Sunday, January 23, 2011


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.


  1. Mike is clean!

    Have you noticed bike shop guys regularly dismissing your bike concerns? I've noticed this more than once, and wonder sometimes if it's because I'm a GIRL (Cooties!!!)

    Although, maybe it's because neither Miss Scarlett nor Captain Butler are really "serious" bikes. Or maybe my bike concerns really are stupid... also a possibility.

  2. Hey Shelly - I wasn't going to *say* it but... you got it! Sometimes I feel like when I come into the shop and I'm not some overly Spandexed guy with a high-end commuter, they just disregard. It's really hard not to get the vibe that you're being dismissed because you're a girl. (Or because your bike is a clunker, or because you're not wearing any super-fancy technical gear.)

  3. Awe, that's no good. Where's a Savage Bro when you need one. Glad Mike is all cleaned up and hopefully he gets running well again. Junior

  4. It's *probably* just that the little nut that holds the end of the cable into the derailleur got loose, and the cable slipped right through. You can probably just loosen it up again, pull the cable through until it's snug, and tighten it back up to hold it in place. do this with the shifter set to have the maximum slack in the cable, and you probably won't even need to adjust much of anything afterwards, though you can always use the barrel by the shifter (where the cable comes out) to do fine adjustments to the tension.

    BTW, cables are surprisingly easy to replace when you have the right tools! I expected a much bigger job, but it was really quick. Replacing all the housing would take longer, of course, though I really have to do that as well... To the bike store! Some day.

  5. You use your good bike in the winter? That's cruel.

    From the photo, it looks like the shifter is slackening the cable, but the derailleur isn't pulling that slack. Seems like the spring in the derailleur isn't pushing.

    In addition to Jon-o's suggestions, check the alignment and routing of your chain through the derailleur. If the derailleur doesn't reset to the smallest gear when the chain is off, there's your problem. Also, you didn't tighten the set screws all the way, did you?

  6. Ask your LBS to replace the cable and housing with a full housing run from shifter to derailleur - this helps keep contaminents out. I also use a graphite lubricant that is rated to -40 degrees. An spray can at Home Depot was about $8.

  7. @ Centertowner .... I use my *only* bike in the winter. :-) Between the storage issues of a small apartment and the expense of buying a second bike it's sorta the way things are.

    Thanks for all the suggestions, folks! I'll give him a once-over again and see if I can fix it on my own before heading back to the LBS. I do have a goal of learning how to fix most things on my own so I don't feel like so much of a newb. Wish I had a rack to put him up on though, so I don't have to flip him upside down and work on the floor.

    And yeah, Junior: where are the Savages when I need em? Oh, right. They're in Fredericton. (Dangit.)

  8. I gave up on gears. For 2 years I used a beater with an internal hub and it worked for about half the winter season. By the end they didn't shift and I just gave it back to Recycles. The year between I had an external, and again it stopped shifting half way through, and at the end I gave it back to recycles too. This year I decided to just go fixed since I didn't to shift anyways. I might consider giving Mike a 'quick and dirty' single speed treatment (take off the derailer, shorten the chain and leave him in a gear that is comfortable.

    As for winter storage, lots of office buildings have indoor bike parking. I just leave my winter bike there during the summer and vice-versa. Check in on them now and then and maybe move them to a new spot so it looks like it has been used.

    For the cost, start saving now because my experience is that winter bikes don't have long lives. I'm hoping that the fixie I ride now will last 5 winters, only because I have a 5 year parts warranty on it (I actually bought this one new)

  9. Kay, so Jon-o's suggestion re: tightening the cable worked fine to tighten the cable. But, gears still won't shift and the bike seems stuck on third. Bah! It's off to the LBS wi' me. At least now I have some things I can tell them!

  10. This is the time to call - BICYCLE REPAIR MAN

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