Bike tech help for the non-bike weenie.
May 8, 2007 8:28 AM   Subscribe

I've resurrected my bike for the second time from the shed at my mom's to get back into riding regularly, but this time there is something wrong with the gear shifters. Bear with me as I try to explain inside as I know little about the nuts and bolts of bikes. I'm hoping the bike nerds of MeFi can help me diagnose the problem and give me an idea of how much it might cost to fix so that I can weigh repair with purchasing a new bike.

The problem is that the gear shifters don't seem to move anymore. A little more history on the bike: it's a Mongoose hybrid that was given to me sometime in the 80s. I got out of biking for most of the 90s (because teenagers like to drive cars!) and really didn't touch a bike until 2005, when I suddenly found myself biking a 10 mile "commute" on Adirondack trails every day. So the bike got a workout that summer, but then was retired again until this weekend, when I retrieved it once again.

Yesterday, my husband and I went on an inaugural ride and as we approached a hill and I tried to shift, I found that the shifters seemed to be kind of stuck. They wiggle a bit, but don't move to different gears.

What I'm wondering is if there is something that can easily be done to fix "sitting in the shed frozen/rusted? gear syndrome" that I don't know about. I am bike-clueless, but consider myself handy, so pointers to good instructions would be great. If this isn't something that can easily be fixed, can anyone give me a ballpark figure on repair costs?
posted by stefnet to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Unless it's been out in the rain, the shifters, chain, sprockets and derailleurs probably just need a little lubrication.

A bike shop can probably tune up your fine steed for less than $30.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:37 AM on May 8, 2007

"Oil me" said the Tin Man. Just soak the moving parts of the shifters, top and bottom, with WD-40 or some other light oil. It should get them moving.
posted by lee at 8:38 AM on May 8, 2007

I'd take it to a shop and spend a good $50 on a tuneup. If it's been 20 years with what sounds like 0 service, you'd be well off with new tires/tubes/brake pads/cables/chain. Don't skimp on the contact points!

Don't ever ever ever ever ever ever use WD40 on a bike. It attracts dirt like no other and that will cause premature wear. Bike shops have plenty of lubricants that are made for the task.
posted by kcm at 8:44 AM on May 8, 2007

Find some of this stuff or something similar from a local bike, auto parts, or sporting goods store, dump a bunch of it into the shifters, let it sit for a half an hour or so, and then try to work the gears. Even if the shifters are salvageable, it might take 2 or 3 runs at this (use a shop rag to wipe things down before starting again) before you get them back to normal.

Even if they can't be fixed, mountain bike shifters can be replaced fairly cheaply, assuming that your local bike store can still find replacements and the rest of the system is still ok. If you like the bike and the frame is in good shape, you can get it back in working condition for pretty cheap.
posted by jtfowl0 at 8:45 AM on May 8, 2007

(A complete overhaul of a bike would be more like $200, but I bet your bike was worth that new.. you're more in the "get me running again" territory. The overhaul would repack all your bearings, etc. You can learn to do this yourself with Lennard Zinn's books.)
posted by kcm at 8:46 AM on May 8, 2007

Thanks everyone... I feel better knowing that it's probably something simple and I won't be spending too much by bringing it in for some rehab. I'd rather have someone who knows what they're doing look at it.

I think that my mom actually brought it in for some service in 2005 (new tires and chains, at least) but I don't think the shifters were touched and wouldn't be surprised if they took in a bunch of moisture and dirt that summer.
posted by stefnet at 9:01 AM on May 8, 2007

The WD in WD-40 is for water displacement -- it's a water displacing penetrating oil that's 50% solvent. It could be useful in bike repair to get stuck parts moving at all, but you'd want to then make sure you got rid of any remaining WD-40, and used an appropriate lubricant. (But if one were to know only one thing about WD-40 and bikes, kcm's never-use-it advice would be the one.)
posted by Zed_Lopez at 9:33 AM on May 8, 2007

Don't ever ever ever ever ever ever use WD40 on a bike

I find it amusing how many people object to WD40. It's almost fashionable. I think it's a form of rebellion against our elders, because they talked it up so much. People like to talk of it in the same way they talk of urban myths.

I use WD40 on my bike. I don't find it attracts dirt any more than any other kind of oil, all of which generally grab dirt because of their viscosity.

I use 3-in-1 oil for lubrication and protection (as did my father's generation!), but give items a quick squirt of WD40 beforehand to work out moisture. I also spray WD40 over larger metal objects on the bike to keep them protected and, again, to ward off moisture and prevent rust. The only thing I object to about WD40 is its familiar smell.

Touch wood, my bike runs great.
posted by humblepigeon at 9:43 AM on May 8, 2007

Oh, and be careful of the bike fascists—there are many people out there who believe that something can only be good for your bike if it costs $$$. Common sense and basic mechanical knowledge are both free and are 99% of what you need.
posted by humblepigeon at 9:45 AM on May 8, 2007

One quick thing to check is to see if the shifter is stuck or is it the cable or derailleur. Try yanking on the cable to see if you can make the derailleur move. If it's just the shifter, you may be able to take it apart and figure out how to fix it. This is not the case for really fancy shifters, but based on the brand and the year, it's probably easy to disassemble.
posted by advicepig at 11:22 AM on May 8, 2007

Do a quick test to see if the rear derailler works. Set the shifter to the highest gear (i.e. the most slack in the cable.) Turn the bike upside down (or lift the back wheel off the ground) and slowly turn the pedal with one hand. You should be able to use your other hand to push/pull the rear derailer in and change gears. (Watch your fingers! Even if the wheel is spinning slowly it's not fun getting your fingers jammed in the spokes.) If that seems to work fine, then the derailer is good. If not, then you can try spraying it with WD40 and getting it moving, but it might be toast. That's an expensive part to replace.

To test the gear shifter, disconnect the cable from rear derailler. (usually just loosening the bolt) Can you move the shifter? if not, again use the WD40.

If the shifter and derailler both are fine, then you just need a new cable and probably new cable housing. This is inexpensive - and a bike store should sell you the cable and housing for something like $5.
posted by kamelhoecker at 7:18 PM on May 8, 2007

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