An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
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Sunday, September 25, 2011

MTB Revenge

On Friday, I went on a mountain bike ride with some friends from work, and some of their friends. Get enough geeks (both nerdy technical types and bike geeks) together, and who knows what will happen. It was... certainly interesting.

It started out with Josh asking if I wanted to tag along with he and one of his friends from Utah. It ended up as eight of us threading our way through one of the fairly popular riding tracks of the area, owned by a local church, with trails built as an Eagle Scout project (and kudos to who ever that was -- well done!).

I'm a pretty strong rider... Road rider. My offroad skills are a bit lacking. And when the bike is rebelling, it doesn't help.

Okay, so now I have to provide some back-story.

Josh and I have been doing lunchtime rides at work for some time. He doesn't ride the road, but the riding on the "trails" around our work site are more fire and service roads -- not much in the way of technical challenge. And that's just fine with me. I'm more after a workout. We've exchanged various bike parts as well, digging through the archeology that is our respective garages when the other needs something. A bike symbiosis of sorts.

I'd had a mountain bike frame collecting dust in my garage for some 6 years. A Proflex 853 (similar to the one pictured), 1993 model bought new in 1994, with upgraded Girvin forks. Awesome suspension at the time, and still quite good by modern cross-country standards. It used a foam elastomer for both the spring and damper on the fork and rear suspension, and functioned very well... until one winter it went rock solid. Now I hadn't been riding on it, so it did so without me noticing. And from that point on it sat. I tried to get replacement elastomers through K2 (the company that bought out Proflex), but it seemed that the entire concept had evaporated. None to be found. I scavenged bits off the bike, eventually using most of the parts to build up my current single speed MTB that I keep at work.

I gave the frame to Josh some time back, and he replaced the rock-elastomers with springs, and then built up the rest of the bike to be serviceable. Since I knew the area we were going to be riding on Friday wouldn't be so kind to a rigid single speed, Josh offered to let be borrow the old Proflex. I made some comments about maybe wanting to buy the bike back from him after the ride, just to have some suspension again.

And this is where the bike started taking revenge on me, for the years of neglect, for giving it away for nothing, and maybe most of all for giving up on it.

It started out with only being able to use one chainring. Some frame anomolies didn't allow the front derailleur to shift it up onto the big ring. Not that it was an issue -- I was on the largest rear cogs and the middle ring anyway. Oh, and no small chainring. No idea why...

But wait, there's more. I found out very early that I couldn't get the rear shifted onto the biggest cog. "Limit screw adjustment" I thought, and told Josh as much. I could finesse it onto that cog, but it wouldn't stay -- as soon as I released the pressure on the shifter, it dropped back down. About 4 miles into the ride, I relented and asked for a multi-tool so I could adjust the derailleur. That's when I figured out it wasn't the derailleur. It was the shifter. Or more properly, the cable adjustment to the shifter, which was one click off. meaning the shifter thought I was on the largest cog, when actually I was one away, and though the shifter has extra throw, it doesn't have a "click" to hold it there. So I was almost to a single speed anyway.

Also, I mentioned the springs in the suspension. Did I mention the dampers? Of course not, there were none. What happens with an undamped suspension? It takes the hit, absorbs it, and then throws it right back at you. I ended up stading for much of the ride. Oh, and Eric and I had done a 5 mile run at lunch... My legs were feeling it.

Sven was really suffering. I tink it was about half way through the ride when he stopped beside me, took a sip from his Camelback, and I heard the gurgle of the last drops. He got a rather worried look, and I offered him some of my Gatorade, which he gladly accepted. And we had no idea how far we were going to be heading into these woods. The name of the trail we were on? Get this: Deliverance. I thought I heard a banjo...

Oh, don't call yet, there's more. So since I was standing a lot, I kept hearing a squeaking and thumping in the bottom bracket area. Josh said it was a shimming problem with the bottom bracket, and I thought nothing more of it. Until well into the ride. I felt my left foot kind of loose, like it was moving around in ways it shouldn't. I checked the pedal -- tight. I rode on. It got worse.

Then, out of curiosity, I checked the crankarm. Yup... Loose. At least the bolt was still there. Gotta love ancient square-tapered crankarms and bottom bracket spindles. It had gotten loose enough, and I'd ridden on it enough, that the tapers had deformed, and there was no way it was going to tighten properly. I think I stopped every half mile to retighten it, in hopes that I didn't lose parts along the way. At this point, I asked how far we had to go to get back to our starting point.

The response? "I'm about 80% sure we have between one and ten miles to go." And this was the guy that knew the area the best. We'd been weedling through trails that would resemble the Gray's Anatomy of the small intestine on a map, and no one had a clue where we were. Awesome!

We finally did make it back, and there wasn't much blood. No triage needed. We loaded up the bikes, me gladly handing over the Proflex to Josh, who put it inside his CRV along with 4 others, and Eric, Pat and I went to the Swing Arm Pub for some much-needed food before I got back on my motorcycle for the ride back home.

So, in spite of all that, I had a lot of fun. I'd do it again tomorrow.

But on a different bike.

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