We are thirty, maybe forty minutes into the first day of riding. The weather is perfect as we wind our way along a lightly traveled trail amidst a scattered wood. Birds are chirping and bright splashes of morning sun illuminate the forest floor. This is good, things are good. We spent the night in a glamour cabin, breakfasted under a roof, sat on real chairs, and NONE of our gear was wet. As it turned out, things were too good. A more experienced adventurer would have known to be distrustful, would have known that something was not right, that too easy is a set up, a feign by the fates to create drama, a ploy to more fully dismantle our traveling hubris.
The group had found itself engaged in a short hike-a-bike section. As we climbed, my gaze happened to land upon my bottom bracket-crank arm junction. “Guys, I think we have a problem, like a trip-ending problem.” I can be prone to hyperbole, I do a good Chicken Little, but when you look down and your bottom bracket cup is no longer in the frame, well then, you have the right to believe you have a serious problem.
For those of you who don’t know, let’s just say that the bottom bracket cup and the frame are supposed to be intimate, they’re supposed to be ON/IN ONE ANOTHER, dig? So here I am, looking down on a monumental break-up, and I’m thinking, “Guys you didn’t even give love a chance.” As the rest of the crew comes back to see what’s up, I run my brain through the scenario.
Here’s the deal. I (Kyle) have been a paid bike mechanic for at least half of my working career. As such, I do the work on our Yonder Journal bikes, so when the gracious folks at SRAM components sent me some new cranks with exceptionally low gears for this trip I installed them, they had no play, spun freely, no problem I thought, NO PROBLEM. Yet here we are 30-40 minutes into the first day and the things were not right.
“But you know what? We brought along a good crew. Right there in the forest, right there in that beautiful, mind-blowing morning we melded our minds and we set about fixing the problem.”
Let’s say for posterity’s sake that I first noticed the problem at 10:14 AM. What follows is a creative non-fiction account of the proceeding events.
- 10:14–10:16 AM: FREAK OUT! Get super bummed, overstate the worst possible scenario, get really upset for about two minutes. Examples of overstatement include: “ARGH, MY LIFE IS OVER.” “Can someone please just take one of these trees and bludgeon me about the head and shoulders?” “Does anyone have Grizzly Bear call? Can you use it, then spray me in the eyes with that hot pepper spray and just leave me here, in sightless anguish?” “What if we found some fire ants and then you guys throw them into my eyes?”
- 10:16–10:21 AM: Calm down and gather our collective minds. Erik, James, and Kyle take a look at the bikes and start disassembling the cranks in order to fix the bottom bracket. Daniel bows out: “Guys, what am I going to do here? Unless you need someone to help you break it more I’m not going to do you any good. Besides, someone needs to take photos right?”
- 10:16–10:21 AM: Kyle explains more than once that when he installed the BB everything was tight and dialed. James, Erik, and Daniel wear a very skeptical look. The crew notes that there is a large wallow just off the trail, indicating that some type of extremely large megafauna had recently taken a nap here. And just like angry abusive uncles, large megafauna do not enjoy being disturbed.
- 10:21–10:33 AM: James uses Kyle’s Leatherman to retap the threads in the BB. James is a graduate of WyoTech, which basically means he has an advanced degree in manipulating material objects for mechanical purposes. After much effort he is able to begin threading the bottom bracket back into the BB shell (note that the BB shell is an adapter piece, we are daisy chaining this crank into the bike).
- 10:33 AM: The BB gets stuck in the shell. We don’t have the tool to screw it all the way in and it needs to go all the way in. It will only works if it goes all the way in.
- 10:34–10:35 AM: Kyle tries using a Surly Junk strap (essentially an extra extra long toe-strap) as a strap wrench, it works, and boom, they get the BB threaded all the way in.
- 10:36 AM: Crew takes a break. There is talk of a Grizzly Bear attack, but it is a joke, but the chuckles are forced and cut off. There is a high degree of confidence that the bike is fixed.
- 10:37:23 AM: Kyle says, “Daniel, you should check your bike, I set up the cranks the same way on both bikes, so yours are probably breaking up too.”
- 10:37:24 AM: Daniel checks his bike.
- 10:37:25 AM: Daniel, “Yep mine’s f*@[^ed.”
- 10:37:26 AM: Crew notes that rather than the BB unthreading from the adaptor, the press fit cup has actually started coming out of the frame all on its own.
- 10:37:27–10:40 AM: The cranks on Daniel’s bikes are disassembled.
- 10:41 AM: Erik Nohlin uses a tree trunk to re-press the BB into the frame, employing the oil piston technique of smashing the BB over and over again. After a few thumps everything is good as new.
- 10:42–10: 45 AM: The crew rides another 300 yards or so.
- 10:46 AM: Kyle looks down and notices that his BB is creeping out once again.
- 10:47 AM: “FU&*&*&*&*&*&*&*&*&*&*&*&*&*&*&*&*K!!!!!”
- 10:48 AM: Erik says, “It’s probably just missing a spacer. I bet we can use the 5mm headset spacer off my bike, should take care of the problem.”
- 10:49 AM: Kyle’s cranks are once again disassembled.
- 10:50 AM: The oil piston, fallen tree technique is used on Kyle’s bike.
- 10:51 AM: A 5mm spacer is placed on the crank spindle and the crank is secured on the bike.
- 10:52–10:54 AM: The crank is pulled, the spacer installed, and the crank reinstall process is duplicated on Daniel’s bike.
- 10:55 AM: Team resumes riding.
- 10:56 AM–The Next Four Days: Team keeps riding.
There are a few critical takeaways/follow-ups:
- Over the next four days our cranks would never again become loose or unthread.
- Kyle takes complete responsibility for inadequately researching the correct installation techniques for putting these cranks on a bike.
- The low gearing provided by these cranksets was AH-MAZE-ING.
- When you are in the bush, four days out at the very beginning of an adventure and your equipment fails you can get Soviet really really quickly. Think Urals on the bone road, think the trappers in Happy People. Instinct and necessity unlock a primal innovative spirit, and a situation that means certain doom is marginalized and accounted for. I don’t recommend that you actively seek out this headspace, but it is worth noting that the mind has the ability to conjure exceptional solutions when faced with bleak and dire circumstances.