Robot’s Useless Reviews – The Barrel Adjuster

Once upon a time, a human person said “Close, but no banana!” No banana? No banana? First of all, how is it that I’m being compensated in fruit? OK. OK. Fruit is delicious and part of a balanced diet, but I can’t buy a coffee with a kumquat. I can’t pay the gas bill with a plantain! Secondly, I am a bicyclist. I need that potassium!

Close, but no banana. Is there a taunt more cruel that is also, on its face, this completely nonsensical?

I like to imagine the person judging my labors standing close by holding a ripe banana, as if they might just hand it over to me if I pass the test of the moment, or maybe they’ll slowly peel and eat it in front of me to underline how inept I am, as if all I deserve is to watch another person eat a nutritious snack.

Is a banana the correct reward for certain tasks, say spelling all the words in an email correckly, while you might get a pomegranate for an accurate 1040EZ? What did Kennedy get for making it through the Cuban Missile Crisis without blowing up the world? An edible arrangement?

Thanks for not killing us all!

Why am I still talking about fruit in paragraph 5? I’ll tell you why.

Because bananas are the best source of sweetness in a smoothie, and as such are a pretty valuable commodity, despite my denigration above. But also because I almost never get anything right on the first try. I only ever get close. I need close to be close enough. I need it to be worth a banana, and a simple barrel adjuster does that.

So adjusty!

If there was no credit for getting close, up to and including another opportunity to dial in my first attempt, I wouldn’t get much done. You won’t know this, but many of the “jokes” you’re reading right now, did not appear in the original draft of this piece, which was actually a straight ahead engineering assessment of the common bicycle part called “barrel adjuster.” It was 12,000 words, and it was technically accurate, but, uh, no banana.

The beauty of the barrel adjuster is its magical ability to make mediocrity into perfection. Without a barrel adjuster, I have to move a bed into the basement, because I’m going to spend the rest of my life down there trying to get the cable tension on my rim caliper brakes right. The. Rest. Of. My. Life. I’d need a mini-fridge too. And a bedpan.

Two Problem Solvers 10mm silver/black adjusting barrels cost $8 retail. And if you clean your bike and lubricate the barrels bi-annually, they’ll probably turn ‘close’ into ‘spot-on’ for you for a couple of decades. If that’s not alchemy, I don’t know what is. For $8, I can live above stairs and have a family. For an additional $8, I can buy 4lbs. of bananas, but that’s taking this metaphor too far by far.

Look, we live in an age where your brakes may be actuated hydraulically and your gears might be shifted by small electronic motors, but hydraulic brake fluids and electronic motors are just expensive stand-ins for the simple barrel adjuster. Basically, the industry’s engineers decided you were too dumb to adjust your brakes properly (while mildly insulting, also somewhat accurate) and too ham-fisted to trim your derailleurs in a way that allows access to ALL of your gears without the gnashing of metal on metal.

Never mind that I leaked brake fluid all over my pads and that I forgot to charge my derailleurs. You make something idiot-proof, and the idiots up their game. I’ve never broken a barrel adjuster.

Expensive banana

My point is that a well deployed barrel adjuster is more valuable than a highly paid engineer and twice as good as a bad mechanic. I can fail to set my brakes and/or derailleurs up correctly, and barrel adjusters let me fix my mistakes WHILE I’M RIDING MY STUPID BIKE. I believe the expression is “on the fly,” and I’m an on-the-fly-kinda-guy.

If you’re extra-smart, when you’re installing your barrel adjusters, you roll ’em about half way up, before locking ’em in line. That way you can adjust in both directions. I may be a knuckle-dragging mouth-breather, but I’ve learned a thing or two after half-a-lifetime sitting on a bucket in my basement holding a 5mm hex key and praying for the end.

And ok, I realize I’m about a decade late extolling the virtues of a well-placed barrel adjuster. If I was gonna be on time, then I wouldn’t have called this whole boondoggle my Useless Reviews. Having said all that, I just checked inventory at the US’s largest bike parts distributor, and I’m happy to report they are flush with inventory. Get yours while they’re lukewarm.

Join the conversation
  1. jlaudolff says

    Hallelujah! There is a bike part in stock!

  2. Dan Murphy says

    “You make something idiot-proof, and the idiots up their game.”

    Ain’t that the truth.

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