Sunday, December 31, 2006

Maintenance Matters

Liza and I had a night out last night. After Maddie fell asleep, a babysitter came by and sat. We headed downtown. The picture here is not very good. Not to make lame excuses, but it was taken while going up Adams street (good climb on cobblestone) with a camera that has no view finder. I took about 5 of these. This was the best one.

Anyway, it was about 20F last night and patches of ice, so Liza rode her studded Fuji fixed and I rode my studded, geared bike (the Shogun). I re-learned a couple lessons last night.

1. Riding a fixed gear in super cold weather keeps you warm on the downhill rides. I knew this, but the lesson was driven home last night. Our house to downtown is about a 400 foot elevation drop over about 2 miles or so. On a fixed gear, you're backpedaling and engaged with the hill -- you're working a bit and keeping the blood circulating. On a geared bike, this is a coast. You're just sitting there, literally just sitting exposed in the cold and getting colder with the wind making you colder yet. Man! I froze on the way downtown last night. Dang.

2. Coasting doesn't require pedaling. When you pedal, you will notice potentially bad stuff in the chain, gear, and shifting departments right away. Not to mention that the gear and shifting departments are non-existent on a fixed.

I've been riding my Shogun lately on longer snowy rides. I typically come home and leave it in the cold garage. The drive train, the rims, everything is packed with snow and ice. Eventually that melts and takes all the grease/oil with it. Riding home last night, I couldn't get over how noisy and chunky the chain was. When I shifted down the rear cog, a mousy squeak complemented the grindy chunky chaconne (I've been waiting to use "chaconne" for a long time ... years actually). Aside from the noise, I could feel it: that unsettling notchiness feel -- like a cup and cone bottom bracket that is too tight; or a chain link that is halfway busted and just ten pounds of torque away from popping off.

Then I checked out the chain this morning.

Chains are not supposed to be orange and dry. I've never been much for maintenance, but I've got to do better than this. It would not have been a good thing if I had popped a chain link at 11:50 PM, at 20 F, with no cell phone. Of course I carry a chain tool and an extra bit of chain. But when it's that cold, and after a couple drinks, and under the stress of babysitter overtime, that's about the last bit of bike work I want to attempt with numb fingers, with the exception of maybe, say, building a wheel.

So, I fed the chain this morning and it sucked up gobs of oil. I tried the "wet" oil this time. Does it really matter what kind of chain oil we put on these things? If everyone has their absolute favorite that they "swear by," and each sworn by oil is different, then how can it really matter? On a ride out to Liberty Lake a couple months ago, I heard the little mouse squeak symphony warming up on my Atlantis. I ended up stopping by the QuickLube and borrowing a tablespoon of oil from their overflow bucket. Worked great, whatever kind of oil it was. My buddy Alex keeps a tiny bit of oil in a "Beano" container when he tours. That works too. I recently found a small eye drop container that looks like it may be suitable for carrying some oil. At some point I'll get around to filling it up and adding it to my fussy, long-haul tool kit.


jim g said...

Oiling a dirty chain is a sure-fire way of killing it quick...

John Speare said...

oh yeah. I'm a chain breaker. And a chain recycler. Hence the chain tool and links I have in all my tool kits.
It's a stupid place to be frugal. One of my new year's resolutions is to standardize on sram 48's and take better care of them.