Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pass It Along

Anti-Chainslap, Velo Orange
A few weeks ago, I experienced my very first incident of dropping a chain. Of all the times this could happen, it happened during a paceline ride: We were transitioning from a downhill to an abrupt uphill and I rapidly switched to the small chainring. It's funny how we don't immediately recognise things that we haven't experienced before, and it took me a moment to understand what was happening. I sensed that pedaling suddenly became way too easy and that I was losing speed rapidly... but what could be the matter? It wasn't until somebody yelled "chain off!" that I looked down - and oh my God, my chain was off! It was surreal, like one of those dreams where someone says "But why are you wearing a duck costume?" and that's when you realise that, indeed, you are wearing a duck costume. First comes the wave of shock, then realisation that this must be a dream. Except this time I was awake - and aware that three other girls were pedaling behind me, so that a sudden stop on my part would likely cause a crash. 

Everything happened quickly. I managed to make a "pulling over" gesture, then steered the chainless bike onto the grass and dismounted, averting disaster. But the rest was pathetic. Though I knew how to get the chain back on, my hands were not cooperating. Soon I was covered in grease and bleeding from somehow having cut myself on the chainring, but the chain would not stay on. "Need help?" said a voice next to me. I became aware that one woman stayed behind with me and was now observing my ineptitude. Still in a state of shock and now also red with embarrassment, I could not even answer coherently, and could only mutter "it won't stay on... why won't it stay on?.." Next thing I knew, she calmly took the bike from me, put the chain back on the ring, and turned the pedals until the chain was back on. I felt like an idiot as I thanked her profusely - but she expressed not an ounce of annoyance. "Don't worry about it. I froze the first time it happened too." I don't know whether this was true, or whether she was just being self-deprecating to make me feel better, but it did make me feel better.

Fast forward to my ride this morning. I stopped to drink some water and saw a woman walking her bike toward me from the side of the road. "Excuse me, could I use your phone?" I gave her my phone and asked what happened. She replied, with some embarrassment, that her chain came off and she wasn't able to get it back on. She wanted to call her boyfriend for a ride. "I know how to do it, but it's just not working." I looked at her chain and decided to give it a try. This time I wasn't nervous or under pressure to fix my bike as soon as possible. I said "May I?" and - miracle of miracles - got the chain back on. She rode the bike down the path and back, confirmed that it was working, and no longer wanted to call her boyfriend. She was just as flustered about not having been able to do it herself as I had been two weeks earlier. So I said the same thing the woman in the paceline had said to me: "Don't worry about it. I froze the first time it happened too." It was true!

When mechanical problems happen, I think it's natural to freeze. We may know how to fix things in theory, but when it's actually happening to us for the first time, it's a different story. It's nice to be helped without being judged as inept. I appreciated that help when I got it, and will reciprocate in the same manner when I can. 

34 comments:

  1. It happened to me for the first time in college on my single speed beach cruiser when i was going through the neighborhood on my way to class. A random old guy saw me and fixed it in like a minute. The next time it happened, I did what he did and flipped the bike over and pulled the chain rotating the pedals until it finally caught all the way through and voila. I'm glad he was there the first time before I really started panicking and I wouldve been late to class.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Depending on the crank design, you often can use the front derailleur to move the chain back onto the chainring without stopping. However, beware of the chain getting caught somewhere on the crank: Chainsuck is the result. Still, next time it happens, it's worth a try: Pedal slowly and move the front derailleur toward the big ring... It either goes back where it belongs, or it catches and then you'll have to stop...

    That said, I am glad you were able to reciprocate the favor that was done to you. It makes the world a better place!

    ReplyDelete
  3. The stick/blowing trash method keeps your hands clean.

    Also most of the time you can soft pedal and shift it back on.

    Chain watchers of various sorts work to varying degrees.

    I've given aid countless time w/patches, pump, tubes. Never phone; old school self-subsistence, never needed one. Nor did we have them.

    Almost got my head squashed by a bus from a dropped chain. Long story.

    The aid thing is rarer now; used to be we were few.

    ReplyDelete
  4. About chain watchers: I was considering getting one, but then read that they sometimes make the problem worse by jamming the chain?..

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great story! Must have been a cool feeling to be able to help the woman like that.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Not if set up properly and it's the right one. Kevin @ Firefly recommended this to me: http://www.gvtc.com/~ngear/

    Works very well, infinitely adjustable. PIA to install.

    Chains can develop skips through link kinks. Not a big deal. Chain suck happens sometimes. Not a big deal also unless standing and cranking. It's a bike. This stuff happens every 5 seconds on my mtb.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Dottie - Definitely : ) I had never physically helped anyone fix their bike before, have only been on the receiving end.

    GR Jim - Thanks, I'll look into that one.

    In over 2 years of frequent cycling, I'd never dropped a chain before (not counting the one time my derailleur was not properly adjusted and I was testing it) so it felt like a betrayal. For a while afterward I was afraid to shift to the small chainring or kept trying to figure out what I had done to make it happen. Definitely freaks me out to think that it can just happen for no apparent reason : (

    ReplyDelete
  8. Google Andy Schleck chaingate. It happens at the highest level.

    ReplyDelete
  9. It happened to my friend while we were out mountain biking. He couldn't get the chain back on and he too was a bit nervous that it happened. I came along and put the chain back on for him. It's true what you say ... I'm sure he could have figured it out, but he was flustered at the time and couldn't get his hands to work. He thanked me profusely. I told him no problem, it happens, just remember to spin the crank while putting the chain on if it happens again.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I took some of the students I'm accompanying to Ireland on a ride on Saturday, and sure enough, one of them dropped his chain in the parking lot. Now, I have two IGHs. I don't have derailleurs and chains jumping around and such. I spent about five minutes trying to figure out why I couldn't get the chain back on by just placing it back on the nearest cog and cranking the pedals, then I realized the front derailleur was pushing the chain back. I puzzled over that for a moment, until it dawned on me that he could shift his front derailleur back to the big front cog, so it wasn't pressing the chain back anymore. I had him do this while we moved the pedals. Then I gently wiggled and coaxed the chain back onto the biggest cog, and had him crank the pedals around for a moment more until it slid into the right place. The chain went right back on. I felt like a genius, for about ten seconds. It was great. He then kicked my butt for the rest of the ride.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I haven't ever dropped a chain (knock on wood!), but my front gears were a mish mash of styles, and the space between two of them was too big. Whenever I'd shift, if I didn't get it *just* right, the chain would get stuck between the chainrings and I'd fall over. That resulted in many instances of greasy hands and cut fingers. In fact, the first time it happened, I ended up in tears I was so frustrated!

    My brother just replaced my crankset last week, and I'm in love with riding my bike again! And since I'll be tackling a big hill the next time it's not pouring, I'll keep everyone's tips in mind when I shift to the smallest chainring... Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  12. I have a Deda dog fang which seems to work well at keeping the chain on but is especially good at protected the frame. K-Edge Chain Catchers are all the rage but they work best with a braze-on front derailleur which I don't have. Don't be like Andy, pedal gently when shifting chainrings and you should avoid the problem!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Thank you for showing us, in a bicycling context, how karma travels through connected acts of kindness. (Years ago, I got in a fender-bender car accident. It was my fault. I was so embarrassed and flustered I could barely speak to the woman whose car I hit. I'll always remember her response: "Accidents happen. That's why they call them accidents.")

    ReplyDelete
  14. Under stress your small muscle coordination/fine motor control goes away, as your body is flooded with adrenalin. You are left essentially with big muscle control only, (if you had big muscle control to begin with), and you may not even be capable of understanding the reason why it just will not work.

    Someone who speaks to you in a calm voice and with a reassuring manner, has taken large strides in getting you beyond it, and you apparently helped the next woman in much the same way.

    Lesson learned: DEEP BREATH, stay calm and carry on.

    I learn something here frequently, the only embarrassing thing is I figure I should have learned them in kindergarten.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I bought a third-eye chain watcher, it has been very effective so far. I did drop the chain once, but the watcher held it enough so I could shift back up and recover without stopping. Prior to that, I would drop the chain once a week, usually going slow uphill, so it was often difficult to impossible to fix it while riding.

    ReplyDelete
  16. The main thing to remember when trying to put the chain back on is to push the spring-loaded arm of the rear derailleur toward the front of the bike to release the tension it has on the chain. Once you do that you can pull the chain forward a bit and place it back on the small chainring. Be sure that the front derailleur is shifted all the way in to the small ring so the fr. der. doesn't interfere with chain replacement. I usually end up with a small amount of grease on my thumb and forefinger from grabbing the chain, I just wipe it on the grass or sand on the side of the road and I'm on my way.

    ReplyDelete
  17. http://www.wiggle.co.uk/k-edge-road-clamp-chain-catcher/#more
    or you can make one yourself

    ReplyDelete
  18. It seems to happen to my kids' bikes more often than mine. I think they shift quickly and are trying to jump too many gears at a time. Thank you for your nice story. It always helps to pay the favor forward.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I see it happen to kids' bikes a lot even when the kid is not shifting gears at all. My assumption was that children's bike tend to be made with less care and/or assembled poorly. Which is a scary idea if those bikes are to be ever ridden for transportation.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I once dropped a chain while leaning low over the bars and pedaling hard and fast. As soon as the chain came off, I went OVER the bars, and got tangled up in the bicycle, rolled over with it in the street several times.
    Bruised and scuffed up, but not broken. The bike wasn't hurt badly either. Could have been much worse, and I wish I had a video of the incident.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I haven't dropped chains too often. I did have it happen once last year. The only problem I've had putting them back on is if the chain gets hung up in the cogs, so that it's hard to get free. If that happens, it's helpful to have a tool of some sort.

    I stopped earlier this year to help a guy in that situation. He was trying to unjam his chain with a piece of stick. Luckily, I had a tool that would work.

    The first time my husband rode with me, he threw the chain on the bike and jammed it so hard he bent a link. I had to take the link out before we could continue. Luckily, I had a chain tool with me. :)

    ReplyDelete
  22. This does happen occasionally on rapid downshift, as you describe, but with a little bit of care you can prevent it -- just don't downshift so rapidly -- go 3-2, then 2-1, not 3-1. I think you'll find the trauma and humiliation of what happened to you will be very useful to you in remembering to do this.

    ReplyDelete
  23. On kids bikes (single speed) it happens when the chain is not tight. You have to pull back on the rear wheel when installing to make sure you get a good tight fit.

    ReplyDelete
  24. "This does happen occasionally on rapid downshift, as you describe"

    See, this was my instinctive understanding of why it happened (yes, I am still desperate to find a pattern!). The Campagnolo Chorus ergos are capable of shifting 2 notches at a time in the up direction on the right shifter and in the down direction on the left shifter. So I slammed both thumbs down at the same time in order to go down to the small chainring, but also upshift two cogs in the rear simultaneously so as not to lose momentum. What I thought happened was, that I must have slammed too hard and all that double shifting "confused" the drivetrain... But I am told that's nonsense and that the whole point of the levers is to be able to do that maneuver.

    ReplyDelete
  25. This was so sweet to read, Velouria! I'm sure she was extremely grateful to have your help!

    I dropped a chain for the first time on Wednesday, somewhere on a 14 mile trail ride, my first ride ever on a diamond-framed road bike with drop bars. The 57cm frame felt very nearly too big for me, so I was decidedly uncomfortable when it occurred. The dropped chain incident happened when I switched to the smallest chainring and was cycling uphill. Luckily, I was moving pretty slowly and it didn't take long for me to figure out what happened. I just pulled over to the side of the trail, sort of confused, and I couldn't remember what to do. Luckily I was cycling with a friend, who fixed it right away :). This was an excellent reminder for me - I need to be better prepared for malfunctions along the way, especially when cycling alone.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Well, it can't be nonsense, obviously, since it happened to you.
    When you shift from 3-1 the chain moves to the left and will go as far as it can, within the limits of the front derailleur cage. That cage has to be adjusted to allow some movement of the chain to the left of the inner chainwheel, since otherwise it would rub when you were in a low gear. So if there's enough slack so it doesn't catch on the chainwheel it can move beyond it, as happened to you.
    I don't know if your fellow racers (!) have another recommendation, but an easy way around this is to pump while doing a slower downshift so you can handle the higher gear and don't lose momentum.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Well done on having the presence of mind to waving off the riders on your wheel! It shows your character that when you were in a panic you thought of others first.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Thanks Phil, but it probably shows my own fear of crashing more than concern for others : ) Anything to avoid a crash! But the interesting thing is that my brain sort of turned off, and I don't really remember how exactly I did all these things. It was as if my body was functioning in emergency mode/ autopilot before my mind had a chance to get all confused and nervous.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Various reasons for chain drop and/or chain suck. I find on a road bike (2 rings) the chain drops and on a Mountain bike (3 rings) it usually sucks. AS mentioned previously and especially on Mountain bikes if the chain is not jammed up real good, I usually don't even get off the bike. Pedal backwards one half turn or so to clear chain, then move the front derailer towards the big ring while pedaling slowly. On a triple this will work a real good percentage of the time. On a double it does not always work, but is worth a try.

    As someone said earlier the chain drop usually happens when down shifting while starting up a hill and having allot of pressure on the cranks. A couple things to look at: chain too long? Chain past it's service life/ stretched? Chain lube (this is the most likely culprit, spray some lube on it!)

    MASMOJO

    ReplyDelete
  30. Hitting both thumb levers at once just created a lot of chain slack. The chain was asked to move inboard at the front and outboard at the rear. A little chain wave sets up and the wave snaps at the front. This maneuver is not necessarily beyond the capabilities of the Ergopower system. It is an opening or invitation for problems.

    There's another demon beastie out there called a chain snarl. Happens less often with modern higher tension derailleur springs, still happens.

    I've only had one in many years riding and it wasn't even a bad one. Looked at the thing a good ten minutes before starting to figure it out. Bad snarls require a chain tool, sometimes multiple cuts in the chain. The worst chain snarls can cut through rims and chainstays.

    Fixing a snarl is a job where you need a friend. Self-reliance is fine. Sometimes we all need a friend.

    ReplyDelete
  31. The townie does this all the time always when shifting uphill. And yes I froze too. Felt like a newbie jerk ( it was my first summer) and sat on the curb pleading myself to fix it while planning to walk home in case. But I did fix it since no one was around to help.

    I was at Harris today adjusting my seat down so I could practice start and stopping correctly, it was tilted to upwards and I would get stuck and neatly fall... I mentioned this yo Jim and another mechanic said (I fell down last night waiting at a stoplight. It made me feel so much better. We should share our blooper moments!

    ReplyDelete
  32. Great story Velouria, there are some combination of derailleur movements prone to throwing the chain , you can also look ahead and plan your shift even if it means going into a higher gear for a short time to avoid a bad combination or over spinning to get your prefer d gear to climb. How goes the battle to ride clip-less pedals? We are all waiting patiently for the latest news. Glenn in the Northwest

    ReplyDelete
  33. Velouria try looking at Castelli riding clothing its really fine quality gear that won"t break the bank and you don"t want to look like rich roadie poser snob. Do you? Didn"t think so, Glenn in the Northwest

    ReplyDelete