Bad Medicine

Day 107 • June 16, 2012 •  Franklin to Hartsburg, MO •  37 miles

On top of yesterday’s flat, Zoe’s drive train had been getting stuck in first gear the last couple of days.  This problem wasn’t a show stopper but was getting increasingly annoying.  After ruling out chain length as a contributing factor, I spotted the likely culprit:  the inner shift cable was mangled right where it enters the outer cable.   Somehow I managed to leave Boise with two spare brake cables and no shift cables, but not to worry—today we were passing through Rocheport which sports an on-trail bike shop and adjoining restaurant.  We’d have a quick lunch including some of their renowned blackberry cobbler while we waited for the shop to swap out the cable. 

Two hours later the mechanic declared victory but with one caveat:  now it wasn’t shifting into all the gears.  That didn’t sound good.  On an earlier status check I noticed that he had the shifter disassembled to a degree I’d never seen before but I didn’t want to hover so I let it go.  Now, however, our day was quickly fading and an annoyance had turned into a real problem.  When I took a look this time, it was clear that the derailleur was way out of adjustment and the shifter was actually broken.  When I pointed this out, the mechanic walked off in frustration.  I felt bad for the guy—he was clearly in over his head and I’ve struggled plenty of times trying to get the inner cable out of these plastic grip shifters.  But we needed to get on the trail so with the help of Carol, the enthusiastic shop manager,  and a complete set of shop tools, I took over.  Carol admitted up front she wasn’t a mechanic but when it became clear I needed a new shifter, she handed me one instantly.  I slapped it on, did a quick adjustment, verified it shifted to the highest and lowest cogs, and called it good.  I could take care of any minor adjustments with the barrels, on the trail.  As we’ll see, I’m no bike mechanic either.

It may sound strange, but I walked out of this situation pretty satisfied.  I talked at length with the owner, Larry, who explained that the original mechanic was a skilled farm mechanic who was completely new to fixing bikes.  That’s a pretty tough position to be in when you consider the unique quirks of bike hardware.  Sometimes things go wrong but they had the parts and the tools to get us going out in the middle of nowhere.  While we were waiting, Carol spent a ton of time with Zoe, even helping her create a surprise for me.  And the cobbler was delicious. 

As we were leaving Rocheport I got to thinking about that new shifter.  SRAM.  And Zoe’s derailleur, Shimano?  I wasn’t sure now.  Was that a derailleur alignment problem I was hearing back there?  I didn’t know, but we just kept pedaling.

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