Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Rubbing Brakes

On the Shop Ride recently one participant had the misfortune of suffering through that occasional bane of cyclists everywhere, "RUBBING BRAKE PADS OF DOOM!" To non-cyclists, or cyclists who have not been through this, that headline will seem overly dramatic, nee, hyperbole. To those that have had this happen, however, it will not seem sufficiently descriptive of the misery that it can cause.

It seems so simple, doesn't it? You use the brake pad to be a helpful little guy when you want to slow down, so how much harm could it cause when it just rubs a little itty bitty bit against the rim, huh? Let me put it this way, you were much, much smaller when you were born than you are today, right? Would you still go back to dear old mom and tell her childbirth was no big deal because you were just a little thing? I didn't think so.

Three vignettes come to mind regarding brakes rubbing. Indulge me if you will.

The most recent was the shop ride mentioned above. The rider in question is not a newbie, but on the other hand, he isn't an old hand yet either. Due to some fortunate weather and circumstances, this rider had the chance to ride for four of the five days up to and including this ride and, in a fit of enthusiasm, got out for a ride in the morning before the shop ride. As a result, when he was struggling to keep pace with the group, he was a bit mystified, but thought it might be a result of adding too many miles in too short a period. The rider in question, who has asked specifically to not be named and in a fit of responsibility I will abide by this request, is known to not be a complainer or whiner. In fact, there is a funny story on this point, but again, the rider in question has asked for his shellac-ed bagel story to be kept out of the public eye and I will, in a continuing fit of responsibility, abide by this request as well. Nonetheless, this rider just thought the problem was a fitness or riding issue and it didn't occur to him that it was a mechanical issue. I think that this is in part because unlike a flat tire that changes the characteristic of a bike, a rubbing brake pad just makes it harder, and that, my friend, is hard to identify as a mechanical issue.

I can speak with confidence on this issue because I too suffered through a bout of this myself recently. I even hearkened back to it in a recent post, but I had failed to align my wheel after replacing a flat and had the brake pad firmly against the rotor on one side of my rear mountain bike wheel. I rode a lap of the 24 Hour Race this way and the worse I felt, the worse I felt about it. I couldn't explain my sudden decrease in fitness or feeling, but it honestly never occurred to me that it wasn't an engine problem until after an hour and even then I didn't trip to it. I was quite embarrassed to see 1) how easy the problem was to find and fix, 2) how simple it would have been to notice, and 3) how long it took to get over the effects.

Which brings me to my 3rd and final vignette. In this instance, the person who suffered the impact of a rubbing brake pad has never gotten over the impact. You see, I did this to my wife on her first mountain bike event and she has never returned to the arena to fight again.

In this case, it was at the old-style Blazin' Saddles Chili Ride when it was held early enough there was often still snow on the ground. We parked near the Garage Mahal and rode over to the course on the new christmas present bike I had given her in hopes of getting her interested in riding. Unfortunately, it was my first experience with disc brakes and I did not know that squeezing the handle with the wheel out would cause the brake to bind up. As a result, we rode our first event together until my wife was at the point of exhaustion and utter misery, at which point, she wisely determined that cycling wasn't much fun. I felt bad about it then and still do to this day, because I am convinced that no matter how many times she has ridden since then, it felt so bad that day that the memory hasn't faded. A rubbing brake bad doesn't seem like much and no matter how many times I explain it, it is hard to grasp until you have lived through it and then lived to fight another day, or at least go ride your bike for long enough for the difference to fully sink in. In this case, my wife didn't know how it was supposed to feel, so she didn't have a frame of reference.

So, putting aside my guilt and shame for doing this to my wife, I will say the worst thing about a rubbing brake pad is the way it messes with your mind. You feel miserable while it is happening and it is hard to identify, but then the irony is the follow up rides when you feel miserable and it is NOT your brake pad's fault. You can keep checking and checking, but usually the next time it really is the engine. Which means that when the brake pad rubs again, you have it back in your mind it is the engine. And thus starts the vicious cycle again.

Now, about that bagel.

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