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chain gang

a long time ago, when i was still an art student, i used to work with an airport catering firm during my summer holidays. one of the other students who worked in the same place, cycled to work (i didn't, but in my defence, i didn't actually stay far enough away to need to) on what i remember as a red road bike. i have no idea what type of bike it was, but since this wasn't just yesterday, it would almost inevitably have been a steel, ten speed racer (remember those?).

now, that in itself would be relatively unremarkable, were it not for his strange chain ritual, which i only found out towards the end of the summer. he would cycle the bike to work in the morning, and when he cycled home again after work, he would immediately remove the chain from the bike and place it in a bucket of diesel. he would then put another chain on the bike for the following day's travel. and each day was the same, alternating between the two chains.

not unnaturally, i enquired as to why he performed this apparently bizarre daily ritual and he claimed it was to reduce wear on the chains and the freewheel (this was long before shimano invented the cassette hub) which made no sense at all to someone who, at that time, cycled a small bike with a sturmey archer three-speed hub gear. since the chain on this device remained in the same chainline, wear was not a factor, and i naively had no idea what he was on about.

now, just while we're on the subject of cassettes - which we were sort of - when shimano came out with the idea in the first place (for those of you unfamiliar with the concept, originally all the sprockets on a multi speed derailleur bicycle contained the freewheel mechanism, and this screwed on to a threaded hub. shimano moved the freewheel mechanism into the hub itself, allowing the sprockets - originally five, on a ten speed racer, but now as many as ten on current shimano/campag systems - to slide on to a slotted freehub). it was a clever system very much to the benefit of racing cyclists because it was easy to change from a flat stage to a mountain stage by altering only the larger sprockets. however, before this system managed to develop very far, shimano decided to cut hyperglide ramps into each sprocket to aid shifting, and since these required to line up across the sprockets, this meant that they now had to be fitted in a set, often rivetted together. so instead of replacing one or two sprockets, the whole set has to be replaced at one time.

anyway, to return to the changing of the chain, while the concept of the chain stretching is somewhat errant (it wears at the pins thus lengthening the gap between links) the chain and sprockets do wear at the same rate. leave the chain on long enough and when a new chain is fitted, the sprocket teeth will be rounded, and the chain will skip when any stress is applied (ie pedalling). this is likely to be across the most used sprockets.

incidentally, i have found the only thing i have in common with tom boonen - several times this year tornado tom has failed to get into the eleven sprocket - i have never had the strength or the speed to be able to get into the eleven sprocket on the colnago. (incidentally, boonen's problem turned out not to be a mechanical problem, but a frame problem. such is the man's power in the sprint, he was flexing his time frame so much, that it was preventing the derailleur shifting the chain to the eleven. so time built him a stiffer frame).

since i have taken to traversing the island on the trusty colnago at all times of the year, with the ever decreasing state of the roads, and large quantities of agricultural substances sitting lethally on the surface, i have started replacing the chain religiously every six months. and it does actually work. in a month or so, the c40 will be three years old, and i'm still running the same set of sprockets that i fitted to the bike when it was new. and bearing in mind that the wear rate on ten speed chains is reckoned to be higher (because they're narrower), this is very pleasing. since the cost of a campag chorus 11-23 cassette is currently listed at around 77, and a chorus ultra ten-speed chain is a mere 26, it makes much more sense to change the chain regularly.

on most bikes that i am asked to repair, where the chain needs to be replaced, almost without fail, the freewheel (still standard on cheaper bikes) has also to be replaced. since even a cheap freewheel costs around 15 and a chain around 10, that's half the cost of one of those mountain bikes you see advertised in saturday's newspaper.

so take my advice - if it's not too late, put a new chain on tomorrow, and in six months, do it again. always assuming you keep up the weekly mileage.

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this website is named after graeme obree's championship winning 'old faithful' built using bits from a defunct washing machine

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as always, if you have any comments on this nonsense, please feel free to e-mail and thanks for reading.

this column appears, as regular as clockwork on this website every two weeks. (ok so i lied) sometimes there are bits added in between times, but it all adds to the excitement.

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