Kindness of Friends and Strangers

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Many a ride is interrupted by seemingly intractable mechanical problems. When those mechanical problems occur near your house or a bike shop, they can be easy to fix. When you’re in the middle of nowhere or you’re in unfamiliar territory, a mechanical problem can seem intractable and make you utterly demoralized. But its also at these times you can learn about the cycling community.

My chain wedged between
the cassette and hub

On Saturday, 15 minutes into an AIDS/LifeCycle training ride, my chain popped off the top ring of the cassette and wedged itself into the gap between the cassette and the hub. Fortunately, this happened just as I was stopping. I was one of only two Training Ride Leaders on the ride, and so the ride couldn’t go on without me. I was sweep (the TRL at the end who makes sure all the others complete the ride), so everyone was ahead of me. When I looked down, I saw immediately what had happened, but did not absorb the enormity of it.

I’ve not ever had a chain slip on this bike, so I wasn’t sure if the symptoms were typical. the chain was wedged in, so I couldn’t spin the rear tire. I had to carry my bike to a safe place. A few seconds of tugging made me realize that I wasn’t going to be able to pull it out without loosening the cassette (a task accomplished with a chain whip — not the sort of equipment you usually carry on a ride). But the severe nature of the problem was also sinking in: had this happened when I was moving faster, I might have crashed.

I tried calling the other riders, but since they were riding, they didn’t answer. So I started to search maps for local bike shops. Since the area was new to me, the bike shops seemed insurmountably far away. But just as I began to call a cab to get me there, CJ pulled up, having turned around from the ride. He looked at the problem and agreed it needed a bike shop. Then the other ride leader, Craig and a rider, Celeste — both local to the area — came to see what I needed.

William helping CJ with an
emergency tire repair

Celeste offered to get her car and take me to the bike shop. I didn’t refuse! So, about 30 minutes later, we were on our way to the bike shop.

She took me to Elk Grove Cyclery which was about 2.5 miles from where I broke down. After only a few minutes of tinkering, the mechanic diagnosed both how to remove the chain and why the chain had slipped in the first place.

He told me that the cassette had been wrongly installed — there was one too many spacers between the cassette and the hub. Also, because the cassette and wheel were not the originals for this bike, the rear derailleur was slightly out of adjustment. Now the spacer is like a couple millimeters thick. And he showed me how off the derailleur was — also a couple millimeters. The total couldn’t have been more than a few millimeters. But that is enough to push the chain off the top side of the cassette!

At this explanation, I sheepishly admitted that I had installed the wheel and the cassette. What was astonishing was that I’d been riding with the poorly-installed cassette for nearly eight months without incident. The mechanic showed me how to fix the derailleur and how to tell if you have too many spacers. Then, he charged me only $15 for the repair and derailleur adjustment! Sadly, I didn’t have any cash for a tip. But if you go to Elk Grove, stop in at Elk Grove Cyclery!

And this is one of my favorite things about cycling. You’re never alone on the road. Your mates care, bicycle mechanics usually love their job and they care, too. But when you get a flat and you’re spare is also flat, you’ll find that passing cyclist will be thrilled to help if you ask.

The other moral of the story is that I need to get my work check carefully by a mechanic in the future!

Love,
Your Bear

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