Friday, April 26, 2013

Chain of the Month Club

When I incorporated cycling as an integral part of my life, it was a way to be LESS enslaved by technology. For the first couple of decades it was pretty easy. Now it gets trickier to find quality parts for an uncomplicated machine.

My older brother enlisted my aid to fit a triple crank to an early-1980s Raleigh road bike. The front derailleur he had scavenged turned out not only to have a bent cage, the cage was fatigued and cracking. I went looking for a triple-compatible front derailleur with a 28.6 mm clamp and a cage that would fit the curvature of a 52-tooth ring. They have not disappeared entirely, but you don't have a lot of choices in new equipment. The compact double with a wide-range 10-speed cassette is now marketed as much more desirable than the triple.

At first the reasoning seems acceptable. It's easier to shift two rings than three. You can use a shorter-cage rear derailleur. You can have fairly closely-spaced gears across a range with as many choices as a 7-speed triple. But now you have to use a 10-speed chain.

Welcome to the Chain of the Month Club.

Just about every time someone brings in a bike with a 10-speed cassette, I drop a gauge in the chain and discover it needs to be replaced. Mosquitoes live longer than 10-speed chains. The only way to make them last a long time is to stay off your bike. So if you're an enthusiastic tourist, keep that in mind.

And now they're working on eleven.

Prices on line for 10-speed chains (as of today) range from about $35 to over $80 (US). What I know of the performance of these chains I have learned by observing the riders who use them in my area. Almost all of them insist on Dura Ace chains because they feel that the others we've tried on them, SRAM and Connex, are noisier and don't shift as cleanly.

With 10-speed drive trains becoming the norm, all chain companies are offering chains at many price points. I don't have any feedback from riders using cheaper ones. Do they last longer or does their lower price take some of the sting out of having to get a new one every six weeks?

I know triple cranks can be more temperamental to shift. Almost immediately after nine-speed drive trains came in for mountain bikes we started seeing the first 2 X 9 gear setups. Rather than go for the full 27 speeds offered with a triple and nine cogs, riders sacrificed the big selection for the smoother operation of a double crank. Now double-ring setups are common on mountain bikes. But for the touring and commuting bike I'd rather have the durability of a beefier chain on fewer cogs and deal with the fiddling and lag time that comes with shifting a triple crank.

For the Bromobile I ended up using an older Deore LX derailleur shimmed from 31.8 to 28.6. To make it work I had to knock the big ring down to a 50 from 52. A 50-13 is actually going to be a bigger gear than his current 52-14. All he has to do is get a 13. There's room for a seven-speed freewheel. With friction shifters he can use whatever will fit.

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