Let’s face it. The bicycle is not the simple frameset-and-wheels contraption you might think it is. There are lots of small bits connected to bigger bits, requiring frequent adjustment, cleaning, and repair to keep things operating in an orderly fashion.
Much of that maintenance is fairly straightforward, involving whatever wrench and lube you have handy. But some things are just plain silly. They work the opposite of the way common sense tells you they should work. As a public service, Mtbr has outlined the most perplexing, vexing, and potentially catastrophic mountain biking annoyances — in order of aberration from No. 5 to No. 1.
5. Clipless pedals
This is more linguistic abuse than anything mechanical, but how did we ever get stuck using “clipless” to describe a mechanism requiring a cleat and pedal cage to — yes, clip — together? What other industry could get away with such folly? Would you buy a new car with clipless seatbelts? Or go rock climbing with clipless belays? This term started as the antithesis to toeclips. But that’s no excuse — it didn’t make sense then and it still doesn’t.
4. Headset caps
In every other endeavor in life, the cap goes on last. Hubcaps go on after the wheel is mounted. Toothpaste caps go on when you’re done squeezing. But a bike headset works just the opposite. You put the cap on first — before you adjust and tighten the stem. There’s a perfectly good reason why: Screwing on the cap secures the fork in the headset, allowing the stem to be mounted without play. It makes total sense. It’s just not the way things are usually done. Yes, you could put the cap on last. But unless you’re very lucky, it will end badly, with ominous clunking in between.
Most variable-speed devices such as cars, blenders, and snowmobiles start out in a low gear. Bike derailleurs aren’t like that. In neutral — with no tension on the cable — they’re actually in their highest gear on the smallest cog. It flies against all reason. Shimano, bless their monopolistic little hearts, indirectly tried to remedy this a few years ago with Rapid Rise, a derailleur that cycled through the gears from low (biggest cog) to high. It drew critical acclaim, got OEM’d on a few bikes, and then promptly disappeared. The big gotcha: Faced with a sudden riser, you couldn’t grab clumps of gear, but instead had to multi-click release the way you do on a normal setup when you’re shifting to a higher gear. It’s certainly possible to leave a bike in a low gear. But that shortens cable resilience and needlessly tensions the derailleur spring. In addition, it’s just kind of annoying to those who seek symmetry and logic in all things mechanical.
2.5 Derailleur adjustment screws
Derailleurs are equipped with two stop screws, often set horizontally next to each other in a nearly impossible place to see or even reach. If there truly was a God, the outer screw would adjust the outermost range of the derailleur or highest gear, and inner screw the inside range or lowest gear. Because visually, that’s the way they line up. But go figure, the screw positions on many derailleurs are precisely the opposite of what logic would dictate. The outer screw adjusts low gear, and the inner screw the high gear. By the time you figure out which is which, you’re ready to commit component abuse. Counterintuitive used to be the de facto standard. But because newer derailleurs are addressing it, we’re giving this nuisance only half a tick.
2. Barrel adjusters
In normal walks of life, you turn something clockwise to tighten it, and counterclockwise to loosen. In adjusting bike cables, you of course do the exact opposite. Turning the barrel adjuster clockwise slackens rather than tensions the cable. Remember this particularly when trying to fix shift slop out on the trail, or you will end up wanting to self-harm.
1. Reverse thread
It’s happened to all of us. Well, most of us. We get a call from a friend who’s trying to put together a new bike. “I’m trying to screw in the pedal,” they say. “It doesn’t seem to want to go in all the way.” Uh-oh. You had told them, when they got the bike, you’d be happy to help them put it together. You told them to be sure to call if they had any questions. But now it’s too late. Here’s the thing: No one, even the greenest novice, should have to undergo the agony of a stripped a crank arm, and probably the axle too. The left pedal should screw in exactly the same as the right pedal — you know, the normal way. Clockwise. But it doesn’t.
Figuring out why involves a technical discussion of “precession” and rotational forces that will make your head hurt. Some pin the blame on the Wright Brothers. But whatever the reason, reverse threading is the single most annoyingly irrational and counterintuitive procedure in the entire pantheon of bicycle mechanics. I mean, one thread one way, the other the opposite? Try putting together an Ikea shelf unit like that. We can only hope that newbies learn their lesson the hard way on a K-Mart special instead of a SRAM Eagle XX1 crankset.
Okay, is all of the above clear? Great. Now we can move onto something sensible, like why the front shifter changes gears the exact opposite of the rear.