Sunday’s Ride (The Bad Part)

My ^&#@$! bike broke again!!!

About eight miles into my ride, I was looking back at my rear wheel (I now spend about as much time looking between my legs at my rear wheel as I do at the road in front of me) and it appeared to be a bit soft.  I stopped and checked the pressure by means of the scientific method of pressing on it with my thumb and hitting it lightly with the heel of my hand.  It seemed a tad soft, but I convinced myself that I was just being paranoid.

I was being paranoid (after five flats how could I not be?)  but later events were to prove the old adage, “even paranoids are right sometimes.”

I continued on through Brentsville and up to the Bristow Station Battlefield.  I was wandering the subdivision, once again looking through my legs at my rear wheel, when suddenly I saw it: ANOTHER BROKEN SPOKE!!!

At this point, there was little to do.  I was 20 miles from home and I didn’t want to pester my wife yet again to come fetch me.  So I pressed on.  I trudged into Nokesville with my rear wheel rubbing on my brake pad once per revolution.  After buying my Gatorade I checked my tire again.  It was definitely going flat.  And I didn’t have a spare anymore as I go through inner tubes faster than most people go through toilet paper.  Oh, the joy of it.

Doggedly I pressed on, taking pictures as I went, determined to enjoy myself.  At Mile 31, the rear wheel was almost completely flat.  I pulled out my hand pump and got it back up to 60 PSI.  That bought me another five miles, where I repeated the procedure.  I do not recommend this method of bicycling because as the rear wheel deflates, the rolling resistance increases to a number approaching infinity.  I was very tired, very sweaty, and not at all pleasant to be around.  I finally made it home with a glacial pace time of 11 mph. 

I was unable to find my Happy Place.

I got onto my computer and visited Specialized.com, looking for an email address to their customer service department.  I was eager to share my opinion of their product with them.  The folks at Specialized are not dumb – they do not provide any email or phone information for them.  They do have a “snail mail” address, which I am about to make use of.  Although they didn’t have an email address, they do have a FAQ section in which the problem of heavy riders on bikes is discussed.  I was shocked to see Specialized state the exact opposite of what Old Towne Bicycles told me when I posed the question of heavy riders on bikes (emphasis added):

“The most difficult thing for bigger, stronger guys, actually is finding wheels that are durable enough. When you buy a bike, you simply must assume the wheels are as “perishable” items as if they were tires. (heavier riders who race hard & train big mileage, have the same issues – they just kill wheels).   

When/if the spokes on your wheels start breaking, have your Specialized dealer rebuild the wheels with super heavy-duty rims and spokes to give you the kind of reliability & “ride it & forget it” strength you need.”

That certainly would have been nice to know, especially since I asked Old Towne Bicycles this very question!

So on Monday night I visited Revolution Cycles in Stafford.  They listened to my story with a mixture of fascination and horror.  To be fair, they had never heard of wheels being “killed” by heavier riders either.  But they were friendly and seemed to be on the ball.  The store manager listened to what I wanted to do and directed my attention to the Trek 7.5 FX.  It’s a hybrid with a carbon fork, road bike gearing, and (most importantly to me) Hardcase tires with kevlar lining, designed to be extremely puncture resistant.  The things have such sturdy walls that it is possible to ride on the tire with no air for brief periods.  That’s the sort of tire I can appreciate!  The ergonomic hand grips I added to my Crosstrail come standard on this bike.  I was so upset I was almost ready to buy it on the spot.  I took a deep breath, thanked the manager for his time, and left the store.

Trek 7.5 FX

Today, Old Towne Bicycle called my sainted wife while I was at work to let her know the new wheels had come in.  She shoved the bike into her Honda Pilot and took it to the shop to get fixed.  The new wheels are an upgrade from  the stock ones.  They are double rimmed, which the internet tells me is a very good feature for wheels and should help prevent future spoke issues.  The mechanic noted my tire was flat and when my wife told him my story he replaced the inner tube for free.  As she was leaving, my wife asked if there was anything special I needed to do.  “Just tell him to take it easy,” he said.  Whatever good will Old Towne Bicycle had built up was lost at that point.

I took the bike out for a 13 mile test and it handled fine.  Then again, it always does great on the short spins.  It only wants to break down when I am 20 miles from home or about to embark on a great adventure.  I think my bicycle may be sentient.  And lazy.  It knows when it’s about to be called upon for some hard work and breaks itself to avoid the job!

So that is where we’re at:  my bike is breaking with such frequency that in many ways it is still new.  Despite putting 1,000 miles on it, I have brand new wheels, one fairly new tire, and a pair of pedals with only 400 miles on them.  Not bad!  I’m also well into my research for a new bike, which I will most likely purchase next March when they go on discount for the 2011 versions.  Here’s hoping I can spend a weekend without a breakdown!

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5 thoughts on “Sunday’s Ride (The Bad Part)

  1. Hey Steve,
    Sorry to hear about more wheel/spoke probs. It definitely is a SPECIALIZED issue. Hope the new wheels work. From your pic, you are not a “big guy”. Take it easy on yourself a little. As you consider your bike needs, please be sure to look at your long-term cycling goals. Are you really interested in speed/ light weight bike, or distance, and a more durable, long lasting cycle, that might double off road as well as on? Be sure you buy for your needs. I’m so fortunate in that my friend gave me a cyclo-cross, so I am able to use my bike perfectly for fitness cycling (speed/endurance rides), and for touring/ recreational rides. My inclination, right now, is to go out and buy a very cool, ultra-light weight bike, but I’m rough on a bike: take it everywhere, throw it in the back of my hatchback, and haul it around, so I can yank it out and ride at a moment’s notice. I need something very durable, and thankfully, that’s what I was given.
    Your blog is wonderful. Love the pics.

    • It’s mostly about durability for me and an upright sitting position. I don’t plan to tour anytime soon, but do want a bike that can take me 100+ miles in a day. A flat tire every 1000 miles is acceptable, or the occasional bad streak. Weeks of mechanical failure are not.

  2. I don’t know how big you are, but I’m 240 and have been riding has heavy as 300, I used 32 spoke wheels that whole time and had problems with a few breaking spokes. I basically had the exact same problem you had, the bike shop would fix it, 2 or 3 rides later it would break. When I was on a ride in Nebraska a guy told me he would make my wheel spoke breaking spokes by correcting the tension. He charged me 35 dollars and kept the wheel all day, but when he was done it didn’t break a spoke again for the next two years when I sold that bike.

    Spokes break for one reason only they are over stressed, when a wheel isn’t tensioned correctly some spokes are doing much more work then others. very rarely can you just thread a new spoke in tighten it and continue you like nothing happened, the wheel has to be retensioned. Your bike shop has been wasting your time and ruining your rides when they could do a retensioning job to your wheel.

    It could also be that rim is bad and has a weak spot, or maybe something else, but obviously this should have been fixed a long time ago. Good luck with the replacement.

    • 6′ and 247 lbs at Monday’s weekly weigh-in. That’s 18 pounds less than when I bought the bike in April. At the very least, I expect to get at least 700 miles out of this wheel. That’s when the old one began to fall apart. I’m much more concerned about my tires, which seem to have the protective capacity of construction paper.

      • Yay! That’s a great weight loss. Good for you. I’m down 60 lbs. Keep up the good work:-)

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