Chain Drop and Other Irritations

Chain drop, an aborted descent, and a strange tire failure.

You’re bottoming out after coasting down that big hill.  As you begin powering up for the next climb, you notice the chain has fallen off the front chain ring.  You’ve experienced chain drop, and you’re going nowhere until you pull over and fix it.

Chain drop isn’t limited to recumbents, but I suspect the mass of that long, swinging chain doesn’t help.  Running a single chainring is asking for trouble because there is no derailleur or adjacent cog to help hold the chain in place.  I got complacent about this problem since switching from a Schlumpf many years ago to a conventional front triple, but hardly a day went by without the chain dropping at least once on the new trike.  I knew this would be an issue when I ordered the Schlumpf from Utah Trikes, so had them install a trouser / bash guard.  Unfortunately, they spaced it out so far from the right side of the chain ring that it not only allowed the chain to drop , but when it dropped it got wedged between the chain ring and the bash guard.  And even if installed properly a single bash guard only solves half the problem.

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Utah Trike’s bash guard installation.  Not helpful.

There are a number of ways to solve the chain drop problem.  Modern mountain derailleurs have clutches that might help by reducing the amount of slack that can develop in the chain, but I’ve never used one.  Another piece of modern tech I’ve never tried is chain retention sprocket designs like SRAM’s X-Sync that use a “wide tooth, narrow tooth” pattern to help keep the chain on the sprocket.  My tried-and-true method is to simply slap a bash guard on either side of the chain ring.  This has the added advantage of protecting the unsuspecting public from the whirling saw blade at the end of my boom.

I like the All-City Cross Wizard Chainring Guard that Utah Trikes installed so I purchased another one from Niagara Cycle Works.  The product itself is labeled “Ring Dinger”, I’m not sure what the real name is.  A 36 tooth guard attached to a 34 tooth chainring looks good and provides about the right amount of protection, but the size of the guard probably isn’t that critical.  Even though I reduced the spacing on the right side, I still needed longer chainring bolts to accommodate the width added by the second bash guard.  It took a few phone calls, but eventually I found some 13mm bolts and appropriate spacers from a LBS.

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Dual Bash Guards

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Funky Utah Trike Install                                                            Problem Solved

 

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Though I had little doubt that dual bash guards would solve my chain drop problem, I had to test it out.  So I went for a spin on one of my local rides where the chain was dropping consistently.   Bombing down the first hill, I was approaching “drop speed” of 40 MPH when I noticed a spandex-clad racer waving frantically on the uphill side.  Certain that someone lay bleeding by the side of the road, my mind raced through my meager first aid skills.  Apply pressure to the wound or clean it by letting it bleed?  Keep the victim calm and immobile or encourage mild aerobics to prevent hypothermia?  Feed a fever or starve a cold?  Man, was this dude in trouble.  I jammed on my brakes, burning off all my precious kinetic energy, and stopped to help.

The man stopped waving and calmly informed me that the road ahead was washed out from a big storm the night before and that I needed to turn around.  “You have to do some off-roading to get around it, which will be pretty difficult to do, especially in that thing,” he said, pointing at my trike.  I thanked him for the warning but said I’d check it out for myself.  He shook his head as I started pedaling back down the hill.

The “washout” consisted of some sand and small rocks strewn about at a couple of spots along a big hill.  Granted it would be no fun hitting this at speed in a racing bike, but the debris and some big orange warning signs placed there by the highway department were visible from hundreds of yards away.  Even if I were zoned out enough to be taken by surprise, the impact on my trike would have been minimal.  As it turned out, I saw the washouts well in advanced, slowed way down, and picked the easiest line through the debris.  No off-roading, or even walking, required.  I had to wait for a line of cars that were doing the same thing in the other direction.  As one of the motorists passed by she rolled down the window of her SUV and and peered over to tell me to “be careful out there!”  I didn’t have the energy to explain that with she and her fellow motorists traveling slower than me, this is the safest I’d ever been on this road.  Instead I just smiled and waved.

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Washout #1

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Washout #2

People’s assessment of risk often baffles me.  It reminds me when, back in 2007, Adventure Cycling stated in their Adventure Book,

“… give serious thought to the feasibility of riding a bicycle with compromised visibility or extra width (for example 3-wheeled recumbents are unsafe on some roads).”

If that isn’t ever the pot calling the kettle black…  I know they got an earful for that misguided comment– more rational heads apparently prevailed because I never saw mention of that particular “safety advice” again from Adventure Cycling.

Back to my test ride, of course both the cyclist and motorist meant well.  I even returned the favor on the other side of the washouts for a cyclist coming the opposite way.  He, however, was already stopped by the side of the road when I imparted my knowledge.  I never got a chance to test for chain drop on that ride, but many subsequent rides have proven what I already knew:  that chain won’t be coming off again.

Meanwhile, on the HDQ trike, a friend of mine borrowing it couldn’t keep one of the tires from blowing.  These were high-quality Schwalbe Marathon tires with about 3000 miles and quite a bit of tread left.  After burning through a couple of tubes in rapid succession, my friend noticed about a two-inch length of the bead wire protruding from the tire, with a very sharp point.  In a desperate attempt at salvaging the tire, I cut off the exposed wire and filed it smooth.  When I inflated the tire on the rim, the bead popped out with a loud bang, destroying yet another brand-new tube.  At that point I gave up and ordered a new set of Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires.  I’ve been using Scwhalbe exlusively for many years with great success; this is the first issue I’ve had.  In fact after switching to Marathon Plus (from Race and Marathon) a couple of years ago, I can’t remember even having a flat.

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Exposed Wire, Schwalbe Marathon

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I give up

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