Cold Weather Cycling

It’s been cold over the last couple of weeks, colder that it’s been all winter so far with temperatures in the mid -20°C and windchill putting it in the mid -30°C. These lower temperatures have brought some stress and challenges to cycle commuting both for me and the bike.

One of the first mornings where there as some nasty windchill I got a little frost bite on some exposed skin on my cheek. I tried a couple of different balaclavas but nothing was really working for me. The ones that covered everything also covered my mouth, making it hard to breath. Then I read a blog post about layering. I knew about layering for jerseys and pants etc. but this blog post described how the rider layered various bits of headgear to meet the demands of colder temperatures. The next day I teamed up my heavy balaclava with a headband, positioning the headband just below my eyes, over the nose and down to the top of the lip. That, in combination with ski googles, resulted  in no more exposed skin and some comfortable riding in the wicked temperatures.

With the rider part of the equation fixed up another problem came to the forefront. One morning, about 5 minutes into the ride, the chain seems to fall off and get stuck between the tire and the rear chain stay. I put it back on and we’re under way for a few minutes, and then it happens again. Now I’m paying attention. It seems that the rear freewheel cassette is not spinning freely enough and when I stop pedeling the cassette keeps rotating and forcing he chain forward against the now stopped big ring, causing it to get all caught up between the tire & chain stay. For the next few days I ride without stopping peddling to keep tension on the chain. It’s a little weird peddling and braking at the same time and every once in a while I’d forget and get the quick reminder with the clatter of the chain dangling down.

Being big on looking after the bike myself I decide after a little shop work that I need to get the freewheel off and clean is up. Problem #1 is that it has not been off the wheel in 30 years and is frozen on and the penetrating oil doesn’t seem to be helping. Problem #2 is that I don’t have the proper removal tool. So, it’s off to my favourite LBS, Woodcock Cycleworks to get a tool, some advise and possible some parts. It’s Saturday and about -30°C so there are not too many people at the shop and the mechanic offers to remove the freewheel while I wait. Once he discovers it’s really stuck on there, we agree I’ll come back in an hour or so.

Later in the day I’m back at the shop, and the news is not too good, they can’t get if off either. Best recommendation is to buy a new wheel and new freewheel cassette. I go with that option, plus a new chain knowing that the old chain and new cassette won’t get along well (more on that later). Back home I re-assemble the bike, get everything adjusted and I’m good for monday morning.

The first 5 minutes of the ride on Monday is going well. It’s still very cold, but I’m rolling along fine, until the 1st stop. I step on the pedals and nothing, just spin, the freewheel is not re-engaging with the wheel. This is a problem. It does re-engage, after some amount of time, but the slightest loss of tension, and I’m spinning. I’m forced to turn back home. Fortunately, I don’t have to walk all the way and nurse the crippled bike back to base.

After some thinking, I decide to put the old wheel back on ad try again. I’m counting on the old freewheel spinning better after being filled with penetrating oil. After switching over the studded tire and re-adjusting the brakes the bike is ready for round #2. However, I’ve left the new chain on and sure enough, the new chain and old cassette fight it out and I’m reduced to 2 or 3 gears that work somewhat reliably without the chain skipping over the cassette. Later that night I’m putting on the old chain, re-inserting a pin from an old link and once again adjusting the brakes and rear derailleur. It’s about 10 pm as I’m tightening he bolt that hold the shifter cable on the read derailleur and the bolt strips. I’m hooped, my inner MacGyver has reached the limit, I’m out of ideas to get the bike on the road for the next morning.

I resort to the car the next day and once again stop by Woodcock for some advice & parts. I’ve surmised that the new wheel & freewheel cassette is too loaded up with grease and in the low temperatures the grease is just not letting the unit re-engage. The shop confirms my diagnosis and says they can force in some oil with compressed air to thin out the grease. That and a new derailleur  and it’s back to the basement shop to re-assemble the beast one more time.

This time I do a test ride late in the evening to confirm that all is good. That and the next day’s ride confirms that the drive train is functioning well and the shifting is sweeter than it’s been in a long time.

Lesson Learned: Stress brings out the weakness. Perseverance, patience and help from friends gets you through.

New read wheel, freewheel cassette, chain & brake pads. New derailleur shows up later to complete the package.

New read wheel, freewheel cassette, chain & brake pads. New derailleur shows up later to complete the package.


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