A close call

Today we went to Portland’s Saturday Market, a regular open-air crafts fair downtown. Ostensibly we were going to pick up a replacement for the second French butter dish we have broken in about three months, but really we just wanted to ride around this beautiful day. 3 on bike The image is a still from a brief video clip of all three of us aboard Xtravois, on our way down Ankeny. The still is linked to the clip if you’re curious. Thanks to Eric, new fellow Xtracyclist, for manning the camera.

As you see, the bike carries my whole human household (and sometimes the dog too), so I try to stay on top of maintenance issues, particularly concerning brakes and wheels. I built the wheels myself, and they’ve been solid, but this is the first bike I’ve owned with disk brakes, and I’ve suffered a few accelerated learning moments. Imagine my horror and relief, for instance, when I replaced the brake cables and housing a month ago, and discovered that the front brake cable had been reduced to a single strand beneath the pinch bolt. Today, as we approached the river via an unfamiliar route, we stopped to get our bearings. And as we started up again, the front wheel wouldn’t roll freely. I heard crunching. A little inspection showed that the disk brake pad spring had deformed somehow and gotten caught in the rotor. I dialed the pads all the way out to free the wheel, and we turned around, walking the bike down the bridge approach slope we had ridden up. I didn’t want to rely on the rear brake alone.

Our new destination was River City bike shop. I bought new pads and installed them, but was humbly impressed to see what less than two years of service had done to the old ones. Tomorrow I’ll replace the rear ones too.
no mo shoes

We continued across the river, got the butter dish, ate, strolled around, and rode home. It was still a good day, but I’m feeling a bit stupid to have narrowly escaped two catastrophic front brake failures when a more rigorous maintenance schedule could have warded them off.

4 thoughts on “A close call”

  • George

    Whoa! Are you using the Avid cable discs? I run them on 2 of my bikes and I really like them. I am amazed you got 2 years out of those pads……….

  • Todd

    Yep, Avid mechanical. Truth is, as the full-time parent to the little guy, I haven’t done so many miles the last 2 years. My 5K-mi/yr routine was interrupted in 2003. How often do you replace pads?

  • Bill Manewal

    I too am riding on my first set of bicycle disc brakes, and the other day as I was inching my GVW of 300 lbs down one of San Francisco’s steepest hills (29th St. between Diamond and Castro), I had the thought, “What’s my plan when I feel my front brake fading?”

    Fortunately there was no hint of fading, but it sure took some pressure on the lever to keep my speed from building.

    I know from my motorcycle experience that the pad change interval is WAY shorter in hilly city riding than freeway riding.

    So my approach to the interval question is not how often, but at what thickness of remaining pads.

    I just looked up that question on Hope’s website and the answer is 0.5 mm for the brake I have. I’ve got a pretty good eye (used to work as a machinist) and I’d say mine are about 0.9 mm currently. Magura’s manual says minimum is 2.5 mm including the holder and they even have a notch on the transport spacer that is to be used to determine minimum thickness.

    On my motorcycle and now my bike, I check pad thickness once a month.

    Given that the overall weight of our rigs and loads is much more than the usual downhill mountain bike, I feel brake selection, performance and maintenance are crucial to staying in one piece.

  • George

    How often do I replace pads?


    On my singlespeed, the pads last a long time because I hardly ever use the brakes:-)

    On my hardtail, I’ve replaced them as often as every 3 or 4 months, depends on what kind of riding I am doing.

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