Chain of fools

Hobo crossing

Riding the Rock Island Trail east, I found this sign, and the temptation proved overwhelming.

New bicycles are like strange dogs. Most are friendly, but occasionally you meet one that wants to bite you in the ass. Or worse.

While planning a minor expedition to inspect the flood-damaged southern end of the Pikes Peak Greenway, as a prelude to logging what the Adventure Cycling Association folks call a “bike overnight” before the snow flies, I put the Bootleg Hobo into the workstand for a quick chain-lube yesterday morning.

Imagine my surprise when I found a link ready to pop. I could’ve broken the chain right there in the stand using the ol’ opposable thumbs and a finger or two, no chain tool required.

I thought I’d heard an occasional clicking sound while riding the Hobo the day before, when I snapped this photo. But the thing was a demo bike that arrived with shifting issues, and I’d been dicking around with the barrel adjuster in hopes of shutting it the fuck up, so I figured it was probably a tight link somewhere. Thus the workstand, and the chain lube.


One of the washouts left over from the summer’s flooding.

So, yeah, duh. Good thing I didn’t pop that bad boy while standing to climb a hill, as I had been doing. I rarely carry a chain tool on rides, and almost never pack an extra set of testicles.

Long story short, back in the garage went the Hobo and out came the Co-Motion Divide Rohloff, which doesn’t have a chain to break. And the ride was swell, though the trail was in pretty poor repair in spots, as you can see in the other photo.

But my nuts are just fine. Thanks for asking.

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30 Responses to “Chain of fools”

  1. Derek Lenahan Says:

    When I teach chain installation step 68 in the manual (Barnett’s Manual DX) we teach from is to do a chain inspection for both stiff links and protruding pins. The stiff links might cause a bump down the road but the protruding pins reveal the unseen evil of the partially engaged rivet. I teach if you are visually checking the chain to look at EVERY SINGLE STUPID RIVET. Looking for the weak link and all. Then you have to switch sides and look at the opposite side of the chain and look at EVERY SINGLE STUPID RIVET. The protrusion is visible the partially engaged rivet near invisible. Think about the lighting conditions you work in. I prefer to hold the chain between my thumb and forefinger and backpedal. I can find a protruding pin or deformed plate much quicker this way even in the dark.
    Any bike you work on needs to be checked even if new. Think about how many millions of chain rivets get pressed together every day. They can’t all be perfect. I just spent a month in a knee brace from a patella encountering a stem. It is no inconsiderable matter. The chain was not at fault but was damaged in the fall and had I continued to ride that chain I am certain I could have pre-marked the failure point. Someone would have to pay me an awful lot to push that at this point. Inspect your chains and follow the maker’s guidelines.
    I can’t count the number of bad links I have found that I could not believe held together to keep the chain on the bike until it got to me.
    CAUTION. and don’t be scared, stand on it.

  2. sachiwilson Says:

    Well, you know, if you use enough EPO you can do without a testicle. Maybe even two!

  3. Patrick O'Brien Says:

    Good advice Derek. My future chain clean and lube jobs will include a thorough inspection.

    Patrick, can you forgive the Bootleg? I am still interested in how those fully housed cables perform.

  4. khal spencer Says:

    Good advice, Derek.

    I often do a quick clean of the chain by spraying it down with WD40 and then holding a shop rag on the chain and wiping it down to get the crud off. That ensures I will feel a protruding link when it catches the rag. Maybe….

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I usually have a pretty good look at a new bike’s chain, if only because I don’t know whether it’s gonna be one of the tool-free deals or not. This time, not so much. It would have been a fun walk home from down around Fountain, with my ‘nads up around my ear-holes somewhere, Herself down at the Humane Society, and her phone out of reach.

  5. karen Says:

    Whoa, scary! Both chain and that B I G drop-off ! Thanx for advice.

  6. Steve O Says:

    Think about all of the things that can go wrong on a bike … then remind yourself that a car is significantly more complex

  7. Derek Lenahan Says:

    Then start thinking about airplanes and don’t even get me started on helicopters.Human kind’s engineering really started to reveal it’s flaws when we set our constructs in motion.

  8. Larry T. Says:

    Rule 1 – a tiny chain tool takes up practically no space, BRING ONE. Rule 2 – what Derek wrote.
    Another useful thing is a KMC missing link, as in master link. They make ’em for all chains (including Campagnolo) not just their own. Cheap. Weigh nothing and take up no space. BRING ONE. While personally I’ve only had this issue once, due to the dreaded chainsuck on an MTB many years ago, I’ve saved countless potential chain disasters for others by having a chain tool and one of these links.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Yup. I usually carry the link, but have been casual about a chain tool on short rides, having broken only one chain in 50-some-odd years of cycling. This was while we lived outside Weirdcliffe, and I was trying to climb a stupid-steep stretch of single-track at Bear Basin Ranch on an eight-speed mountain bike that had enjoyed (ahem) indifferent maintenance due to inexcusable sloth on some person’s part.

      Happily, I was in the granny, and the bike had a sloping top tube, so I escaped with my pleasant baritone voice intact.

    • khal spencer Says:

      I managed to drop the chain off the granny and suck it up into the stays on the old Trek tandem on one nasty climb back in Hawaii. The crunching was audible. I was lucky to have a chain tool, as I had to remove two bent links and reassemble the chain to get home. Another time, rescued someone out on the Bandelier Loop who blew up his chain somehow or other.

      Its handy as are those spare links. I too carry a spare pair of master links for emergencies. Given what I carry around the midsection these days, a chain tool and master link is inconsequential loading on my various bike frames.

  9. weaksides (@weaksides) Says:

    Lots of words to live by here, some of which I wish I had known before Sunday. My Sunday ride was hampered by a sticky link that wouldn’t work free with my hands. I carry a chain tool- 2 actually- on every ride, but I don’t carry chain lube. Luckily a store was kind enough to let me take a bottle of spray lube off the shelf for a couple squirts and then put it back. I can no heavily back the chain inspection idea after this event.

  10. James Says:

    Seems like the flu as I too had a chain horror story the past two weekends. First was an exploding chain much like PO’Gs, and then last Saturday saw the ‘fixed’ drivetrain develop a serious case of chainsuck right out of the driveway. Needless to say a little fiddling with the shifter cable seemed to solve the problem. Let’s hope that this chain flu is not too contagious or long lasting.

  11. Derek Lenahan Says:

    If I were to carry a chain tool would make sure it was something like the Shimano CN-22. I forget the current versions number but it works as well. Harder to find, maybe heavier but will once again work on any chain. For those of you who carry spare links for others, I am curious, what speed link do you carry, 8,9,10,11, something else?

    • Larry T. Says:

      I find pretty much ANY of the tiny chain tools work OK with the idea that the smaller it is, the more likely you’ll keep it in your seat bag. Even the ones like this are far better than nothing
      Have yet to rescue any 11-speeders, but the wider links usually work in a pinch on narrower chains if one does not care to carry around an assortment. Probably half of my rescues have been the result of passing by in our support van with plenty of spare parts and tools vs what’s in my seat bag on the bike. On the bike I keep one of the multi-tools that include a chain tool and a link specific to the chain on my bike.

      • khal spencer Says:

        I think I have that one, Larry.

        Also used to carry around a gargantuan (by comparison) chain tool on my first motorcycle, a Honda CB450. Back in those days, every once in a while someone would pop a chain. I really loved it when I sold that bike and got a CX500 with shaft drive. No more worries about chains rotting out from riding in prolonged East Coast rainstorms.

      • Derek Lenahan Says:

        I appreciate the importance of actually having the tool when in need and so the smaller is better viewpoint. I also appreciate not having to walk home. That being said, I have found that most of the portable tools damage the outer plates so you get to ride for a while, hopefully long enough to get home but if you do not replace the damaged links when you get there (nobody does) that leads to your next walk out.

    • veloben Says:

      Whatever matches the drive train I’m riding. Being the charitable sort I assume everyone does the same and if needed my contribution will be years of kibitzing expertise, a chain tool and nitrile gloves.

      But then, what Larry’s wife says.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I’m usually carrying a SRAM link, eight- or nine-speed, depending on which ancient assembly of pipes has the misfortune of bearing my weight at the moment. I don’t bother carrying anything with the lone seven-speed in the fleet, as it rarely gets so far from home that I can’t jog back if need be.

  12. Patrick O'Brien Says:

    I always liked the Silver Wing Touring version of the CX-500. Almost bought one but got a Yamaha Vision instead. I think Honda should resurrect the 500 Silver Wing with updated components. It would be a great mid-size touring bike.

  13. Downhill Bill Says:

    Some years ago a lady showed up on a club ride on a new department-store bike. The chain waited until the approximate middle of nowhere to fly apart. A friend of mine (bike mechanic/framebuilder at the time) donned his latex gloves and proceeded successfully to rivet the chain back together using 2 rocks. Neolithic bike repair!

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