Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Never Break The Chain

Last Tuesday, I experienced a most frustrating chain of events.

Chris was out of town, leaving me to change the rear wheel on my time trial bike. This sounds like an easy task. It should be an easy task. But for some reason, this is never an easy task – something about the size of my frame and the size of the wheels. In other words, something I will probably never understand.


There I was, waiting to start a 2 hour indoor ride. The wheel had to be changed. It wasn’t even a choice. The one currently on the frame was my standard wheel. The one I wanted on the frame was my Power Tap wheel. It was a power workout, so I needed that Power Tap wheel.

Knowing I would be faced with this situation, I had called Chris the night before for back-up.


“Tomorrow I’m going to have to switch out my wheels,” I said with some safety that Chris was over 1200 miles away and had to accept the fact that I was going to take the wheel into my own hands whether he liked it or not.

“Woman, every time you touch that wheel you break something,” he said. Actually, it was more of a warning because it preceded by the word “woman” as he often does when the risk of Liz-inflicted trouble or damage is imminent to a piece of our cycling equipment, a household major appliance, or one of our vehicles.

“I won’t break anything,” I promised. That was a lie. There was no guarantee. My past record pointed towards a strong possibility that I would break something like a derailleur, a computer sensor, a magnet, a spoke, some cables, chip the frame, or the snag brakes. Have I mentioned all of the major parts of the bike?

“Maybe you should tell me what I do,” I said, hoping that this would at least allay his fears and give me an out in case I did break something. An "out" as in - I did what you said and it didn’t work. This is the mind of a woman at work.

“Whatever you do, take the skewer completely out,” he said. At first this didn’t make sense to me. But then, I remembered that last time it was probably the skewer that had broken the computer sensor so taking the skewer out would probably decrease my impending bicycle disaster by at least, oh, 3 percent.

“Ok, skewer out,” I recited.

“And just be careful,” he added, almost echoing from a distant, helpless cave of over 1200 miles away pleading for me to be careful, pleading but knowing it would probably be of no help.

I went down the basement and looked at the wheels. I eyed the Power Tap wheel propped against the wall. I looked over at my frame with its standard wheel in place. Narrowed my eyes back to the Power Tap wheel. Back to the frame. Again, the Power Tap. Damn that wheel, I need that wheel.

I can do this. If I can swim, bike, run for miles upon miles, if I can ride those wheels, climb mountains on those wheels, then surely I can change that wheel. How hard could it be?

I took the bike out of the trainer. For some reason, I thought balancing the bike out of the trainer would be a fabulous idea. Not so. It was a terrible idea because as soon as I removed the skewer (thank you, husband) and removed the wheel, I was left with one hand to balance a bike - a bike which felt like a 400 pound gorilla had just sat on the aerobars. And I still had the rear wheel in my other hand. Needless to say, it took about 30 seconds before the bike was out of balance and before I could catch it with my other hand it had completely dropped to the floor.

Not a big deal, except for the fact that it had landed chain first on our cream-colored carpeting.


”NOT THE CARPET!” I shouted, cursing the 6 inch line of chain grease that I had just added to what was becoming a collage of 6 inch lines of chain grease, cleat grease, sweat, exploded gels, and other nasty residue (I may have blown my nose on to this rug in a desperate act of forced nasal cleaning one day during Zone 4 time trial intervals after realizing that I didn’t have a towel or tissue nearby and the nose needed to be cleared NOW).

There I was, rear wheel still in my right hand, left hand totally flipping the bird at the bike and chain that lay crumpled on the floor. I propped the bike back up and then tried to put in the Power Tap wheel.

There is where things started to break down. You see, I tried to be patient. In fact, for about 5 minutes I was very, very patiently, and slowly trying to not use excessive force and curse words to cram the wheel into the rear dropout. Really, I did. But 5 minutes had gone by, and I had gotten nowhere and still had a wheel in hand.

And then it hit me. I became possessed with my own frustration as a wave of anger rushed over me and channeled directly into my hands which began jamming the wheel against the frame, the chain clanking on each and every spoke as the derailleur begged me to stop pulling on it for fear it would just snap entirely off.

Somewhere, 1200 miles away, I am sure my husband heard a faint clinking of metal on metal and thought to himself, “woman, you better not break that chain.”

Several attempts at shoving, jamming, pushing, cursing the wheel and chain later, I stood there completely covered in grease and a frame still completely de-rear-wheeled. That’s when I noticed something. I put the Power Tap wheel down.

What in the……how could this be…..I inched closer to the chain……are you kidding me.......this is a physical impossibility……the chain had somehow – on its own accord – twisted and turned itself into 3 separate knots. Has this chain been talking to my vacuum cleaner cord? It takes months for children to learn to tie their shoes yet somehow the vacuum cleaner cord, and now my bicycle chain, have mastered this in less than a few minutes? And entirely on their own (because obviously I had nothing to do with this)?

How in the world was I going to undo this one? It then hit me that there was a bicycle stand in our basement. And I could use that bicycle stand like an extra set of hands. Easy enough, I took the frame, the wheel to the stand and did what I thought was putting the frame into the stand. But like everything else thus far, this was not the case. For the second time, the frame dropped and might have even let out a little cry. I think I heard my husband cry too.

I started pushing and pulling on the bike stand – because that worked so well with the wheel – until I finally figured out the system by which you open and close the clamp to hold the frame. Must everything in this basement have some secret handshake for getting it to work? Is this how my husband keeps this room and all of these things sacred and separated from me? Like he stands there nightly with all of his cables, wrenches, chains, and says “IF THIS WOMAN APPROACHES YOU FIGHT WITH EVERYTHING YOU HAVE TO KEEP HER AWAY” while flashing a picture of my face.

Nearly 20 minutes had gone by, and finally the frame was hanging from the stand. I stepped back and assessed the damage done – I had completely degreased the chain and in exchange greased up myself – and the frame – the bike still had no wheel – and the chain was tied in knots.

At that point, I did what any woman that was just dying to get on her bike to do her damn power workout would do – I cried.

Then I got angry. Because this bike, this basement, this goddamn secret handshake password system that my husband secretly installed when I wasn’t looking, this had to be solved. I will figure you out, bike, and your Rubik’s cube of a rear wheel. Tonight I will ride.

I stood there greasy and almost defeated. But then I noticed another bike next to the stand. Enter Liz, the highly visual learner. I looked at it, rear wheel perfectly in place with chain flowing smoothly with the frame. I stepped closer, studying how this other fully functional bike looked, where the parts were in the frame, compared it to my frame and then a few minutes later wouldn’t you know that I had unknotted the chain, and installed rear wheel safely and securely into the frame with no broken chains, sensors, or even spokes.

I took the bike out of the stand, and put it back on my trainer and let my ride get underway. And by some divine miracle, the bike was fully operational for the entire ride.


Afterwards, I called my husband.

“I switched out my rear wheel today,” I reported.


“Woman, what did you break?” Chris asked the obvious, the expected.

Nothing, I thought to myself, nothing at all – almost my spirit, but that – like anything else – takes a lot more than a few pushes, pulls, and tugs to breakdown. You see, I may not know you the secret password to solving all of the cycling problems in the basement but I know how to try and I’ll work at it to get it done. It might not be a pretty process, and I might get a little dirty along the way, things might even crash and fall, but I’ll keep trying. I guess you could say that this process is the one chain that will never break – the confidence in my abilities to work hard at something – even if it’s something as simple as changing a wheel - until it gets done no matter how messy, shameful or tear-filled it gets.

“Nothing,” I said, this time honestly, no lie, “I broke nothing at all.”


I made no mention of the chain knots, the degreasing of the chain, the dropping of the frame, or even the sad fact that I had broken down and cried. Proverbial links in the chain, you could say, that were just better kept to myself.

2 comments:

Jessi said...

Woohoo! You did it yourself! That is awesome! Tears? What tears?

I am not as evolved as you are. I still make my fiance change out my rear wheel. Someday...

SA said...

I wish you would have written this one prior to my IM Moo nightmare! It would have given me the kick I needed to finally learn what the hell my bike is all about!