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TNIL: Fast, Furious & Grateful Edition

After last night’s Tuesday Night In Lennon, I was struck by the same thought I’ve been hit with after most Tuesday night club rides – and I just figured out how to organize the emotions so I could put the whole box of rocks into words… simply.

I’m going to deviate from the norm in which I burn up too many words on the first half so I can save all the goods for the fastest part of the ride. This should keep the post from growing into a two-cup minimum monster of a post.

Imagine, if you will, the start of any Tuesday night this year with a wind out of the west. It’s headwind for the first half of the ride and the second half is fast and loose. We had wind last night, but it wasn’t terrible, just barely into the double digits and we fought through it really well – and it was just cut up enough between the crosswind (north) and the headwind (west) that we had a 23.5-mph average at Shipman Road. Unfortunately, Shipman sucks worst with a west wind. It’s a cross-headwind that just smashes us into an echelon that’s always too big for our lane. I chose the left lane of the double pace-line, fighting crosswind for the first six miles, so I’d be on the protected side on Shipman, and it paid dividends. As they say, you can pay me now, or pay me later, but you’ll pay. With some help from a couple of the Elite Group, we kept the whole pace-line together through the hills till we split off into two groups. Nobody was dropped in the hills so we managed a rolling regroup. That’s where the fun starts.

With the headwind behind us and the group split in two, we chose to single it up so we could get longer breaks before taking a turn at the front. We’ve got a fairly long, not too steep hill to climb after we drop into a valley that, if we’re not careful, can hammer the tandems into the ground, so Chuck usually calls for calm till we crest the hill – and that’s exactly how it went last night, and it worked perfectly. We climbed the hill at around 21-mph – and before you ask, I know, that’s fast for going up. I can’t explain it, the hill is an easy climb. Over the crest, it was all hands in the drops, maximum warp over the half-mile descent. The tandems were up front for most of the mile to the City Limits sign. Through town was a little quicker than normal but we were stopped at a busy intersection, waiting for traffic to clear. Once through the intersection, I was expecting the pace to ease as we worked our way up a couple of shallow hills, but it was intense. We were running out of daylight and we were driving the pace to get home before dark.

Two miles later, we were at the homestretch: full tailwind, only three molehills to crest, and a lot of downhill to the finish. Coming around the righthand corner at full speed, we took the pace up to the mid-20s (mph – or 40 km/h) over the course of a mile and kept it pegged, except at those molehills. Down a quick descent to a busy intersection and we had to time a car going by but for the most part, blew right through the intersection. Mike took the lead up the hill and kept pace “reasonable” to “perfect” for the tandems to make it without too much trouble. Over the crest, it’s basically a 0.5 to 1% descent all the way to the finish and it’s always hot for those last two miles.

The tandems had worked their way to the front and were sitting one, two with a half-mile left and they took it to “11”. It’s funny, how at 23-25-mph, the pack can get a little squirrely, but when the pace goes to, say, 30-mph (48-kmh), everyone straightens out in a hurry. That was the case last night. The first tandem pulled off to the back and the second took over. Chucker was behind them and I was behind Chucker. Mike was behind me. And it was on.

I’m pretty sure I was in the drops, but can’t be sure. Chucker rides in the drops at all times, and Mike was behind me. The tandem pulled off just as we got to the sprint point and Chuck dropped the hammer, adding at least another 2-mph to the 30.5, catching me by surprise. I couldn’t quite answer his surge and Mike didn’t have it to come around me. I started to close the gap on Chucker, but he gained too much gap on his jump. We shot across the line at 55 feet per second, 31.5-mph, or 51-km/h… And just like that, we sat up, shifted to easier gearing and reset the computers for the cooldown mile back to the parking lot. We patted each other on the back and had a few laughs on the way back. We’d crossed the City Limits finish line at 22.9-mph for our average. Fantastic for October. The mood was effusive – “You’re riding great, man”… “No, you’re the one putting out massive wattage, you’re riding mid-season form!”, etc., etc. I love being a part of that, after we’ve laid it all out.

It was hotdogs and tailwind, baby.

The mosquitos were horrible when we got back, so we packed up quick and headed for home. Once I caught my breath, about a mile up the road, my thoughts settled and I tried to pay attention…

My thoughts were all centered on gratitude.

It occurred to me the refrain is almost always the same. When the bike is packed in the car and I’m heading home after a Tuesday night, all I can think is, “How did I get so lucky to be able to be a part of such a great group?”

Once the bike is put in its prominent resting place in the living room and I’m showered and not stinky anymore, after I’ve eaten and I’m sitting quietly with my thoughts, I’m simply grateful to be a part of that wonderful group.

I also realized last night, it’s not so important the why, as much as it is just enjoying this gift as it is.

And so I shall.

Why I Can Ride the Same Route Four Days A Week Without Growing Bored

If you follow me on Strava, you’ve likely seen my weekday route doesn’t change. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday it’s the same 22.75 miles every time. We go over the same chopped up roads (one mile each of two stretches of road so unconscionably bad, most normal people would be shocked we haven’t done something different).

It has occurred to me we could change it up, but people expect to see us on the road by now (we’ve been riding the route for four years, now) and it’s the least traveled roads we have in the area just after rush hour. And it’s comfortable.

The reality is, it’s not really about the roads we ride on as much as it about being outside, pedaling away the day’s troubles – usually with a good friend.

I was thinking about this very thing last night as Chuck and I were cruising down the road, 21-mph into the wind, hellbent for nowhere… just because.

My Specialized Venge is still in the shop, so I’m riding my Trek 5200. It’s a little more work than the Venge but fits like a glove. I thought to myself as I was pushing the pace up front, down in the drops with my chin hovering over the stem cap, “If this was the only bike I had to ride, I’d be okay with it”. Oh, I’d mess around with a few things – a new fork for starters, maybe one of those cool conversion kits to change it from a threaded to a threadless headset.. but if that was it, if that was the last bike for me, I could be good with it.

With the corn fields coming down, I had a straight line of sight for a half-mile at the intersection and I could see we were clear a tenth of a mile before I ever got to the intersection, so I hit the hard right turn at 20-mph, leaning the bike into it, feeling the tires grip the asphalt enough the bike felt like it was on a rail. I was back on the pedals as soon as I was sure I wouldn’t scrape the inside one on the asphalt… and the warning bars at the train track dropped, lights flashing. So I stopped. Maybe the third time all year we were stopped at that track.

The train was moving so fast it brought the debris being kicked up by a harvester tending to his soybean field on the other side of the track a quarter-mile away. Little chunks of soybean plant hit my face as the train pushed by. I liked the smell of it. And just like that, the train was gone. I crossed the track before the residual breeze blew by and the warning bars lifted… and I realized halfway across how stupid that choice was because I was at an acute angle to the track. I was lucky I didn’t drop a tire between the track and ties. I’d have gone down in a heap. Instantly.

Once through the backed up traffic and through a left turn, it was another mile of crap road before a double loop in a subdivision. I said “good evening” to two ladies who walk the subdivision the same time we pass through. I caught the elder lady off guard and startled her a bit so I apologized and made sure to announce us, well in advance, the second time around.

The final noteworthy turn on the ride is a left, coming down off a small hill so the pace tends to be hot, in the mid-20s (40-kmh), so you really have to lean into the turn if you’re going to make it without smashing face-first into a mailbox. I’ve almost gone off the road three times.

After all that, it was tailwind most of the way home for us but we were an odd mix of putting the watts down and taking it easy. I didn’t care either way, we were really just keeping the legs loose for the last full Tuesday Night In Lennon of the season.

While I love a great, scenic route for a bike ride, when it comes to my daily ride, it’s not about where I’m going so much as why. Riding a bike, especially with a friend, puts a smile on my face and helps me to remeber why I’m such a grateful guy.

A Birthday Wish To Ride a Bicycle With a Friend…

There was one thing I didn’t note about Tuesday night’s most excellent ride because this needed a post of its own, not just an honorable mention…

As I pulled into the parking lot, geared up to ride, some folks who normally ride Tuesday mornings were loading up. They rode later than normal because the morning’s weather was a mess. What’s special about this little tale, is an older fella had ridden with them and was just getting off his eBike. I’d met him before, but he doesn’t hang out with the same crowd I do, so I rarely see him. It was good to see him and I went over to say hello. He had a smile from ear to ear stretched across his mug (I know that smile). We had a nice, short conversation and I headed over to say hi to the others as well.

Later, I read on Strava that the older fella’s wish, made when he was a younger chap, was to ride with his friend, Jim, when he was 90.

Tuesday was his 90th birthday, and he had the cupcake to prove it.

First, 90, bro, and still riding – and not a trike. He wasn’t fast, but he beat his friend, who is much younger, back to the parking lot.

Second, we purists may tend to look down our nose at eBikes but the vast majority of us know they have a place in cycling. After seeing what I saw in that parking lot, I have even more respect for them. I knew they had their place, but I got to see that first hand in Armand’s smile.

EBikes are a wish come true for some.

Long live Armand, Jim, Lee & Vickie. And eBikes. And regular bikes. And tandems.

Ride hard, folks. All of a sudden, you’re 90… and still riding. So shall it be for us all.

Sweet Baby Jesus, I Got the Last Creak In My Trek 5200 Figured Out

It’s been a rough couple of weeks months bike-wise. The Venge, after shifting horribly for a minute (frayed, and eventually broken, shifter cable) and getting new chainrings, chain, cassette and a rear derailleur, is now in the shop for open-bottom bracket surgery (this is a long story for another day). Then, after finally getting my Trek’s drivetrain figured out so it didn’t skip every time a mouse farted, I’d developed a nasty creak in the fork somewhere.

The shifting problem, or “chain skipping” problem to be clearer, ended up being a worn inner chainring. Don’t ask me how it got worn when I barely use it, but once I put the new chainrings on the bike, everything worked exactly as it should. The click/creak issue was a little more challenging.

First, the Trek’s click/creak wasn’t that big a deal. The Venge, that’s BIG. Second, we’re about a week away from full-blown gravel season so I’m almost ready to mount the Trek on the Trainer for the winter. Third, the Trek is 22-years-old! Should I be surprised if it creaks a little?

Well, it creaked a lot. Mainly out of the saddle, and I could recreate the creak by straddling the bike and torqueing on the handlebar.

It was simple deduction, Watson. It had to be the headset.

And I tried everything over two weeks. Specialty bearing grease (thick and tacky – not BBQ sauce!), tightening the grip nuts, loosening the grip nuts, regular lube, but lots of it… I even sanded some ridges of the fork race to make sure the surface wasn’t the problem.

That last item actually made it worse for a minute.

I was just about to throw in the towel and live with it until I got the Venge back so I could then take it to the shop and let them deal with it… when I decided to give her one last go. I thought, “Dammit, I know what I’m doing and I’m not about to let that creak win.”

As it turned out, the Chris King Gripnut, which is possibly on its last leg, has to be exactly the proper torque, or some pitting in the fork race from years of prior abuse, will allow the fork to move, ever so slightly, producing a click or creak when the handlebars are torqued out of the saddle. If the Gripnut is exactly right, and the locking Gripnut is tightened to within an inch of its life, the creak will go away. The trick is getting “exactly” exactly where it needs to be. Too tight and the steering drags (and the bike gyroscopes when the wheels roll). Too loose and it creaks.

I spent a perfectly quiet 22 miles on it last evening and it was glorious. Climbing hills, albeit small one’s, out of the saddle, gearing up for a sprint, it’s all good. I tried it all.

I almost got a little misty as Chucker and I were doing our second bonus lap around our favorite subdivision. I’ve got a lot of devotion wrapped up into that perfectly spec’ed out and kitted classic 1999 Trek 5200. I rebuilt it myself from the ground up, had it painted by one of my best cycling friends on the planet, in the exact colors I wanted, including having a nameplate set into the clearcoat on either side of the top tube… and it was my first road bike – a bike I barely had the cash for when I was only a few years into my first construction company.

I’m just as attached to the Trek as I am my Venge, and I’ve always used it as my go-to bike when I absolutely, positively need a bike I can rely on no matter what the weather throws at me. So, to get it back to “whole” again, and vastly superior to what it was when I brought it home (and 2-1/2 pounds lighter), is a relief.

I love that bike.

Fit, Fantastic, Clean, Sober and, Above All, Happy (and Fully Caffeinated, Baby)

My wife and I went to see our daughter perform in halftime show with her university’s marching band over the weekend. It was an awesome, close game and the halftime performance was fantastic. And seeing my kid was special. They do a postgame performance and photo for posterity and my wife and I stayed till the very end, taking a couple of photos from our seats on the 45 yard-line, about six rows up… but I couldn’t tell what the formation was meant to be. My wife and I had the same thought at the same time; let’s improve the vantage point. We ran up the concrete steps to get a better perch. Three-quarters of the way up we were both turned to snap a photo.

Still not good enough.

My wife saw exactly where I was going and handed her phone to me and said, “you go right ahead”. I ran up the last quarter and snapped the photo about eight seconds before they broke formation.

Now, we’re not talking “walked the steps fast”, “sauntered”, “trotted”… I ran those suckers. So, I’m thinking, afterward, how many 50-year-old men can run up 100 stadium steps to get a photo without having to take an oxygen time out in the back of an ambulance? Surely, I jest… but I will say it isn’t many and I was quite stoked I didn’t fall over in a heap.

We had an odd weekend for cycling last weekend. The day of the game, well before we left, my wife and I went for a sweet 41-mile ride at a 19-mph pace with several of our friends. I felt I could have ridden another 60 at that pace, easily. We had a 40-mile dirt road ride planned for Sunday but rain had us, wisely, sitting that one out. My weekday riding buddy, Chuck and I went out for an easy 20-some-miler for his “New Bike Day”, having just brought home his 2021 Specialized Tarmac SL7 the night before.

That left us in a quandry for what to do yesterday evening… we opted to save the legs for tonight and ride easy. We just lolled around the neighborhood along our normal route, kicking the tires on a few things that needed discussing. I rolled into the driveway with a 16.5-mph average over 22 miles and had barely broken a sweat. I noticed, as I was preparing dinner, how loose and good I felt.

While I do have my struggles related to fitness (I’m hard pressed finding the “want to” to get to a gym, and I love to eat good food), and recovery isn’t always a walk in the park, in the overall scheme of things, I’m feeling pretty fantastic about being me.

And I think that’s as it should be, really. I’m not “all that and a bag of chips”, but I’m content with who I’ve become. I’ll take that.

A Perfect Day in Recovery

My wife and I started with an awesome ride with friends. It was really quite foggy at the start (we’ve had a lot of rain), but once the fog broke, it turned into a magnificently fun time. I was glad I didn’t decide to bail when the veil of fog descended… it had been clear as crystal before sunrise. We all had our best blinkie accessories and visibility wasn’t too horrible.

Then, a shower, lunch, and a nap.

Next, we were off to my kid’s college football game to see her perform in the halftime show. It was a wonderful time for us, and it was a tight game, though we prevailed when the clock hit zeros, by one point.

We finished the night up by taking our daughter out to dinner and driving home hand-in-hand.

We passed out fell asleep seconds after heads hit pillows with smiles on our faces and love in our hearts.

And we slept in (even me).

Today will be another busy, fun day. A ride, a cycling club board meeting, bowling this evening…

Once over the shock and initial boredom that comes in early recovery (if you’re bored, volunteer for service work – you won’t be bored anymore), if one works for it, life will become so full you’ll need a master planner just to keep up.

And the best part is, you’ll be having so much fun, you’ll wonder how you ever had time to get drunk.

That isn’t overselling recovery, either. The key is putting in the work to make it happen. No farmer ever sat on his ass waiting for God to plant his fields. Recovery works the same way. You harvest only what you plant.

Shhh… Be vewy quiet… I’m hunting Gwavel…

Yeah, given that yesterday was the second perfect day we had in a row after it rained for the better part of last week, I don’t even know if I should admit it, but I took the gravel bike out… and I didn’t even lose a bet to do it.

My normal riding buddy is out on the west side of the state on a camping excursion, so I was flying solo. The thought of battling cars alone, this late in the season, really wasn’t that appealing… so I chose the peace and quiet of the back roads.

It also made sense that, after Tuesday’s hard effort, the dirt would be a perfect excuse to sit up and sightsee a little bit. The trick was in getting to the gravel. The easy road, about a quarter-mile from my house, had just been grated and I didn’t even want to mess with that, so I chose route B – a mix of pavement and gravel… it was going to be better than 20-ish miles on loose dirt, which would have sucked (too much dust).

I started out easy enough but quickly built up a head of steam to a point I was motoring along quite well and, before I knew it, I was looking down at better than an 18-mph average… on what was supposed to be an easy day. Up hills, down hills, around bends, I was feeling a lot better than I should have. I just rolled with it.

I don’t recall being passed by one car on the dirt.

Ten miles in, I was still sitting on an 18-ish average and my legs were starting to feel heavy, so I eased off and sat up. It was also getting a little late and I wanted to get back so my wife and I could have some dinner together. Rather than go for longer miles (and push the timing with my Wednesday meeting), I headed south a few miles to a straight shot back to my road.

I pulled into the driveway with 20 miles and some change… without having been passed by one irate idiot behind the wheel. While I did have to give the bike an extensive wipe-down, I have to be honest; riding on the dirt was really refreshing. It’ll never replace the awesomeness and speed of riding on the asphalt, but I dig the peace and quiet every now and again.

And sadly, thus begins the great unwinding. I just realized tomorrow is the first of October… we’re into the last five Tuesday nights of the year. Oh, say it ain’t so!

It’s all good in the end, though. I blew by my 6,000 mile yearly goal at the beginning of the month.

TNIL: Still Got It Edition

It’s rare, this late in September, to get a night as good as we had last night. Upper 60’s (around room temperature), low single-digit winds, not a cloud in the sky (or not many, at least)… it was perfect cycling weather. And perfect always means fast.

Even the warm-up was fast. After 8-ish miles we were sitting on a little better than a 21-mph average. Chuck and I cooled it down after leaving the group, but I wasn’t exactly ecstatic whilst, and at the same time, hurtling down the f’ing road at 26-mph on the warm-up. That’s 34 & 42 km/h in Moose Latin [aka real freaking fast]. In hindsight, I needed that warm-up, though. Over the course of that really, really fast warm-up, my legs loosened up. I felt… good.

We didn’t have enough for a B Group so we all set off together.

The start for the main event was mild, a smart way to start to the ride. Too fast, as is often the case, and everyone is into the red too soon which means trouble later. Instead, at a mile-and-a-half, we turned into the wind, then the speed ramped up in a hurry and we were (for the most part) ready for it. The pace went from the low 20s to the upper 20s and stayed there.

The next sixteen miles were a picture of efficiency and speed. We were very fast all the way to the hills, taking our average to 24.3-mph (39-km/h). I limited the duration of my turns up front so I didn’t burn up too soon.

As we got to the first set of hills, the tandems started having problems. The elite guys, as much as I love them, don’t have an “off” button – or even a 75% button where they can ease off just a bit to let the tandems stay on.

My weekday riding buddy, Chucker was off the back with the first tandem as we shot up the tri-tiered hill at 24-mph. I stayed with the second tandem until we got dropped on the next hill when the pace was ramped from 21 to 28 in a matter of seconds. Tandems simply can’t deal with that level of acceleration (unless there’s a downhill slope involved – in that case, stay to the right, out of the way) and I didn’t want much more of that anyway. I was thankful to see the tandem had fallen off as I slinked off the back. Had they stayed on, I’d have had to grab their wheel and I was running short on want to.

I took the lead to give Mike and Diane a rest and we beat a path for the regroup spot, figuring at least a couple of guys would drop off and we could wait for Chucker and the other tandem.

And just like clockwork, Clark & Dave were waiting as we crested the hill to make the left at Shiatown. Chucker and Dave and Sherry were maybe 45 seconds behind us and when they made the turn, we were off.

The remaining ten miles were almost entirely into the mild wind and we got right to it. Turns at the front were short, but useful.

I always get itchy about holding off the elite group and I had an eerie feeling they might make it. Their route is a couple of miles longer than ours (almost three), so it makes for an interesting chase. With a tailwind, they’ve come close a few times, but with a head wind, they’ve got a good shot – add to that our extended wait at Shiatown, I thought they might have a chance.

We were moving, though. 23 to 25-mph on the flats, a little slower on what little hills we had left, but we handled the wind quite well. Coming into the home stretch, the pace was ramped up to 28-mph and we flew across the line with nary an elite guy in site and better than a 23-mph average (37 km/h). It was hi-fives, fist bumps and laughs all the way back to the parking lot and we were off our bikes and starting to pack up when the Elite Group rolled in.

I’m pretty sure I fell asleep with a smile on my face…

How do you know when a rear derailleur is going bad? And what to do about it.

First, let’s get into how to know your rear “mech” or derailleur is going bad. This is a very simple assessment. Complexly. The derailleur will become increasingly more difficult to “dial in” to a point it will shift well going up or down the cassette, but not both (unless you’ve got it set just right – then, a short while later, that won’t work, either).

There’s only one big problem: the same diagnosis applies for about a dozen other problems in shifting as it pertains to the drivetrain. Worn chain rings, worn cassette, worn chain, worn master link, loose chainring bolts, too much tension in the cable, too little tension in the cable, a kink in the cable, dirty shift cable housing, old cable housing… sweat or dirt that clogged a cable housing ferule, a dirty shifter, sweat or sports drink that leaks down to and gums up the cable guide below the bottom bracket housing… and that’s just a good start!

The point is, the only way to really know it’s your derailleur is to make sure all of the above items are eliminated first. If you’ve got those issues well under control and your shifting is still suspicious (and you’ve got five to 20 years on a derailleur, it’s a fair bet your mech is tired. I like to be in the perfect gear at any given moment, so I shift a lot. It makes sense that I’ll only get eight years out of a derailleur. Give or take.

Now, I know some will replace their drivetrains every few years. I know one guy who lives in the UK where it rains a lot, and changes out his drivetrain yearly. I can get five to ten years out of a drivetrain, but I don’t ride much in the rain, either. Usually, cleaning the drivetrain or replacing cables and housings will do the trick for any shifting issues I’ve got.

Recently, though, I’ve had to replace the derailleur on the Trek and the Venge is up next. First, there’s no question the chainrings are bad, so those have to go as well. However, it’s quite easy to tell the Ultegra rear derailleur is on its last leg. I’ve got a new stainless cable, new housings, new ferules all the way back to the rear mech. It shifts like butter at the shifter… except it’s almost impossible to dial in at the rear barrel adjuster. The derailleur is going.

So, the answer is to hop on down to the bike shop and order a new 10 speed Ultegra rear derailleur, right? Wrong. You can’t get them anymore. Not new, anyway… unless you’re willing to pay $70 for the new part and $150 for shipping (I’m not kidding). And a used mech from eBay will likely get me into the same mess I’m already in… So, the answer is a new 105 10 speed rear derailleur. They’re still made and sold new and run about $45 to $60 before shipping. Mine is on the way, with the new chainrings (I got about five years out of the current chainrings) and the order was big enough I didn’t pay for shipping.

Now, ordering the rear derailleur isn’t perfectly simple – nor is ordering the chainrings.

First, for the derailleur, you’ve got to decide on a short or medium cage. If you’re using big rings (52 & 53 tooth) with a corncob cassette (say 11-23), you’re going to want a short cage. With a compact setup (50/34 or smaller) with a bigger cassette (say 11-28 or 11-32), you’re going to want a medium cage which will allow for a bigger cassette for those climby days. I’ve covered chainrings elsewhere. For derailleurs, I really had to hem and haw over the Venge but I ended up going for the medium cage. I could have gone short, but I wanted the option for when I’m older to use a bigger cassette (currently 11-25 or 11-28 as the mood and amount of “up” suits me).

New chainrings on the Trek – the same are coming for the Venge

So, that’s the first option. There is a second… but it’s sketchy. And I’m going to try it after the new derailleur gets here.

The second option is to rebuild the old derailleur. You can purchase kits that include a new spring and grommets to refurbish an old mech, and there are plenty of videos on the web that show how to accomplish this. There’s also, for the real adventurous, a third option. The part that holds the replaceable spring has two holes. One for less tension and one for more tension. If the spring is worn out, and mine likely is because my derailleur is obviously clean and well-lubed because I take care of my stuff, common sense suggests I should be able to switch spring holes to add a little more tension to the spring which should get me a few more years out of it (?).

I’m not going to mess with that until the new mech is here and installed, though. I’ve got about another month of riding left on the Venge. I’m not about to shelve the bike until the cold weather has me storing it for the winter.

More to come…

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

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.