The Nub – Consequential Assumptions

The nearby photo contains an object I found about 6-hours into a nominal 30-minute, 2-phase, bicycle maintenance effort. It is a nifty piece (a loose Nubterm inserted for levity) of a cable found on all bikes with more than one gear. It’s a nub about 1/8″ at its base and was once connected to 5-foot of shifter cable I removed from my bike.

Before proceeding further, I should note that I tend to enjoy tasks, like the previously reviewed concrete pad over my home’s wellhead, where blemishes and process shortcuts are inconsequential because they can be ignored – they have zero impact on functionality.

Not so, with that nifty object in the photo. It turns out that it’s called a nipple and it is not an inconsequential piece if you don’t know where it is at the start of the maintenance process. And I did not know where it was at the outset – I glibly deemed its location inconsequential. I had assumed that the nipple had dropped out of the shifter and onto the floor that was painted in a metallic grey with various colored flecks — flecks were there for esthetic appeal! The nipple would not be easily located on that flecked floor, so I didn’t look for it. I considered it G-O-N-E. Noted.

Having threaded the new cable through a portal on the shifter and then thru two carefully measured and cut pieces of new cable housing, I turned to the next phase of the maintenance effort: adjusting the rear derailleur. But, nothing was clicking — to twist a biking term. For non-bikers, the shifter should click each time a new gear is sought. But I got not one, single click. Not one. I thought that very odd and could not figure out why that was, consequently I called my riding Coach and whined about my lack of experience and extreme reluctance to seek help at a bike shop. I insisted, “This is not a rocket bike, so a rocket man is not required to fix it. I can do this!” I did agree, reluctantly, that I should re-thread the cable – which had been quite difficult the first time. Think about it – what can go wrong threading a cable? Except for threading through the shifter itself – which eventually required Scamper’s assistance – I had pulled the cable very smoothly thru two housings and had connected it to the derailleur. Simple! Coach offered some other suggestions but they were not relevant since, he admitted, he had not been in his bike workshop in years. Great! I ended the conversation before I found myself buying a new shifter or before he shifted gears – so to speak.

Shortly after lunch I tossed in the towel (for the second time in those six hours) and asked Scamper for a hand; this time I wanted to extract a few metal fibers I’d noted were stuck in the shifter mechanism and which I could not pull from the mechanism while simultaneously operating the shifter that by then was neither fixed to the handlebar nor held in a vice. Then I had an epiphany. While we were engaged in that endeavor, I thought to open an access panel on the shifter to get a better look at the mechanism. That is when I saw the aforementioned object – the nipple I thought had dropped onto the metallic-colored workshop floor. (For clarity: when the new cable was first threaded into the shifter, it was via an access port 90-degrees from the location where I found the old nipple.)

Let’s recap: it took six hours to find a metallic object that was: 1) not really missing, 2) not on the metallic colored floor, and 3) not inconsequential. (Aside: while looking for that nipple after I saw it fall out of the shifter, I located three other pieces of the shifter that I was not aware had dropped onto the metallic floor. I was lucky to find them and find their proper place in the shifter. And oddly, I did not find the nipple on the floor – it had fallen into a rubber boot that protects the shifter from weather and incidental damage. It was one of those days; expect the unexpected.) After re-threading the new cable thru the shifter and two housings and pushing the nipple into the slot where the old nipple was found, I felt confident I would have this 2-step effort at the finish line in no time.

Before returning to the rear derailleur for what should be a 15-minute effort, I didn’t want to assume I knew the next steps by memory. For some reason I ignored the nearby crib-sheet that I had used successfully in previous derailleur adjustments; instead, I returned for the 8th time to review an informative YouTube cabling video I’d found. There were actually three such videos offering three different ways to make adjustments that were different from the way Coach taught me. With the four different techniques to consider, I went bike-side to complete the work. After putzing with derailleur gear-indexing for three more hours, I hung up my tool apron, placed the tools away and went inside to try my hand at another hobby – genealogy. That is when Scamper delivered what we thought was a well-earned adult beverage: double-Bourbon of the kind my son won’t have in his house.

This morning after reading all the news that’s fit to print in the WSJ and walking Beagles Miller & Michelob with Scamper, I stopped by the workshop to test my resolve. I had concluded, in thoughtful moments overnight, that my very first step in indexing the gears was not being performed properly. It turned out, after an hour working thru that first step over and over, that I was indeed correct. I determined that the derailleur was slipping when I first set cable tension which was critical to any effort at gear indexing. With the error corrected, and with properly indexed gears, the derailleur finally moved the Gear set for Nubchain onto each of the five, rear, gears and I felt a measure of satisfaction. So as not to mess with success, I returned immediately to genealogy with a plan to fine tune the gear indexing later.

While I was reviewing census records, Coach called on his way back from his knee doctor appointment to check on my progress – after first providing me with a summary of his doctor visit. We also discussed a few other topics – just a few – as is typical of our occasional conversations. We are two almost old guys…geezers, some would call us.

Oh, I forgot one tidbit. Coach was snickering at one point in our conversation – that was when he admitted to having the same problem with a cable nipple years ago. Now he tells me…

How was your day?

Charlie, aka Citadel Yankee, does not like long posts, so I guess I will hear about this post from him. Well maybe not; he still uses a flip phone and doesn’t do texting well. And he hasn’t taken to that FB thing.