Whether to sit or stand; nine-speed; broken chains…

Let me recount a recent scary moment on the way to work that has given me cause to ponder pedalling technique, mechanical sympathy and the often dubious merits of ‘upgrading’.

Tuesday morning: The bike and I alight from the train in Manchester and I’m looking forward to a nice 15 minute spin from Manchester Victoria into the office in Newton Heath. A fine, dry morning greets me in Manchester and all seems well.

I turn from the station approach onto Corporation St, cross the tram tracks and head out of the city centre towards the road that runs parallel to the River Irk. I approach a set of lights just as they turn to green, so I stand up on the pedals and get up some speed to try and keep pace with the traffic.

Zoom to macro level – unknown to me, one of the hundred or so pins in my nearly new KMC X-9 nine speed chain has been worming its way insignificantly, yet fatefully, out of its corresponding link plate. Dodgy installation (by me), dodgy manufacture? Who knows?. Nano seconds after I stand on the pedals it happens – a noise like I’ve been shot, then I plummet forwards on the bike. Suddenly there’s no resistance to my pedalling power. The bike lunges from side to side as I attempt to regain control. Luckily there’s no one behind and I come to a halt and look down. My chain has disappeared – I look back and 10 yards behind, on the tarmac, there it is, coiled like a metallic serpent.

As fate would have it, two days before I had ‘rationalised’ my toolkit, foolishly removing my little-used chain tool. What motivated me to do this, I cannot say. I mean, you wouldn’t remove the spare wheel from your car just because you don’t use it very often…

So I was left with a 35 minute walk to work (which was not unpleasant) to rue my foolishness, thank my lucky stars that I didn’t fall off when the chain snapped, and ponder the strength of nine speed chains. Having only ever ridden 8 speed (or less) chains prior to a few weeks ago and, having only suffered chain breakage as a result of a dodgy chain tool, I immediately began to appropriate blame on the new nine speed offering. But surely nine speed chains should be hardy enough for pampered machine like Resurrectio. Rob, my friend, colleague, and bicycle guru swears by 8 speed chains, claiming he runs them without glitches on all of his 9 speed equipped bikes. Can a chain that’s only fractionally narrower that an 8 speed be so much more fragile?

Whilst I walked and fumed, I also pondered the words of Sheldon Brown, who, amongst other things, extolled the virtues of pedalling seated as much as possible, using the gears to maintain an easy spinning cadence, to minimise strain on the bike and also help prevent accidents due to chain skipping and breakage. http://www.sheldonbrown.com/standing.html

I got to work in philosophical mood, and before I left at the end of the day, had managed to secure the use of a chain tool (thanks Chester) to fix the bike. I pedalled home, with Sheldon’s words, Kenobi-like, echoing in my mind:

“If you find yourself standing to accelerate, on level ground, it is a sign that your gear is too high or that your saddle is too low.”

I got home and, before I did anything else, I repacked the chaintool in my saddlebag, along with the Leatherman tool and second spare tube…

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7 thoughts on “Whether to sit or stand; nine-speed; broken chains…

  1. Chris Thompson

    The very scenario that happened to you played through mind a few times over the past few weeks. It has changed plans of getting a single speed bike and then just standing on the pedals if a hill gets to steep. Multiple gears add a bit of safety.

  2. If there’s one thing to be said for sitting on the saddle, it’s that it’ll help an unwelcome bit of contact with the crossbar…youch!

    It’s good to have some mechanical sympathy. But a better idea – maybe just be as smooth as possible? I came off on a patch of diesel accelerating when seated – I wasn’t going fast, but in hindsight if I hadn’t have hammered the pedals so sharply, I may have kept upright.

  3. The Velo Hobo

    Great article by Sheldon. I will sometime come off the saddle, usually towards the end of a long day, just to do a few streches. On my last week-long outing, I was riding with a fellow who did not have a very low granny gear on his loaded bike. We were touring in the mountains and he would often need to come out of the saddle and really crank to get up some of the steeper grades. From behind, which is where I often find myself riding, you could really see the flex in his bike and the strain he was putting on both bike and body.

    Great Post, Jack

  4. Stephen

    Busted the chain on my Birdy a couple of times standing on the pedals. Once was in front of a colleague too, so my shame exceeded my scratches.

    1. theeverydaycyclist

      If your reaction time is quick enough, you can sometimes mask a public chain break, in much the same way as when walking you trip over a raised paving flag and do that little ‘trip-jog’ for a few feet before reverting back to your normal pace.

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