Dialing in: The rear derailleur secret handshake, wheel truing, tires, and fit

I figured out the rear derailleur secret handshake. It goes something like this:

In order to set up a rear derailleur, there are four adjustments to be made. You need to set the high and low limit stops. You need to set the indexing adjustment. And you need to set the B-tension.

I kept trying to adjust several adjustments at once, which totally doesn’t work. Pretty much, you want to start with the cable unhooked and adjust either the high or low limit stop, depending on what type of rear derailleur you have. Then you hook up the cable but without using the shifters, just yanking on the cable, you set up the other limit stop. Once you do these two steps, you don’t touch them again (I didn’t realize this).

Then you can do the B-tension and indexing fairly straightforwardly. Once I realized this, I was able to get both bikes totally dialed in so that they shift crisply instead of being almost-but-not-quite-right.

On the other hand, I’m not totally sure why people seem to think that if an indexed shifter falls out of adjustment that it means that your bike is unridable. It tends to just mean that your bike won’t shift properly into one or two gears and, with drivetrains being loaded with gears the way they are, you can afford to lose one or two gears. The real thing to be scared of is what happens when the shifters jam up with all those clockwork gears.

I noticed that my front wheel was out of true. I decided that I might as well start figuring out how to true wheels so, armed with a spoke wrench and a copy of Jobst Brandt’s The Bicycle Wheel, I flipped my bike over and trued it with the wheel still mounted. I was a little uncertain about exact techniques because Jobst Brandt didn’t spend much time on “modern” low-spoke-count bladed-spoke wheels because they were dangerous back when he last revised the book, whereas they are now merely a maintenance headache and of little benefit to many riders. But it turns out that most of the advice still applies. With a bladed spoke wheel, you don’t need a fancy tool to hold it in place, you just need to over-tension and then back the tension off… which is easy to see in action when you have bladed spokes because wind-up is easy to see.

Much to my surprise, it’s not dramatically difficult to true a 20 spoke radial wheel. The radial pattern makes life a little easier because I can make heavy use of all my musical experience to tension by pitch. Although my present worry is that I’m going to suffer a front wheel collapse because it’s not sturdy enough.

Either way, I do feel better about my ability to survive minor gear failures while on the road after the latest crop of maintenance.

I did drop in to a bike shop to try a new saddle. They pointed out a few glaring fit issues with my ride.

First, I already knew that something had to change on the handlebars. They pointed out that the glaring flaw was that the bars were angled wrong and probably too wide, so they tilted the bars down a little bit, which helped. It’s likely that I either need to go in for a fitting and have them move the shifters to the right bar position… or I’ve got to move them myself. Either way, this means re-wrapping the bar and probably replacing the nothing-special bar tape. I don’t think I’m actually that picky about the surface properties of bar tape, given that I use gloves most of the time.

They claim the bars are also too wide.

They also told me that the seatpost was way way too low. They raised it up to what, without a fitting, they figured was the right height, but I didn’t go more than a few hundred feet before my knees started hurting. Pretty much, as soon as I get to maximum leg extension on my right leg, it hurts my tendons. I’m not sure if this is a matter of saddle positioning such that if I moved it forwards or backwards and adjusted where the bars were and whatever that I wouldn’t have this problem or if I just can’t have the saddle set for maximum leg extension without hurting myself. So I have the seatpost higher than it was, but still at least an inch lower than they had it set.

I was all set to order a new cassette because I was under the impression that my cassette was the one the bike was specced for (a 12-25) but it turns out that it’s really a 11-28 cassette. Thankfully, I figured this out before I tried to purchase an 11-28 cassette and discover that it was exactly the same. Instead of a 105 12-25 cassette and chain, it’s a Ultegra 6600 chain and an Ultegra 6700 11-28 cassette.

So the big thing remaining that I need to think about replacing on my bike is the tires. Therein lies the question:

I do not believe in terms like “supple” or “harsh” applied to tires. I believe in things like rolling resistance and puncture resistance and width and pressure and traction.

There are a few tires out there. Specialized has their Armadillo tires. Continental has their GatorSkin tires. Schwalbe has their Marathon tires. And Maxxis has their Re-Fuse tires. All of them have at least a model or two in a size likely to fit between the brake calipers. Some of them feature a band of kevlar intended to hold the casing together and potentially prevent glass from getting through. Others feature a band of foam intended to prevent glass from penetrating into the inner tube.

It would be easier to decide if there were actually real figures to compare, even if they weren’t exact, that might suggest when a rider might choose one over the other. About all I know is that the guy at the bike store told me that Armadillo tires were better, but then again he didn’t sell GatorSkins, so he had good reason to tell me that. I’ve had at least one or two people suggest GatorSkins. And I read interesting things on the Internet about Schwalbe and Re-Fuse tires.

Largely, the Schwalbe Marathon tires appeal to me largely because they’ve got a reflective sidewall and most of the other options don’t. And the ones with kevlar beads (not the Schwalbe Marathon, generally) appeal to me because I like to keep a spare tire in my trunk bag when going on long rides.

My biggest concern is that best I optimize the rolling resistance vs. tire changing compromise. That is, the lowest rolling resistance tire that will still make it very unlikely that I get a flat. And that I do not know a good answer to.