuses - doh!).

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