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07/30/07
The Need To Tweak
Filed under: rides, bike tech
Posted by: The Cyclofiend @ 9:43 am

I know this feeling very well.  It slides into my brain like a cat entering a new room. Usually, it comes in about a week before a serious ride, but given how silently it glides in, how unobtrusively it tickles at my attention, it could have been quietly sitting next to me for several days, and I wouldn’t have noticed it. It’s a quiet little neurosis, one that wants me to fret endlessly about exquisitely small details, when the time for that has long passed. It is the Need To Tweak.

Simply put, it is the urgent desire to change something fundamental in the days (or hours) before an important ride.  The roots grow from several places - the worry that you haven’t done enough riding, or the right kind of riding, or even that you may have done a little too much riding. You start looking at your bicycle and thinking, “these wheels turn a bit rough”, “those pedals feel just a little funny…” or “that saddle seems a bit heavy for all this climbing…”

If you succumb to this evil guidance and remain lucky, you dig into a small repair - a hub overhaul or a reinstallation of the bottom bracket.  You don’t break anything and manage to get everything back in place without finding something else to tangent onto, overtorque and snap off.  In the wee hours before the ride.  When every bike shop is closed and you have no backup bits to replace it with. Because the only feeling worse than leaning over your bike with part of a bolt inside a nut in the wrench in your hand is that horrid feeling of torquing down on something you suddenly realize was crossthreaded because you shouldn’t be working on your damned bike at 1 am the night before a big ride.

“Upgrades” are even more dangerous tricks, normally targeted at contact points. Your cleats may be slightly loose in the pedals, your saddle may creak just a hair, your bars may not be exactly what you want.  But, change any of them before a big ride and you’ll cause muscles and connective tissues to come awake like a collicky two year old, coming down from a bad sugar jag because you left a plate of cookies within reach. As for the dermal layer - let’s just say it gets ugly, real fast.

So, I’ve got a rule: Nothing gets changed in the week before a big ride.

Unless it utterly snaps off, it can only be cleaned and lubed before the event. Anything that is new is unproven - a variable which can fail completely in ways you haven’t considered. The time to change pedals and cleats was 5 or 6 weeks earlier, before you put the finishing touches on the repetitive leg motions which took into consideration the minor imperfections of the systems.  The saddle? I don’t care if I’ve worn through the thing - it won’t be modified until afterwards.

But, as I said earlier, it’s here in the room with me now. Sitting there purring a bit, this time focusing mostly on the pedals, how they’re a little worn on the outside and how the cleats are grooved more deeply than I’d noticed before. I mean, I’ve got newer pedals on the singlespeed, and I won’t be using the ones that came off the cross bike anytime soon. Maybe just the cleats - crikey - what would happen if one of them broke? I should replace the cleats - that can’t make that big a difference…

…breathe.

Repeat the Rule.

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