Thursday, May 12, 2016

A Story About Stella

This is an email I sent to my friend, Annette, who is going to be doing a week long tour on the Selkirk Loop with me in June. She doesn't have a suitable bike for loaded touring, so she is going to ride Stella.

                                                         A Story About Stella

I have a story to tell you about Stella. Don't worry, it has a happy ending. In fact, it could almost be a Disney movie (because all Disney movies have happy endings)!

Once upon a a galaxy far far away...okay...not really. So, last week before I went to Eugene (I was taking Stella so I could take panniers), I put the handlebar bag on Stella, and rode into town to do some errands. I noticed the bag was really pushing on the shifter cables. It wasn't interfering with the shifting, but it was making it so the shift/brake levers would not come all the way back after pulling the brakes. Strangely, this hasn't been an issue before, even though I've ridden thousands of miles with that set-up. As I was riding right by the bike shop, I decided to stop in and see if my bike shop homies and I could come up with a solution.

I explained the problem to Will. First we thought maybe longer cables would do the trick. But, that wouldn't really give more clearance for the bag. The cables would still be pushed up against the sides of the bag making it so the levers couldn't return to their "resting" position. Then I thought about what Betsy has on her shifter cables. She has these rigid metal "noodles" (actually, she has flexible ones now, but for a different reason). If I could put the noodles on the shifter cables, then the cables would be curved at 90 degrees, thus creating the clearance needed for the handlebar bag--problem solved!

I bought the noodles, and also bought new cable housing. Since I had fairly recently changed the cables, I didn't buy new cables. However, I had noticed, on an earlier trip to the bike shop, that they carried shifter cable barrel adjusters. I had never replaced the barrel adjusters (used for fine tuning cable length to improve shifting or braking), so thought I might as well get them, since I was messing with the cables anyway. 

Since I was leaving for Eugene that afternoon, I didn't bother to do the switch to the noodles. I would just need to remember to manually push the levers back out after braking. Now, you might be wondering why didn't I just plan to tell you, when you were riding Stella, to do the same--just push the levers back out after you brake. Well, since this is your maiden voyage in loaded bike touring, I didn't want you to have to deal with any strange quirks with Stella (which is not to say that she has no quirks at all--any bike that has been around the block a few thousand times has quirks, but I wanted to eliminate what I could).

Tuesday, after getting back from Eugene, I went to work on adding the noodles, and replacing the barrel adjusters. The first snafu (or if this was a Disney movie, the first tragedy), was when I cut off the end cap for the front derailleur cable, the end of the cable frayed. I tried, in vane, to get the cable through the noodle. It only made the cable fray more. So, now I need to get new cables too, but I didn't have time to go back to the bike shop. Yesterday, I returned to the bike shop and bought new cables. I returned home, and was able to get the front derailleur cable replaced with the noodle and barrel adjuster added. It was even shifting better than it had been!

On to the rear derailleur cable. I loosened the pinch bolt (noticing that the end of the cable also frayed like the front cable--good thing I bought two cables), and pulled all the housing off. Then the next Disney tragedy struck. First, a little info on removing shifter cables. In order to get the cable out of the shifter lever, you have to first shift the lever to the hardest gear. Then, you pull the lever in as if you were braking. When the lever is pulled all the way in, you swing (like shifting, only with the brakes pulled) the lever in, thus exposing the inside of the shifter where the cable end is. The cable has a little ball-like stop on it (obviously, to keep the cable from just pulling out). When the shifter is pulled all the way over, it exposes a larger opening that allows the ball end of the cable to be able to be pulled out (and new cable to go in). I'd had to do the same with the front cable, and had no problems. However, the rear was not cooperating. When I would swing the shift/brake lever in, it wouldn't go far enough to expose the larger opening to allow me to get the ball end of the cable out from the cable track. I tried everything. I've had issues like this before where I just keep trying, and somehow some kind of magic happens, and it works. Well, no magic was happening in this case. 

The end of the cable wasn't frayed as much as the front one, so I decided to try and use the same cable. I got everything on, but at the very end I could not get the cable back through the derailleur, and it turns out, with the addition of the noodle, the cable was too short anyway. Well, DARN IT!!! (really, I said FUCK!!! But, this being a Disney movie and all...) Again, I did not have time to go back to the bike shop.

That brings us to this morning. I tried to see if some magic had occurred overnight (you know, like in the story about the tailor who can't finish making the clothes, and the mice who do all the sewing while he sleeps), but no (I guess this is less like a Disney movie than I thought). I still couldn't get the cable out. I coiled up the long cable and zip-tied it so I could ride to the shop, and have one of my homies get it out. I took all the replacement stuff with me, intending to have them just do it for me (which pissed me off because I KNOW how to do it!). Since I was riding with no rear derailleur cable, that meant I, effectively, had one gear. Really, there were three, but the easiest gear would be cross-chaining the chain (little ring front, little cog rear), and the other gear would be the hardest gear Stella has. So I was stuck with the middle ring on the front, and the smallest cog on the rear. This was not too bad, except the derailleur would cause the chain to skip if I put too much force on the pedals (no tension on the derailleur because no cable). Fortunately, the route over to Joy Ride only has one hill. I figured I'd be leaving Stella at the shop and taking the bus home, so I wouldn't have to go up the three hills to come back. 

I made it up the hill with only a little bit of skipping. I arrived at Joy Ride (3.4 miles from home) and told Cam my problem. Initially, when he tried to get the cable out, he had the same problem as me. But, then he worked a little magic voodoo, and managed to get the lever to swing fully to expose the larger opening. He said the lever had been jammed, and he got it unjammed by pushing and shifting it at the same time (I swear I tried that!). So, the old cable was finally out! In my joy at finally having the old cable out, I forgot that I was going to let them put the new stuff on. Instead, I happily said thanks, and headed home. The derailleur was still wanting to skip the chain, so I rode carefully up the three hills coming home. Once I got home, it took me all of maybe 30 minutes to get the new cable on with the noodle, and barrel adjuster, and get Stella back to shifting properly (see? I told you I knew how to do it!). 

The final part of this Disneyesque story was putting the handlebar bag on to see if the noodles made it so the levers worked like they're supposed to. And, YES, it worked! The noodles allow enough clearance for the bag!
90 degree bend noodles
It doesn't look like much clearance, but it's enough.

...And they lived happily ever after...THE END (roll the credits)

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