In Which Third Goes AWOL

Since this was to be my first ride on the Red Rocket since my unfortunate visit to the Frankston Emergency Ward I could not help but feel a small degree of trepidation. But the weather was fine and sunny, and I had the added responsibility of being a good example to the weaker riders (Bob and John), so I cast aside my fears, loaded up the bike and headed off to Mt Evelyn.

Upon reaching the meeting point I just had time for a final check over the bike before setting off. Everything seemed in order so off I went. The first few km are mostly downhill so I was able to relax and wait for Bob to catch up from behind. I had to keep remembering not to push Bob too hard, after all he is a senior citizen.

Bob eventually caught up and we pedalled off together in search of the unmistakable sounds of John’s Ghost Whistle. We had not travelled very far before a problem became apparent – something had gone drastically wrong with my gears. In particular, every time I tried to engage the third cog on the rear cluster, it made a dreadful crunching noise accompanied by the chain jumping right off the sprocket. No amount of fine tuning seemed to help. Bob decided to have a look, but his eyes are not the best and he came to the conclusion that the chain must have “gone all funny”.

After thanking Bob for his expert help I decided that the best I could do would be to ride on, using only the two lowest gears. It made riding somewhat difficult but it did help with cadence training. It did not make too much of a problem as we were soon met by John with his Pine Gap Special and from that point on all thoughts of a fast ride were soon forgotten. Sure enough, about 200 metres further on John insisted that we all stop for the first of many compulsory drinks stops.

It is obvious that we only have a very narrow range of temperatures available for good riding – if the temperature is too low we have to keep stopping to blow our dripping noses, if it is a few degrees higher we have to keep stopping for drinks breaks. This is the sort of valuable information that the riding magazines never tell us.

Nevertheless, in spite of regular drinks breaks we did eventually reach Warburton in time for a cup of coffee and a discussion on how to fix everything that is wrong with the world. John was also able to recount some of his recent adventures in Vietnam. It was so much fun to hear him talk of his chronic diarrhea while we tried to enjoy our lunches.

On the return journey I again fought with my missing gear, while John had more drinks breaks and started his familiar interogation of “Why do we do this?” In spite of this it really was a great day for a ride and I think we were all having a lot of fun as we trundled back down the trail.

After dropping John at Woori Yallock, Bob and I headed back to Mt Evelyn. With every minute that passed I became increasingly frustrated at my missing gears and increasingly baffled by Bob’s diagnosis of a “funny chain”. After all, if the chain had really gone “funny”, why did it only affect the third gear? Would not such a problem affect the other gears as well? Yet the problem was certainly still there – any attempt to engage third was met by renewed crunches and pops from my rear end. (Well from the rear end of my bike actually).

We eventually conquered the final two hill climbs and as I hitched my ailing bike back on the car I pondered what might be in store for it. Would I indeed have to take it back to the bike shop to have the chain “unfunnied” ? Or might it be something even more serious or mysterious – a herniated derailleur ? a desocketed sprocket cogdit ? an alienated rotator gudgeon ? My anxious thoughts ran riot as I drove wearily back home.

After dinner that night I decided to investigate the matter further, and after removing the rear wheel, discovered the true cause of the problem – a small piece of twig had lodged between the third and fourth cog wheels. It was soon removed and the bike was back to normal. Looked like I would be able to sleep soundly that night after all!