Most annoying, irrational, counterintuitive things about mountain biking

Why are some things the way they are? Good question...

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Most annoying, irrational and counterintuitive things about mountain biking

This is not a simple machine…

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.

Most annoying, irrational and counterintuitive things about mountain biking

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.

Most annoying, irrational and counterintuitive things about mountain biking

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 annoying, irrational and counterintuitive things about mountain biking

3. Shifting

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.

Most annoying, irrational and counterintuitive things about mountain biking

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.

Most annoying, irrational and counterintuitive things about mountain biking

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.

About the author: Paul Andrews

Dividing his time between Seattle and Santa Cruz, career journalist Paul Andrews has more than a quarter century of mountain biking under his belt, which he wishes had a few less notches.

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  • Matthew says:

    Clip-less makes a ton of sense if you are familiar with what a “Toe-Clip” pedal setup looked like. Before Clipless the only way to “secure” ones feet to the pedals and allow for up-stroke power pull was via a toe-clip that strapped around the toe of ones shoe.

  • Al Tinti says:

    From the title, I thought it was going to talk about really annoying features of modern mountain bikes, like internal brake hose routing, press fit bottom brackets, etc. I do concur about derailleur limit screw confusion, but the rest is just trivial.

  • Nomad says:

    … spending 10X more watching vids & trolling than riding —> Me ! And everyone else reading
    … riders yelping “Hell yea”, “Sick bro !”, “Yup”, etc etc Arrghhh —> Nate Hills
    … bike reviews too long yak yak specs yak “great value” Yawn… –> Clint Gibbs , BKXC
    … Youtubers handing out stickers on their trail rides –> Seth Hack, BKXC

  • Plusbike Nerd says:

    Let’s change clipless pedals to clip-in pedals and then change toeclips to toe-cages. That’s how I keep it straight.

  • joules says:

    I agree with the slow news week comment. Every thing in this list is stupid, and if that’s all the author can complain about modern bikes, they must be amazing.

    Author has clearly never designed anything or even looked hard at a bike and tried to understand why things are the way they are.

    Major missed point about rapid rise: magazines loved it, everyone else hated it. No one bought it. Remember Sram was in their infancy back then – if it hadn’t been for rapid rise and shimano trying to cram it down our throats, they probably never would have gotten off the ground, cashing in on people desperately wanting anything not rapid rise.

    • juan_speeder says:

      I loved Rapid Rise. It actually worked better because the spring tension alone allowed the derailleur to shift at the proper points on the cog during downshifts. I could pull the trigger plenty fast to downshift just fine in any scenario.

    • steve says:

      I still have a bike with rapid rise, and it is the best shifting system that I have ridden. Fast shifts and both levers going the same way for up or down. Now that the ETSX70 is a one by, the rear der still shifts like a dream. I bought it and still love it.

  • brian tunney says:

    There is little to complain about on this stuff IMO (sure, I used to).
    Now I’ve discovered the time it takes me to adjust, realize I went the wrong way, re-adjust and check the set points, it’s about the time it takes to enjoy one beer properly. If the engineers hadn’t tricked us in these clever blunders, I’d have to find other hobbies to inflict profanity-laden beer breath.
    * And NO, beer won’t help you remember which way to turn the screws next time EITHER !! 😀

  • Philo says:

    Lamest article ever. Wow. Bitching about left-hand threads and headset caps! WTF? Oh and by the way, if you don’t know how something works, take it to a shop! You never need to adjust the derailleur high and low screws once they are set for your bike….so don’t touch them.

  • Chris Pincetich says:

    and it endlessly frustrating the frequency that special tools are required for maintenance
    – chainring bolt requires special tool
    – cassette nut requires special tool
    and there’s more, but these are the two I am dealing with lately

  • Aaron Sherwood says:

    Ignorant article.

  • russell says:

    I think Paul meant this whole article as tongue in cheek..

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