I’ve had way too many parts fall off of mountain bikes, motocross bikes, road bikes, and practically every other sort of bike, to ignore mystery rattles. Two of the worst incidents resulted in bodily injury. One involved a derailleur that found its way into a rear wheel on a 35 mph descent on the shoulder of a busy mountain road, and the other involved a stem that came loose and left me with a handful of handlebars that were suddenly detached from the rest of the bike on a steep singletrack descent. Neither had what I would call “positive” outcomes.
I don’t do a lot of singletracking or high speed mountain descending these days, having grown wiser and more cautious as the time it takes to recover from risky behavior seems to be getting longer and longer. But even if you’re only traveling at 12 mph, the wrong part falling off of a bike at the wrong time can still result in a swell patch of road rash, if not worse. So when I hear something rattling on my bike that I can’t identify, I can’t help but stop and figure out what it is; the memory of those old crashes triggers a reaction every time.
Just the other day, we were riding up to our favorite little Thai restaurant for lunch when I heard this strange “zing, zing, zing”, almost like the buzzing of a grinder on metal, but soft and faint. At first I thought I was hearing things, or that maybe my Brooks B67—the noisiest saddle in the universe—picked up yet another strange sound. This would be logical since I just went over the bike a couple of weeks ago to make sure nothing had rattled loose over the winter. But as I listened longer and harder it became obvious that something was going on and that this was, in fact, a new rattle. Of course, as soon as I realized this, I had to stop and figure out what it was. My wife, never having suffered the indignity of leaving large patches of skin on the road surface, couldn’t understand why I insisted on stopping when she was clearly hungry and was already thinking about veggie spring rolls. I offered a quick recap of the aforementioned stories and proceeded to go on a mechanical wild goose chase to locate the loose part.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending upon how you look at it) I had my handy-dandy Park multi-tool with me. I had a sense that the rattle was coming from the front half of the bike, so I started with the handlebars and worked my way down and back, checking levers, stem, brakes, fenders, bottle cages, seat, seat post, pedals, rack, even crank bolts. By now we were over 10 minutes into the process without finding one loose screw, yet when I tapped on the frame or handlebars, there was that faint “zing”, as difficult to pinpoint as ever.
I finally gave up for fear that my wife was going to leave me on the side of the road and go have lunch without me, when I remembered that I bent one of my bottle cages the other day to keep my stainless water bottle from rattling. Knowing with complete certainty what was going to happen, I gave the cage a little flick and… “zing”, there it was. Little did I know that bending the cage to prevent a known rattle would introduce a new rattle into the mix.
So what’s the moral of this story? You know, I’m not really sure. I think it may have something to do with letting go of old fears, or maybe a little to do with relaxing already about the bike maintenance thing, or maybe it’s just a reminder to be thankful for an understanding wife who puts up with my quirks and eccentricities, even when she’s hungry and Pad Thai is calling.