I got my Atlantis in March 2005 and two years later have ridden it more then five thousand miles. I ride all winter long (though less miles) and I’m fairly slack in the cleaning taking care of the bicycle category. I do minimal maintainence on a needs to be fixed basis and will occasionally give it a good cleaning/tuning. But I always like to get it professionally tuned after the winter, the bicycle just never feels so good afterward. Anyway just about right after Chilly Hilly, which was a long day of riding in the rain, my chain began slipping off the rear gears. At first this only was happening in the middle range of the cassette and only when I was in the middle chain ring apply serious torque. I continued commuting like this keeping myself in the small and large chain rings which were having no issues across the entire range of the cassette. I kept this up for longer then I should but the project I was on at work was concluding and I just couldn’t spare the time to deal with it. Finally I did have a free weekend and put on a new chain. This resulted in continuous chain suck on all of the front chain rings which to me indicated that they need to be replaced. So I scheduled an appointment at Sammamish Valley Cycles and switched to my backup bicycle (which ironically turned out to need a new chain as well due to rust).
By now it is April and everybody and their dog wants their bicycles tuned up. So I scheduled for the first available day which was over a week away. So it was going to be some time on the ol’ Safari, which while I bicycle I’ve put a lot of miles on and has a lot going for it, just isn’t as comfortable as my Atlantis. When the day came I put my bicycle on the back of my car and dropped it off at Sammamish Valley Cycles before work. By the end of the day they called me and informed me that my front chain rings all needed replacing. They didn’t have my size of rings in stock (my “ridiculous” touring sizes) and it would take a few days to get them back. I collected my bicycle after work and then brought it back three days later. This I have to say was a bit odd, I don’t know why I couldn’t have just left it there, it was unusable for those three days. But once it was back it was fixed fairly shortly and I had my beloved Atlantis back and ready to ride.
The next day I set out on my commute and find that it is behaving exactly as it did at the start of this sage: the chain was constantly slipping off whichever gear I was in on the rear cassette, especially with any amount of torque. Well at this point I new that the chain rings were new, the chain was new and only the cassette remained. Why this was not picked up on by the otherwise fine folks at Sammamish Valley Cycles I do not know, probably due to the business of the season. A bit disappointing I have to admit but they are definitely the best LBS on the eastside and while they lean toward the typical ridiculous racer mentality they also cater to the randonneur crowd which is a lot closer to my philosophy. Anyway figuring they’d not have a cassette in the range I’d want and also it seemed like something I should add to my repair repertoire I decided to replace it myself. Poking around on the web I found that Harris Cyclery was selling cassettes with custom gearing and I could get something a lot more rational in its range then the 11-30 I’d been using. I picked their Cyclotouriste cassette which has a 14-34 which I have to say is ideal, the fact that so many cassettes run something like 11,12,13 is just ridiculous – by the time I’m ready to shift to 13 I pretty much can head right to 11. So that degree of fineness at the low gearing was useless whereas I always was wanted more precision in the middle of the cassette where more time is spent. Having a bigger granny gear also wouldn’t hurt, on tour I hit some super steep hills that with the load I was carrying really would have been help with a lower granny gear.
I then went on vacation to the Oregon Coast for five days and I brought the Safari with me for the bit of riding I was able to work in. On my return I had my gears and a Stein “Hypercracker” clone and set to work swapping out that old cassette. Using the hypercracker worked but was a pain in the ass – you have to take off and replace your rear wheel three times and that never is that fun. I could see using this on tour in an emergency but I definitely would get a more practical tool if I did this regularly. I was doing this repair on my back porch and after I finally managed to pry the hypercracker off it fell to the ground and between the porch slats. Oops. I’ll have to get some magic fingers to retrieve that. I mounted the wheel and set off and at last everything was working as designed. Shifting wasn’t as smooth as I’d hoped and there was some ghost shifting now and again. But otherwise it was all good and I was loving the gear range.
A couple of weeks later we got a half day off at work so I set off on a long ride around before heading home. A mile or so from work my chain broke. I did some roadside repair and immediately rode to the nearest shop to buy a replacement. This was about four miles away and everything was running fine there so I didn’t immediately replace the chain with the new one. I kept it in my pannier though, figuring it would die eventually. I was right about this, maybe a month later, when I was in a rush of course, it snapped pushing up a steep hill. Luckily the new chain had one of those magic links so even with shortening the chain by a few links I had the new chain on in less then ten minutes. I guess all the practice hasn’t hurt either 🙂 With this brand new chain on, now everything felt great and was shifting smooth. Our long national nightmare was finally over.
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