Thursday, July 14, 2011

Captain Mellow and his Mobile Observations: Shooting Stones and Other Bikey Sounds...

After all these years of riding around streets and trails, mountains and deserts, canyons of rock, and others of steel and glass, Captain Mellow figures he is pretty in tune with all and any sounds he might hear while perched upon a saddle. Whether it be the chatter of a dry chain, the squeak, creak, rattle, or thunk of something not quite as tight as it should be, the ping as a spoke gives up the ghost, the pop and rustle as a chain breaks apart, and is momentarily dragged along in his wake before dropping off completely, or the varied sounds a tube and tire make as they quickly or slowly lose their composure and deflate. Captain Mellow knows that as long as he does not become lazy some of those sounds can be avoided or quickly remedied by proper and prompt maintenance, and that there is little he can do about those last sounds, they are part of the game. The hiss and wheeze, the high-pitched whistle, the rapid rush of air, or even the deafening boom of a massive blowout in an enclosed garage. These are all sounds directly related to the condition and maintenance of the bike. 

There is another group of sounds related to riding - the hum of tires rolling along nice, smooth asphalt or concrete (each is slightly different), the change in tone depth depending on tire inflation, the crunch of knobbies on a dirt trail, the swish through deep sand, the crackle rolling over dry leaves, the painful thunk as he fails to get his weight off the rear wheel as the rim hits a raised lip or other hard edge. And shooting stones. CM knows the sound by heart, knows almost immediately when he rolls over some little rock just right so that it makes that pop sound as it shoots out from under his wheel. Sometimes that pop is all there is. Other times it is followed by a loud clang, or bang as that little stone connects with a metal sign, guard rail, car door. Occasionally, if he is riding in a group, that stone finds a neighbors bike or leg, which might cause a curse to escape from the victims lips. Captain Mellow knows this sound well, he recognizes it for what it is but, Captain Mellow also wonders why it is, that after all this time he will still, for just the briefest of an instant, think the sound signals a tire going flat, and will sometimes even glance down for confirmation? 

What is it that put CM in the mood to think about sounds? It was this photo from a couple days ago:

He didn't notice it at the time the young woman rode past; maybe he was focused on the big picture, or something like that. That is one heck of a noisy gear selection - the rear derailleur almost doubled up on itself, had to have been creating enough chatter and chain slap to convince anyone and anything in the way to run for cover, or climb the nearest tree for safety. While all this noise is most likely just that, and not really a safety concern, other times a noise may be a sign of something more serious and should not be ignored. About the same day CM took the above photo, he was taking a look at his wife's bike (applying the brakes) and noticed a familiar soft thunk and play indicative of a loose headset. When asked about it his wife didn't know how long it had been like that, and didn't even realize it was loose. This problem could have turned into a safety issue at worst, or a costly replacement issue. The moral of this long winded and kind of rambling story - it pays to know your bike, the sounds it makes, the way it handles, and don't ignore any new or unusual squeaks, creaks or clanks.

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