Mechanical Mayhem

It’s something of an embarrassment. For all the (hopefully good) advice I’ve given out on this blog, there is one area into which I daren’t venture. The dreaded maintenance or repair that must be carried out in order to keep a bike ticking over, in other words anything do to with mechanics. In order to appreciate the true extent of my mechanical ineptitude – bear in mind that it took two years before I could successfully fix a puncture. Rattles, squeaks and rubbing sounds always send a chill down my spine – I just know that finding the problem and working out how to fix it will be a long, painful and often expensive process.

Since moving away from home I have at least tried to become more self sufficient. At the very least I can normally complete basic tasks such as changing a cassette, adjusting gears and swapping pedals over. Though the above still often require multiple attempts and a desperate hunt for a good maintenance video on YouTube. Getting the tools out is something for which I must always steel myself, with an espresso machine on hand and relaxing music in the background (mainly to drown out the swearing). Yesterday I was forced to do precisely that.

I had my fingers crossed that my faithful Cannondale would make it through the Winter without need of significant maintenance. Up until a few weeks ago, everything seemed fine – until the front brake decided to stop working. Fortunately sorting this out was so far beyond my capability that I could justify outsourcing the work (i.e. asking my Father to come down and mend the offending component). In the end we both decided to abide by traditional cycling wisdom  – “when in doubt, get a new one”. Simple enough, old brake off and new one on. After a mere three attempts accompanied by one or two minor expletives I managed it all by myself. All was right again, so it seemed.

This brings us neatly to last Friday. Upon inspecting my Winter Wheels I could come to no conclusion other than the fact that they were borderline dangerous to ride. Never have I seen a rim quite so concave, after four winters those hoops were certainly past their sell-by date. The tyres too were in need of changing, the Devon lanes having finally gotten the better of them. Unusually, I had been organised enough to anticipate this – having another set of wheels waiting in the wings. “Simple” I thought – “swap the cassette over and put on a pair of tyres – why not change the brake shoes while I’m at it?“.

Having borrowed the tools from home, I was all set – borderline confident, what could possibly go wrong? Firstly I failed to work out why the cassette wouldn’t fit the new wheels. After a mere half an hour I twigged that I needed a spacer to make an 11 speed hub compatible with the older 10 speed cassette. Next it was onto the tyres – no problem once I’d remembered that you have to unscrew the valve cap in order to pump up an inner tube. In hindsight, 7PM on a Sunday evening following a long day of travelling was not the best time to try and meddle with things I barely understand.

Finally – the dreaded brake shoes. A job that I have observed the completion of on many occasions, yet never dared attempt myself. I was well prepared, YouTube video on hand and all the tools laid out within easy reach. In the beginning it went remarkably smoothly; no lost bolts,  allen key injuries (of which I have a depressingly long history) or terminal breakages. Then came the problem, replacing the brake shoe having not put the brake block back together beforehand – making it impossible to get it back on the bike. Removal of the brake shoe should have been easy, had I not secured it in place using an old and corroded screw that refused to budge.

Time to think on my feet. In a feat of ingenuity bought about by sheer desperation I was able to remove the brake shoe using a combination of the following; kitchen knife, scissors, allen key, pliers adjustable spanner and fingernails. I can’t quite recall the method and order.  The secret is already lost to the ages, not that I’m especially bothered – this is one maintenance session I look forward to forgetting. Suffice to say that the brand new brake shoe was rendered unusable and I had to start all over again. By now the language had gone from PG to 18+.

Eventually, it all fitted into place. Though not after having put the brake blocks on the wrong sides, then upside down – before trial and error bought them into the correct position. From what I can see the bike does seem to be rideable – though the next ride won’t be a long one and will contain a large margin of error time wise. Once again I’ll congratulate myself for surviving a mechanical session. Physical recovery won’t take long – psychologically on the other hand, it may prove to be a long term issue.

If nothing else, I hope that this post has provided readers with a degree of comfort – if you happen to struggle with mechanical issues, you are not alone. In this case my advice is simple; if in doubt, just go to the local bike shop. Stay tuned.

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