Repairs are Helpful, and Other Things That Should be Obvious

Recently, I had my bike tuned up while I was out of town. I get palpably excited about that first pedal stroke foreword, as I lift myself up onto the saddle – how smooth I know its going to be, how the kinks in the chain and gears will all have been worked out, how the brakes will be so tight I hardly need to touch them. When I took my bike in, it had been making a strange clicking/creaking/grinding noise in the crank arms, but nothing felt loose. There had also been some occasional issues with the derailleur and some ghost shifting. When I talked to the mechanic, it came to light that both the cassette and chain needed replacing.

I picked my bike up several hours later, ready to take that first magical, post-tune up ride, but the clicking was still happening in the crank arms despite their having checked it out and found nothing, and the ride didn’t feel as smooth as I imagined it should have.

Several days later, I blew a tube riding in downtown, because someone decided that the appropriate place to leave their nail clippers was in the middle of the street. I could write a whole post on how frustrating unnecessary road hazards are (potholes I can understand), but I will save that for another time. Naturally I pulled over, and fixed my flat. Except for the fixing part. I accidentally bent the presta valve with my hand pump and ended up having to walk my bike home, which was hugely disappointing. The Chest Cold that Will Not End is finally coming to a close, and I was looking foreword to riding for a while.

Resigned to my fate, I embarked on a much more successful journey of home bike repair, used my back up spare tube and was ready to roll. Until it came time to actually roll. When I left my house the next morning, eager to finally get going on some errands and such, I noticed an unfamiliar resistance when I would start from a complete stop, and an inability to get momentum going. This problem intensified over the course of my trip to the bike shop. I ended up doing the necessary part of my ride, on a street so flat a marble would not have rolled unless there was extreme wind, in the middle chain ring and lowest gear. When I could finally stop at a bike shop they told me I had broken the rear axle.

This has happened once before, but only after a bad fall and then some unceremonious manhandling of my bike into the back of a truck. Nothing like that has happened in recent memory, but I have increased both the harshness of my rides and their duration exponentially in the last year’s time – from palatial streets for about 20 miles per week, to all sorts of strange, half built trails and roads going upwards of 100 miles per week. Because I ride a hybrid, I also expect a certain amount of functionality – hauling home groceries and other heavy objects strapped to the rack or in baskets hanging off the side of same.

Later that same day I picked my bike, complete with new hard axle, back up from the shop and finally got my first, perfect pedal stroke. The griding/clicking/creaking noise was gone, the brakes were tight, and the gears were smooth. But as I lifted myself up onto the saddle, I noticed I was sitting higher than normal. Not more upright, just higher. The seatpost, which is usually in the lowest position, had been raised slightly for someone to test ride the bike. At first I was extremely unsure about riding home like this, but I didn’t bring my multi-tool and had no way to fix it. But my feet could easily reach the pedals through the full revolution and I always come all the way down off the saddle when I stop anyway, so I figured I would just go with it. By the time I got home I was sold. Being up higher meant that I had a much fuller extension of my leg than I had previously, and I was able to use different muscles to power myself foreword. Even though the day was extremely windy – I would have written this yesterday, but we had a power outage that lasted all night – I was less tortured than normal by it.

I feel like a giant, sitting up so high, and leaning further foreword will take some getting used to, but I am in love with this new positioning. I can feel muscles in my legs that only sort of got a chance to work, moving smoothly, powerfully, as I maneuver myself more quickly around the city. Conventional wisdom says that your bike frame is the right size if you can touch the ground from the saddle, only with even a single toe. I never really tested this theory, but I was cautious about overextending my knees and hurting myself, so I never tried a different saddle height, trusting that was good for me at the beginning would still be good for me now. Much like the ongoing saga of shifting more heavily to a road bike, my own conventional wisdom about being a cyclist is changing, and this is further proof that I need to trust in the wisdom I have accumulated.

Tomorrow I am planning a long ride with a friend, and am eager to test out this new found muscular teamwork on a variety of grades. I am looking foreword to the soreness.

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