A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
I recently put this saying to the test on the Cinnamon Roller Ralleye–a 50+ mile self-supported ride on rutted dirt and gravel roads north of Fort Collins, CO.
In my case, the more accurate phrase might be “a wheel is only as strong as its weakest spoke nipple.”
And though I encountered an unexpected setback that day, it ended up being one of the most satisfying rides I’ve ever had on a bike.
‘Every time I invest in good gear, it ends up paying dividends.’
I’ve long been a fan of buying quality gear.
Things that are made well, that are thoughtfully designed, and that last for a long time.
The Shimano XT hydraulic disc brakes on my Boo RS-M hardtail have saved my skin more times than I can count. Same goes for my bombproof Stan’s/Chris King/Maxxis wheelset. The Brooks Professional saddle on my Aluboo Commuter gets more comfortable with age, and looks cooler too.
Every time I invest in good gear, it ends up paying dividends.
For the Cinnamon Roller I rode my Aluboo gravel bike. Built with a dependable Shimano Ultegra drivetrain and Avid BB7 SL disc brakes, this bike is no-hassle, versatile, and reliable when riding gravel, bikepacking, or tackling any other mid- to long-range adventures I can throw at it.
Being that Fort Collins is surrounded by a lot of rural land, you’d better bring everything you need on this ride to feed/hydrate yourself and fix your bike should something go wrong. Cell coverage is spotty and you’re a long way from help–it’s best to be prepared.
The night before the ride, bringing all my childhood afternoons spent in the Boy Scouts to bear, I gave my bike a pre-ride checkup and packed my necessities.
At 8AM the next morning, we rolled out of Fort Collins for a day that would turn out to be a lot more eventful than I ever could have expected.
‘The sun was shining, the roads were dry, the wind was non-existent, and the company was excellent–it was a beautiful day to ride bikes in February.’
It didn’t take long for our motley group of riders to make our way from downtown Fort Collins to the open spaces north of the city.
The city’s pavement transitioned to the packed dirt roads that cut along pastures and farmland–an ideal place to ride without worrying about a car or truck passing you every few minutes.
We were cruising at a healthy clip. Occasionally there’d be some washboard ruts or gravel, and the bamboo inserts of my Aluboo soaked up the chatter and kept me comfortable and riding smooth.
The sun was shining, the roads were dry, the wind was non-existent, and the company was excellent–it was a beautiful day to ride bikes in February.
By lunch we had made it to Livermore, a small town about 20 miles north of Fort Collins and our halfway point, for resupply and refreshments. I checked my bike and gear, and everything seemed to be in good shape.
Stomachs full and thirst quenched, we set out again for the return ride to Fort Collins, and this is when my gear was put to the test.
Making the turn from asphalt highway back onto dirt road, I hit a depression and felt something give in the rear end of the bike. There was a clatter, followed by a gruesome “ka-chunk” that immediately disabled my drivetrain.
After pulling over and having a look, it seemed my day might be done.
Two spoke nipples had broken when I hit the depression in the road. One of the loose spokes had gotten caught in the chain, was pulled into the rear derailleur, and sheared it off at the hanger.
‘There are many benefits to riding with your friends, especially in situations like these when you’re up shit creek without a paddle and many of them are experienced bike mechanics that can give you advice.’
While sitting on the side of the road trying to figure out what I was going to do, I lost count of how many of our group stopped to ask if I was okay and had everything I needed.
There are many benefits to riding with your friends, especially in situations like these when you’re up shit creek without a paddle and many of them are experienced bike mechanics that can give you advice.
Seeing my dilemma, one friend stopped and said “if you’ve got a chain tool you could single-speed it…”
GENIUS! Thankfully, my multi-tool did have a chain tool.
And that’s when it dawned on me–thanks to my Aluboo’s slider dropouts I could convert this bike and still make it home, albeit in one gear.
So I got to work. I removed the rear wheel and the disc brake rotor so I could get to the hub flange. After removing the remnants of the spoke nipple, I bent the spoke back into shape enough to remove it from the hub flange, and tensioned up the other spokes (NOTE–I will now be packing spare spokes and nipples on future trips).
The chain was torqued too, so I removed the most damaged part and straightened the other sections by bending them (I recommend folding two sections over in each hand and using them to isolate and leverage the twisted link).
I then found a gear with a straight chain-line (so it wouldn’t try to walk to other gears in the cassette and bind the now-shorter chain) and used the slider dropouts to tension the chain.
Behold my new single speed! I was in the saddle again, and Fort Collins was a mere 20+ miles away.
I started pedaling my jury-rigged ride home.
My roadside mechanic session wasn’t the end of the ordeal–I had to stop a few more times to tweak the setup, as well as deal with some ‘gastrointestinal distress’. It was slow-going, especially in 4th gear. I even ended up walking the last mile, as I popped a chainring bolt a few blocks from home.
But out there on those roads by myself, taking in the sights and dealing with a crippled bike, I felt happy and grateful.
To quote one of my favorite books, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: “The test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn’t any other test. If the machine produces tranquility it’s right. If it disturbs you it’s wrong until either the machine or your mind is changed.”
I was satisfied with my machine. My bike had performed great, except for those aluminum spoke nipples that caused a freak accident. And even after the accident, my machine gave me satisfaction in that it was designed with versatility in mind and could be repaired to keep working.
Being an employee of Boo I know I’m tooting my own horn here, but there just aren’t a ton of other bikes out there that could do what my Aluboo did that day–keep going.
‘It takes a lot of the planet’s resources to make anything. So shouldn’t products be designed to last a very long time?’
I’m so tired of engineered obsolescence. If I invest in something, I want it to last as long as it possibly can.
It’s obvious that Apple is prodding me to update to its new crappy iOS software or buy a new machine by inserting bugs that slow down the current software on my equipment. It’s so transparent, and so sad.
Sure, that might work in the short run and annoy people into upgrading their devices, but in the long run it leads to dissatisfaction with a product that always used to work flawlessly. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
It takes a lot of the planet’s resources to make anything. So shouldn’t products be designed to last a very long time?
Bikes are no different. If I invest in a bike, I want it to perform well, be comfortable, durable, compatible, and to give me a lot of satisfaction over its use life.
I’ve put more than 4,000 miles on this Aluboo. I’ve set it up as a road bike, a gravel bike, and now as a single speed (chuckles). And every time I’ve refined the setup, either by going from caliper to disc brakes, swapping out the dropouts’ custom spacers from 130mm to 135mm, moving to a wider tire, changing the cable routing with the movable stops and guides, or a myriad of other tweaks, I’ve been satisfied with this machine’s performance and adaptability.
When the rubber met the road, my machine passed the satisfaction test. Does yours?