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Fit Recovery’s Noobs Guide to Cycling: How to Size and Install Your Own Chain as Demonstrated by My Wife
Fitting your own chain on your bike, as daunting as it may seem, is very simple – with the right tools.
First things first, take your old chain off. If you don’t know how to do that, fear not. I’ve got your back. Click here.
Second, clean the drivetrain; chain rings, cassette and the jockey wheels on the rear derailleur.
Do not skimp on that step! Why get a bunch of old crap stuck in your brand new chain?!
Next, on five or six attached sheets of paper towel, lay the old and new chain next to each other.
Now it gets a little tricky. See, I know how much a chain stretches over time, so laying the two next to each other, I know which link I want. My wife, being my wife, didn’t trust that so she counted the links…
Now you know my wife was right. She took all that time! So was I. Right on the money.
For the next step, I took over. Take a chain breaker and break the chain at the proper link. The following is how the chain goes into the breaker:
Then you just crank it down till the pin falls on the ground (I use a small crescent wrench for leverage 😉).
From there, all you have to do is put the new chain on. Bob is officially your uncle.
As a side note, because my wife made this mistake, be sure to thread the chain through the jockey wheels properly: Don’t loop over the metal tabs, the chain goes “under” them. Give the pedals a good spin. If you’ve looped over a tab, you’ll know by how hard it is to turn the pedals. Incidentally, this is what it should look like:
See that little tab, darn near exactly in the center of the photo? Originally my wife threaded the chain over that tab. That’s bad. Just so you know.
UPDATE: MJ Ray makes a couple of good points in the comments section below. First, what I wrote above makes sense only if you know your chain is the right length to begin with. I know mine are right so I glossed over that little nugget. There are virtually dozens of videos out there that will show you how to properly size your chain to your drivetrain. Google “youtube size bicycle chain” and you should be in business. Second, he recommended a better chain break than the one I used, one that is adjustable to any size chain out there. The one I use is a part of my emergency tool kit that I carry in my back pocket. A real, adjustable Park Tool break is absolutely a good idea.
There exists no part on a bicycle that requires more maintenance than a bike chain. The chain is also, for many, too often overlooked. I ride enough that I have to clean and lube my chain every week and a half or two at most and because I choose to keep the drivetrain so clean, I’m always looking for the best, easiest and fastest way to get it done.
What I will not do in this post is endorse one product over another, with the exception of WD-40… If you use WD-40 on the chain of your thousand dollar road bike, you’ll deserve what you get. WD-40 is awesome, awesome stuff, for a wide range of things other than bike chains.
For the longest time I used Boeshield T-9. It is an excellent dry chain lube developed by Boeing for the aerospace industry. The only detractors are longevity (200-300 miles between cleanings) and that the degreasing process is time consuming. I chose to remove the chain completely, soak it in degreaser, wipe it clean and then reinstall it. You get an exceptionally clean chain this way, and my chains always lasted between 5,000 and 6,000 miles but it was very labor intensive. Oh, and did I mention it is almost waterproof? Boeshield is awesome for wet cycling.
After a while I switched to a combination so I could get another week between cleanings. I went the week or week and a half with Boeshield and then sprayed my chain with Finish Line’s 1 Step Cleaber and Lubricant and wiped it down. That worked well but the cleanup was still just as intense…
Now I’m into super high-tech… Finish Line’s Ceramic Wet Lube, and now I’m onto something that’s fast and easy, that keeps my drivetrain ultra quiet and lasts for 350-400 miles between cleanings and I don’t have to remove the chain to clean it. I simply flip the bike upside down, remove the rear wheel, take a wet cloth with a spot of mild soap rubbed in, wrap it around the chain and turn the crank backwards… shift to the little ring up front, clean the big ring and cassette with the same towel, install the wheel, let everything dry for an hour and reapply a drop of lube to each roller… Let that sit for another couple of hours and wipe the excess off with a paper towel. Actual work time is about ten minutes instead of an hour.
Now, starting a used chain on the ceramic wet lube will result in the first few uses turns the lube black within a few miles. This eventually turns white over repeated cleaning and reapplicarions. I’m on my second application and am already noticing a cleaner looking drivetrain.
Finally, to wrap this up, chain maintenance is exceptionally important to the entire drivetrain. The cleaner everything is and the better it’s lubed, the longer the chain, cassette, derailleur jockey wheels and chain rings last… those items, for my Venge, run about $455… in other words, it is worth putting in a little effort to insure longevity. For instance, the normal life of a chain is about 2,000 miles. Mine last two to three times that before they show enough stretch to warrant a new one (I use a $50 SRAM chain). My jockey wheels are showing minimal, if any, signs of wear and my cassette and chain rings show no wear.
Keeping the chain clean and well lubed makes for a better cycling experience. I get to hear the birds, frogs and the hum of the tires rolling over the asphalt. Not my squeaky bike.
These are only a few of dozens of methods for cleaning and lubing a bike chain. Find one that works for you and be vigilant about it. You won’t be disappointed.
Last year a fellow cyclist left a comment on one of my bike maintenance posts about chain cleaning. For the last (going on) three years I’ve stuck with the tried and true chain cleaning tool and I felt that it did a nice enough job even if it wasn’t perfect… His suggestion was to completely remove the chain and submerge it for an hour or two in degreaser before wiping it clean and reinstalling it for the re-lube. This seemed like a lot of extra work so I just filed it away in case I ever needed to cart it out.
Lo and behold, Mrs. Bgddy, in a spring cleaning frenzy, has placed my chain cleaning tool God knows where – I surely couldn’t find it. Yesterday was to be our first day in the sixties since October and with the sun is shining, there was no way I was missing out on an afternoon ride before taking my daughter to swimming practice. We’re also riding this evening as the temps should be favorable yet again… and after Sunday’s ride, my chain needed a cleaning. What to do?
I have a chain tool in my tool kit but I also use a SRAM Powerlink so with a pair of pliers I don’t even need the chain tool. It was time to see if there was anything to that suggestion… I started off with an instructional video on how to remove a chain:
I removed the chain as instructed (oh my, it was easier anticipated), and dunked it in a small bowl of degreaser. While I was waiting, I took to the drive train to clean it and was quite pleased at how easy it is to clean everything with the chain off. You be the judge (and keep in mind, I’ve got more than 1,500 miles on this chain):
Once everything was clean (<ten minutes), I just let the chain sit in the degreaser for another hour, wiped it off and re-dunked it for another half an hour. I wiped it down and dried it off and it absolutely sparkled – I’ve never had a chain that clean before. I reinstalled the chain (30 seconds) and after giving it an hour to air dry on the bike, I applied some new lube, Boeshield T-9 (the best, clean chain lube on the market IMHO).
I will never use a chain cleaning tool again.
Working around the cassette was too easy without the chain on and cleaning the chain rings took seconds without having to shift the chain to get at the other ring. Also, because I didn’t degrease the chain on the bike, I didn’t have degreaser dripping all over things that I didn’t want degreased. Now, I won’t lie, using this method doesn’t take any time off of the entire process, it just makes the tasks much easier and the end result is spectacular. Previously I was never able to get my drivetrain totally clean because the chain would attract old, black lube while I was moving it around to get at all of the different sprockets clean. It was close, but taking the chain off is much less labor intensive with much better results.
Now, I realize for some, the thought of removing and reinstalling the chain to clean it might seem daunting – I can make this leap because it was for me, but trust me, once you get the hang of it the process is too easy.
Saddle height and sore hamstrings… This post covered a minor saddle height issue that turned out to be a double issue (see “The Cleats” post below).
Saddle Sore No More Parts One, Two and Three: These three posts cover upgrading the saddle that came with my road bike to a new Specialized Romin. The saddle that came with the bike seemed to be quite nice, it was padded, and felt great but as I ramped up my miles I developed a hot spot on my right sit bone. Well, I got a lesson in saddle technology and fitting – that’s right, my new saddle is sized to my butt and the position that I ride in. The first post covers the diagnosis of the pain and the fitting process – I go into great depth. The next two were simple updates.
It’s the bike maintenance time of year… Topics covered: Carbon bike/aluminum seat post, cleaning the chain, cassette and chain rings (very briefly), cleaning the melon cover (helmet), proper tire inflation and a few other fun topics.
What a difference a millimeter makes… The cleats This post examines how a millimeter or two off in the cleats can effect the ankle angle which, for me, translated into an exceptionally sore and tight hamstring. Also explored is the reason behind why I waited so long to correct the issue.
A Noob’s Guide to Cycling Shorts… Are $150 Shorts Worth It? You bet your butt they are.
Crazy, Odd, Obscure Maintenance Tip: Do you have an odd “whish, whish, whish” sound emanating from the back of your bike? This could be the tip for you
Road Bike Maintenance Day – Lube and tire direction, avoid my mistake…
A New Way to Clean A Chain and the Drivetrain: Remove the chain completely…
‘Tis The Season To Clean Your Chain, Derailleurs, Cassette, Chain Rings… A simple post on cleaning the drivetrain: How clean is clean?
A Noob’s Guide to Cleaning the Tough Stuff on a Road Bike… Quill Stem, Seat Post, Brake Cables, Brake Pads, Cassette and the Frame.
Tinkering on the Road Bike Pays Off: Just a short run-down on some of the things I tinkered with on my 5200…
Does your bike make a clunking sound when you pedal? Read this… It might help.
What Pains Me About Cycling: Saddle Height This is the first post in a series and covers saddle height.
What Pains Me About Cycling: Saddle Position, Fore/Aft Location This post discusses the proper location of the saddle.
I. Saddle Position-Fore/Aft, an Experiment: I moved my saddle back and nosed it up (men only, women nose down) to see what happens.
II. Saddle Location Experiment Pt. 2: A little more tinkering and the results
III. Saddle Location Experiment Pt. 3: SUCESS!
What Pains Me About Cycling: The Saddle This post details problems related to the saddle
What Pains Me About Cycling: The Cleats This post looks at cleat position and differences in shoes.
What Pains Me About Cycling: Bars, Hoods and Stem: This post examines possible cockpit issues.
What Pains Me About Cycling: The Shoes Differences in shoes is examined
An Amazingly Simple Bike Fix… This is a link from a blog-friend of mine whose bike developed a shifting problem. It details my shop owner’s main philosophy on owning a bike: Tinker with it and see if you can fix it. You can’t mess it up so bad that we can’t. Also, in a nutshell, this post is why I write in the first place.
There are several models of Giant bicycles under recall in Australia, for the sole mistake of not conforming to an utterly ridiculous set of regulations that cover bicycles. Interestingly – no, this one’s funny, humorously, one of those limits is a pet peeve of mine.
I hate wide handlebars on mountain bikes. I had 1-1/2″ hacked off each end of my 3700 handlebar and I hacked 2″ off each end of the Rockhopper’s myself.
Manufacturers went to wider mountain bike handlebars several years ago for balance and handling. Let me phrase that another way. Several years ago, manufacturers went to handlebars wider than 27″ because they’re safer and better for handling than narrower bars. Just fine with me, you can take length off easy enough but it’s awful tough to put it on.
Now let me connect a few dots. First, I am an exceptional cyclist, well advanced of your average cyclist, so what I find safe and comfortable will differ from that of an average bike rider. Second, the regulation began in 20… just kidding, 1978. Folks, bikes were steel back then. With the advent of aluminum and carbon fiber, technology has made that part of the regulation obsolete. Steel bars may lose integrity when they’re wider than 27″ but aluminum and carbon fiber don’t, so why not change the regulation to reflect this?
The second reason for the recall is, get this, certain Giant models don’t come with a chain guard. A chain guard!
Now, if you thought to yourself, “Self, only those beach combers have chain guards anymore!” Well, self would be right… Except the powers that be in Australia count a front derailleur as a chain guard. I kid you not.
Stupid. Maybe silly would be a better word, but that leaves a little out…
It would be amazing to me if the Australian people didn’t view the bureaucrats as contemptible, pampas ignoramuses for having, let alone enforcing, that regulation. The fact that one would count a front derailleur as a chain guard shows that bureaucrats don’t take that regulation seriously in the first place – and if it’s known to be a silly regulation by regulators, why keep it?
Perhaps I just got ahead of myself… This, from Peter Bourke, the General Manager of Bicycle Industries Australia:
“The other aspect of the recall relates [to the] proliferation of 1x drivetrains,” he continued. “Previously the front derailleur was technically considered ‘chain protection’ and with 1x it’s no longer there.”
Now, forgive me for knowing a little something about bicycles, but a saying a front derailleur offers protection to the chain, in any way, shape, or form is plain silly. The little pin they use on the right crank arm that keeps the chain from wedging between the crank arm and chain ring does more to protect the chain than a front derailleur does. [For those not in the know, the pin doesn’t protect the chain. It protects the chain ring and crank arm, but I digress]
Now, without dragging this out too far, it’s laziness. This regulation is a perfect example of the greater problem with a regulatory bureaucracy. The fact that a chain guard is still required on a bike in Australia is absolutely laughable. The fact they can’t simply cross that part of the regulation out, concerning a chain guard, is telling.
The handlebar width is a little more interesting. It’s a regulation that you can’t just scrap it because for steel bars it still might make a little bit of sense (I’m assuming, of course – I don’t know the engineering). It doesn’t make sense for carbon fiber and aluminum though – both materials, in handlebars, exploit the material’s strengths. In this case, why can’t they amend the regulation?
Steel bars 27″, aluminum bars ××”, carbon fiber bars ××”.
Unfortunately, that would take some real work. How thick do you require the aluminum tube to be? How about the diameter of the tubing and the taper? How many layers of carbon fiber?
The funny thing is, as technology changes, those requirements would change over time too!
In the end what happens is everyone throws their hands in the air and says, Meh, we can just keep the 27″ rule.
Of course, I’ll simply ignore the fact that there’s a job open at Giant Bikes of Australia – because whoever is in charge of making sure Giant bicycles sold in Australia meet regulations seriously screwed the pooch. You make a simple, clamp-on, cheap steel part that looks like a front derailleur for 1x bikes to meet the regulation but that is easily removable by the owner of the bike. The handlebar problem is even easier.
Americans aren’t immune, of course… we require reflectors come on the pedals, on each wheel, seat post and handlebar of every bike sold. I removed mine before my first ride. Same with the stupid rear wheel plastic spoke protector. Each bike sold in America must have one but I wouldn’t be caught dead leaving one on my bike because my bikes are properly cared for which negates the need entirely.
My main point is, it’s unnerving that people are actually paid to run regulatory bodies but don’t actually do the work of making sure those regulations change with technology. In the case of the Australian handlebars, they’re wider than 27″ to make the bike safer but they have to be cut down… in the name of safety. It harkens back to the UCI and bike weight, where they insist a 14.9 pound (6.8 kg) carbon fiber bike with some lead shot in the frame is safer than a 13.5 pound bike without the lead shot. At least the UCI is “thinking” about relaxing that.
Don’t think too hard, boys and girls. We wouldn’t want you to strain something.
‘Tis the season for mountain biking. Dirt roads, minimal traffic, and sadly, lots of mud…
Sadly, its lighter, faster sibling is hung up till springtime…
I brought my 29’er to the office on Tuesday morning so I could get it cleaned up for next weekend after a particularly muddy ride on Sunday. Just for fun I lowered the stem the rest of the way, just to give me a little more drop. I also rotated the handlebar back just a smidge for the same reason. ‘Tis also the season to tinker with your bicycles, because nobody ever got good at wrenching on a bike by paying someone else to do it.
As an interesting side note, that’s a Rockhopper 29’er right there. That’s my “good weather” mountain bike. It’s faster than my 26″ Trek 3700 on dirt roads by a little more than a mile an hour. On the other hand, the 26″ Trek is vastly more nimble when it comes to handling and probably a little more fun to ride because of that fact. The Rockhopper is a decent mid-range mountain bike. While many of the components come from the entry-level Rockhopper, there are upgrades in the suspension fork and the brakes. Mine has premium discs (the cheaper ones warp when they’re used till they’re hot and then get splashed with water), hydraulic brakes and a beefier fork. The Trek, on the other hand, is entry-level for the high-end mountain bikes. While it doesn’t have much in the way of features, it’s mechanically perfect. Working (if cheap) wheels, brand new shifters/cables/brake levers, a new bottom bracket….
[Fast forward to Wednesday morning]
Speaking of the 3700, I decided to bring that one in the next day to get it cleaned up for the winter trashing as well, and to remove some useless extra weight (chuckle). Take a look at this photo and tell me what’s wrong (other than the dirt):
The correct answer is: “That bike has reflectors on it and the noob detection device hasn’t been removed from behind the cassette”.
The removal of the reflectors is quite simple:
The Noob Detection Device (NDD) is a different story. Normally, I’d just show a couple of photos of me removing the cassette and taking that worthless piece of plastic off of my bike… It takes about three minutes. Unfortunately I didn’t have the right cassette nut so I had to cut the NDD off with a knife and pull it off with a pair of pliers. It took a bit more than a few minutes.
Anyway, after that I cleaned the chain, lubed it and the derailleurs and cleaned the rest of the bike and dropped the stem one more spacer:
Notice the noob detection device is not on the rear wheel anymore? If you’re offended, likely because you still have yours on your bike, the spoke protector is useless (they’re there for the attorneys). The reason they aren’t necessary is that you know how to properly adjust a rear derailleur, including the fact that once you’ve set your set screws, the likelihood they’ll need to be moved or adjusted later on down the line is nil. If the set screws are set correctly, your chain can’t over shift into the spokes. If your chain can’t over shift into the spokes, a guard to protect from the chain shifting into the spokes is? Anyone?
Useless. This is why they are noob detection devices. Now, this isn’t to say that an overly concerned cyclist can’t leave theirs on the bike – you can. Just know that all of the good cyclists are chuckling at you (whether out loud or in the privacy of their gray matter). That’s okay though, better safe than sorry, I always say. Chuckle.
Now, when it comes to the reflectors I always remove mine. I don’t ride in the dark without a headlight, a blinkie (taillight), and a reflective jacket that lights up better than any silly bicycle reflector on the market. In other words, my reflectors are useless… Even if the State Bureaucracy requires they’re sold on the bike. The Trek, my first decent bicycle, was the only bike that still had them:
However, upon further consideration, I should caution you before you remove a safety device or safety sticker from your own bike… because someone could do something stupid, get hit by a car and sue me because they read this post. So definitely don’t remove any of that bullshit if you’re stupid enough to need it. By stupid I mean:
- Not attentive to your bicycle’s maintenance
- You don’t think it’s necessary to wear reflective clothing at night
- You don’t think it’s necessary to have a headlight as bright as a star when riding at night
- Not intelligent enough to ride with a blinkie
- You actually have read all or part of one of those safety stickers they apply to the fork or chain stays and wheels (!) of a new bicycle before ripping it/them off and throwing it/them in the garbage – and you actually learned something you didn’t know.
Look, please allow me to apologize if you took offense at some of the sarcasm in this post. I was simply being funny by poking fun at the absurdity of a few things that I find silly – especially when it comes to those stupid yellow safety warning stickers!
This is my Venge the day I bought it and brought it home:
And after the new wheels (and lowering the bar/stem 15 mm and setting the saddle back about 5 mm):
Please let me get a few simple things out of the way quickly:
1. If you heard the Venge is too stiff, you heard wrong. The Comp/Elite is not too stiff. It’s indeed a stiff bike, it’s supposed to be, but the 10R carbon composite frames are nowhere near too stiff. I can’t comment on the S-Works 11R frames because I don’t have eight grand to blow on a bike. I do have 7,000 miles on my Comp (the Elite for the last two years) and I am nothing but happy with the ride. It’s got the right amount of go where you need it and the right amount of compliance where it counts.
2. The original wheels on the Comp sucked, I replaced them almost immediately (see photo above). The wheels on the Elites are a step in the right direction though, however the newer Fulcrum S-Series wheels are one step lower than the Fulcrum race wheels. The S-5 is comparable to the Race 7. The S-3 is comparable to the Race 5 (at least that is how it was explained to me by someone who spoke to Specialized).
3. A major upgrade in the Elites (2015) over the Comps (2013), the newer models come with the S-Works Aerofly handlebar. I had to upgrade mine to that bar (and oh, was it worth it). The stem was a bit of an afterthought. I didn’t need to upgrade it, it just looked cool.
For starters, my Venge is a 56 cm frame. I’m 6′ tall and would typically take a 58 but I wanted a bigger drop from the saddle to the handlebar so I could ride lower.
After somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 miles on my Venge and having to send the right side of the crankshaft back because of a fit/play issue, a new chain and two sets of tires, other than the one side problem FSA Gossamer crank I haven’t got a complaint. In fact, I figured I may as well go crazy:
No more worries about the crank, and I dropped three-quarters of a pound. The S-Works crank, again, was worth every penny. In fact, of all of the upgrades on my bike, I’m happiest with the crank.
The Comp (and now the Elite) comes with Shimano 105 components which, while heavy compared to Ultegra or Dura-Ace, are incredibly easy to dial in and have maintained their tune so well that I haven’t had to tinker with the cable adjusters in at least a year. The front dérailleur was a little touchy at first though never so bad that I couldn’t shift – it just took a bit of tinkering to get perfect.
Then there’s the frame. After more than 7000 miles, it’s still solid as the day I brought it home. I’ve had the bike over 56 mph (90 km/h) without as much as a wiggle, let alone a speed wobble. Meanwhile, the bike is exceptionally decent on imperfect roads. Much more reasonable than my 5200 – really, it’s not even close, especially once the S-Works handlebar was installed.
Now, in all fairness, when we went through the whole crank click problem, the whole bike was pretty much rebuilt from the ground up to make sure it wasn’t an easier to fix problem. All of the bearings were checked to make sure they weren’t lose or defective and then, just to make sure, were seated with Loctite. Beyond that, I take everything, except the internally routed cables, apart to clean and lube the bike. The crank is done twice a year, the steering assembly is done at least twice a season, the chain is lubed every 300 miles (I like a quiet chain), the dérailleurs are cleaned and dry-lubed with the chain and the wheels cleaned every week. In other words, I really go out of my way to care for the bike.
I enjoy it so I want it to last as long as it possibly can.
Here’s the bike as it is today (though I’m looking at new wheels for it):
I’ve removed the decals from the wheels because I busted the rear wheel on a pothole on a four day tour. The company wouldn’t sell me just one hoop so I went with a Velocity rim and laced the hub and spokes onto that hoop. I’d rather have the decals on the wheels, but I wasn’t about to buy two new wheels for a hoop (the only option I was given). Those are Blackburn carbon fiber bottle cages. The stem is an FSA carbon wrapped aluminum (only 110 grams – the carbon wrapped aluminum is lighter than a full carbon stem because it doesn’t have to be overbuilt for the stress). The handlebar is S-Works Aerofly and the computer is a simple $40 Specialized wireless Speedzone Sport. The crank is S-Works carbon fiber and the pedals are red Keo Classics. Everything else is stock, though I’ve had to put a new cassette on it and its on the third chain.
My Specialized Venge, without a doubt or regret, was worth every penny of the $5,000 I have into it. I’ve ridden it everywhere, from the mountains in Georgia and northern Michigan (lower peninsula) to the flats of southeastern Michigan. It climbs fine, it rolls fast and is plenty comfortable for anything from a jaunt around the block to a multi-day, century a day, tour.
If you’re looking at one, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s one blazing fast bike… and if you’re looking at a newer Elite, the Aerofly handlebar comes standard and the bike is $300 cheaper that what I paid for mine (and I had to cough up another $300 for the bar upgrade).
Finally, I’ve had my Venge a little over two years but only have a little more than 7,000 miles on it because it only gets the good weather. I won’t ride it in the rain or until all of the salt from the winter has been washed off the road by rain… If I had my choice, I’d own two. One Venge Pro for the good weather and the Comp for bad… That’s a little more cheddar than I can throw on a couple of bikes.
There are two tricks for installing a cable for your front derailleur.
First is getting the tension right, which isn’t all that tough… If you start out in the right gear. Before you take off the cable the front should be on the smallest chain ring. This is wrong:
This is correct:
The second trick is properly routing the cable over the derailleur bolt. Something as simple as running the cable on the wrong side of the bolt will mean your bike won’t shift. There is a little ledge, call it a finger, the cable runs over:
From there it runs under the washer:
Once you get the routing correct, it’s just a matter of pulling the end tight with a pair of needle-nose pliers and tightening the bolt.
When I did that cable, I didn’t even have to index the derailleur, it worked perfectly.
If you don’t know your derailleurs, take a closeup photo that shows how the cable runs at the bolt before you remove the old cable so you can look at it after you run the new cable.
The Noob’s Guide to Cycling: Everything A Self-Respecting Enthusiast Roadie Needs for Summer Cycling…
Look dude, or alternately dudette as the case may be, this is going to be an exceptionally expensive list of stuff, so first on the list is: A really good freakin’ job.
Next, a lot of this crap is tongue-in-cheek, so don’t take me, or yourself too seriously. I promise I won’t take myself or, if you complain, you seriously. Please remember, the key word in the title is “Enthusiast“.
Finally, I have a phenomenal job and it still took me four years to get my stuff lined up perfectly and it takes many cyclists up to a decade to get their full kit compiled. The main thing to get right is this: show up and ride first, worry about the rest of the crap when you can. Everyone looks like a noob at first. Those who would hold being a noob against a person probably aren’t worth befriending anyway.
The “A” bike is the good-weather bike, the sunshine bike. The nice bike, the one that you keep in the marital bedroom. Preferably a carbon fiber frame, but we all gotta start somewhere (my first race bike was an aluminum Cannondale).
The “Rain Bike”:
Look, the “A” bike is probably worth more than the car you drive (or close to it). You don’t want to ride that bike in the rain! While my rain bike is carbon, this certainly not a requirement by any stretch. We ride in any condition except snow (and maybe lightning – this is where that carbon fiber rain bike comes in handy by the way…make sure you’re with someone on an aluminum bike if you get caught out and it starts rumbling*), you don’t want to mess up the good bike with nasty weather!
The Mountain Bike:
The mountain bike should, whenever possible, match the “A”bike. It’s like that bumper sticker on your Chevy Sonic that says “my other car is a Ferrari” – except your other bike is the equivalent of a Ferrari. Great for a cruise with the family (especially if the rest of the family is on road bikes – you get a good workout in) or to play in the dirt. Let’s face it, if you’re into bikes, you’re a kid at heart and most kids love to play in the dirt. Don’t fight it.
The Club Kit (or two):
Bibs, not shorts (trust me, they’re awesome). Doesn’t matter if the kit matches the bike but it doesn’t hurt. The club kit should not (ever) be confused with a current pro or National Champion kit. You are not a pro, nor the National Champion. No matter how awesome you think you look, you are being laughed at. Sorry.
The kit is tricky. I’ve got three complete sets, other than my two sets of club kit, that match my “A” bike and two that match my rain bike. I’ll wear the club kit and the “A” bike kit on the rain bike but not the other way around (the rain bike kit on the “A” bike). However you want to look at it, a properly matched kit looks badass. It just is what it is.Ladies, Cleavage is COOL:
As is so amply demonstrated by my lovely wife, letting the girls get some air is awesome.
Socks, believe it or not, are exceptionally tricky. For men, there are two acceptable lengths: 3″ or 5″ above the ankle but you shall pick one or the other except for wool cold-weather socks. Women, though they should stick to the 3″/5″ rule, can get away with the ankle socks, because they have the cleavage, and, well, see the previous point. The reason for choosing one or the other, of course, is so your tan lines come out perfectly. We’ll get to the tan lines in a minute, because they are important. However, socks are where you can make your anti-establishment statement… No fashion rules currently exist for coordination of socks.
One for each bike. From left to right: Mountain bike helmet, rain bike helmet, “A” bike helmet. Not ironically, they rank left to right in price and sexiness (low to high) as well. I don’t know how to put this more simply: They match the bike they’re intended to be used with.
One for each bike. Also, the road helmets can be worn on the mountain bike but not the other way around. And visors must be removed for the road. The operative word in that last sentence is “must”.
I won’t bother with a photo for the shades (see above) but there is only one rule when it comes to choosing your cycling shades: Aviators are for Top Gun pilots, not cyclists. Don’t. Frickin’. Do. It. Both the rain bike and my “A” bike have white for the tertiary color so I always go with that. For the shades, because they’re worn every time I ride, no matter what (some form of glasses, whether shades or clear, are a must for cycling – I place more importance on protecting my eyes than my melon. I won’t get on a bike without eye protection). Sunglasses are a matter of function as well as fashion though. Improperly fitting shades end up with sweat dripping all over the lenses. I’ve found that a pair that fits tight over the eyebrows usually works best at channeling the sweat away from the line-of-sight so if you get drips on the lenses at all, it’ll be away from your direct line of sight. Also, because we are awesome and aerodynamic, a pair of glasses that have a high bridge, where the frame won’t block my sight when I’m down in the drops, work best. Getting everything right is not easy.
The saddlebag is a source of contention as far as I’m concerned. Some bikes look just fine with a saddle bag. I have four saddlebags. It took that many to finally embrace the fact that my “A” bike looks like a Ballchinian with a saddlebag on it, no matter how sleek the posterior man satchel is. I was seriously bummed out about it too – never mind that I blew almost a hundred bucks on all of those saddle bags. In many circles, saddlebags are more than acceptable. If you’re afraid that you too have a Ballchinian bike, try the Serfas Jersey Accessory Bag that fits perfectly in your back pocket. I love mine. Keeps my stuff dry, even when I’m drenched from grinding out an awesome 105 miler.
Folks, there are two brands of the dozens, acceptable for the cycling enthusiast. Look Keo’s or Speedplay. The only things missing from this truism are the words, “Thou Shalt…” Don’t bother going to the comment section. Thou shalt not…
The Tan Lines:
The tan lines shall be embraced and cultivated, grown to maturity over a lengthy season. Farmers invented them. Cyclists make them badass. Enough said.
Cash, card, license (in case a cop pulls you over for speeding, you don’t want him to get your name wrong on the ticket – you’ve gotta frame it, after all), tube, air/CO2, pump, tire levers… One should always have the means to successfully change a flat or buy a Coke and a Payday** at a convenience store.
As an aside, a note to all Swartz Creek, Flint, Flint Twp, Byron, Cohactah, Howell, Brighton, Lansing, Durand, St. Charles, Grand Blanc, Lainsburg, Gaines, Okemos, Genesee or Livingston County sheriff’s deputies or Michigan State Police Officers: If you clock me speeding, I want the ticket. I’ll pay it without a fight, just to be able to frame it. Just do me a favor and exaggerate it a little bit. 40 in a 35 would be great. Better yet, to the officers in Tiger, Georgia… Be on the lookout for an astonishingly handsome cyclist on a red on black Venge… I’ll be going down the hills at 50-55 mph and the speed limit is 45. I ride between the hours of 8 and 10 am and I’ll be down there in a few weeks. Thanks in advance.
A floor pump is an absolute must. Frame pumps are acceptable on the rain bike but not the race bike (no exceptions, it’s always all about the bike, dude). A decent CO2 canister and pump take up less space than a folded inner tube. A Ballchinian bike is bad enough, without the twig.
As enthusiasts, we learn how to keep our bikes operating optimally. From truing a wheel to cleaning out the steering assembly to replacing a cassette, we clean and lube it all. I have; Master Link Chain Pliers (Park Tool MLP 1.2), two spoke wrenches (one made specifically for the road bike spokes and a universal spoke wrench), aero (bladed) spoke wrench to straighten aero spokes when you tighten them (Park Tool BSH-4), wrenches, a full metric/standard Allen wrench set (Home Depot ?), two compact Allen wrench sets (DeWalt), a rubber mallet, pedal wrench (so I can take off those stupid platform pedals and put on a real set of pedals). A few adjustable wrenches (various sizes), a hack saw (you never know, I’ve used mine twice), a cassette nut and chain whip, and the capper…the big dog: The Bontrager 4mm 5Nm Preset Torque Wrench. I use mine to torque down my: Seat post, stem and handlebar… It’s perfect and fast. No worrying about over-torqueing the carbon fiber parts.
The Cleaning Tools:
I’ve got brushes galore. Shop towels (not the crappy looped one’s, the good, soft shop cloths – the rough, looped towels catch in the cassette and chain ring teeth). A good degreaser. Brillianize carbon fiber frame polish.
The Bike Stand:
You can either drop a couple hundred bucks on a decent stand or build one (as I did) for eight bucks and an hour or two’s time. My wife, kids and I have nine bikes that I have to maintain. A stand turns a thirty minute ordeal into a two-minute production line gig.
*The bit about riding with someone on an aluminum bike in a lightning storm is a frickin’ joke. Riding in a lightning storm is not advisable.
**Coca-Cola and Payday’s are supreme cycling fare. Don’t believe me? On your next century, stop at a convenience store and try them. Manna from Heaven. The Payday is intriguing because it has everything we need – a good jolt of sugar and slow-burning energy in the peanuts – and nothing that melts. They are cycling food (ERG All Natural Energy Bars are also stellar, at between 400 and 500 calories each).
My rain bike, a 1999 Trek 5200 T, is a fantastic bike. The only thing wrong with it (besides needing a new paint job really bad) is that it’s not my Venge. Other than that, it’s been a reliable steed and it protects my Venge from wet weather. After two or three rather long slogs in some nasty conditions I brought it into the office to clean it up and prep it for my next gnarly day. Not much, wipe down the frame, clean and lube the cable guides under the bottom bracket, clean the brakes and the wheels, clean the cassette… You know, simple maintenance stuff. Nothing to difficult.
After substantially completing the cleanup on the bike, I moved to the wheels to true any minor wobbles. The front wheel took about three minutes and I moved to the back. Straight as an arrow. I pinched the brake track on the rim to stop it spinning as I was going to finishing cleaning the chain to reinstall it. I felt a bump, just a small one on one side of the wheel. Over the last two rides it had picked up a weird thud on heavy braking at speed so I guessed my fingers had just gone over the culprit. I spun the wheel again and pinched the center mount brakes tight so they were just barely touching the rim and waited for the thud… Nothing. I squeezed a little harder and “thud”… I let the wheel go around again and found the source area and marked it with a magic marker:
Not much to see right? This is what it looked like from the top (and why I never noticed anything)… Let’s look at that from a different angle:
Look at the crack in that wheel! Also, notice no damage to the leading edge of the rim… In other words, I didn’t run over something to cause this. I cleaned the chain but didn’t even bother putting it back on because I knew I’d be changing wheels once I got home.
Fortunately I had the original wheels from the Venge on my Cannondale which hasn’t seen the pavement in probably seven or eight months. The rain bike is more important so I took to removing the 7 sp. cassette from the DT Swiss wheels and installing the 5200’s 9 sp. cassette on it… It was only then that I noticed this on the other side of the wheel, about eight inches from the crack I’d marked:
So this morning, rather than use the old tires that were on the Cannondale (the original tires from 1991 they’re still in excellent shape but lack decent flat protection), I loaded the bike into the truck and brought the old wheels to the office and took ten minutes to change everything out before I started work at 7 (yes, four tires removed and reinstall two plus cleaned the cobwebs and dust off of the old wheels, in ten minutes)…
Also, those Rolf Vector Comps are, from what I understand, the best wheels Rolf has ever made because that was the last year before they got into the weight game… Those wheels have exceptionally thick side walls. They’re said to be “bomb proof”. Keep in mind, those wheels are sixteen years-old and I’ve got more than 10,000 miles on them myself in just three of those years. The brake track had actually started to dish a little bit because of the intense braking those things had seen over the years. While it may be odd for a wheel to fail like that, or maybe rare, those wheels have been through a lot of tough miles. I’m not surprised at all. Point is, watch your wheels. If you feel a weird pulsation in your brakes that you can’t pinpoint to a loose spoke or a truing issue, check your brake surface for cracks like those shown in the pictures – and not just standing above the wheels as I did after two rides… Obviously, the view from down below is a lot worse. It’s scary to think what could have happened if I’d had that bike in Georgia on those wheels, cruising down a mountain road at 50 mph and they failed the rest of the way…
Finally, the good news in all of this is that the bearings in the rear wheel were on their last leg. The dealio that holds the cassette was worn out so the cassette was loose and had the tiniest niggle to it and those Rolf wheels are substantially heavier than the DT Swiss wheels that I replaced on the Venge because they were too heavy… In other words, bonus! No cash outlay and I’d be willing to bet I dropped at least a half-pound by switching the wheels. Excellent! The Trek, at home, lubed up and good to go with a new, faster set of wheels (Btw, that bike is soon to be black):
[ED: I use the word “thud” in the post… It wasn’t a thud, it was something smaller, barely perceptible… I couldn’t hear it over the wind as much as I could feel it, once every revolution of the rear wheel when I was braking. I’d assumed I took a small rock off of the brake surface which caused a minor raised imperfection where it hit. I figured I was just going to have to file it down. Imagine my surprise when I saw that. I was amazed that I couldn’t feel that while I was riding, let alone hear it when I applied the brakes! It’s a lot worse than it felt or sounded.]