Stories

Let Us Speak of the Electronic Tonic (part 1)

Unless you’re living in the bushes in a desert alcove you’ve prolly heard about electronic shifting, first introduced by Shimano, then wireless-electronic shifting offered from Sram and the EPS groups from Italy that no one was ever too sure about. Shimano also brought us the first electronically controlled mountain drivetrain system.

XT Stuff (Shimano.com)
And who the hell is still using a front derailleur? Shimano offers this expensive tech for that one guy… but I guess if you’re on a road bike then sure, why not.

Now there are fully integrated E-bikes. These sometimes don’t use electronic shifting but they’re using a pedal-assisted electric drive, giving the rider uncanny range and extra pedal power.

Something Trek built; note the large bottom bracket and battery. Who wants a water bottle?
Two places that electronic definitely doesn’t fit, bike packing and bike touring. Both of these involve traveling long distances with as little electronic gear as possible. While it could be done, having to charge your drivetrain with a solar panel while you should be moving down the road seems a little off-putting. Do what you want, though. The charge on this stuff apparently lasts a long time. I don’t see a reason to add this tedious task to packing or touring.




Where it does belong: on a bike whose owner has a track record of bad shifting. The electronic stuff shifts precisely and completely; there won’t be any of this half shifting where the chain ends up on a bite on the next cog up the range, causing weirdness. If you don’t know how to shift and you blow through drivetrains, get electronic.

You don’t have to be a purist to want a standard, cable operated drivetrain. In fact, Pinkbike.com is doing a poll right now showing that most of us truly want a non-electronic bike. As for battery powered, pedal assisted mountain bikes we have a different beast on our hands. “In Europe, this is all the rage.” -Industry guy I know who’d just come to the US from an extensive eBike test in Europe.

I see the appeal. I also spoke with a guy on the trail who, with his rootbeer belly hanging over his shorts bragged about how his Specialized Levo made it so he could pass his super fit and lean son on the trail, and have to actually wait for him. Sweat was still dripping off his brow. “Congratulations bro, your battery powered biomechanical extension allowed you to win the group ride.” Good for you. And now, go away.

Bicycles are all about the conservation of energy. Since the inception in 1812 this has been true. Now it seems that it’s even more about conserving your own bio-energy and expending that of electricity, which, by the way, isn’t expelling turds and farts as bi-product, largely it’s expelling burnt coal and diesel fumes, dead fish and nuclear waste. That my friends is not the conservation of energy. Not to mention the lithium-ion batteries that are used to carried the energy supply on the bike.



If you can’t stick it in your mouth or up your butt safely, it’s prolly not a great source of fuel.

Department Store Bikes (part 2)

Ok.. In this post I want to discuss how a bike is built properly. I’m going to keep it as simple as I can so it can be a short post, hoping to not further bore you with my ranting.

derailleur bolt barely threaded into derailleur hanger

Here’s a classic move, components installed half-ass and adjusted to work in a half-ass position. In this picture you see that the derailleur bolt is only a couple threads installed into the derailleur hanger, or where it mounts to the frame of the bicycle. I wish I had pictures now to show what the results of this kind of installation looked like. Anyhow, poor shifting is the least of your concerns. Once the derailleur becomes detached it can dangle from the chain and end up in the spokes of your spinning wheel, bringing the wheel to an immediate stop.

If you’re not ready for the rear wheel to abruptly stop spinning then you’ll have to compensate for the bikes abrupt deceleration by flying over the bars in one of many different crash scenarios.

Check all your bolts. All the time.



In this next example, we have a new bike from Walmart discount stores. On top of it being new it is a full suspension bike. This typically means that the rear assembly of the frame is bolted together housed in bearings and shims. If even one of these bolts isn’t properly fastened and seated to torque the bike could spontaneously self-destruct:

Proper assembly of bikes is critical to your safety. Don’t underestimate the value of a well built bike and a well assembled bike. If you’re going to get a department store bike then at least pay a local bike shop to snoop through it and make it safer to ride. Note: “safer” not “safe”.

Department Store Bikes (part 1)

Let’s take a look at a few things: Without insurance it will cost you roughly $16,000 (possibly more) to surgically repair a broken wrist. A broken wrist which could result from riding a bike that wasn’t assembled correctly. This is a mechanical failure that can lead to a crash.

Now, you want to start mountain biking, just for example. You see that Fatbikes are taking hold and you think it would be fun to have one. You go to a bike shop and find that an entry level Fatboy from Specialized is $1400. Whoa! That’s a ton of money.




Specialized Fatboy

Then you visit Walmart and find that they have a Mongoose fatbike called the Dolomite. It’s on sale online for $207.53.

Mongoose Dolomite

Thinking about this, “oh, it’s just a bike” runs through your mind and you fail to see the implications of “just a bike.” You buy their bike. On your first test-ride around the neighborhood you realize it doesn’t shift through its meagre 7 gears like you think it ought to. With a thump you hit a curb and the handlebars spin to a 90 degree angle from the forward direction they should face. As you tumble slowly over the bars into the grass next to the curb the handlebar pokes your abdomen causing a painful charlie-horse. You sprain your wrist breaking the fall.

But you’re fine. It’s at this point that you realize this bike wasn’t assembled correctly. In the bike shop we see these bikes all the time. While they fit a budget quite nicely they come with absolutely no guarantee of quality or proper assembly. In fact, we see them improperly assembled all the time. Forks on backwards, bolts left loose, bottom brackets loose, and pedals mounted half-heartedly.

Aside from this, we see the cheapest use of materials possible. The fork dropouts (basically responsible for holding your front wheel in the frame) aren’t substantial enough to take the mildest abuse from trail riding.




Bikes like the Fatboy are 1. assembled correctly at your local bike shop and 2. are built with quality parts and materials. I don’t care if you’re a Specialized brand hater, that’s beside the point. The fact is, if you injure yourself on a bike that comes from a shop, it’s usually a result of the way you’re riding. It’s typical for a beginner to crash in mild situations. It happens to experienced riders all the time. But you’re not crashing as a result of improper bicycle assembly or use of poor materials.

Would it have been worth paying $1400 to have a bike that shifts correctly, was safe to ride, and has the guarantee of a local shop? You can judge for yourself. $16,000 for a broke wrist? You could buy 14 really great and well built bikes for that price.

How to adjust a rear derailleur

If you are thinking where my post about adjusting front derailleurs might be, it’s not. It’s not a thing anymore, well with mountain bikes. Road bikes will continue to use this antiquated technology until it finally arrives at the bitter end of a dark tunnel.

Step 1: Take your bike to your local bike shop.

If you are more persistent and have read on, then my instructions are below. You will find a video link attached in a few weeks.

  1. Make sure that the derailleur hanger is straight (if you don’t know what this is then repeat the above “step 1”)
  2. Disconnect the derailleur cable (for non-electric systems)
  3. Now dial in your high and low limits by physically pushing the derailleur to the low and high cogs; gently! Adjust your H and L screws so that the chain makes no strange or shifting sounds in those two cogs
  4. Back off all barrel adjusters associated with this system
  5. Attach your derailleur cable to the derailleur using the pinch bolt (gum or duct-tape attachments that work get a star) in the default (usually high) position (Hint: XTR, XT, XX1, X01 and similar derailleurs typically like a little cable slack, maybe 2mm from the tight position at the pinch bolt)
  6. Begin shifting while pedaling the system
  7. Make necessary barrel adjustments to adjust tension on the cable if the shift isn’t quite right
  8. Listen to each gear as the chain rides over it; no sounds should emanate that aren’t simply the normal chain and cog interface

I promise a video to explain all this and make it easier to follow. But for now if you’re desperate then just take it to a shop and pay the $15 to get it done right. 

Ridin’ the Train

At a point in time when there was great poverty and starvation, calamity and horror, the Draisienne was invented. Somehow, the folks in the United States misspelled this so badly it wasn’t even relate-able. It didn’t have pedals. It was around 1812. (Bicycling Science, MIT Press, 18)

Since that time there have been folks like me fixing the offspring of the Draisienne, what has become today’s bicycle. In Europe this is still a respected trade as cycling is very much a part of daily life and critical to getting around. Here in the United States, cycling is primarily a recreational diversion. Although, folks will use them to get around the cities, you won’t see so many of them in use on the country-side. Of course as you drive along the country road you’ll see a few of these machines and their owners dead in the ditches on the shoulder as they’re continually targeted by terrible humans driving smokey automobiles.

The bicycle is used worldwide for getting from place to place quicker than walking. It’s a workhorse. To fuel it you need to eat potatoes. But like all machines they break down and cause heartache. This is where we, the mechanics of bicycles, come in. We save the day. We’ve been charged with the safe riding of all cyclists, except those who choose to buy their velo from a department store.

In the US more and more folks are riding bikes as entertainment and means of fitness. It means I’ll always have work. But as long as I work on these machines I will never have a retirement plan, a pension, insurance, or really anything other than a bike and place to lay my head.