If you want to know whether your bicycle's build is solid - and I mean, really, truly bulletproof - there is no better method than the so-called shakedown ride. Now, in bicycling parlance we throw the term around pretty liberally these days - typically when referring to riding a bicycle for the first time in a specific configuration to make sure everything works as it should. But the true shakedown ride is more than just that: It is a stress test, meant to bring any hidden weaknesses or problems to the surface quickly, so that they don't surprise you in the middle of long, important cycling trip later. A good proper shakedown ride should, quite literally, shake, jostle and vibrate the bejeezus out of your machine. And of course there is no more effective way to achieve this than over rough, unpaved surfaces. If something's going to start rattling, come loose, or go out of adjustment on your bike, it will happen faster on the rough stuff. It was for this reason, after all, that the French Technical Trials were held on unpaved terrain. Having made some final modifications to my own bicycle's setup, now I too was ready to submit it to the truth of the shakedown.
And so one fine afternoon my companion and I headed up the Glenveagh mountain trail - a beautiful, winding path that starts gentle, only to lure you into a steep, horrible climb to the very top of the mountain - the surface growing ever rougher and looser with each foot of elevation gain.
The more accoutrements one has on their machine, the more crucial the shakedown ride becomes. For along with the lovely functionality of fenders, racks, bags and lighting, comes the extra potential for failure under stress. There are more bolts to loosen. More stays to snap. More parts to rub and knock against each other if not fitted to utter perfection. More sources for mysterious noises to develop.
I had gotten my bicycle to the point of silence on the paved roads. But was this a stable state of affairs? The 20 mile jaunt up and down the mountain would answer that question.
With the Glenveagh setting so tranquil, the physicality of this ride nearly fades to the background at times. But in fact this is one of the steepest, more difficult climbs I have ever done. In the final stretch in particular, the combination of the steep pitch and the loose, sliding rocks made my wheel spin and slip aimlessly, forcing me to muster extra power I did not know I had to push my way through to the top.
Looking back over the landscape we'd cycled through, I could hardly believe we had come from beyond that long lake which now resembled a tiny puddle in the far distance... or that I would have to descend toward it again. But of course it is the descent, with its combination of speed and bumpiness, that is the true essence of the shakedown ride.
So far only one thing had to be tweaked: The prongs of my plug-in decaleur (I use this VO system and love it) began to rattle inside the open tubes of the front rack they integrate with, which was something I'd never noticed before. I stopped to wrap tiny bits of electrical tape around the prongs to "pad" the connection and the rattling never returned.
The too-fast descent was not as much physically, as psychologically exhausting, as it involved me mostly trusting my bicycle and my instincts to do their thing - while bombing down a winding path along the cliff edge through loose rock and over large jutting-out stones. Over the rougher part of the trail, the shaking and jolting were relentless. At some point my bike got tossed into the air and landed again. At another, I had picked up so much speed that the landscape blurred. Despite this, the descent had been silent, save for the sounds of the wind hissing in my ears and my own internal screaming.
Properly shaken down, my bicycle was ready for long, adventurous rides to distant places.
And while of course riding a pared-down bike makes things easier in some ways,
it makes things not so great in other ways, if you see what I mean. Pick your poison, but a good shakedown ride is in order regardless.
Having stopped to admire the scenery and now ready to get going again, I clipped in and pulled the pedal back to staring position, pleased as punch at my perfectly functional, non-rattly bicycle. And then my chain came off.
In the process of putting it back on, I discovered my drivetrain no longer wanted me to be in the big ring at all. I had worried so much about bolts and bag attachments, that I'd clear forgotten about my slightly finicky Campagnolo / Rene Herse drivetrain setup. Now it looked like it decided to transition from finicky to dysfunctional. Ah well. If I stayed in the small ring things seem to be stable, and so I would spin the rest of the way and wait to mess with the front derailleur at home.
"Something wrong with your gears?" my companion said, pulling up beside me. I expected to be teased for my complicated drivetrain, but it turned out his was acting up as well. So much for the benefits of a pared-down bike.
In the waning evening sun, we headed home to what promised to be a long evening of drivetrain maintenance. A post-shakedown ride shakedown ride was in the cards.