A Semi Fictional Day

While this account is somewhat fictional, a mechanic will experience each of these things every day. From time to time, a day will include all of these situations. This story was submitted from another angry bike mechanic… somewhere far, far away.

Here we go, One Hell of a Day

Telephone rings…. “Hello. What time is packet pickup??”

Answer: “Between 4 and 6.”

“Okay. Thanks.” Click.

Customer walks through the door, has a tricycle from the 1960’s in her hand. I look at and am thinking deep down, “You’re not going to ask it.” I was proved wrong. “Do you still fix these? Can you get parts?”

Successfully ruining her day, “Nope. Sorry. All that stuff is so old you might find a collective of people hanging onto what you need on the internet.” We can’t fix everything.

Telephone rings…. “Hello. What time is packet pickup??”

Answer: “Between 4 and 6.”

“Okay. Where do we get the race t-shirt?”

“Packet pickup.”

“What kind of a race is this? Is it mountain or road?”

Everyone knows that there wasn’t even a dirt road on this course route, a route that wasn’t a race either. It was a century. Which means that you attract a bunch of recreational cyclists. Which means that you get a lot of seemingly stupid questions. “I’m sorry, what?”

“What kind of bike do I need?” As if to say, I am awesome, I have a mountain bike and a road bike, but I don’t know what either one is for…

“So it’s a road bike century. Bring your road bike.”

“Can I have someone bring my mountain bike for the road construction part, so I can switch??”

While the answer should have been “Certainly not” it was going to be hilarious for someone: “Yes, that’s fine but you’ll need to arrange it yourself. You still have to keep the course rules.”

Placated, “Thanks!!”

Customer pulls into the parking lot, and I swear this happens once a week, in a truck with a payload of junk bikes. Comes in the door, kind of distressed, “Hey man, you gotta help me out.” Not wanting to deal with it but reluctantly ask the question that feels like volunteering to test a shark bite suit, “What’s the matter?”

“I’ve got a couple of bikes with flat tires. They need fixin.”

“Bring em in..” exasperated.

“Can ya help me bring them in?”

“How many are there?”


“Well, shit man. You can’t just bring in 6 bikes at a time in the back of your truck!” is what every mechanic wants to say. But the problem is shop or no shop, tires need to be fixed and money needs to be made.

“So how much am I looking at here… fix all them flats?”

“On average, each bike will be 23 dollars in parts and labor..”

“Can’t ya just see which one’s need to be replaced??” Phone rings..

“Hang on, sir..”

Looking flustered he watches me answer the phone.. “Hello, You’re awesome local bike shop. What can I do for you?”

“What time is packet pickup?”

“Did you find it on the website?”

“Yes, but I wanted to make sure it hadn’t changed.”

“Nope, that’d be really weird if it had. Anything else?”

“What kind of nutrition will be on the event?” A seriously tough question that I, the awesome local bike shop mechanic, had no answer for because I was not part of the event, or the organization of the event.

“It’s going to the best food you’ve ever had on course.”



“What exactly?”

I had no idea how to handle these questions, looked back and hollered for Carol, the event coordinator. Told her I had a question on the line about the food for the century. She looked back, shrugged, “I don’t know.” I say, “Take the call.”

Carol: “Yes. Yes. Coke.”

The gentleman with the truck was patiently waiting.. “Sorry man, that’s something you should have done. We only charge minimum labor to replace tubes. We can’t go through and check 6 bikes to see if they’ll hold air. Either we replace all the tubes and you pick up the bikes tomorrow or we sell you some tubes and you do the job yourself… It’ll be 130 dollars.”

“What?!” shreiking a little.

“Six bikes sir.”

“Can ya give me a break?”

“If I give you a $45 break will that work?”

“Yeah man!”

Intolerant of swindlers: “Ok, then I can fix 4 of your 6 bikes.”

Telephone rings…. “Hello. What time is packet pickup??”

Answer: “Between 4 and 6.”

“Okay. Thanks. What should I wear?”


I glance at the guy with 12 flat tires.

“What?? I guess I’ll fix ’em.”

“12 tubes. Seventy-two dollars please.”

Broken Bike Chain?

Yes, broken bike chain is a syndrome and no one is immune. It can happen to you with haste. And sometimes there is no explanation other than shoddy craftsmanship. Most of the time it’s a result of poor care.

With chains doing so much of the work, ie, taking you forward up hills and across the land, they get all of the brunt and no thanks. No one gets off their bike and says, “I am so happy about that chain! It’s allowed me to pedal my bike up to this ridge line. Damn it’s gorgeous up here!”

Usually it goes something more like this: “This is a damn fine bike.” They take a look around and move along with a high level of stoke. Life is good. The chain goes unthanked.

What about when the chain breaks? My breaks have been in places that are exclusively isolated and inconvenient. I have to say that at the moment I was not excited about my relationship with my chain.

Why they break:

You’re asking why this happens. So am I. But I know why. Let’s take a look:

  1. chain needed replacing a long time ago and is structurally unsound to operate
  2. really bad shifting (under load)
  3. Installed by an idiot (someone unqualified)
  4. Manufacturer Defect

1. Chain’s need to be replaced as they are a serious wear item. The chain is an assembly of small parts where metal on metal movement is part of life. As the chain twists and bends laterally and rolls over thousands of rpm’s per ride, it’s exposed to dirt and grime and bad shifts. The plates wear at their carrier pins and develop flex. At a certain point this starts to be measured as “chain stretch.” It’s because now the fittings of plates against pins is super sloppy.

broken chain example 1 & 2
fractured chain plates

Then one day under load you shift and then a plate fractures or peels away from the pin and you have a broken chain. End.

broken chain
example 3 & 4

2. When chains shift from cog to cog or chainring to chainring, the chain flexes in an abrupt way, much like when you’re about to miss an exit on the highway at 80 mph and you go for it. Something that is otherwise straight takes on a temporary sharp bend to go to the next gear. When this action happens under load or hard, fast pedaling (like we see done on e-bikes) the chain wears the pins at an accelerated rate. Now concepts from rule 1 apply.

breaking chain
example 5 – chain plate peeling away; chain are quite strong and for a bit this will actually feel like something is going on with shifting until one makes a solid chain inspection

3. When a chain is installed using a formerly pressed out pin, or if a new pin is improperly installed:

improperly installed chain pin
improperly installed chain pin leads to nearly immediate breakage – repaired by simply replacing the link with a master-link

Sometimes the pin installation isn’t right but seems so close that it requires a trained eye. But generally, using a previously pressed pin is the culprit here.

Each chain pin as little flanges at the end that essentially hold the outer chain plates in place. Once a pin is pressed back out it knocks this flange off one side and once pressed back in there is nothing to retain the outer plate on that side of the pin. Do yourself a favor and replace it with either a masterlink or a new chain pin, depending on what chain you have.

shimano chain pin
shimano chain pins, each for a different speed chain.
sram power link
SRAM master link or power link (black is for 10 speed)

4. Sometimes you’re the victim of poor manufacture. Get to your local shop and talk with them about it. Here’s one:

SRAM XX1 Eagle chain that appears to have had a defective pin, notice how the pin is broken in the middle and the ends are still within the outer plates?


Get a new chain. Sometimes you need new chainrings and cogs as well, depending on how worn things are.

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.