It's Mike's second winter, and the last one was pretty hard on him: looks like this one is far worse. Or maybe it's just a long slow process of abuse piling on abuse, that's finally come to a head.
On my way home a few days ago, I was climbing the hill between Billings Bridge and Heron and discovered halfway up that I had shifted into the lowest gear (well, the lowest gear of the top set: I just don't really use the left-hand shifter) and couldn't shift back. The grip shift wouldn't turn, no matter what I did. I pulled over to wrestle with it, swore a bit, and wound up biking home relatively slowly, with my feet going roundandroundandround very fast on the pedals. It was unbalancing, and nerve-wracking on the street, so I eventually dove for the safety of the sidewalk.
When I got home I tried to figure out what had happened. The rubber sheath around the shifter had certainly pretty much had it - torn and splitting - but that wasn't the problem. I flipped the bike over and tried to clean it off with a rag and a bucket.
This is where I have to mention that one disadvantage of having a bike in an apartment is that there is no convenient way to, um, wash the bike. I can't take it in the back yard with a hose or anything. I had to go out into the hallway with my bucket when I realized I was going to be sloshing dirty water all over my floor. (The hallway, at least, gets cleaned regularly and has a pretty stain-resistant industrial carpet: my floor is hardwood.)
So I slooshed some water from the rag over the gears and the derailleur, and then turned the pedals. I still didn't like the grinding gritty noise I was getting, but eventually I got it washed up (a bit) and lubricated (a lot). The gears still wouldn't shift. So, I suited up and headed out to my local bike shop.
Wheeled Mike inside and asked the guy behind the counter, who pulled on the cable a little, tried to turn the handle, and told me, nope, it was fine, the derailleur was probably just gummed up. "Winter bikes," he said, slightly dismissively, "they gum up a lot." I said something like "So, I just need to go give it a good cleaning and see if it works?" and he said yeah.
So I wheeled Mike home again, got him into my apartment. And, again - I don't have a back yard or a hose, right? So I did. Really I did. I took his back wheel off, wrestled him through the hallway to my bathroom, and I gave my bicycle a bath.
I won't get into the weird contortions and awkward angles required to get your rear derailleur underneath a bathtub tap. Or the amount of chipping with a wooden skewer I did, while sitting on the rim of the tub, to get the grit out of the back wheel's gears. But I did get him rinsed off (did he ever leave a bathtub ring) and back out to the hallway, where I greased everything back up with my bottle of bike lubricant, and got the wheel back on.
Still no shifting. And then I noticed that the cable really wasn't all right. I'm no expert, but I'd say this ain't what the gearshift cable should look like:
So, it's back to the bike shop and this time insisting that they actually check the bike out rather than give it a cursory eyeballing, plucking the cable a bit, and sending me home. This is, after all, my mode of transportation.