The internet has been the biggest boon to cyclists since the tarmac road. It’s transformed the purchase of everything from bikes to bits to clothing; enabled access to vast amounts of information; and, best of all, opened up lines of communication between riders from all over the world.
Take a real life example. I’ve just discovered that I’ve worn out my freewheel – the bunch of cogs that sits on the back wheel. So naturally I go to ebay to find a new one. In the course of googling around for general background, I also discover that if you replace a freewheel, you have to – or are strongly advised to – replace the chain too. Well, how much do chains cost? Who knows? In the old days, I would have had to go round to my local bike shop and ask Bob (all local bike shops are run by blokes called Bob), who would probably tell me that the chain I want isn’t in stock (because it’s for an old 7-speed freewheel) but that he can get one in for me, by next Tuesday, and it will cost me £11.83. Which seems reasonable.
Until I go online. Where I can go to a website like Wiggle and get a baseline price for the kind of chain I want – which proves to be £8.99 – then go to ebay, to see if I can beat it. And indeed, here’s what looks like just the thing: a ‘Brand New top quality Massi (top quality spanish bike manufacturer) drive chain’ for just £3.69. Cool. But is it any good? Off to cyclechat.co.uk to post a message, under the heading ‘A chain is a chain is a chain, right?’ Which within 20 minutes has generated two helpful responses (thanks SheilaH and HlaB!) essentially confirming what I’d already suspected – that as long as you make sure you’re getting one suitable for your number of sprockets (9 and 10 speed cassettes need narrower chains), the make is really neither here nor there.
So that’s that. Within less than half an hour, in the comfort of my own home, I’ve established what kind of chain I need and where I can get it for a price (including p&p) that’s less than half what Bob would want (sorry Bob, but….), delivered right to my front door – before Tuesday.
All I need now is some help with fitting the new chain. I could go and ask Bob but my refined upbringing has left me with delicate nerves and difficulty dealing with rejection. Fortunately I also have a PC and broadband. So with a little help from Google I swiftly locate the relevant pages from the late great Sheldon Brown, which tell me all I need to know. Before returning to Cyclechat, to find another three messages, including one from 02GF74 (catchy tag, dood!) that tells me ‘Measure 10 links, if it is over 127.6 mm (from memory) then it is worn – rule of thumb being > 1% increase in length = worn.’
All sounds a bit precise for me, not to say metric, but it rings a bell from Sheldon’s site, so I go back to check, and yes indeed – he has a really simple alternative method: ‘measure a one-foot length, placing an inch mark of the ruler exactly in the middle of one rivet, then looking at the corresponding rivet 12 complete links away. On a new, unworn chain, this rivet will also line up exactly with an inch mark. With a worn chain, the rivet will be past the inch mark.’ So I go back to the bike and try that and, well I never. The rivet lines up exactly! Which means the chain, from a recent ebay bike purchase, is to all intents and purposes new.
Which means I can fit my new freewheel with no need to buy a new chain after all. Cool. What did we do before the internet?