Can I fix this bicycle problem myself or should I take it in?
April 6, 2014 2:51 PM   Subscribe

A couple of weeks ago I bought a used Electra Cruiser bicycle and my gears slip sometimes. Is this something I could fix myself?

I bought my bike from a reputable used bike shop and it was supposedly "tuned" when I got it. However, second gear only works for a few seconds before slipping back into first, and in third gear I randomly lose all pedal power for about half a revolution, every 45 seconds or so. If I switch back to first and then into third again, the problem stops for a bit. It's just kinda annoying more than anything, and clearly something is not working right.

If it isn't obvious yet I'm new to the world of bike ownership, but I have tools and the internet -- does this sound like a problem I could fix myself? If so any advice about where to start? This bike is super sweet but I'd rather not pay to have someone look at it if I don't need to.
posted by jess to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total)
What kind of gearing system do you have -- do you have an internal hub, by any chance?
posted by suedehead at 3:27 PM on April 6, 2014

this is what you want to look into.

If you only have a single front chainring(ie, there is no second shifter for front gears) this will be a VERY quick tune job. If you have 2 or 3... it can get a bit byzantine. On cruiser-type bikes it's usually just one ring in the front and then a derailleur in the back though.

It's not super hard though. I have friends who can do it in their sleep in 30 seconds, but i, mr primarily electronics repair dude learned to do it painstakingly with more forward-backward tweaking in not all that long.

This isn't something you'll need more than a phillips screwdriver and possibly an allen wrench or two to deal with. No specialized bike-y tools are needed, and you won't need to take anything apart. You may even get lucky and be able to twist the barrel adjuster and be done with it, if it isn't already at one of the extremes of its travel.

On preview, what suedehead said about internally geared hubs would make most of this moot. The barrel adjuster bit would still apply though, but there's other adjustments around where the cable attaches to the hub on those that i forget the exact eccentricities of.

I am not a bike mechanic, i am a loony idiot who thinks he can fix anything and usually succeeds insofar as not breaking anything, your mileage may vary.
posted by emptythought at 3:28 PM on April 6, 2014

At very least You should take it back to the shop where you bought it and explain the problem. If they tuned it, it's very likely they'll look at it for free and at least try to identify the problem for you. Also, in case there turns out to be something wrong with the bike, they're the ones who you'd be pestering about a new bike. It can actually be pretty dangerous to lose all pedal power (what if you're trying to get out of the path of a car?)
posted by theweasel at 3:28 PM on April 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another fair point about the skipping gears/losing power thing is that when it "jumps" like that it's actually skipping across a tooth or two on the gears of the rear cassette. This will very quickly destroy the teeth on the cassette. Which, if well taken care of, can last a REALLY long time if you don't ride super heavily. My 80s bike still has its original cassette in decent condition, but i've seen very new bikes with chewed up teeth on certain gears where this skipping occurred. It's something you want to take care of ASAP before you ride more, whether you do it yourself or take it back to the shop.
posted by emptythought at 3:38 PM on April 6, 2014

Two weeks? Take it to the shop to have them fix it for free.
posted by rhizome at 4:20 PM on April 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can you take a picture of your rear wheel for us? We need to see the chain and the part of the wheel that the chain touches. Maybe an overall pic of the bike as well.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 5:53 PM on April 6, 2014

If your Electra Cruiser is like mine, it has a 3-speed Nexus internal hub gear. Take a look at this page. It might be a simple adjustment that the bike shop neglected. (I had to adjust mine on 2 Electras.) If that doesn't do it, yes, take it to the shop and they should fix it at no charge.
posted by The Deej at 7:07 PM on April 6, 2014

I've had a brand new Nexus seven speed hub do that; some experimentation with adjustments over a few weeks (I don't know what I'm doing) cured it for good. Take it back and tell them what you told us.
posted by davejay at 9:40 PM on April 6, 2014

1) Take it back to the shop. They should do it for free.

2) If it is indeed an internal hub, my internal hub will slip when the gearing setting isn't exactly on one of the three settings, but slightly off. You can test this by flipping your bike upside down, or mounting it on a bike mount, and turning the pedals by hand while slowwwwwlly shifting between gears with your shifter. Do you lose pedal power? If so, that might be your culprit. (If you have a twist shifter that 'clicks' between gears, this might not work as well).

You can fix this by adjusting how the shifter cable connects to the shifter, or the hub. Since the gearing is done by how much the shifter cable pulls the shifter (this could be a lever, or a chain, depending on the type of internal hub you have), it might require you to have the resting tension between the shifter and the hub be tighter, or looser, etc.
posted by suedehead at 10:26 PM on April 6, 2014

If it's a 7 or 8 speed internal gear hub (assuming it's a Shimano Nexus model, which are by far the most common) there is a convenient indicator for shifter adjustment:

Put the bike in 4th gear. Look down at the part of the hub between the chain and the frame - this is called the "cassette joint." There are two small yellow indicator lines. If you shift back and forth one will move and the other will stay put. In fourth gear, the two should be aligned with each other. If they aren't, twiddle the barrel adjuster until they are.

If it's a three speed, there may or may not be an indicator, and it will vary with the type of hub.

That said, the shop should fix this if you bring it back, and they'll probably show you how to do the adjustment yourself if you ask. It will probably take about a minute.
posted by sibilatorix at 7:09 PM on April 7, 2014

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