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Making My Wife’s Gravel Bike Great with a Drivetrain Upgrade…

September 2021
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We last left this sordid tale with my wife’s gravel bike in limbo, waiting on a medium cage 9 speed Shimano Sora derailleur just as COVID-panic was just getting wound up to Eleven. It took almost a year for that derailleur to make it’s way to the shop, though I received the shifters after only a few weeks.

Fortunately, this massive delay didn’t deter me from upgrading my wife’s gravel bike to 9 speeds as I had an Ultegra road derailleur that I’d taken off my 5200. I slapped the old derailleur on my wife’s bike and viola!

At issue was the first generation 8 speed Shimano Claris system that came on her bike originally. “Junk” is an excellent term for that system. Newer generations are much improved, but that first iteration was crap. There’s nothing nice I can say about it. The newest generation of 9 speed Sora, however, is fantastic. Think Dura Ace shifting quality on a heavy component set. Sora is so much better it made sense to upgrade the system and wait for the matching derailleur – even though that old Ultegra derailleur took some finagling to get it to work on a modern bike (the B-Limit Screw needed to be about double the normal length to get the derailleur pulley wheels in the proper position over the cogs).

Shifting with that setup, even with that tired, old derailleur, was vastly improved for my wife.

My gravel bike…
My wife’s gravel bike

I picked up the new derailleur a few weeks ago and with gravel season fast approaching, it was time to finish what I’d started more than a year ago. As I’ve been tinkering on my Trek’s derailleurs for so long, installing a brand new rear derailleur was so simple, I almost chuckled when I finished fifteen minutes after retrieving the hex wrenches from my tool bag. The setup was a snap and the shifting is so crisp and sweet, my wife’s is just as good as my gravel bike, if not a little better.

After all that we’ve been through with that bike – two warrantied cranksets, a warrantied cracked rim, crappy shifting, bent chainrings from the factory… I’ve finally got that bike performing like a well-lubed super-steed.

In the end, I think that bike ended up with the right person, because had it gone to someone (married to someone) less involved, it simply would have sucked for as long as that person owned it. Instead, because my wife fell in love with the bike, caring for the thing landed in my lap. I was never going to leave well enough alone and accept the massive flaws the bike came with. While it’s still a heavy, entry-level rig, it’s a vastly better bike than when we brought it home and, when it’s all said and done, I suppose that’s a good thing. That bike might have ruined someone else’s enjoyment of the sport. It simply presented a challenge to me.


3 Comments

  1. kirkmtb says:

    I’m sure it’s the same in the road and gravel world as it is in the MTB world. New bikes are hard to find. I was shocked today, though , because it took me 3 shops before I located 27.5″ Presta valve inner tubes. I hope the future sorts itself out.
    Andrew.

  2. SC says:

    Nice bike!!!!! ENJOY!!!!

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