Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bring us your squeaking, your pied, your untrued wheels

Ever since I picked her up from her tune-up at a bike shop across town in early July, I've been noticing an odd clicking feeling in Ollie's pedals. It only seems to happen when I'm in the lowest few rear gears, but so far as I could tell the clicking wasn't affected by moisture, temperature, terrain, or how much stuff I was schlepping. The shop had installed a new chain and cassette (covered, thankfully, by my Keep It Rolling plan), and supposedly replaced all of the cables and housing (part of the not inexpensive mid-level tune-up), but this clicking was new (a freebie?). I noticed the pedal pressure oddity and a notable-yet-not-constant squeaking on my way home from the shop, but rode Ollie around for a few days just in case it was simply due to some of her new parts settling in.

Though I've ridden a fair number of miles by now, and though I'd worked briefly at a bike shop (mostly updating the website and moving bikes in and out of storage), what did I know? I knew only enough to ascertain that something was amiss rather than what the cause might be. I didn't even know the names of all of the parts that could be involved. Maybe it was just the cables stretching, the mechanic suggested when I called. And the sporadic, high-pitched squeaking on one side? Was I riding around on a suicide cycle?? I was hoping for a second opinion.

Thus I was glad to happen upon the friendly guys who were staffing the free bike repair tent at the Bloomingdale farmers' market this Sunday. Jeff quickly determined the source of the odd clicking in the pedals. As I leaned in, he pointed out how in certain gears the chain was clicking against the metal part that usually keeps it lined up correctly. (I think it's part of the derailleur, technically.) We tried adjusting placement of the clamp that holds the derailleur in place, but that seemed to make it worse. Maybe it's not quite the right part that was installed during the tune-up? Maybe there is a more precise adjustment that needs to be made in a fully outfitted bike shop? Hmm. The mystery, to a degree, continues. We didn't fix everything, but I left the market feeling much better about things, and glad that someone else noticed the pedal clicking and the occasional and inexplicable high-pitched squeak. I was also glad to learn that I was not riding an imminent-deathtrap around, though I was advised to bring Ollie into a shop as soon as I am able.

I love these sorts of programs, run for free by folks who just want to help and teach and empower others. (I find myself doing this quite a bit myself with food education, but I do need to pay my rent so I have been trying to get better about charging something for the more substantial work.) There are a number of free bike clinics around the city, mostly at farmers' markets, including the Petworth (Friday), Glover Park (Saturday), Mount Pleasant (Saturday), and Bloomingdale (Sunday) markets.

The Bike House folks are also running mobile bike clinics at various locations around Wards 7 & 8 -- apparently wards that are not only food deserts but bike shop deserts as well. Yes, this is a program after my own heart. Those who are interested in helping out the Bike House can find information here on volunteering (or donating or contributing items on their wish list).

So thank you, kind Bike House peeps. I didn't have more than $2 on me to contribute to the donation jar for your friendly services, but I can offer this poem that Ollie and I wrote in thanks:

Bring us your squeaking, your pied,
Your untrued wheels, you need not take the bus,
The flats and brakes we can repair market-side.
Send these, the carless, traffic-tossed, to us:
We lift our multi-tools so all may ride.


  1. Glad to see Ollie has a new hobby! Thanks for the info on the bike clinic.

  2. Sometimes when replacing a new chain with a stretched old one, you find that the cassette(which was replaced, right?) and the chain rings have worn to the spacing of the old stretched chain. Then the new chain which has pins at exactly 1/2" precisely, doesn't quite mesh with the worn chain rings in the front. Sometimes that can cause a feeling of roughness in the rotation. Usually it's not an audible clicking sound.

  3. There are a few bike technicians at farmers' markets in the suburbs too! Although I don't think we're doing it into the fall, the Rockville Bicycle Advisory Committee has a stand at the farmers' market most weeks in the summer with a mechanic from Revolution Cycles.


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