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  1. #1
    Senior Member peripatetic's Avatar
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    Please tell me how to diagnose this

    My friend has a Trek 360 from the late-80s with 6 speed Shimano components. I recently changed the chain for her, but after a few rides, she began to complain that the bike was, in her words, unrideable.

    I went and checked the bike, and found only one thing a bit off: the front derailer cable was a little loose, and the lever wasn't keeping the FD in high gear. I tightened this up, rode the bike around and checked the shifting; all went well.

    A week or so after this, my friend called to tell me that on her first ride on the bike, she was still not able to ride. She described the symptom as being unable to get the bike to move, even though she was pedaling hard. A few days after that, she called to tell me she had just gone on a short ride, and the bike was working fine. She said she wasn't sure if she should get it looked at at the LBS or just act like it was fine.

    When I checked the bike, I looked at the freewheel, cogs and cables, and I saw nothing wrong. My friend doesn't usually suffer hallucinations , but she is an idiot when it comes to understanding her bike.

    Anyone have suggestions as to what/how I might check next time. Also, should I get pictures taken of something? Should I look for something on the bike while I have my friend actually ride it? Is it possible this is a RD problem? My next step, I was thinking of just replacing the FD and RD cables to see if this would help, but then I thought I might just ask for opinions here. Thoughts?


    (BTW, the wheels are true, the gears are clean, the cables seemed okay. The bike probably hasn't gone more than 150 miles since it's last tuneup.)

  2. #2
    Remember Wool Shorts? astrodaimler's Avatar
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    Maybe she just wants to see you more?
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  3. #3
    Senior Member peripatetic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by astrodaimler
    Maybe she just wants to see you more?
    Well, that might be true, but that could be just because she can't be out on dates all the time. I've got a lady, and in this friendship, I'm the one keeping her from utterly destroying her bike. She knows this, so she calls me when she's got a problem. In this case, I'd rather she didn't go into an LBS and have them sell her a part she doesn't need b/c someone is too busy to actually try and figure out what this mysterious issue might be. (Not that all LBSes do that, but in NYC, there def. seems to be a difference in the service an uninformed customer gets vs. others.)

  4. #4
    ride, paint, ride simplify's Avatar
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    With apologies to your friend if this is insulting, but could it possibly be that she simply had it in too high a gear? I mean, if she's really not clear on how the bike works, it isn't unfathomable that she would shift into--or leave the bike in-- too high a gear, and that would certainly make it unrideable at slow speed despite pedaling hard.

    Just a thought, I'll keep thinking about it.

  5. #5
    ride, paint, ride simplify's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by peripatetic
    Should I look for something on the bike while I have my friend actually ride it? Is it possible this is a RD problem? My next step, I was thinking of just replacing the FD and RD cables to see if this would help, but then I thought I might just ask for opinions here. Thoughts?
    I definitely think that's a good idea, to watch her ride to see if she's activating the brake accidentally or shifting in such a way that it causes a problem, though it's hard to imagine how! The 6-speed Shimano systems were so bomb-proof. But if you can be there when she rides, you may hear or see something that will tip you off to what it is. Brakes are all properly aligned?

  6. #6
    Senior Member peripatetic's Avatar
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    Brakes are fine (I adjusted them last time I looked.) My friend doesn't know squat about how the bike works, but she rides it everywhere and is familiar with how to ride. I don't think I was clear, though: the problem isn't that it seems like 'too high' a gear, but rather too low: that is, she pedals and pedals, but the wheel doesn't turn much.

    I think I might be able to locate what's wrong, but I live a ways from her, and she's always out and about. So I was hoping to isolate how to figure out this problem without several failed attempts and not having the right tools with me when I went to look.

  7. #7
    Remember Wool Shorts? astrodaimler's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by peripatetic
    She described the symptom as being unable to get the bike to move, even though she was pedaling hard. A few days after that, she called to tell me she had just gone on a short ride, and the bike was working fine. She said she wasn't sure if she should get it looked at at the LBS or just act like it was fine.
    Was it one of those blustery windy days in Central Park?

    Does she take the wheels off to lock the bike up somewhere? Was the wheel rubbing on the brakes when she put wheel back on?

    I know what you mean about LBS's. But when I worked at Habitat back in the 80's, we actually tried to fix things rather than trying to sell something. But that was a different time and I'm sure....different owners.

    I still think she wants to see you more
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  8. #8
    Senior Member Bill Kapaun's Avatar
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    Maybe you could ask EXACTLY what the problem is?
    The idea that she doesn't understand shifting does sound rather likely.

  9. #9
    Remember Wool Shorts? astrodaimler's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Kapaun
    Maybe you could ask EXACTLY what the problem is?
    The idea that she doesn't understand shifting does sound rather likely.
    That's what I'm thinking after reading about the "low gear" thing.
    Does it have Brifters, downtube shifters?
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  10. #10
    ride, paint, ride simplify's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by peripatetic
    she rides it everywhere and is familiar with how to ride. I don't think I was clear, though: the problem isn't that it seems like 'too high' a gear, but rather too low: that is, she pedals and pedals, but the wheel doesn't turn much.
    Ahh! That's very different that what I understood, sorry. This sounds like it could possibly be a freewheel problem, like the pawls are sometimes not engaging. It's possible that that could be intermittent, if there's grease or heavy oil in there. When it's cold, that could thicken the oil or grease enough to bind the pawls.

  11. #11
    hello roadfix's Avatar
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    Just turn that thing into a singlespeed and she won't be bothering you any longer....

  12. #12
    ride, paint, ride simplify's Avatar
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    ^^^I'm surprised we made it to post #11 before that was mentioned.

  13. #13
    Since 1938... JunkYardBike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by roadfix
    Just turn that thing into a singlespeed and she won't be bothering you any longer....
    I was going to suggest something similar. Set the stops so she can only run the lower gear up front and maybe the 18T or so on the rear.

  14. #14
    Senior Member
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    Check for a tight link in the chain. A lady friend of mine complained about not the pedals stopping, turned out to be a tight link in the chain. Eventually the tight link caught in the derailleur twisting it off and breaking the frame.

    Al

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    Seņor Miembro JustBrowsing's Avatar
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    Do you know if she ever shifts the thing at all? I'm thinking that roadfix is onto something with the singlespeed comment. It's possible that she has effectively been riding a singlespeed for all this time, and then you shifted it into a gear that she's not used to. Try to set it back up in the same gear that it was in when she first brought it to you. I'm betting that'll fix everything...

  16. #16
    Senior Member peripatetic's Avatar
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    Thanks for the comments, all. She rides quite a bit, I've ridden with her at times. She knows how to shift, and she got testy when I mentioned maybe she had just shifted onto a low gear and was not shifting: "I know how to shift!"

    She also never removes the rear wheel, except for flats, and I've checked this the last few times. The wheel is also very true: I trued it myself over the winter. The brakes are fine. The pedals are tight and in place, as are the cranks. The bike really does appear fine and in working order, and as I said, I rode it myself with no problems. However, this was only around the block, and she said after she got it back that the problem often doesn't happen right away, but when it does, she can no longer ride. Also, the teeth on the chainrings and cogs are all in great shape.

    The bike has downtube shifters. I'm pretty sure the chain has no stiff link, as I only installed it about 50 miles ago, and I've run it around a bunch each time I've looked at it.

    I was wondering if the freewheel could have a problem, but I did check that last time and nothing was off. Any suggestions as to how to really check the freewheel?

    I really don't think it makes sense that it'd be the RD, but I'm not sure I know enough about the tension and indexing. What about the jockey wheels--anything I might check there?

    I'd recommend the LBS, but I'd rather non-profit contributors such as yourselves flood me with potential suggestions for things to look for first. I've had several friends get bad advice and useless new parts in LBSes here, not b/c the salesperson was being underhanded, but because they assumed something wrong and didn't want to take the time to figure out what was really going on. In my experience, young women bike riders who don't like to work on their bikes suffer such disguised indignities just as if they were bringing their car into the auto shop. I don't mind sending her somewhere to get the work done, but I'd prefer to figure out what's wrong myself, first.

    BTW, I've been advocating to make the thing singlespeed for a year, but she's having nothing of it.

  17. #17
    ride, paint, ride simplify's Avatar
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    Well, my money is still on the freewheel being the culprit. The fact that the problem is so intermittent, and that you've checked everything else out so thoroughly, all seem to point to the freewheel, IMO. The derailleur and jockey pulleys are so simple--just like you said--that it's hard to imagine what they could possibly be doing that would cause that symptom of pedaling fast but the wheel not being driven. If the jockey pulleys were extremely worn, that might cause some sloppy shifting, but the chain still would be either in one gear or another. Same with the derailleur. Maladjustment would cause chain noise or slop in the shifting, but I can't think of how it would cause the current issue. If it were the front derailleur dropping the chain, she would hear that and would notice it, so it can't be that.

    I would probably take the rear wheel off and spin the freewheel, listening carefully to the sound of the pawls and also for the sound of grit. It's possible to have grit, or even corrosion, inside the freewheel that can keep the pawls from engaging. If there's any chance that it could have considerable grit in it, or excess oil or grease, or if the old grease in it has degraded and stiffened, then it should be removed from the hub, and flushed really well in solvent (you won't believe the stuff that comes out of them), then relubricated with a nice light oil. Tri-Flow is great. I used to use Phil Tenacious Oil, but even that can be too thick. These things are only moving inside when there's no load on them, so they don't need thick oil in there.

    Is there any chance that someone else put something bad in there, like 3-in-1 oil, or anything else? Sounds like you're the only one doing maintenance, but thought I'd ask.

  18. #18
    Senior Member peripatetic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lawkd
    Well, my money is still on the freewheel being the culprit. The fact that the problem is so intermittent, and that you've checked everything else out so thoroughly, all seem to point to the freewheel, IMO.
    Is there any chance that someone else put something bad in there, like 3-in-1 oil, or anything else? Sounds like you're the only one doing maintenance, but thought I'd ask.
    YES. This is a possibility, though I'm not sure. Like when I demonstrated how to lube her chain, she repeated by just dumping tri-flow over everything.

    Lawkd, all, thanks for sticking with me on this. I was wondering if this was, indeed, a freewheel issue, and I wanted to confirm I wasn't missing anything else more probable before looking there. Now, I'm going to check it out.

    One question: when you say solvent, are you talking full-on mineral spirits or its ilk, or Simple Green, WD-40, or what? If so, isn't that going to require I wait to make sure everything evaporates or drips out before re-lubing?

    Also, if it is the freewheel, is there some way of telling if the thing is just shot? I'm unclear as to whether the internal pawls can actually get worn out.

    The cog teeth are in great shape, so I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Last time I lubed it, I did use Phil's, per Sheldon Brown's advice. But I got her the bike used about a year ago, off a woman who had generally cared for it. It's possible, however, that whoever tuned or cared for it for THAT woman didn't properly maintain the freewheel.

    I'll report back here when/if I get this squared away.

    Thanks again for the input.

  19. #19
    ride, paint, ride simplify's Avatar
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    Hey, you're welcome. You can tell alot by sound of the pawls. If the clicks are very distinctive and even as the freewheel is turned, then they're probably still in good shape. If the sound is muffled or uneven, that could be the tipoff that there's too much oil or grease of some kind in there. If you hear a lot of grit, that might be the issue rather than the lube. If there is or could be thick oil or gunk in there, then yes, maybe full-on mineral spirits would have to be used. I had some no-hopers that I restored by soaking them in small plastic (covered) tubs of odorless mineral spirits and shaking the bejeezus out of them to expel the nasty old oil and grit. But if the freewheel doesn't sound that bad, then try WD-40 as a flushing-out agent. See how that works, maybe that'll do the trick. (I wouldn't recommend anything water-based for the internals of a freewheel). Then I think I'd re-lube with Tri-flow, since the Phil oil did make my freewheel pawls a bit sluggish in the past.

    edit: Yes, pawls can wear out, but it doesn't sound like this freewheel has nearly enough mileage on it for that to be the case. Also, I'm sure you know why I mentioned 3-in-one specifically as a no-no, because it's a vegetable-based oil. That means it's a "drying" oil, that will congeal and harden over time. Bad news for bikes.
    Last edited by simplify; 04-24-07 at 06:41 PM.

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