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Chain Reaction

Ken is visiting from Salt Lake City and it is my mission to make him envy our backyard mountain biking. We will ride from my house, over Twin Peaks, and back to town via the Sage Hills. It's a route that will make him covet the car-free riding possibilities around here. 

But on this particular Sunday morning trouble starts early. In the high gears that the paved road up Number Two Canyon Road forces upon any cyclists lacking thunder thighs, Ken's chain keeps sucking into the bottom bracket and jamming. "That wouldn't happen if the chain was properly lubed," I rib him. "Why do you insist on neglecting your gear?" 

You'd think after years of getting stung by such teasing I'd have learned a thing or two, but some of us learn slower than we ride. About a mile past the end of pavement up Canyon Number 2 Road, my rear tire starts incurring terrible resistance. "Awwhh no." I whine "I've flatted out."

I stare down at the tire. Whew, what relief, I have not flatted...it's just the rim rubbing against the brake pads with each revolution. I dismount to fix the rubbing and, within three seconds, I'm wishing for a flat. Instead of an easy-fix, the wheel rim -- worn thin from years of braking -- has split apart like a sun-burnt lip. The tire's sidewall bulges through the split but, amazingly, the dying wheel is still holding air.

I let air out of tire to reduce the rubber ulcer protruding through the split. Then I remove the pads from the rear brakes so the tire can spin sans rubbing. "We'll coast back down the way we came. If the wheel's still holding when we get to town, we'll do one of the easier loops in the Sage Hills that will only require front brakes."

"I don't know," Ken says looking skeptically at the tire and thinking about the road-rash possibilities awaiting me on the paved steeps of Canyon Number 2 Road. "You think that's a good idea?"

I'm reminded of another ride some ten years ago where a simple problem led  to a chain reaction of technologic problems, miscalculations, and minor calamities. "It's positively stupid."


CHAIN REACTION – by Andy Dappen


I should know better, but when Gary's chain breaks halfway down the Noble Knob Tour (one of Western Washington's classic rides), I've gotta twist the blade. "Too bad you wasted $2000 on that carbon-framed junk pile when $500 would have bought you a reliable work horse," I say, patting my six-year-old chro-moly Costco Special.

Minutes later we are skidding down a trail that drops steeply to a viewpoint with big-air vistas of Mt. Rainier (the region's 14,410-foot volcanic behemoth) and big-air hang time for anyone who rolls over the 400-foot cliff just beyond a critical switchback. "Not the place you'd want that junker to lose a brake," I yell to Gary as I give my levers a sustained, white-knuckled squeeze.

Three switchbacks later while braking hard on a low-hazard corner, a twang resonates through the forest. My left brake lever goes limp and I shoot past the turn into a tree. It's a cable break duct tape isn't going to fix. I disconnect the affiliated parts and let the cantilevers of the front brakeset hinge out into their wide-open position, then I hop on the bike, hoping to catch Gary before he wearies of waiting and leaves me carless at the parking lot.

"Haste makes waste," the proverb says, and my impatience bites back. As I rattle over roots and rocks, the unwired cantilevers of the brakeset flap on the forks. Eventually the left cantilever flaps into the wheel spokes and gets sheered off, taking the mounting threads from the fork with it. Suddenly a cable replacement has magnified into what? Probably the need for a new fork. I take time to do what should have been done earlier--tape the remaining cantilever to the fork. Then I limp onward.

On this steep trail, however, the rear brake is not powerful enough to adequately control my speed; I keep dragging my heels as a brake assist. Unfortunately that lets my toe clips drag over roots and rocks. One of those rocks--a big one--snares a clip and almost brings the bike shuddering to a stop before the toe clip rips away from the pedal.

I ricochet to a stop and survey the damage. The pedal frame is mangled, the toe clip unfixable. Fearing my body is likely to take the next hit, I lower my seat post to improve the braking power of my heels. That's when I discover that, somewhere along the trail, the nut attached to the bottom of the quick-release lever has vibrated free. Once the lever has opened, it won't clamp shut.

Gary has been waiting at the car 45 minutes by the time I--with knees by my chin, toe clips shorn, and brakes broken--pedal into the parking lot. He's at trail's end and believes himself on safe ground for settling the score over my earlier insults. "I SURE DO wish I owned that beauty," he starts in. "Nothing EVER goes wrong with the Costco Special."

He moves in to survey the sunken seat, mangled pedal, and broken brakes. "The good news is that now you've got a great excuse to put a Rock Shox on that ox," he tells me. "And rather than fixing the pedals, get SPDs. You don't know it yet, but you want those pedals."

We're getting the bikes ready for the rack when we notice an inordinate amount of play in the bottom bracket of Gary's dream machine. He's seen this before with his carbon-framed road bike and he whips the mountain bike upside down. Disgust mixed with disbelief and anger flood through him. The lug surrounding the bottom bracket is cracked. The frame is toast.

He looks at me with raised eyebrows, waiting for me to have the last say in our technologic misadventures. But today's lesson has come with an expensive price tag. For once, I keep my mouth shut.