Monday, May 21, 2012

I Don't Like Mondays

It was a Geldofian day.  Rain was coming down with just enough purpose that nothing I could do would keep my face dry. It was like having someone standing in front of me with a spray bottle of water. 

My plan today was to ride Big Nellie to work and then stop at my local bike shop to take the kink in my chain that I had installed after yesterday's pants affair.  The chain was skipping in the small sprockets but seemed to be operating fine otherwise. Before I left for work, I searched the Rootchopper Institute of Spare Bicycle Parts for some chain links. I knew I had some, but I couldn't find any. Hopefully, my local bike shop would have some when I stopped on the way home.

The ride in was rather moist and all those annoying people were gone so that I could ride on the Mount Vernon Trail in peace.  Before I get to the trail I ride down a short steep hill on Park Terrace Drive. Normally this is a 35 mile per hour descent but this morning the recycling truck was doing its thing smack dab in the middle of the street at the bottom of the hill.  No jollies for me.

I managed to survive the detour of death near the Wilson Bridge and the dance of the SUVs lining up to take Muffy and Wilfred to Saint Mary's School at the southern edge of Old Town. I managed not to hit any SUVs or fledgling Catholics and should be awarded two gold stars for my efforts.

On the north end of Old Town I rode across the long boardwalk through what had been a drained stretch of wet land. Two workers were in waders mucking about. They looked somewhat unhappy.

I was riding carefully taking care not to put too much pressure on the chain which was skipping every now and then to remind me what an incompetent bike mechanic I am.  At the airport I lost another opportunity for high speed riding when a skinny girl passed me on the uphill side of the second flyover bridge. She was no match for Big Nellie's downhill abilities but I wasn't about to pass her on a blind curve on wet pavement.  So I rode my brakes and watched her pedal out of the saddle on flat land. She needs to work on her spinning technique.

As I approached the 14th Street Bridge one of my regulars, a middle-aged Asian man wearing a yellow jacket and carry lots of stuff on his bike, came my way. Normally, I see him near the Roosevelt Bridge about a mile closer to my destination in Rosslyn.  Babying the chain was really slowing me down.

My last challenge was to climb the connecting bridge up to Rosslyn. I shifted to my middle chain ring and began shifting to my big sprockets to ease the pressure on the chain when the chain snapped.

Not good.

I walked the bike up to a landing and started inspecting the damage. The broken link would have to be removed.  As I worked away at taking the link out, commuter after commuter came by asking if I needed help. When they saw it was a broken chain, they owned up to mechanical ineptitude and rode on.

I continued to work on the link, actually two since they are oriented in male/female pairs. For the uninitiated, a chain tool holds a chain link in place while you turn a handle that screws a pin pusher into the pin on the chain link. The idea is that you push the pin through enough to take out the bad chain link. You should never push the pin all the way through, because it is next to impossible to get back into the hole in the chain. Never.

Then Jason stopped to help. He had a sort of British accent (could be from Auckland for all I could tell) and was riding a single speed bike. As it turns out he has some familiarity with using a chain tool. As I turned to say hello, I took my mind off the chain tool for a second and the pin popped out. [Insert F-bomb here].

Jason and I worked for several minutes on getting the pin back in to no avail. He was getting a sore back from squatting and my shorts were soaked through from sitting on the ground.  We were not having fun. We dropped the pin and it disappeared somehow. We now had only one choice take two more links out and re-assemble a significantly shorter chain. Jason pulled this off with surgeons precision.  The link was a little stiff but he had done a terrific job. Thank you, Jason.

I arrived at work about 1/2 hour late and spent about 20 minutes getting chain lube and assorted black gunk off my hands and legs.  Fortunately, my boss is a bike commuter and understands these things.

For the ride home, I decided to leave the chain in the granny gear and ride ever so gently.  Pedal, pedal, pedal, repeat.  I had no problems and could detect no chain skipping. Jason done good.  I registered each passing mile - 10 to go, 9 to go - as I rode.

I approached the boardwalk north of Old Town. The wader guys were gone. I think they may have been damming up the stream because the former wet land was now pretty wet.  Better still, several of the small trees in the water were topped with downy egrets.  When I see an egret or heron in a tree I think of  Dr. Seuss.  Then my bird watching was interrupted by a passing cyclist. It was Jason, proud to see that his handiwork was successful. 

After once again surviving the detour of death and a walking crossing of the George Washington Parkway, I rolled into my local bike shop. One of the best things about Spokes Etc. is that they will do on the spot minor repairs while you wait.  They have saved many a bike commute for me over the years. Unfortunately they didn't have any SRAM 9-speed chain links lying around so I was out of luck on a repair. In the process of looking my bike over they determined that Jason's repair was sound and that the chain was still long enough for me to use all my gears. 

I rode up a big hill to test their theory and the chain performed fine. It skipped a couple of times but that may have been the result of my gear shifter being one click off.  I got home in good shape and immediately cleaned my chain. It was a mess.  Then I looked around for spare chain links. I have a translucent plastic box with spare parts in it. I held it over my head and looked in the bottom. There it was:  a red box with the word SRAM on it. I put the box down, reached in and pulled out the box which contained about 2/3rds of a 9-speed chain.

Tomorrow I'll ride Big Nellie again, this time armed with my chain links.

Tuesday's child is full of grace. Let's hope.


  1. Assuming that you have a standard Shimano drivetrain, just stay out of the big-big combination and you'll be fine.

    You should call me more often ... I have two spare 9-speed master links in the garage.

  2. Nicely done. I would have simply sat down on the ground and cried, or possibly thrown my bike into the river, immediately feel regret, and jump in after it.