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Winter is hell for bikes

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

I had some mechanical problems today that reminded me just how harsh winter can be on a bike. More about that in a moment …

We got a couple inches of snow yesterday/last night. Conditions weren’t too bad this morning, except in a few places. The parking lot in our apartment complex and the bike path both had ice, with a layer of crunchy snow on top.



Some of the less-traveled roads had snow on them. The city decided to try a new snow-management technique: dropping lots of salt, instead of plowing. Needless to say, this didn’t work at all.


But, the roads that get more traffic were in pretty good shape. They were just wet, and slushy at times.



On Steve A’s recommendation, I’ve started waxing my bike when I clean it. He said, basically, that it would make it easier to clean the bike, and hopefully help prevent so much slush (among other things) from building up on the bike. For now, I’m using a spray-on wax, and it definitely does seem to help. Today I found that while it doesn’t prevent slush from building up on the down tube, it does make it not stick as well. On my way to work, once it reached a certain point, it actually fell off on its own.

By the time I got to work, more slush had built up on the downtube. This happens despite my low fenders. But, most of  it was easily removed by simply tapping it with my boot.


That didn’t help my drivetrain, unfortunately.


After work, I hopped on the bike to head home, and for a few minutes, all was well. But then after I stopped at a light, I tried to get going again and spun out. I thought maybe my chain had fallen off, or wasn’t quite in gear, but it seemed to be fine. I continued on and everything was fine again, until I stopped at a stop sign, and started pedaling again. I pedaled like mad, but the bike wouldn’t go anywhere. I looked down and the chain was intact, but I was pedaling freely forward, without turning the wheel. It felt just like pedaling backwards, but I was pedaling forwards!

This was a truly weird sensation, and occasionally I could get the gears to engage, but mostly, I was unable to move. I was about two blocks from a bike shop, so I walked over to see if they could do a short-term fix to at least get me home. No dice … and apparently the cassette on this bike is really old and weird and they can’t replace it, either. I had another wheel at home, that would require some adjustment and probably a new cassette, but I still had to get home.

So, the two miles home from that point were a combination of walking, coasting downhill, and trying to get the gears to catch. They did a few times, so I ended up walking probably a mile, and riding the rest. Naturally, parts were quite icy, which would have made for a great test of my studded tires, but I had to walk. Damn.

I made it home safely. I still need to put the other wheel on, and make some adjustments. Ugh. I’d just ride the Trucker tomorrow, but it’s very icy, and I really need the studded tires (they won’t fit on the Trucker).

10 Responses to “Winter is hell for bikes”

  1. Eric Says:

    So funny! I just took my bike to the bike shop today for the exact same problem, which I have never before experienced. Strange coincidence.

  2. Apertome Says:

    Truly bizarre, this is a first for me as well. Still trying to figure out how I’m going to handle it, I don’t want to spend much fixing up my beater.

  3. Steve A Says:

    Is this some sort of freewheel that predates freehubs? The only way I’ve ever had those fail is the freewheel froze, making it a “fixie” until things broke loose again.

    Glad to hear the wax is helping. It’s also helping slow down the attack of the salt.

  4. Apertome Says:

    I really don’t know, they said something about the pawls wearing out, at the shop. Since I bought the bike used and I’m sure these weren’t the original wheels, all bets are off. Apparently it is a cassette, though, again according to the LBS guys. I don’t know enough about all of this to really understand the finer details.

  5. Bill Lambert Says:

    Bummer about your gears. Wish I could provide some insight, but I’ve never heard of that problem. We’ve just gotten a dusting of snow here. The wind finally stopped blowing.

    Be safe.

  6. mike Says:

    frozen pawls! old pawls! pawls that won’t engage!

    does not sound like fun.
    maybe a single speed or fixed gear is in your future?

  7. Redbike Says:

    I gave up with gears this year and decided to ride a single speed speed bike through winter. I’ve ended up going fixed wheel after the salt destroyed my freewheel too. It just rusted it solid in days.

    The salt has also destroyed the bearings in my front wheel and seized the quick release in place. I’m starting to think that next year I should ride a uni-cycle. No gears and no chain.

  8. Jon Grinder Says:

    Atually, it sounds more like a lubrication problem (pawls really don’t wear out, very often). The oil inside the freewheeling mechanism is probably a little too thick, and gets even thicker in the cold. This will hold the pawls up away from the teeth, resulting in bi-directional freewheeling.

    Try the wheel after it warms up, in the house, and see if it works at room temperature. If so, then this is more than likely the problem. Flushing the pawls with solvent, then dripping some very thin oil into the works will probably fix it.

    Unfortunately, if you have a cassette hub, the cassette body has to be removed from the hub to do this (The pawls are at the inboard edge of the freehub). This entails removing the axle and bearings, then removing the hollow fixing bolt with a 10mm Allen wrench in order to separate the freehub from the hub body.

    Not too much trouble if you have the tools and the ability to adjust axle bearings. But, if you have to pay a shop to do it, it will probably cost you more than a replacement wheel.

  9. Apertome Says:

    Thanks … yes, it did re-engage once warmed up. Since I have a spare wheel, I’m using it, and I’m not too worried about this one at the moment. I will have to figure out what to do long-term, though.

  10. Jon Grinder Says:

    Can you either post some close-up photos of the hub and cogs, or email them to me? (jjgrinder msn com Fill in the blanks, of course.) I can give you more specific info if I see the actual hub.

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