Monday, November 5, 2012

One Way to Lower Your Bike's Gearing

AT's Refurbished Jeunet
overheard in a bike shop

Customer, returning from a test ride: "I love the bike! But it feels like there are not enough low gears? What is the best way to get easier gears?"

Salesperson: "Oh, well you need to ride the bike for several weeks for the gears to wear in. They should feel lower after that than they do now. If not, you can bring the bike back and we'll get you lower gears. But they usually wear in."

I almost laughed out loud, but I have to say I agree. The gearing on all of my bikes feels lower now than it did when I first got them. The gears have worn in so nicely! If you opt for this method though, be mindful that if you neglect the bike and stop riding it for a while, the gears will stiffen up and feel higher again the next time you get in the saddle. The fun facts of bike ownership.

44 comments:

  1. An early April Fools post?

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    1. Could have been! But I really did overhear this yesterday. I could not tell if the customer got the joke. I mean, brakes wear in with use, so why not gearing, right?

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    2. The shop pern should probably have told the customer that saddles work the same way...

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  2. New cables will stretch with use, as well as the chain. I've had peppy rides testing new bikes to have them become a bit less responsive after owning them. This is why I'm urged to bring it back after riding it awhile for a cable adjustment. Usually one good ride will stretch a chain and no adjustment is needed. That's all I've been told.

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    1. Peppy (the rides, I has them)November 5, 2012 at 11:23 AM

      Mrrrr miaw WAT?

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    2. chain does not stretch. chain links are made of solid metal and metal does not stretch in normal conditions. after looong use, chain feels streched, but actually it worns out. there is less material on links so the distance between them is bigger and so it only seems streched.

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    3. If your bike shop told you that chains stretch after one ride, either laugh with them or get a new bike shop! Chains don't stretch at all, and if they lengthen slightly it is due to pivot wear. Cables, yes, though it will take more than one ride, unless your ride takes several weeks.

      Or, are putting us on ....?

      Believe it or not, bike shop employees can be completely clueless or just plain lazy. The head mechanic at REI here in ABQ told me, after I asked about the rubbing disks (K! K! K!) on a friend's Novara Fusion, that they all rubbed until you rode them a few hundred miles. A load of rearward excretion. I aligned the calipers (release mounting bolts, apply brakes, re-tighten mounting bolts) and they were fine. Or the idiot at local Fat Tire Cycles (a good shop) who was trying to sell the 6'4" customer next to me in line a 56 cm road bike. I think I scotched that sale! (I am 5'10" and at the time was happily riding a 60X 57cm c-c Herse.)

      Changing the subject: Do you (all) find that you prefer lower gears, at least to start a ride, in cold weather than in warm? I am debating whether to drop the 72" and 75" fixed gears on my two road bikes to 67" and 70" respectively. My left knee is twinging a bit after hills (tho' it has done occasionally that since I was 17).

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    4. In the bike shop's defense, "chain stretch" is common terminology used even by people who know that it is wrong. It's an easy shorthand for "pivot wear resulting in effectively longer distances between links." I'm sure many bike shop employees misunderstand it, but don't assume that someone doesn't know what they're doing just because they use this phrase, especially when explaining something to a non-technical person.

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  3. My bike's gears feel lower each Spring, but are surely higher as I grow older. Fancy that?!

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  4. My gears seem to stiffen up after long rides after about mile 80, and sooner if there is a lot of hill climbing involved. Strange, huh? You'd think those hills would really "wear in" the gears quickly.

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  5. Saddles, even plastic ones, require the same treatment.

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  6. It is amazing what a little fitness will do - those hard, high gears become low, easy gears in just a few short weeks of use.

    Love it.

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  7. If there were in any way actually possible, since the wear occurs more quickly on the rear sprocket, and because the rear sprocket is smaller (hence, a millimeter smaller radius is a greater proportion there than on the front), gears would actual "wear" to higher values.

    Ah, but that explains why chainrings are made of aluminum, but sprockets are made of steel, so that the gears will wear "right". I *knew* there was a reason why they did that.

    (This explanation of chainring composition brought to you by Male Answer Syndrome: http://eyebeam.com/1985/index.php?num=167 )

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  8. @Liz

    Chains do not stretch with use, the bearing surfaces between the rollers and the links wear away and this makes the chain longer. It's for this reason that one should regularly clean the chain and transmission and apply new lubricant. See the Sheldon Brown website for detailed info.

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  9. This is the same phenomenon as waiting a couple hundred miles before replacing the saddle on a new bike. Give it a chance to "wear in." Or, for your butt to wear in.

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  10. Funny, but you know, they really should just put lower gears on the bike to begin with. As I think you're aware, most bikes have too-high gearing for the average rider. Gears may "wear in" but there's always that steep hill that you avoid because it's too much effort to ride up it. That's why we have gears! So stop trying to make us all heroes, bike shops, and give us the gears we need to start with!

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  11. That works fine if you're young. After a certain age, it works in reverse, they just wear higher and higher.

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  12. This antidote only applies to derailleured geared bikes. Internal hubs are the exception. :p

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  13. I bought a Trek 1st district with the single speed belt drive and was very disappointed at how poorly it climbed hills.

    Thankfully, after a month of daily commuting, it has started climbing like a rocket on all but the steepest hills. I AM a little worried that if I switch back to my road bike for the winter, the district will becoming unresponsive for lack of use when I pull it out next spring.

    :-)

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  14. My cluster looked at me cross-eyed the other day and blamed me for his stiffness.

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  15. After following this blog for a couple years, i sense a wisdom to this salesperson :)

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  16. This doesn't work on garage ornaments. :)

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  17. I get the joke, but if people feel like the bike is too hard to ride, they won't ride it enough to develop the muscles.
    And IIRC you had your Pashley geared really really low way back when you first started riding again. If it's a IGH, replacing the sprocket is a simple way for a beginner to get confidence, and then the sprocket can be replaced again for a bump in performance. Not so simple for the derailleur folks.

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  18. Pants clearly get smaller year after year, why wouldn't gears get lower? Common sense.

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  19. Sounds like one of those things you tell someone who is new to all this to get them to just give things a little time.

    It's too easy for some people just starting to ride to decide "This bike is the wrong size, Bikes are uncomfortable, Shifting is too complicated, etc. etc.".
    When the mental picture is of graceful flight down the bikelane with the breeze in your hair and birds singing, but the reality has a soundtrack of panting, grunting and the chain scraping on the cogs, it's a little much to ask some people to just keep plugging away till they find the groove.

    I'm guilty of telling people things like this when I worked in shops, although I think this is probably too far over on the B.S. meter for me. I often told people who were new to it all to just use the 3 or 4 middle gears in the back, ignore the front shifter for the first few days and keep to the flatter parts of their neighborhoods till they got the hang of things. I also really stressed the idea that they should bring the bike back after just a couple of rides for a quick check and adjustment, when they did we spent more time talking about how it went then actually doing anything to the bike.It gives a person a chance to sort out some of the basic position issues and getting used to the effort before adding climbing and stuff to the equation. I don't know if it helps or not or if it's disrespectful of the customer but I always wanted people to like their new bikes and to have a good time, not to be made to feel like a complete novice or a weakling.

    But really, the idea of gears "loosening up" and becoming easier due to a bit of mechanical wear is like me telling my daughter that eating green beans makes your dessert taste better. It might do the trick but years later when they give it a little thought they're going to realized you are just a big fat fibber...

    Spindizzy

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  20. My gears must be knackered. They seem to be increasing in direct proportion to my waistline :(

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  21. I can see why you'd laugh but at the same time that's really horrible. If you didn't hear the customer laugh, he/she probably didn't get the joke at all. Here a prospective buyer voiced what might be a legitimate concern and got a false and really condescending response. The salesperson should have explained that if the purchaser rode for a few weeks they might find they don't need lower gears but if they still wanted lower gears, they could either put on a smaller big ring up front or put on a wider range cassette in the back. Instead the salesperson said something that simply wasn't true. Now if the buyer relates his/her conversation to someone who explains the joke, he/she's going to feel like an idiot.

    As cyclists and consumers, we're often told to support our LBS. I get it that the LBS is the only place to go to get your wheels trued or to address other serious mechanical issues, but so many LBSs treat their customers, even the customers that know what they're talking about, like idiots that it can be really frustrating. I don't expect the LBS to match prices with Performance or Nashbar but charging 300% more for things like brake cables, tires and tubes, replacing components without getting prior approval first, or telling prospective buyers they need to break in their gears for a few weeks leads me to think that the LBS isn't too worried about supporting us.

    OK, I feel better now.

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    1. What may seem like treating customers like idiots can sometimes be our genuine concern about using language that isn't alienating to customers. It cuts both ways: If you use layman's terms when speaking with someone who knows their shit, it can be mistaken as talking down. If you use technically correct terminology when speaking with a beginner, you risk being seen as snobby and alienating.

      I posit that a good number of folks walk into a bike shop expecting it to be an intimidating experience, and that the experience they have is directly correlated with their expectations. A nice goal for all us industry-lifers might be to confront what causes these expectations and predispositions: From our perspective, from the customers' perspectives, from the inside out. Not an easy thing to deconstruct, to be sure, but one to definitely keep in mind.

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  22. I hope my knees get this news. I have been riding my racing bike in hopes that this would happen, and while I don't find that I absolutely must have lower gears, the higher ones don't seem to be getting much use. Of course, if I ever ride somewhere off Cape Cod, I may find I need them in a hurry.

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  23. I think he's right! I didn't do much riding in July and August, so my gears stiffened up. They felt pretty high in September, but now they've softened up again.

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  24. Reminds me of a yehuda moon cartoon... an overweight middle aged man in lycra asks yehuda the best way to lower the weight on his bike. which is already an ultra light carbon fibre machine. the answer, ride it more.

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  25. Every year, my gears feel easier in September than they did in March.

    I also noticed that my gears felt easier when I was 27 than they did when I was 14. Alas, they don't feel as easy now as they did when I was on the other side of 50!

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  26. Funny. But the same message could easily have been communicated in a straightforward manner. In point of fact, the salesperson lied to the customer. Would an ordinary person (non-biker) find that humorous? If the customer didn't understand the joke and later finds out that he or she was being BS-ed, will he or she return to that shop? I'm not sure I would.

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  27. Here's another way: throw in a record 84 degree day. Previous record was 77. Guaranteed to blow give you wings.

    That's right, Mitt, it's not your job to prevent the world from melting. We're still talkin bout bikes here.

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  28. For the record I agree with those who say it was wrong of the bike shop employee to say this to the customer, without making it overt he was joking. But to be fair, he might have - I did not hear the rest of the conversation. Also, I hear far worse things being said to customers in bike shops, unfortunately. It is not my place to interfere.

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    1. Perhaps you should make it your place. After all, you have a voice and a widely followed one at that. The owner might appreciate it. I know I would. It can take a career to build a solid reputation, but scarcely 5 minutes to ruin it.

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  29. What passes as humor or character their may just be Massholism.

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  30. As I have coasted, and grunted, into my late sixties, I find the handlebars on my bikes have gotten higher and the gearing has gotten lower. But I just keep pedalling - whenever my knees will allow.

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  31. Love the way manufacturers are coping with the ageing cycling demographic. My five speed Dawes racer that I rode to school had lowest gear of 24 X 46 and I wondered why I had to get off and push on the 20% climb home. Nowadays, thirty years on, I visit Mum with gears down to 36 X 34 and wonder what the fuss was about......

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  32. Maybe Im missing something, but gears are solid and fixed. Chains don't stretch enough to notice major gearing change. For me its simple -- the stronger I am, the easier the gearing feels. When I haven't ridden for a while and I lose strength, those same bearings feel harder. What the LBS advised seems ridiculous.

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  33. The macho attitude that lies underneath the joke is one reason I have no love of bike shops and their employees, even though my husband is a former shop manager.

    The truth is that stock gearing is designed for the average 20-45 year old fit man, which doesn't allow many riders to climb hills effectively. Too bad if you're an average rider that happens to be female, over 55 or overweight.

    I have friends that are riding bikes with gears that aren't low enough to comfortably scale the hills in our area. So they either limit themselves to flat rides or grind up the hills, risking damage to their knees. God forbid they endure the shame of a triple chain ring with a long cage derailleur!

    Who do I blame? The people that new riders look to for advice in the industry: press, manufacturers, shop employees. From there it trickles down to their "expert" friends who tell them the gears aren't too low, they'll get stronger.

    I'll stop the rant now. But this is an obvious button for me.

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  34. I find that the chain and gears run better when it's cold than when it's hot. I theorize that the grease works better when thicker or something.

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