Know Thy Machine

Intimacy is the cornerstone of our relationship.


I’ll admit it. I’ve been known to neglect my bike. I’ll commute for two weeks in mid-winter salt-soaked slush before I get around to rinsing things off, praying silently to the Bearing Gods for another season or two before things seize. I lost my Raleigh frame after 10,000 miles to a completely frozen seatpost, despite only going two months between regreasing (a Northeast winter will do that).

It’s not that I don’t love my machine —believe me, I love my machine. My bike is my transportation, my entertainment, my therapist, my personal trainer, and my partner in adventure, so it’s easy for me to forget that it’s not an extension of my body. It’s a collection of constantly grating metal interfaces, and it needs lubricant and love.

Such is the curse of the work bike. I envy the Freds who hang their bikes delicately in a climate-controlled garage, only to be taken down on fifteen perfect weather weekends each year. I tried to keep the maintenance at bay by running a 1×10 drivetrain, sans front derailleur. If you follow the blog, you know that experiment started last year, about ten months ago. 1×10 (and 1×9) was a great setup; I never had to worry about 50% of my drivetrains moving parts again. Things ran clean, consistent, and tight. I didn’t miss the top end with a 38T front ring, but I was starting to get annoyed at walking my bike when the trails got steep.

It was time to reinstall the front mech.

MD027626I had my 34-tooth inner ring left over from buying the Sram Apex crank in April. My shop keeps chainrings in a big filing cabinet, and this slightly used FSA 46-tooth outer ring provides all the power I need at the top end. I have no delusions of Cat. 2 sprints and hours of tailwinds across open fields. In my cycling circle, if you’re spinning out a 46T you don’t really need to be going any faster. Shoot, I was happy with 38.


The derailleur is an interesting piece. The top-level SRAM Red groupset used a titanium front derailleur for weight savings for a half-second. The pro circuit realized that the thinner, lighter titanium cage was flexier than a steel cage, making the jump from the small ring to the big ring inconsistent. SRAM quickly bandaged things by providing special steel-cage SRAM Red FD’s to all the pros, who were swapping in the lower level Force derailleurs as an “upgrade.” In the current SRAM Red groupset, they’re back to steel.

For my purposes, a jump from a 34-tooth to a 46-tooth is a lot easier than the jump between 34 and 50. The flex is a non-issue. I get a fun little piece of cycling history; the day SRAM’s best derailleur was a downgrade for competition bikes.


I rigged my new front mech to a downtube shifter simply for the ease of un-installment if I ever go back to 1×10. Looks pretty unique, too.


The rear derailleur is still rigged to this original 9-speed Dura-Ace shifter. I hope I age so gracefully.


For the cable housing and cables, I went with Yokozuna. Their compressionless housing is renowned for great performance, and if you ask my bike mechanic, its difficult installation. I admit, it was a challenge to get some of the ferrules on the oversized housing, but I had no more issues cutting, bending, or ferruling the Yokozuna housing than I did with Jagwire Pro. The navy blue handlebar tape from Bontrager matched with purple finishing tape looks great to me. It’s like a valentine’s day card.


My first shake-out ride with an extra nine gears felt like cheating. I only topped out the 46T for a split-second on the rollers of Route 9, west of Amherst. The lower register, however, was very appreciated. Sections of the Robert Frost trail parallel the power lines, and the steep grades would have been impossible with my 1×10 drivetrain. I dropped into my grandma gear and plowed up the trail, my smooth tires spinning in the sand. The Pioneer Valley has smaller sections of trail splayed across it like spider legs, so it’s rare that I head out for a road ride without leaving the road, and it was great having the gear range to tackle these new (to me) sections.

Since I’m always taking things apart and reconfiguring them, I know how long my headset and hubs have gone since their last greasing. I know the state of my seatpost, and how my bottom bracket is holding up after the thunderstorms we’ve had this month.

I know my bike like I know my fingernails, nose hair, earwax, and unibrow; well-maintained, lest I suffer the consequences.

Keep Wrenching!

2 thoughts on “Know Thy Machine

  1. You must be a lot stronger than me. I run 24/32/42 up front, and when the bike is loaded I use the 24 at least once per long ride. Last weekend I wished it was a 22. I don’t know how I’d manage with a 34 as my small ring, other than walking.

    Of course, unloaded, the 24 would let me climb vertical walls.

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