It has been a time of bike repair. Last week I perfected the fine art of bending a derailleur hanger back into alignment. However, just to be on the safe side, I ordered a new derailleur hanger, and though I didn’t immediately install it, knowing that my current hanger was probably vulnerable or still somewhat bent, having the spare on hand was reassuring.
A few days ago, while riding over to work for Laek House, the need to install the new hanger became apparent: the old one snapped off and left my derailleur hanging below my chainstay.
I chalk it up to my ongoing ironing out of bad luck in time for yet another big road race, the Bear Mountain Classic. Since some mishaps – a flat tire sustained on deep gravel, a bent hanger sustained in a he-crashed-into-me incident, and a tumble on a descent – have prevented me from contesting the end of Fawn Grove and Battenkill the way I would have liked, I hope that only my strength and fitness, and race acuity will be factors in my placing at Bear Mountain.
Always have a spare derailleur hanger handy. You never know.
Friday night, my Co-Motion toppled over as I was about to put it on a repair stand and give the drivetrain a quick clean-and-lube before Battenkill. The fall – minor, slow-motion, usually harmless – bent the derailleur hanger toward the cassette.
Fortunately, one of my teammates is well-accustomed to bending derailleur hangers back into position. By leaving the wheel and derailleur on the bike, you can stick an allen key into the derailleur mounting bolt and use the leverage of the allen key to bend the hanger back into position. When the wheel is left on you can eyeball the alignment of the hanger, looking to see if it is parallel to the smallest cog on your cassette. Before and after doing this, tighten the bolts holding the derailleur hanger on to the dropout.
This probably weakens the hanger a little bit, so when I got back from Battenkill I went to DerailleurHanger.com and placed an order for a #58. You can search by manufacturer and model of bike, but it’s not entirely complete, so you can also take a look at a very large batch of replaceable derailleur hangers and see which one matches the one on your bike.
Coincidentally, there was a short message on the team website encouraging riders to always have an extra hanger lying around.
My last experience with hangers was with an integrated (non-replaceable) hanger on my Tough Little Bianchi. While switching derailleurs late last spring, the hanger threads stripped (I use the passive voice because I am hesistant to say that I stripped the threads). I took it to a bike shop that had Helicoil inserts – they drilled out the hanger, inserted the Helicoil, and it was good as new. Helicoils are apparently common repairs in Big Serious Machines (like internal-combustion engines), so there’s little doubt indeed that it would hold up to the stresses of a bicycle derailleur.
The rear derailleur, and its hanger, are fragile parts precariously hanging off of your frame. It would be a bummer to consider a race day, a long ride, or even your whole frame ruined because of a mishap, so know how to repair your hanger when it’s busted and know what you can do when it’s beyond your ability so that you don’t prematurely consider your frame to be toast.
On the left is my now departed titanium Litespeed Solano. It’s on its way to a doctor in Wisconsin who plans to ride brevets. I picked it up for a steal in the fall to replace my Tough Little Bianchi – I wanted something a bit snazzier than generic TIGed steel for all-around riding, but something that was also raceable.
The Solano rode well – it was slightly overbuilt for somebody of my size, so was moderately stiff. It rode very predictably, too, which led for really stable descents. Sometimes too stable – I’m a bit more used to snappier handling, due to my experience with track bikes. The titanium is comfortable – a pretty plush ride. All around it was a nice bike – the fat downtube had a nice ridge on top, and the stays were each elegantly curved around the rear wheel. Such immaculate welds, too – so even and fine.
But there were a few things that were off. One was the fit. The reach was near perfect. The height was a bit high on me, and I always felt like I was riding a bike that was too big, even when I was comfortable on it. The bar drop was fine – short people with short arms don’t need deep handlebars to get their upper bodies pretty flat, especially if they learn how to bend their elbows and ride somewhat long.
But, I wanted a race-specific bike. Something stiffer and lighter, not an all-arounder.
So, when a buddy of mine decided that he needed to liquidate his Co-Motion Ristretto in order to fund the aquisition of a Fuji Track Pro, I jumped on it. I had wanted this bike before, I had ridden it before, and I had seen first hand its purple sheen and its rainbow sparkles.
The day after the decision, I rode to his house, rode home with it over my shoulder, and set about taking the Litespeed apart.
It’s lovely. It’s a looker. It even looks good at speed (oh, I really wish this photo wasn’t blurred!).
Finally, my racing bike is done. A year and a half ago I picked up that temperamental Bianchi. It worked to get me into road riding and racing (I was fixed-gear only for quite a while), but the components were worn. Nine year old Campagnolo bits that refused to shift accurately. Piece by piece, I upgraded: the Litespeed frame, the Campagnolo Eurus wheels and a new rear derailleur at a T-Town swap, and functional shifters for a great price on eBay. The drivetrain was finally working like a drivetrain should, no more light-touching the mouse ear to center the rear derailleur on a cog after shifting (no more wondering if I should attempt the Ergo rebuild on my own).
And now, the Co-Motion frame. It’s stiffer than the Litespeed. Big fat straight seatstays transmit that road feel – braile to the arse – but the fork smooths things out. It responds well to hard efforts. I’m liking it.
Filed under: wrenching
My secret source of shame is that I’m a fairly poor bike mechanic. I cut my teeth at a bike co-op that I cofounded, which means that I was tinkering with junkers. It was the “hammer-and-duct-tape” school of bike repair.
Then I started riding fixed gear bikes. Fixed gear bikes are a small step above the hammer-and-duct-tape school of bike repair. It’s very easy to wrench on fixed gears, and very hard to mess anything up. No finesse is required. No special tools are required. In fact, if you don’t have a chainwhip for changing cogs, you can make do with your frame and the chain that’s already on it.
I’m tenacious, though, so have thrown myself headfirst into a few challenging tasks. I’ve built a handful of wheels, and I also built up my roadbike from a bucket’s worth of parts. I measured each length of cable and housing a dozen times before cutting it (I still need to re-trim since I changed stems and handlebars). I fiddled with the alignment and tension of each derailleur about a hundred times in the first week or two. Practice makes perfect, and I got a lot of chance to practice on this one bike. Not quite at perfection yet, but I’ll attribute that to Ergo levers that need to new G-springs.
Casting shame on my clumsy hands is a mechanic in a bike shop in Bloomfield, New Jersey who is blind. Apparently the tasks that I muddle through can indeed be mastered through persistence and experience, but also can be done without sight.
I’d love to be a fly on the wall in that shop, seeing what tasks Mr. Tinsley does and doesn’t do, and how. Does he measure lengths of chain? Does he feel the alignment of a stem to the front wheel?
I just read an interview with Roger Aspholm, a dominant local racer. He talks about experienced riders training by feel rather than by science: knowing what your body is capable of, how to push your limits, how your body responds to duress. It’s neat to think that the love for the bike could lead to similar feel for tools and bikes, not just one’s body.
Several years back, as a grimey mechanic was putting cranks onto my bike while I hung around asking questions about everything that I could, I asked him how he knew when the square-tapered cranks were on snug enough. He had just leaned into the wrench, bringing it and the crank together, smoothly and forcefully installing the crank onto the spindle. He shrugged and mumbled, “Been doing it for fifteen years.”