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Why Does My Bike Make a Whisk-Whisk-Whisk Sound… But It Stops For A Bit After I Coast Before Starting Again?

I diagnosed a fun one Friday morning when our tandem started making the whisk-whisk-whisk sound (I almost went with whoosh-whoosh-whoosh, but there’s a tinnier “whisk” to it) off the back of the bike during our ride.

I didn’t know exactly what it was, immediately. At first I thought a disc brake rotor was rubbing, but the sound stopped after we coasted, rounded a corner, and resumed pedaling. Almost a mile later it started whisking on us again. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, right then, the nature of the problem. It wasn’t a big enough deal to head straight home, either, so we rode on.

The cassette body dries out… so has to be removed, cleaned and lubed. It’s simple, easy, and takes about ten minutes. If you have the right tools… and your wheel lugs don’t tighten with cone wrenches that you don’t have because what home-based garage bike mechanic has cone wrenches, let alone two of the same size! (Nowadays they tighten with 5 mm Allen keys).

Well, in my case I was lucky, but more on that in a minute.

I pulled the rear wheel after putting the rear seat post in my stand. I shifted to the small cog in the back and released the wheel so I could take it inside. I pulled the cassette and looked at how the axle was put together… and that’s when I discovered the cone wrench problem. All of our road wheels have Allen key accessible axles so I’ve never bothered amassing a cone wrench collection. I was dead in the water and figured I’d take the wheel in to use one of the shop mechanic’s wrenches. I gave the nut a little spin and to my shock, it was loose. No wonder the wheel was making that weird noise! I took the axle apart the best I could, cleaned and lubed everything, hit the pawls with some light chain lube and put everything back together using a pair of small but effective needle-nosed pliers to tighten the nut that required the cone wrench (without question, unorthodox, but it’ll do).

Had the same problem with my Ican rear wheels, my Vuelta Corsa rear wheel… and now the tandem rear wheel… it’s a bit of a theme, and should be expected when you’re putting thousands of miles a year on a bicycle.

The tandem wheel is perfect once again, and though I’ll unquestionably have to tighten that thing up with a couple of cone wrenches at some point, it’ll do for now.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s bonus seat post creak! It’ll be a hoot!

Basic Bicycle Maintenance; How Long Should It Take?

I maintain a fleet of bikes. Four for my wife, four for me, and a tandem. Some don’t need much, though. The mountain bikes get ridden once or twice a year. As long as I keep the steel parts lubed so they don’t rust, I don’t have to do much else. The gravel bikes don’t get a whole lot of use, but they’re on dirt almost always so they need to be cleaned up much more frequently than everything else (especially headsets). The road bikes take some looking after during the road season (April to October for us). Drivetrains need cleaning and lubing, cranksets need the same, headsets need to be cleaned and lubed at least once a year for road bikes, thrice for gravel bikes… cables need to be tended to, derailleurs and pulley wheels need to be tended to, etc., etc.

So, how long does all of this take?

I can clean and lube a steering assembly in fifteen minutes – doesn’t matter, threaded or threadless. I can tend to a crankset that’s developed a creak due to some dirt working it’s way into the system in twenty to thirty minutes. Clear up a wobbly wheel in a few minutes… clean and lube a cassette body/free-hub in fifteen minutes (I’ll have to handle this task on the tandem this afternoon, as a matter of fact)… new cables for a bike in a couple of hours (usually during the winter months when the snow is flying unless a cable snaps in which case I can tend to an internally routed shifter cable in less than an hour). Throughout the season, I’ll usually work on one or two items a week as they pop up. I clean the drivetrains of my road bikes (and my wife’s) at least weekly. Then, I handle the good stuff, like taking the steering assemblies apart and cleaning the cranks often happens in the winter months when I’ve got time to play with such things after a trainer session.

Learning to handle these tasks took practice, and lots of it. Thankfully, with that many bikes there’s no shortage of opportunity. Also, because I took the time to mess all of that up in the past, I’ve gotten good enough I rarely have to take a bike in to the shop to have it looked at.

I also amassed a decent tool collection over the years. I don’t have any of the pullers or extractors, but I’ve got everything I need (and then some) for basic maintenance so I can keep the smiles coming.

I FIXED MY TREK’S CREAKING HEADSET! Simple and Painless

My Trek 5200 is a phenomenal rain bike. Always has been. It has a deep, dark secret in its past, though. It suffered years of neglect before I bought it in terms of the headset and steering assembly. By the time I got it, it was a rusted mess.

I had a new Chris King headset installed when I overhauled the bike back in 2016.

The headset, even the new King headset, was notoriously difficult to dial in. It had to be within an eighth of a turn or it would present difficulties. A sixteenth too tight and it would bind, causing the front wheel to “gyroscope” – this feels incredibly unsettling in a corner when the bike tries to right itself as you’re leaning into it. A sixteenth too lose and it would creak when I got out of the saddle to put max power to the pedals. Let’s just say I lived with a creak. Oh, I’d get it right now and again and it would only creak under excessive load, but for the most part, it’d creak when climbing hills and during sprints.

All of that pitting is the cause of the creak that I lived with for all those years. The new race wasn’t enough. So, after years of messing around with trying to get the Chris King Gripnut right, I’d worn the paint off it and made it look messy. It was good enough from afar, as I’d dress it up with black nail polish from time to time, but it was ugly. Two years ago I placed an order for a new Gripnut… and because of the pandemic it took until this week to come in.

My glorious, outstanding, beautiful wife went in to pick that beauty up when she went in to pick up her next new/used road bike and I just had time to install it last night. However, instead of living with the same problem, I emailed Matt and asked if there was anything that could be done about the pitting to fix the creak. The crown race is still tight on the fork and obviously looks amazing. The interface is the problem, though, but he said that could be re-machined. I got to thinking, if it can be re-machined, why can’t I just sand the pitting down?

I picked up 4 sheets of sandpaper on the way home last night… 80 grit, 120, 160 and 320. I used the 120 and 320.

I took the fork off after getting home from work and cleaned it up, making sure to degrease it entirely. Then, I simply took a long strip of each kind of sandpaper and sanded the interface smooth(ish). I cleaned it up, de-dusted it, lubed it and put everything back together so it was just tight enough to take up the slop in the fork.

I was certain it was going to creak because it wasn’t anywhere near tight enough to start binding, but the steering was better than on my Venge (which is immaculate) so I decided to suit up and give it a try just for shits and giggles.

Not a creak, groan, moan, or… anything. It’s perfect. That bike is going to get a lot more use in the future, I can tell you that! Well, technically that’s not exactly true, either. The new tandem is going to get most of the miles. The Trek will split solo rides with the Venge and will be my exclusive (solo) tour bike for things like DALMAC and possibly the Horsey Hundred (I just remembered we’re likely to take the new tandem on Horsey next year). I’d chosen the Venge a little more frequently lately because of the creak, but with that gone, the Trek operates just as good as the Venge! Happy Day!

A Perfect Tuesday Night in Lennon with Jess on the Tandem: Three Tandems, a Chucker and a Clark Edition

We’re into the last three or four Tuesday night club rides of 2022… and that’s if the weather is perfect. It never is in October.

The weather was amazing. 74 marvelous degrees with a 4-mph breeze out of the west and not a cloud in the sky. Perfect. I readied the tandem as soon as I got home because we’re rolling a half-hour early this time of year because it’s getting dark so soon. As part of the preparations I slid each of my wife’s seat posts (there are two seat posts for the stoker on a Periscope tandem – one slides into the other so you can adjust the stoker position for anyone from 4’2″ tall to 6’2″):

The second post, the brushed aluminum one, tends to creak a little from time to time so if you raise and lower it a few times then tighten the quick release fully, the creak goes away.

We got there early enough we could check to make sure I got the saddle height right and make a few adjustments before we rolled out for real. We were staged at the start when everyone rolled at a minute past 5:30.

We started out fast right out of the gate and I was breathing heavy and nervous by the time we hit the first mile mark at 24-1/2-mph (38 km/h). I didn’t see how we were going to keep that up, but Jess was surprisingly strong in the rear admiral’s position. We took second bike as we turned north and took our turn less than a mile later and my breathing normalized up front, maintaining right around 25-mph (39 km/h). We took about three-quarters of a mile and slid to the back. I took a glance at our average pace… 23-ish-mph.

We eased into last bike after peeling off the front and drifting to the back to a fantastic draft. Jess was hammering the pedals and I actually had to scrub speed with the front brake quite often. I was getting the breaks I needed and really settled into the ride. A couple of miles west, a mile north and we turned hard left onto the vaunted Shipman Road. Shipman is a life-sucking southwest facing road. We rarely get a tailwind and often get hammered with a crossing headwind or straight headwind all summer long. This Tuesday was only different in that the wind was barely there. The pace didn’t waiver. We held 23 to 27-mph all the way south and west.

We were in excellent position, in the mix with the A-Elite group, as we hit the first hills and Todd, one of the fastest guys we know (his nickname is Watt King), waived us to second bike so we could take the lead on the way up the first two hills and control the pace. I almost fell off my bike at the classy move. Todd, I know you read this; chapeau, my friend. Thank you, that meant a lot to we three tandems.

We stayed with the group, who held the pace steady up the last two rises, and descended to 71 before hitting the next series of hills. The next hill, over a set of tracks, was too much for us, though, and we slipped off the back. I reached back and squeezed Jessica’s hand and reassured her that we gave it everything we had and I was perfectly okay with dropping. She’d been stellar and we just got caught a little out of breath at the same time. We’d made 15-miles at just shy of 24-mph for the average.

We didn’t watch the weed grow on the way up the hill, though (there’s a pot farm on the right). We both knew we needed to be on the gas so we could catch up with the Shiatown short route group and w got to it. We took a little bit of a rest to catch or breath and hammered the rest of the hills, trying a few new strategies along the way to see if we could maximize the downhills without over-hammering the descents to the detriment of the climbs. It worked out quite well, actually. We caught the Shiatown crew at the regroup spot. Two more tandems (Mike & Diane and Dave & Val), a Chucker and a Superman, Clark Kent (I kid you not).

We rolled out after a short respite and took advantage of a downhill to cut short a steep uphill that tends to crush our spirits a little before heading up one of the strangest hills I’ll ever climb. It’s clearly uphill but it can’t be as steep as it appears because we routinely climb the silly thing in excess of 20-mph… on the tandem. After that punchy climb, we descend into Vernon full speed ahead. With three tandems in the lead (two of the teams are exceedingly experienced, Jess and I are the babies of the bunch), using gravity to our greatest advantage, we shot into town topping 30-mph on the way down… and we coasted a quarter of the descent.

We took it easy through Vernon, as we always do, then Clark came through to clear a difficult intersection so the tandems could get through without having to drop a foot. It was a perfectly executed clearing of an intersection and we rolled through. Jess and I had the lead at that point and we worked up a short hill before hitting a fast descent. The rest of the ride was perfectly fantastic with the three tandems outnumbering the single bikes.

We took it to the barn with a wonderful 22-mph average for the 28-mile circuit. There were plenty of hi-fives and pats on the back on the way to the parking lot on the cooldown mile. The story of our ride has to be Jess. She was truly brilliant last night… and we talked about that a little bit on the way home. I overheard her talking to Val about how she worries about keeping her single bike prowess up while spending so many miles on the tandem in the Rear Admiral’s saddle. I made peace with my own personal demons in that regard as captain, but it’s different for Jess, being the stoker. Riding in a group setting is a perishable skill and she doesn’t have the same duties as the Rear Admiral. We’ve talked about this a bit and I don’t have a good answer, other than to hope the gravel bike season helps with that.

On the other hand, she let me in a little bit last night after the ride when she said that she truly loves riding with me (which I did know), adding that she knows she was born to be a stoker, that she enjoys being our stoker immensely. I didn’t know that second part. I love captaining our tandem. I love having my wife right there and sharing our riding experiences so closely… Last night was yet another example of what we can do together and it was awesome.

I also reminded my wife, the one time I tried to hang with the A-elite group this year I was dropped after eight miles. We’ve done better on the tandem than I could do alone. Sadly, there won’t be many of these left this year:

A Makeover… For Your Old Road Bike? Yes, Please! Part Four – What To Change; The Drivetrain

This post could end up being a massively difficult task, because there are so many moving parts to a bike’s drivetrain. Ten and eleven speed road groupsets were easy for older bike frames (steel and carbon fiber – aluminum not so much). I’ll stick to what I know, which is admittedly little.

The Ultegra shifters on my 9-speed triple went first. I tried to find replacement shifters to no avail, but I did find a small company new in the drivetrain component market called MicroShift. They made Shimano 9-speed compatible integrated (road) shifters… in a triple, that were priced well and worked as good or better than the original shifters had for a couple of years. Good enough I’d have been fine to keep the bike as it was… until a friend sold me a gently used Ultegra 10-speed groupset that I could use on my Venge. That freed up the 105 10-speed groupset for my Trek.

My ’99 Trek 5200 Triple fitted out with MicroShift’s finest.

The Shimano 105 upgrade – 1999 Ultegra to 2013 105 is a massive leap in technology and a decent drop in weight – was going to be a game changer, but I had to change a lot to make it happen. Here’s how the bike sits today:

So, the crankset is a low-end Shimano. It’s much the same tech as a 105 or Ultegra crankset, just a little heavier. I needed a new English threaded bottom bracket (BBR-60 if memory serves, but I’ll find out for sure and update the post as soon as the shop opens). The crank fits perfectly with no shims to that bottom bracket. That bottom bracket change did lead to the need for a shim change to the cassette at the rear wheel, though. The 11-speed wheel requires a shim to get to 9 or 10 speed… but I needed another to force the cassette out a little further so the chain line worked with the new crankset and bottom bracket, to get the front shifting matched up with the cassette.

There was another massive issue that required a little fabrication trickery. The front derailleur clip for the frame wouldn’t allow the front derailleur cage to drop far enough to work well with the 50/34 chainrings (52-36 worked but had a cadence hole with an 11-28 cassette that I absolutely hated between 18 & 22-mph). Finding a new clip that’ll work with a compact crank and fits a Trek 5500/5200 frame is impossible, so our shop owner welded a bit onto the bottom of my original clip and drilled out the hole (elongating it) so I could get an extra 2 to 3-mm worth of drop to the derailleur cage. That fixed the shifting and the smaller compact crankset worked fantastically.

The final issue I had to deal with was difficult to figure out. I had some chain-drop issues with the small chainring because I was using aftermarket “Amazon” SRAM labeled chainrings. That issue could only be resolved by installing Shimano 105 110-BCD 5-hole chainrings. With the aftermarket chainrings, once in a while, under climbing power, the chain would drop into the bottom bracket for no apparent reason. The problem was the cheap aftermarket chainrings. I believe they worked fine new, but probably needed to be replaced every couple of years – more often than I wanted to bother with. The true Shimano 105 chainrings fixed that issue completely, though.

Other than those solvable issues, everything was bolt-on and simple and I went from a 52-42-30 triple with an 11-26 9-speed cassette to a 50-34 double with an 11-28 cassette.

With those issues corrected, ten or eleven speed will work just fine on my 5200. I’ve heard we may get into trouble with 12, though. That’ll be a post for another day. In the meantime, my old Trek 5200 is riding like a new, much lighter, vastly more enjoyable bike.

The only question left is, should update a classic bike like that? Well, that answer depends in how you want to ride the bike and how long you’re willing to wait for replacement parts when something goes bad. Me? I’d rather ride my bike. Lots. So the change made sense.

Yerp… S-Works

Now that I think of it, in all fairness, the S-Works milk would end up weighing a half-pound less…

Is It Time to Be Done with Specialized Bicycles?

I’ve been an unpaid, walking advertisement for Specialized for the better part of a decade. I ride their bikes (3 – road, mountain & gravel), I sport their kit (mainly because it’s awesome), I ride with their shoes (S-Works & Torch 2.0), their gloves, and until just last year, their helmets.

You get the idea…

Specialized bikes were the best as far as I was concerned. Sleek, aero, lightweight, fast… they seemed to have everything.

They’ve always leaned on our local shop owner pretty hard, though. He was grandfathered in as a Trek and Specialized store, though, so they “technically” couldn’t touch him. They found a way to punish him with the pandemic, though. He hasn’t displayed a Specialized road bike in his store for going on two years. They won’t ship him any. Hardly a mountain bike, either. Oh, he gets plenty of leisure bikes and cruisers, but that’s about it. They’re currently telling him he’s as far out as 2024 for orders that used to take two or three weeks. It feels like they’re trying to choke him.

Now, I’m usually not one for big corporate conspiracy theories, but what’s happening at our local shop just doesn’t pass the smell test.

The rumors are bad enough I’m actually thinking about retiring a lot of my Specialized kit and getting the Venge painted to cover up the “Specialized” and “S” markings. I’d void the lifetime warranty on the frame, but it’d be worth it.

If anyone at Specialized is paying attention, you’ve got a crisis on your hands, boys and girls. You’d better get to work on damage control. If someone as level-headed as I am is thinking about quitting you, you’ve got major PR problems.

A Second, More Successful, VASTLY More Enjoyable Return to Cycling with Covid

I know, I know, I said I was going to take a little more time off in yesterday’s post…

My low-grade fever broke (99.4, I usually run about 97.8) early yesterday morning. As the day wore on and I felt better, taking the tandem out for a spin with my wife looked pretty fantastic. She’s two days ahead of me, as our bouts with Covid went, so she feels a couple of days better than I do. She also wanted a nice, slow, short return to riding so the tandem was the perfect choice.

We only did eleven miles at 15-ish-mph, but that was perfect. My lungs didn’t bother me a bit and we had a lovely conversation along the way.

I also brought Gatorade with me in lieu of my normal plain water. That agreed with my throat a little more than anticipated.

And so it was, my wife and I out on the tandem for a short little spin to shake the cobwebs out. There’s no place I’d rather have been. It was beautiful.

Life on two wheels is a blessing.

Attempting to Return to Cycling from Covid Just a Little Too Soon

My wife had to work late into the evening last night so I decided I’d take my Covid laden butt outside for a much needed session on the Venge.

The first mile was awesome. Slow, but awesome. After that first mile, though, my throat started aching with the minimal effort – and I mean minimal. I knew I was done before I crossed the 5k mark. After a while, I realized it wasn’t my throat, it was the upper quarter of my lungs that were hurting. I’d felt that before… but it’s worse this time. Not much, but noticeably.

So I did the second smart thing; I took my toy and went home. I pulled into the driveway with just shy of nine miles and a healthy desire to not be on my bike anymore.

Now, strangely, once I got into the shower I felt markedly better. My lungs stopped hurting and I regained my strength and desire to stand up in said shower. I knew long before I got into that shower that riding was not my brightest idea. I had to give it a try, though.

Today will be another glorious day, so I’ll try again (hopefully on the tandem with my wife).

UPDATE: On further introspection, perhaps I’ll wait till my fever breaks for real…

Saddle Tilt and Pain in Cycling

Assuming we’re not dealing with the “more padding is better padding” crowd, who are simply misunderstanding “padding” and how padding relates or “works” in regard to to riding a bicycle in general, I’d like to take a moment to delve into one of my favorite topics of late since I started working with my wife on her saddles, saddle tilt. As I’ve written here before, I consider myself quite picky as saddle height, setback and tilt go. If I’m a millimeter off in either, I can feel it and I don’t like it. Too much height and I feel frontal pressure, which differs from the frontal pressure of having the nose too high. With the saddle too low, I feel back pressure on the glutes. With the saddle tilted too far down, I slide off the saddle and that drives me nuts… but not near as nuts as when I’ve got the nose too high!

My wife is unquestionably more sensitive than I am. She feels pressure at half-millimeter increments. It’s almost a little unnerving, but I’ve taken to the challenge and dedicated myself to figuring this out for her. Once I took the issue on like that, it seemed less daunting because, well, I love a good challenge to be vanquished. Doubly so when my wife is the benefactor of my diligence because being on a tandem, I can’t truly be happy as the Captain until my wife is happy as the Rear Admiral.

I had an extensive Body Geometry fitting on my Venge that took something like three hours after I tried setting my bike up myself with the knowledge I’d accrued watching YouTube videos. The only change the fitting showed I needed was to drop the saddle by about two millimeters. I was really stoked that I’d gotten it that close on my own. From that point I’ve simply fine-tuned everything by feel.

My issue is in translating what I have in my melon to what my wife is feeling, without knowing how to make the translation. It’s interesting to say the least, but we’ve begun the process and it’s exciting.

The key, as I’ve written numerous times before, is in getting the saddle to cradle the rider on the bar tops, hoods and in the drops. How I get to this is simple. First, I know my saddle height; 36-5/8″, give or take. Next, I level the saddle to zero, then drop the nose 2 degrees. From there, I go for a ride and adjust by feel. If I feel pressure at the front in the drops, I lower the saddle nose. If I feel no pressure at the front but feel like I’m sliding off the saddle, I raise the nose a smidge. It’s really as simple as that. Once I get that “cradled” feeling, I’m done.