Zap’s Column: The Need For A Good Wrench

The best bike to ride is one that's built right

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In the lexicon of road cycling, “over the bars” is not a term often heard. However, when it comes to riding dirt bikes, “OTB” is as common a refrain as hearing someone say “bridge the gap” in a group ride. And although going OTB may not be a common occurrence on the pavement, with more people now discovering off-road riding on their gravel bikes, I’m sure it will soon become part of the day-in-and-day-out parlance of drop bar riders.

As I have spoken of here recently, my last few months on the bike have provided me with a handful of solid OTB moments: one on the pavement during the Montrose ride, the rest as I did my best to execute some tricky rain ruts on washed-out fire roads and sketchy sections of singletrack. 

It’s of course a proven fact that crashing isn’t fun. Each of my get-offs have left me battered, bruised and bloodied. But I’m not here to talk about crashing as much as I am to talk about the one question that both always enters my mind when I head out on a test ride and that can help prevent a crash: “Who built this bike?” 

IN TROY’S HANDS
And this is where I need to give as public as possible a high-five to Troy for the contents of his “Troy’s Tech Talk” in the June issue. In case you missed it (and there’s really no reason you should have), Troy accurately spoke to the difference between riding a new bike that was assembled versus one that was both built and properly tuned.

When it comes to assembling a bike that’s been shipped to us, I have no problem going through the motions of installing wheels, stems, handlebars, etc. And quite often I’ve proceeded to take the bikes out for an immediate test ride with no problem. But not always. 

Just the other day as I prepared to take a new test bike down the very fast and rough Verdugo Highway fire road that overlooks the city of Burbank, I breathed a qualified sigh of relief the moment I reminded myself that it was Troy, not me, who built the bike. In short, the difference is like day and night. Or, to put it another way, life or death.

IN THE DETAILS
Owing to the plethora of test bikes we get, and whether Troy is in the office or not, means that not all the bikes that get ridden have been gone through with his expert hand. Whether it’s nailing the B-tension adjustment on the rear derailleur or eradicating all the rotor rub of a disc brake, Troy’s many years working in a bike shop combined with a level of mechanical mindfulness have served all of us well. 

“I breathed a qualified sigh of relief the moment I reminded myself that it was Troy, not me, who built the bike. In short, the difference is like day and night. Or, to put it another way, life or death.”

One area that I know has made a difference is his insistence on using a torque wrench for tightening bolts versus my “ah, it’s tight enough” approach. This is especially true when it pertains to stems and seat posts. On two different gravel rides, I thought my life was over when my handlebars slipped forward when I landed off a jump. Would they not have slipped if Troy had built the bike and used a torque wrench? I’m not sure, but where he spoke of the confidence and peace of mind that comes with riding a bike that’s not just been assembled but actually built up and tuned by someone who knows what they are doing, I can enthusiastically endorse with a forceful high-five. 

SIMPLE, BUT NOT
To be sure, one of the bicycle’s greatest gifts is the ratio of joy and freedom it brings compared to its magnificently low hurdle of technology. Even with the advent of electronic drivetrains and hydraulic brakes, compared to a motorcycle, car or even a horse, bicycles are really simple to maintain. In fact, I think the only thing easier would be a surfboard. 

I’m sure at one time or another each of us has suffered from being on a group ride where someone’s derailleur was clicking from mis-adjustment. Just hearing the noise (let alone it being your bike) is enough to drive you crazy.  

And owing to our vulnerability to cars and rain ruts that are a part of every ride, it is crucial that our bikes be in the safest-running order they can be. Whether it’s the tire pressure or a dry chain, a loose bolt or bottom bracket, nothing should be overlooked, ignored or taken for granted. 

Luckily for all of you who don’t have Troy to call on, there is no shortage of books and videos on bike mechanics to act as a guide. Having the proper tools also helps. So, before your next ride, be sure to go over your bike with a multi-tool (or torque wrench) and give everything a nudge. It makes even better sense to take your bike to your local dealer and have it gone over by a professional mechanic.

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