On the Chain, Gang

About three years ago I converted my old Specialized Hard Rock Sport to a sort of “town bike.” I was not using it for its intended off-road purposes, and the shock absorbers in the forks drove me crazy going uphill because they absorbed so much energy that should have gone to the cranks. The knobby fat tires were noisy and high-friction on road surfaces, and the bike itself easily weighed 35 pounds.

So I bought Specialized road-friendly tires for it (smoother, tread for control on slick surfaces, not traction in mud), added a rack over the rear tire with a detachable commuter bag attached, a fold-up basket for groceries on the left side, a bell for warning pedestrians, and two locks: a U-lock mounted on the frame, and a cable lock in the commuter bag. Now it probably weighed 45 pounds, but was more useful.

The idea was that I could work fitness into my daily routines by doing local errands on this vehicle, while leaving the Audis safely in the garage. Whether it was going to Thoreau Middle School to vote, to CVS to pick up a prescription, to the bank for a deposit, to the library for a book, to Giant for food, to the P. O. to mail a package, or to Emmaus UCC to work on the finances, I’d use the bike. It worked pretty well, until nasty winter weather and summertime lassitude got the better of me.

And so the bike, my only bike not wall-mounted, stood in the garage, until yesterday.

That’s when the sublimely perfect fall weather forecast for all week inspired me to think of the Specialized again. I had two large envelopes to mail, and a copy of the New Oxford Annotated Bible to pick up from the church to prepare to lead a Bible study group. So I donned a comfortable shirt, collected my mailings, and went out to the garage. I told my wife I’d probably need to apply some lubricant, but once I did that I’d be gone.

There were two immediately noticeable effects of the long inactive period of about a year and a half: the tires were flat, though I had pumped them each once during that time, and the bike computer mount snapped from brittle old age (about 14 years) when I tried to mount the computer. But it could be temporarily attached with a rubber band, and the tires happily inflated and stayed hard at 80 psi.

Then I wheeled the bike out, got the oil and a rag, and started applying oil to the chain. It soon became evident that I was going to have to do more than a light lube job; the links were fairly well frozen. Despite the garaging, the chain had become inflexible, due probably to a combination of oxidation and of dried oil residue and grit in the joints. A thorough oiling and hand cranking didn’t loosen it up too much. I thought it might get flexible if I just rode it a bit in its newly-oiled state, but a trip down to the bottom of the street rid me of that delusion; I had to walk the bike back uphill to the garage.

I didn’t really have time to soak the chain in solvent, but I did want to ride that bike in the glorious cool air and bright sun. So I went to a “brute force” solution, using two pairs of pliers (can you imagine anything more useless than a single plier, or scissor, or pant?—they always come in pairs), plus some heavy-duty oil, necessary because I had used up the last of my chain lubricant: Seeds’ Merit Fine High Performance Sprocket & Gear Oil, a leftover from the Andrew era.

The process involved hand-checking every single link. For the frozen joints, which averaged about every other one, I put a drop of oil on it, grasped the link body on either side of the joint with my two pairs of pliers, and flexed until the joint loosened. Almost always that was rather quickly. After I was sure I had checked them all, I wiped the extra oil off the chain and gave it a whirl. Success!

An hour after I planned to go, I rode off on my errands in the bright and sunny afternoon, nagged only by the realization that I probably had two other bikes that were going to need the same treatment. Maintenance is the name of the game. But I intend to use this one enough to prevent a relapse.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2014.

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