At the Bench: How Tight Is Tight?

I didn’t understand that bicycle components could be overtightened until my lack of understanding made me bleed.

I’d finished my exams for the fall semester and needed to pack my mountain bike to take it home over our month-long winter break. I’d been taught by other mechanics that it was basically impossible to overtighten any component.

Yeah, I know that now.

I’d overtightened the right pedal so much that I concluded the best way to loosen it would be to position the crank at 9:00 and to rest my chest against the top tube and then wrap my right arm beneath the down tube so that I could pull up with both hands.

I failed to shift the chain onto the big ring before making my big move.

With a mighty heave, I pulled and the pedal suddenly swung free, and with that unfettered spin a tooth from the chainring punctured my thumb, just right of the nail.

Did I make a sound? I can’t recall. I am willing to bet that a shower of obscenities sprayed from my mouth. I know I squeezed my eyes shut.

From my left I hear the shop manager say, “That’s a lot of blood.”

The physician’s assistant at the university health center examined my thumb and said, “You’re not going to enjoy me cleaning this up. I’m going to have to scrub pretty hard.”

He wasn’t wrong.

Two years later I was working on a bike assembled by another mechanic who had tightened everything as much as he was able and needed to remove the cassette. With a chain whip and a big crescent wrench I couldn’t budge the cassette lockring.

I clamped the lockring tool in a bench vice and then wrapped the chain whip around the cassette. I grabbed the whip along with a few spokes and laid my torso over the wheel.

Is any of this sounding familiar? I wish it had to me at the time.

With a gunshot-brief creak the lockring released and with the force I was putting into the twist, the wheel turned more than 90 degrees, at which point the back of my right hand ground its way across the rough edge of a coffee can holding hundreds of spare water bottle bolts. My hand looked like I’d won a bar fight.

We like to say the second time is the charm. I didn’t feel charmed, but I learned to make sure that in loosening to bolt to make sure my hand won’t encounter anything that can puncture or scrape skin. The lesson seems to be: Nothing teaches quite like pain.

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  1. bart says

    I’ve also gouged my finger on the chainring when removing an over-tight pedal but I only had myself to blame as I was the person who installed the pedal. In my case, the chainring penetrated straight through my fingernail and into my finger. Thankfully, I can no longer remember which finger it was but explaining the situation at the ER was a bit complicated. I’m now very attentive to where my body parts will end up if the part suddenly releases. I had thought I was the only one to have this experience, so glad to know I’m not 🙂

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