Apr 24, 2010

Another Example of the Concept Being Better Than Reality

I like the Rails to Trails idea - take abandoned railroad rights-of-way and convert them into walking and biking trails. It gives people places to explore and can rejuvenate depressed towns (think of Lanesboro and the Root River Trail, for example). When I have stayed in Lanesboro, it seems as though virtually everyone is there to ride the trail, and the other patrons in restaurants gush over how wonderful their spin was.

I have never had a truly Great Ride on one of these, and I have collected a handful of rails-to-trails rides now, including:
  • Gandy Dancer in NW Wisconsin;
  • Willard Munger from Duluth to Hinckley,
  • Dakota Trail between Wayzata and St. Bonifascius
  • Red Cedar south of Menomonee
  • Chippewa River Trail from Chippewa Falls to Cornwall(?)
Usually, when I ride these trails I find them to be kind of straight, kind of flat and boring, and often bad weather is involved, although I don't blame the trails for that - I am a bad weather magnet and know it.

Not on my life list: The Luce Line. This trail was the scene of an aborted ride about a year ago, and it ends/starts blocks from where a friend/riding partner lives, so I was determined to give the Luce Line another shot this season.

To that end, I took Friday off and set out for Winsted, MN around lunch time with my co-conspirator and colleague. What with packing up and a lunch stop, we didn't make it to Winsted until about 2:00, so we got a later start than planned. To add to that, we faced a pretty stiff and relentless headwind and/or cross-wind the whole ride, which made for some slow going.

But wait - there's more!

Early on I got a warning of things to come when my front derailleur failed to through the chain onto the big chain ring. Instead, the chain would fall between the small and large chain ring (here's a little foreshadowing for you - the chain shouldn't really even fit there to begin with if you stop and think about it). I stopped and futzed around with the FD thinking I had a slack cable or something to no avail, so I reconciled myself to riding the entire trail in my small chain ring. It could be worse, after all.

It sure could be worse, because about 7 miles later the chain fell entirely off the small chain ring to the inside of the chain wheel. WTF? I rolled to a stop again and looked things over with a little more care this time only to discover that three of the five chain ring bolts holding things together were entirely gone.

I have heard of this happening, but it's never happened to me. Not once. It was also a long walk home, too. With no other option, I repositioned one of the two remaining bolts to get a bit more even purchase on the crank spider and then wrestled the chain out from behind the crank because it was really sucked in there. I gingerly rode all the way to Plymouth like this without any further problems.

What's odd is that I just rode this bike to and from work a day before with no problem whatsoever. I don't know if the constant chatter and vibration from the limestone trail worked the bolts loose or if I have been riding around with less than my parts for weeks. At any rate, when it failed, the failure was sudden and severe. I have made a point to really torqued these bolts down tight when I assemble a crank, but I have never once thought to check the tightness of these during routine maintenance on my bikes. As of about 3:30 PM yesterday that has become standard operating procedure, however.

Between the wind and the mechanical problems, I won't be counting this one among my "great rides". The Luce Line is nice enough, but the crushed limestone surface was surprisingly loud with two bikes riding side-by-side on it, which was sort of annoying. I can't really blame the Luce Line for the wind or mechanicals - those can happen anywhere.

I'll probably give this another go at some point, but I'll make sure every damn nut and bolt is battened down before I set out.


  1. Interesting story about your chainring bolts. I've been chasing down a fantom creak on one of my bikes and decided to remove and grease my chainring bolts. While I was doing one bike, thought I'd check the bolts on my commuter. Good thing, too, cause they was loose !! I can't recall ever checking chainring bolts as a maintenance item -- only when I removed the crank to clean it. Your story and my experience shows we need to check those little guys.

  2. Weird. I've never heard of chainring bolts coming loose. I tend to have the opposite problem (where I can't get the damn things off and end up trying to drill them out and have to buy a new chainring after I bungle it up).

    I've heard other people report that they just aren't that into rail trails. I usually really like them. I've been on a couple that are just a straight shot through a boring cornfield, but I usually really like them.

  3. I've had the problem a few times. It's best to Loctite them, but if you ride the crankset through the winter, be sure to disassemble and clean the bolts a few times or, as recently happened to me, they'll seize up.

  4. The replacement bolt set (Origin 8 - thanks Bob!) cost me about $11 and took 5 minutes to install. I greased the threads on these rascals when I installed them - the original ones (that remained) looked to be un-greased, so I am hoping this will help to keep them tight and not let them seize up. It's as good as new now and rode flawlessly to the office today.