Baja CabliSnapia

Over the last couple of days I have been dealing with a cable snapping issue on my bike. This is getting ridiculous now. I am thinking of this as a character-building episode; it is frustrating at some level, but also illustrative of what can happen when in remote places and without critical parts and tools.

Here is the background: I had bought my bike used, but had some maintenance done during my 1000 km training rides in Florida. So I started with the bike in good shape 3 months ago in Alaska. After nearly 7000 km one of my shifter cables snapped near Santa Cruz. (It’s a twist grip shifting mechanism with two cables for my Rohloff SpeedHub with 14 gears.) No big deal, I’m thinking as I’m riding the last 15 km to town in single speed mode.

Next morning I have both cables replaced at a bike shop. Unfortunately the mechanic tells me he can’t get the full gear range, only 12 or 13 gears. I find this annoying, but don’t think of this too much over the next few weeks.

Then I enter the Baja California. After a few days one cable snaps again; I need to ride single-speed to Catavina. Now I’m in the middle of nowhere. I can’t just go to a bike shop the next day. There is no bike shop in town; or in the next couple of towns. And I can’t wait for parts to be sent down here either. What to do?

Next morning in Catavina I meet Robert and Peggy, an American couple over breakfast. They have a large toolbox and I can borrow some tools required to open the cable-box and shifter.

Robert and Peggy with their large toolbox help me out in Catavina

I end up using the same cables, just shorter, which gives me a reduced range of 7 gears – but that’s a lot better than only 1. So I cover the next couple hundred kms with a gear set from 5-11 (instead of 1-14).

Then I ride on the leg from San Ignacio to Santa Rosalia; there are lots of hills and even though it’s only 75 km it takes me 5 hours to cover. And there, 20 km before I get to Santa Rosalia, the other cable snaps also. I am getting a bit irritated at this point, as the hills and vados require almost constant shifting, and riding in single speed is very strenuous, hard on bike and legs/knees and definitely not fun. This time I’m also riding in the desert rain – an unexpected, but not unpleasant scenario. In the evening in Santa Rosalia I ask around and get to a shop that supposedly has bike parts.

Shop in Santa Rosalia which sold bike cables

With the help of the owner’s son I try to fix the problem right then & there, but we lack the right tools, I am not thinking clearly as I am tired, wet, sweaty, hungry and frustrated. It’s getting dark and they are about to close their shop. So I buy two replacement cables, hoping to figure out a way how to fix the thing tomorrow.

Next day I study the installation guide of the Rohloff shifters on my computer in detail to fully understand what I’m supposed to do. Then I roll from the hotel to a tire shop where I had stopped the day before. It’s a bit of a zoo there, but they have shade and all the tools I need.

Fixing my cables at tire shop in Santa Rosalia

Now the new cables won’t fit into the grip shifter, because the end-nipple is too wide! What to do? Well, they have a air-pressure-powered grinding tool, which I end up using to round down the nipples – and voila, now the cables fit into the grip! Necessity is the mother of all invention. After 1 hour or more of work in the heat, dust and dirt I replaced both cables and I am back at 14 gear range. I feel great to have fixed this mess and start the ride late (2:30pm), but it’s only 60 km to Mulege, so that was fine.

I did notice a lot of friction though while shifting. So next morning in Mulege I spend extra time to reduce the friction before starting my ride. I change the handle bar angle to increase the turn radius of the cables and grease the cable and the end-points. It helps, the gears shift smoother on this leg. And I need to do a lot of shifting, as along the Bahia Concepcion there are plenty of hills to cross as you hop from one beautiful bay & beach to the next.

Bike at Playa Santispac in Bahia Concepcion South of Mulege

As I’m riding along I start to think: Boy, it sure is great to have all 14 gears again with these hills. (There was a total of 1600m elevation gain on the 140km from Mulege to Loreto.) And I actually feel pretty good about having fixed this myself. Snap! There goes one of the cables again :-( I can’t believe it. Now if I only had the right tools – I am missing a spiral torx wrench T20 and a cable-cutting tool – I know exactly what to do now. (Trouble is, here in the middle of nowhere you can’t just buy those tools either…)

20 km later I stop at a little shop to buy some cold water. And lo and behold, the friendly Mexican owner (I forgot his name, sorry) digs out those two required tools – I get to work! In about 1/2 hour I shorten the cable covers, which lengthens the cables enough so I can re-fit the whole thing and I get all 14 gears back – I am a genius!

Fixing the cables yet again at roadside shack

Now I really feel elated to have my gears again; it’s a long day to Loreto and without shifting it would be really hard. But for some reason I can’t get the gears to shift freely without a lot of friction. And before long, just 15 km down the road, one cable snaps again! At this point I’m convinced that either I’m doing something wrong or the cables are just not the right kind / quality for this type of stress.

I’m limping to Loreto, feeling frustrated once again. I have already asked my dad to order brandnew replacement shifter, cables and cable-box and forward-ship them to my home address in Florida. But I won’t get those parts for another 3 weeks. So I need to find better cables here in Loreto, La Paz or Mazatlan to get a grip on this problem. As I said, a character-building epsiode…

Next morning I visit the local bike shop in Loreto. I borrow the tools and get to work. Turns out, the one cable didn’t actually snap, just come lose inside the cable-box. That’s good to know. So I cut both housing and cables just a little bit, re-fit everything and also tighten the adjustment screws much more to force the cables snug around the circular element in the cable-box. And aahh, now the shift resistance is much lower, pretty much normal. So I have a good feeling from this point on forward that this will work. Just to be sure, I also bought two high quality cables as spare. Herman from the bike shop wishes me good luck for the rest of my journey.

With owner Herman in Loreto bike shop

I also fixed a flat tire on my rear wheel – caused by a small wire stuck inside the tire! A good place for this problem to have developed, as with the bike shops compressor I’m back at full tire pressure in no time :-)

Only the torx tool I can’t buy. The standard answer I get is: “Oh, you have to go to Estados Unidos for that – I bought mine at Home Depot…”

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