Rear Derailleur

Over time, the cables in bike transmissions stretch, the chains wear, things slip out of alignment.  Eventually the chain doesn’t shift cleanly from cog to cog when the rider moves the shifter on the handlebar.

Both of my frequently ridden bikes, the Trek 2.1 and the Jamis Coda Comp, had gotten to that point.  It’s annoying, because then I have to anticipate an extra tap or two to get the chain in place.  If the chain overshoots the desired cog I have to tap it again to get it on the next cog, and then shift back to the cog I want.  If it undershoots I have to tap the shifter again.  Meanwhile, I am not in the gear I want to be in, and the chain may be riding on top of the sprockets without settling into any gear at all.  On a climb, for instance, the delay can cause significant unnecessary deceleration while I get it sorted out.

As a radically amateur mechanic, I waver between the idea that I can learn to be a passing-level bike fixer for the simpler repairs, and that the idea that I’d rather have the easy expertise and the perfect result of a professional.  Of course I know (a) that the professional result may not be perfect and (b) I’m smart enough to learn.  The questions are (a) If I screw it up, will I damage an expensive part, (b) how many tools will I need to buy, and (c) do I have a good enough touch to sense when I have it right?  In this case the answer to questions (a) and (b) are “no” and “none” respectively, so I forged ahead.

One of the joys of the Internet these days is YouTube.  It has an incredible array of amazing clips, and among them, relevant to my purposes, are a number on bicycle repair.  Several of them address my topic—adjusting a rear derailleur.

Among the ones I checked, I liked this one best:

I had never thought of several nuances it brings up, such as loosening the cable clamp and re-setting the cable tension when you begin.  In fact, that’s the only time in the process I needed a tool, a socket wrench to loosen and tighten the clamp screw.

Other than that, assuming the jockey wheels are properly aligned, it’s all about starting with the least tension on the chain, which is to say the chain must be on the smallest chainring and the smallest cog.  The rest, after adjusting basic chain tension, involves getting the chain squarely on the sprockets by using the cable adjustment barrel.  The mental challenge there for me is to remember that turning the barrel “outward” will increase cable tension and “inward” will decrease it.  Somehow that seems entirely counter-intuitive to me.  Another thing I learned is that in some cases the adjuster needs turning quite far, while I thought the turns would be minute.  Actually they are when the final adjustment is made.  I found that the processes are similar for each of my bikes, but I guess they should be since the two cassettes are virtually the same.

The acid test was the road test—how did they feel on a ride?  In both cases, the improvement was noticeable.  I do think that I could adjust them a bit more finely, but they really “chunk” into place solidly now.  New skill learned.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2013.






Davey Johnson’s Locker

I never want to write about baseball, because there are so many fans who know so much more about the game than I do.  But as a third-level Washington Nationals fan (Red Sox first, Braves second), I’ve enjoyed the luxury, after many a year, of rooting for a major league baseball team resident in my metropolitan area.  The media coverage allows for in-depth understanding of team dynamics—the players, the coaches, the owners.  For better or for worse, I know what is going on, and I appreciate what these professional athletes go through every day, who they are, and how the individual and team dynamics shift, slide, shuffle over the long season.  (The old Cardinals and Reds pitcher Jim Brosnan wrote a great baseball book called The Long Season about his 1959 experience; a must read.)  Indeed, the uniquely long season, 154 games in Brosnan’s day, 162 today, contributes mightily to baseball’s being a unique team sport.

This year our Washington Nationals were projected to be a shoo-in for a World Series experience long before the snows melted and the dirt thawed on baseball diamonds across the country.  Talk around the Hot Stove League (village pundits in old-fashioned general merchandise and hardware stores huddled around the old wood-burner to keep warm) was that the extra year’s maturing of their young squad and the retaining of some old pros –$13M to 32-year-old pitcher Dan Haren, $28M/2 yr to 33-year-old closer Raphael Soriano, and $24M/2 yr to keep 33-year-old slugger and slick fielder Adam LaRoche after a career year–was just the mixture to put the Nats over the top.

As I write this on July 28 the Nationals are floundering, 3 games under .500, 8 ½ games behind the Braves in their division, and this after winning three of their last four games.   Every fan had an innate if intangible sense–even fear–coming out of Spring Training that something was wrong, that the hype was just that, and trouble lay ahead.  The Nationals’ best young pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, did not have one solid outing all spring.  He began erratically and is now pitching better, but he’s getting no run support.  Indeed, offensive production from Spring Training forward has been the biggest failure for these Nationals.  Only Bryce Harper was hitting well in March and beyond, and he ran into a wall early in the season, resulting in a knee injury and much reduced performance.  Two or three weeks into the season it was pretty clear that the team was in trouble.  Danny Espinosa, their second baseman, was striking out at an alarming rate; their displaced closer, Drew Storen, was getting nobody out in his setup role.  They missed their biggest slugger and emotional core player, Mike Morse, who was exiled to Seattle.  The entire team lapsed into a kind of catatonic stupor, and nobody, players, coaching staff, or manager knew what to do.

Meanwhile the local sports pundits—Tom Boswell, Adam Kilgore, Mike Wise, Dave Steinberg, et al.—were writing “they’ll snap out of it any day” columns regularly for the first three months of the season, and the TV sports anchors were echoing it.  These folks are supposed to be astute observers of the game and the team, but they are just now catching on, as the “Unraveling of the Nationals” story in today’s Washington Post signifies.  From “nothing’s really wrong” to “what went wrong” in a couple of weeks.  Zowie!

It has always astonished me that consummate sports professionals need motivation to be at their best, but they do. The manager doesn’t always have to impart fear, but there has to be something more visceral than “respect” for a manager when things start to go awry.  Even a double World Championship manager like Terry Francona of the Boston Red Sox completely lost his team in September 2011.  Chemistry does not last forever.  Good managers don’t get stupid overnight, any more than they get smart when they have excellent personnel.  But the right fit between manager and team is never eternal.  As Warren Spahn, best of all MLB left-handed pitchers, said of the famed mentor who was on the bench with him at the early stages, and then the tail end, of his career, “I played for Casey Stengel both before and after he was a genius.”

Davey Johnson of the Nationals personifies this phenomenon.  He came out of higher management “retirement” to coach the Nationals in 2011 when his predecessor unexpectedly quit.  Johnson did a wonderful job with the Nats, especially in 2012.  Having overseen the debuts of Stephen Strasburg (post-surgery) and Bryce Harper, and having earned his players’ trust and respect, he coaxed high level performances from them, individually and as a unit, and he got them into the post-season, albeit briefly.  His attitude has been unfailingly positive, but he his firm on his own principles, such as putting Strasburg on a pitch count in his first season after elbow ligament replacement surgery.

Yet this year as his team has underperformed he acts shell-shocked and clueless.  No fire, no anger, no passion.  He now appears to be a great manager for a front-running, overachieving team, when he can be positive and supportive, and stay pretty much out of the players’ way.  In the face of this year’s crisis, however, he seems to be a terrible motivator of underachievers and unimaginative about how to shake things up.  It would be nice to see Johnson visibly upset, and with some kind of clue about how to motivate his players beyond moving a few of them up and down the batting order. Fans and players alike deserve more.

The immediate problem is that the team is not going to fire Johnson, since he announced his post-season retirement before the campaign began. Perhaps the players, knowing he is a lame duck, have lost respect and the will to play hard for him.  Without strong and purposeful managerial direction the season is pretty much sunk, as the players’ performances have largely rendered it anyway. Building for next year? They still have a good core, but they will need to start with new leadership, a necessarily different managerial vision, with every player earning his respect from a different leader.  As a Red Sox fan, I suggest a look at the Red Sox’ September 2011, and their entire ensuing 2012 season, to see what that looks like. It is not pretty.


A Davey Johnson Postscript:  Davey Johnson played for 13 years in the big leagues.  In that time he hit 136 home runs.  His home run totals were double-digit on five occasions: 10, 10, 15, 18, and, in 1973, playing for the Braves, 43.  Yes, he hit 32%, nearly 1/3, of all the home runs he ever hit in one year.  His career slugging percentage was .404, but in 1973 it was .546, or 35% higher than his career number.  The one sports stat that pops into my mind in this context is Floyd Landis and his 11:1 T/E ratio in 2006’s Tour de France.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2013.

Thoughts While Cycling

  • How appalling that today is only the third day I have ridden in the month of July.  Blame the terrible weather—either rainy or hot—and some badly timed schedule conflicts, plus a trip to Old Saybrook that was also heavily scheduled and short on good cycling weather.
  • I’ve been hitting the exercise bike, though.  It’s important to me to keep that cardio exercise going.
  • The DVD for my recent exercise bike rides has been the 2007 Tour de France.  That’s the one in which the race leader, Michael Rasmussen, was dismissed after Stage 16 for lying about his whereabouts during training—i.e. skipping out-of-competition drug tests.  Haven’t gotten to that part, though.  The final winner of the 2007 Tour was Alberto “Clenbuterol” Contador.
  • I rode today in dank and sullen weather.  It’s part of the weather cycle this summer.  The morning clouds are low-lying, but not quite fog.  Often they break in the middle of the day.  There is usually rain, showers, or semi-serious threat thereof before sunset.
  • I can start riding these days by 8:30 and still get the benefits of the overnight low temperature.  The sun now rises after 6:00 and does not get far up in the sky until 9:30 or 10:00.
  • A clean bike feels like a faster bike.
  • Ascending a rise where the trail overpasses a road in Reston today, I passed a mom and daughter stopped by the side of the trail.  The girl, it appeared, needed a breather on this very warm, sticky day.  Cresting the overpass, I soon rode past a dad and his son descending.  I am guessing that it was a family ride, and each parent had stayed with one of the kids.  Or as Phil Liggett would have put it, “this climb has scattered the peloton all over the mountainside today, Paul.”
  • For the first time in 23 days, I could not return from my ride today and sit down to watch live bike racing on TV.  Only eleven months and three weeks until the 2014 Tour!
  • The weather promises to be in the 80s, showery, and humid for the rest of the week.  After a schedule conflict tomorrow, I am going to be out there on my bike.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2013

Tour de France, Take 3: Seems Like Old Times

Watching Chris Froome motor away at a high cadence in thin air atop Mont Ventoux yesterday certainly was exciting.  Riding alongside perhaps the best pure climber in the race, pedaling at a rate approaching 100 rpm, urging his fellow race leader to do a turn on the front, and finally charging to victory up the steep drive next to the weather station/observation tower, besting Nairo Rojas by 30 seconds, Chris Froome brought to mind nothing so much as Lance “Nobody” Armstrong riding the final kilometers on Ventoux with the late Marco Pantani in 2000, thirteen years ago.

Armstrong won the Tour that year (he would un-win it in 2012), and Pantani is only a memory except to a few ghoulish Italian prosecutors who want to rebuke him posthumously for using PEDs.  And Lance did not win his stage, but in a misunderstood and perhaps misplaced gesture intended as good sportsmanship, he let Pantani win it.  Very likely they were both on PEDs.  Very likely, it seems to me, Froome was on them yesterday,

The great Greg LeMond said that when something seems “incredible” or “unbelievable” in cycling, it probably is.  That’s certainly how yesterday’s performance struck me.  The power ratings, the sheer speed, the apparent  absence of all fatigue (though he did need oxygen afterwards), the singular dramatic superiority of Froome to the rest of the field, all add up to an incredible, unbelievable performance.  I am going to be very interested to see how the clean cycling advocates spin this.  Many have accused Team Sky of doping just because they have won a lot of races this season.  I have resisted that view.  But Froome is putting himself in the position of needing to prove a negative–not a happy position, yet when you’re distinctly, singularly, above the rest, it makes the once burned, twice shy cycling fan wonder long and hard.  And if the next thing Froome does is launch on a 120 km solo breakaway and end up with an 11:1 T/E ratio, I am really going to be suspicious.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2013.

Tour de France 2013, Take 2. Gimme a Breakaway

Chris Froome has won the 2013 Tour de France. Now I know how anticlimactic the action was from 1999 to 2005 when Nobody (AKA Lance Armstrong) won the Tour. He’d grab an insurmountable victory margin anywhere from the opening time trial to the first or second mountain stage, and then just open it up a bit more at every opportunity. There could be other interesting stages, sprints, contests for the points jersey or the other podium spots, but the biggest prize, the overall (General Classification, or GC) victory, was never in doubt.
This year Froome has a lead of about 3 minutes. Until yesterday his own teammate, Richie Porte, was in second. However that has all changed, and now some more bona fide contenders trail him. But given Froome’s overall climbing and time trialling skills, he can only fall out of the lead by crashing.
Yet today’s stage shows how much exciting action can enter the race even on the current of something as invisible as a stiff breeze during a flat stage. Crosswinds broke the peloton into small groups, who struggled along in a double-echelon formation. Alejandro Valverde, podium contender, crashed and fell disastrously behind. Struggling with a few teammates against the wind, he could not hang in contention. Conversely, Alberto Contador and his Saxo-Bank team attacked Froome, his weakened Sky team, and the struggling peloton with about 20 km to go. He grabbed back about 68 seconds to put himself back into contention for the podium. And with both Mont Ventoux and the Alps ahead, including the bizarre double climb of L’Alpe d’Huez, with a little more luck, who knows what could happen? Should I just ignore my own opening assertion?

Tour de France 2013, Take 1: Wiggo and the White Whale

I have not commented on this year’s Tour de France yet, though I have watched it with great interest.  If you want a comprehensive and perceptive stage-by-stage analysis, I suggest Matt Gilchrist’s Weblog, also linked from my Blogroll.  The rather odd field that started the race last Saturday did not include last year’s overall winner, Brad Wiggins.  He has had an up-and-down early 2013 season, set back by injuries and illnesses, but he is also contending with internal team politics and his own athletic motivation.

The internal politics at Team Sky Pro Cycling already have led to the departure of one of the best sprinters in the world, Mark Cavendish, after a one-year presence there.  The “Manx Missile” saw he never would receive full team support for his sprints as long as there is such a strong push on the team for an overall GC victory.  Reminds me a bit of earlier sprinters like Erik Zabel of the old Deutsche Telekom team, which always supported GC contender Jan Ullrich first and foremeost, or Robbie McEwen, who just never raced with a really strong sprinter-supporting team.  They proved they could win sprints anyhow, but it was not easy, an certainly not something that Cavendish’s massive ego could accept.

But there remain on Team Sky not only Wiggo but Chris Froome, who gave glimpses last year that he might be the better climber of the two (not surprising, since Wiggins began as a track racer).  An organization in any sport with two captains on the same squad is inviting divisive turmoil.  To try to avoid such chaos, this year the Team Sky game plan was to back Wiggins in the Giro d’Italia and Froome in the Tour.  But Wiggo fizzled out in Italy, and decided he didn’t even want to contest the hundredth running of the TdF.

And that’s where the athletic motivation comes into play.  Just last week on DVD I saw Wiggins being interviewed right after winning the Tour in 2012.  He said it was the thrill of a lifetime, and he’d always dreamed of winning the TdF.  He seemed very satisfied, and did not indicate that he had ambitions for multiple victories.  Then this year he announced early on that the Giro would be his principal goal, and even intimated that he’d ride a supporting role for Froome in the Tour.  Wiggins is no spring chicken, having been 32 years old last summer.  He could not realistically plan on a path of several years’ development of stage racing form up to the level of winning a string of multiple Tours.

But there’s more to it than that in my book.  Wiggo just seems to be the kind of athlete whose competitive fires don’t rage in the direction of amassing multiple achievements of the same goal.  He’s happy with his Tour victory as a one-off, not as the first step to greater glory, in contrast to others such as the mysterious ghostly “nobody” who is not in the current record books but whose golden presence certainly haunted the Champs Elysees TdF podiums from 1999 to 2005.  Wiggo’s being able to say “been there, done that” and go off into other cycling pursuits makes him more like the rest of us, pleased to have been somewhere great but kind of over it afterwards.   Leave it to the obsessive Captain Ahabs of life to pursue their mythic and alarmingly large, all consuming visions even to the edge of doom.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2013