Gummed up

Dionysus has been giving a bit of trouble shifting recently, particularly not being able to stay in the lowest gear, which is important when I’m working my way up the St. Antonio climb on the way home from the office.

I’d also noticed a flap of rubber hanging from the rear tire, and had torn it off on a recent ride. I have a new set of much wider tires ready to go on, and I’m basically waiting for these very good Contis to wear out.

I brought Dionysus up to the Workshop in the Sky on Saturday and had a close look. First, try as I might, I couldn’t find the spot on the rear tire where I’d torn off the hanging flap. There’s a bit of age cracking in the tread of both tires, but they’re both basically very sound. So I haven’t yet swapped out for the wider tires (which I’m not even sure are going to fit — they’re that much wider).

On the shifting issue, the first thing I did was put the chain gauge on. I wasn’t expecting significant wear as I’ve probably put on less than 3,000km since the great rebuild (and 1,000 of that was Fearless Leader Joe in a single month), but the gauge said the chain was half worn out. I decided it was best to replace it, and ordered a new chain. Rather than going with the stock SRAM part this time, I decided to give KMC a try. I’ve read good things about them, and I found a stylish chain at a slight discount to the SRAM price and available for immediate delivery.

After removing the old chain and using it as a guide to cut the new chain to length, I decided to clean up the rear cogs. I’ve been using a wet chain lube since returning from England, where my standard lube had washed off after the first encounter with rain, leaving me with a grinding, poorly shifting and dirty chain. The problem with the wet lube is it attracts every last speck of dirt and grime on the road, and it doesn’t let go.

I filled a bucket with water and degreaser and set to work on the gears with a stiff brush. And after a while, I found I wasn’t removing the caked-on gunk. It was hard to tell at times because the gears were coated black, and the gunk was blending in. But after some time spent scrubbing, I decided to leave the largest gears soaking in the degreaser solution for a day or two while I had a quick jaunt up a local mountain on my main squeeze, Kuroko.

As I scrubbed at the sprockets, silver teeth emerged in places. I had to check to make sure: they had originally been black. The coating has come off with wear. If they’d been silver, it meant I’d have a lot more scrubbing to do.

The sprockets that I’d left soaking in degreaser had come clean easily. The smaller sprockets that I hadn’t left to soak (because I’m an idiot) required a bit more attention with a shop towel soaked in degreaser. When I was satisfied, I rinsed all the cogs in clear water and then used degreaser to remove the packing grease from the new chain. I rinsed that as well and then left it all to dry on a newspaper.

Meanwhile I cleaned and regreased the freehub body. When everything had dried for a couple of hours in the sun, I put the cogs back on the freehub and tightened the lot down.

Detail of bicycle showing new chain
Shiny and new

It was a bit of a chore installing the new chain. There are a couple of specialist tools for this task which I don’t have: one which holds both ends of the chain together while I install the quick link, and another which tightens the quick link into place. Instead I struggled to hold the chain ends together while piecing the quick link together. It took a fair few tries before I got it right, and then I rotated the chain so the quick link was on the upper run, and stomped on the pedal to snap it tight.

I’ll be sure I have both those tools to hand before I try that operation again.

With the new chain in place, I still had to lubricate it and then readjust the rear derailleur. After studying some reviews, I got a new, all-purpose lube (meaning neither wet nor dry), and it went on smoothly.

The adjustment process was a bit more fraught. I spent some time balancing between having the chain securely in place on the lowest (largest) gear and yet having it shift smoothly and quietly while on the highest (smallest) gears. After several attempts and adjusting the limits, the B screw and the cable tension, I struck a compromise of sorts. I absolutely need the chain to be secure on the lowest gear for the St. Antonio climb and its ilk. I mostly use the mid-range gears and seldom work my way up into the highest gears. (Fearless Leader Joe, with his drastically slower cadence, may have some disagreement here.) So for the highest three gears, I was willing to accept some noise but still having reliable shifting.

I’m hoping that with some use, things will settle in a bit more. If not, it may be time to replace the rear cogs — although from the kilometers ridden I’d still say it’s too early.

The bike still needs a washing — Nana had laundry on the balcony today, including my riding clothes — and I want to get rust converter onto those bad rust spots until I have a chance for another repaint.

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