Mechanical Woes

[Warning: this is long and detailed. -ha]

When you’re up against a deadline, nothing mechanical is ever easy, is it?


Case in point: a mystery squeak and a desire to be worry-free for my upcoming trip resulted in visiting two bike shops six times over the course of four days. And it led me to some larger realizations.

The first shop, which specializes in wheels and which I don’t wish to keep anonymous, I’ll call “Shop S” for Sugar Wheel Works. Shop S is primarily a one-person operation but the owner also employs a lovely acquaintance of mine. Let’s call the other shop “Shop X,” which I will keep anonymous. Shop X is my local bike shop, which I have been pretty faithful to since they opened their doors nearly 10 years ago—mostly because when they opened, they employed two people I already knew and trusted, and soon got to know and trust a few other employees. But we’ll get back to that in a bit.

A couple weeks ago I was riding with a friend and my bike was squeaking. My friend also has a Sweetpea, slightly older than mine, and she had experienced a similar squeaking in the past. This was by no means the first time I had heard the squeak, but it was getting more persistent over time. Since we were just about to ride past Shop S anyway, we stopped and went inside. I got to meet the owner (Jude), who advised that what I was describing was consistent with spoke tension issues, and then felt it on my wheels. She said I could have my wheels trued with her or elsewhere, but if I wanted her to do it I could set up an appointment.

A few days later, that’s what I did. And last Saturday afternoon began the saga. Jason, Jude’s awesome employee, trued up my wheel while we caught up with each other. When I got home and put the wheels back on my bike, the squeak seemed to be gone.

However, before I had even gone to Shop S for the first time I had already set up an appointment at Shop X. Sunday I visited Shop X out of obligation, believing my squeak was fixed and I shouldn’t need much to keep me safe on my trip. Of the several people I once knew at this shop, only one remained, and he was on vacation. A cheery person who remembered Sweetpea took a look at her, and recommended some work based on what she saw. It largely centered around cleaning my drivetrain and replacing the chain. Her estimate was between $100 and $200 dollars, depending on some things they might discover as they worked.

Of course, it ended up being the $200 figure, which I felt slightly unprepared for when the estimate was prepared. (That isn’t terrible in bike shop terms—but at the moment I am hanging on to every dime I can.)

And the squeak was back!

When the wheel got trued, there was a mystery click that remained—Jason said if the noise hadn’t gone away, to come back on Tuesday and Jude could check to see if my rear rim was cracked. Since Shop X is closer to me though, I stopped in and had a conversation with the mechanic who had worked on my bike. Not only was the squeak back, but the chain was still skipping! We decided I would head to Shop S to double check a potentially cracked rim, then drop my bike back off at Shop X when I was done.

Jude was able to isolate what was making the squeak—a loose endcap on my rear hub, which she tightened a tad. In the process she discovered that Shop X had put my rear cassette on so tight she was unable to take it off! Describing it as “barbaric,” she suggested I make haste back to Shop X and get them to loosen it enough that ideally, I could remove the thing on the side of the road in the rain if need be.

Riding unsqueakily back to Shop X, I related the diagnosis behind the mystery squeak, asked to get the shifting adjusted so the chain wouldn’t skip anymore, and related the cassette issue to the mechanic.

“It’s supposed to be tight,” he protested. “It’s done according to manufacturer’s spec, which is pretty tight!”

When I relayed that Jude couldn’t get the thing off using her bench vise and chainwhip, he offered to bring the wheel up and show me how much force he was using with his tools to remove the cassette. But before he did, I asked if I could do the honors. Since ideally, I’d be doing my own work anyway.

Using his tools (“be careful, those are my tools—I don’t want them to break”), I used the weight of my upper body to gently press down on either side to remove the cassette. It didn’t budge. I kept increasing the weight, then started using my muscles and abs…nothing.

Explaining I didn’t want to break his tools, I handed my wheel back over. Then he gave it a shot himself. “It’s not supposed to be this tight!” he sputtered.

Really. You don’t say.

When he finally did get the cassette off, he used his torqueometer to reattach it at the right pressure. Hopefully. How did it get on so tight in the first place? We’ll never know. But about an hour later I had my bike back—sans squeak, sans chain skipping, and working as creamily as ever.

When leaving Shop S for the last time, I realized something. During this episode whenever I left Shop S I felt happy and relieved. Whenever I left Shop X I felt doubtful and a little frustrated. Then I remembered how I had essentially been passed around at Shop X and mainly interacted with people who I had never met previously, who knew neither me nor my bike. The realization: it might be time to move on to another shop, where those long-gone employees had settled, and the shops that fully explain your options rather than upselling through an estimate.

Summer at a bike shop is crazy-busy. Usually I try to avoid taking up employees’ time except in winter, but this time it was mostly unavoidable. And the shop was a bit understaffed at the time, compounding the problem. It’s not to say I’ll never go to the shop again—in fact, incidents like these can kick-start a much more friendly rapport for the future. But I realized why I had been going there, and about how important it is for me to trust the people messing around with Sweetpea.



Filed under Bicycles

2 responses to “Mechanical Woes

  1. Pingback: Gone Biking | bikish

  2. Pingback: Mansplaining Bicycle Tires | bikish

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