Much of my recent riding has been on nearby dirt roads. I’d call them gravel roads, but the gravel has been pushed to the very edge of the surface and serves the same decorative function as bricks along a flower bed. Sure, you could walk on a narrow brick path, or bike on a narrow gravel path, but what’s the point? Better to hoof it out in the yard or crank across the dirt.
The roads have surface issues: ruts, erosion and washboard sections, the latter caused by motor vehicles braking on the downside of the hills.
I’m not a gonzo rider, far from it. But a good amount of riding on goat tracks like these is bound to shake something loose. And when things on a bicycle go out of adjustment, the announcement often comes in the forms of clicks, squeaks or creaks.
I had a creak: a small creak at first, easily ignored, but it inevitably turned into the kind of sound you don’t want your bicycle to make: the kind that can be heard 10 feet away. In a car. It was embarrassing. Action Needed to be Taken.
Fortunately, I once analyzed problems just like this one as a mechanic in a bicycle shop.
You start by understanding that sound is a liar. You hear something in the crank and it turns out to be a loose rear hub. You hear a clunk in the rear hub and it turns out to be the seat tube, cleanly separated from the bottom bracket.
In this case, the creak was clearly coming from the handlebar area, which made sense because the handlebars, far from being an impregnable fortress of inadjustability, can easily be repositioned by hand, without tools. So I assumed that the bolts holding the locking clamp had become a bit deranged. I opened the clamp, fiddled with the adjustment and went for a ride. Nope. No change.
Well then, it had to be the handlepost itself (on a folding bike, handebar stem doesn’t summon up the diameter and length of the mighty handlepost), probably where it hinges at the top of the headtube. Easy enough to access the area. I undid the latch, checked the adjustment of the bolt that governs tension of the latch and applied a thin layer of grease to the mating surfaces of the hinge. Then I raised the handlepost back into position, locked it down, and we were off.
Except the creak was still there. Same as before.
Maybe it was the front generator hub. I knew the sound was coming from the front of the bicycle, but I didn’t want to mess with the hub right then, so I hoped I was wrong and continued to think through the problem.
Remember, sound lies. So ignoring the idea that the sound was coming from the front, I tackled the interface of seat and seatpost. I applied pressure to the front and rear of the seat, repositioned the seat, greased and retightened the seat clamp bolt. Went for another ride. No change.
I grabbed the rear wheel and moved it side to side to see if the hub was loose. Nope. Checked the pedals: still securely connected to the crank arm. The crank arms were properly torqued onto the bottom bracket spindle. The spindle itself turned freely. The bottom bracket cups were firmly threaded into the frame.
I sat on a lawn chair for a few minutes and looked at the bike from 10 feet away. It was that generator hub, wasn’t it? As much as I liked that feature I knew that turning the hub of a bicycle into a mobile power plant was fraught with complications. Technology had turned against me. Again.
Yep. Had to be the front hub. I needed to switch the P7i’s front wheel with the non-electrical 20-inch wheel from the Dahon Bullhead downstairs. I needed to positively identify the hub as the cause of all the commotion.
I stood up and turned away. That’s when I remembered a bit of vital information. This bike folded in half. Somehow, I had forgotten about that. I opened the main frame latch. It seemed a bit loose. I gave the bolt that sets the tension for the latch a turn. Closed the latch. It felt tight. Felt right.
I went for another ride. No creak. Silence. Bliss.
Total time analyzing the problem: 20 minutes over four days and several rides. Total time actually solving the problem: 20 seconds. I may once have done this for a living, but it’s a good thing I don’t charge myself for my time.
I can’t afford me.