Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Sweet Spot

Rolling into the dry season of 2017 the drive train on my long bike is entering the twilight of it's life. It's an curious thing to reflect on. The chain and chainring are intimately linked. For a comfortable and efficient pedaling experience the chain must glide smoothly across the teeth of the chainring and then fit snugly into the cogs of the gears on the rear wheel. If these are not suitably matched there will be much grinding and jumping of the chain resulting in a most unsatisfactory pedaling experience. When changing gears the chain is also expected to move freely across the cogs at the rear and front of the drive train. When a bike is new and all components are suitably matched it is expected the bike will function this way. However with a bike like mine that has been dragged together from salvaged parts at the tip shop, coupled with new chains linked together to bridge the unusual distance between chainring and the cogs of the rear cassette harmony is not always achieved.

This most recent chainring/chain combination has been on my bike for the past three years. In that time my front gear shifter has seized and so the bike has only functioned on the middle chainring (most people's preferred option anyway). 

As I recall I had to replace the whole kit and caboodle about three years ago after a loose chain jumped off the rear cogs, tangled in my back wheel and tore off the rear deraileur. 

After replacing the rear wheel, deraileur, chain, front and rear cogs (FYI the chainring is the word they use for the front cog/s) it was like riding a new bike but there was a definite lumpiness rising through the peddles. 

Now, about three years and a few thousand km later the bike is feeling remarkably smooth to peddle! Like there's no resistance at all between the chain and the cogs. That's because friction has done it's work on both and they have now well and truly found their groove. It's all feeling wonderfully in sink, like I've found the bike's sweet spot... Ironically there is a very fine line between 'Worn in' and 'Worn OUT'. Realistically when the teeth on a chainring become as worn as mine are there comes quite a bit of free play between chain and the teeth of the cogs which drive it. Likewise the constant grinding of steel on steel with a paste of greasy grit rubbing between them has caused the chain to stretch and warp to the point where the combination of both can lead to the chain jumping off the cogs and causing a very inconvenient and inefficient malfunction in the forward motion of the bicycle. 
At this moment though, I am in that very pleasant in between place, where all I feel is the smooth effortless sensation of a temporary illusion of equilibrium. (A bit like my life when I think I've had a good day...)

I am calling this moment the sweet spot. Be it ever so transient there's no place like the illusion a finely tuned machine (similar to the car that purrs like a kitten just before it runs out of oil!) 
That beautiful time in the twilight of the life of a much used machine when it all seems to be working beautifully, powered by karma and hopeful vibes of the rider. I have no idea how long this will last, I'm guessing another 1/2 year, maybe a 1,000 or so more kms before I have to find a new set of running gear to keep my beloved long bike on the road.

Oh another important element in the drive train is the peddles and crank.
I mostly ride in thongs so have maintained a rather old set of nylon peddles that don't have any teeth for gripping into the hard sole of a shoe. They have been very comfortable but finally split down the middle while I was on my last trip around the harbor. So I actually went to the bike shop and purchased a set of really lovely alloy flat decked peddles to replace them.

The bike was creaking a fair bit recently so I installed my new peddles, diligently tightened the crank (3/4s of a turn, that's a lot of play in a crank bolt!) and adjusted and tightened the saddle for good measure. 

The result was a smooth silent and sturdy ride that made the bike feel almost new again! 
Of course as my major transportation I know I will have to do this all again when time and wear take their toll, and somewhere in the middle I will be enjoying that magical space hovering in two wheeled bliss before everything is bust!

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