Bike the River Valley 2010
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A spoke wrench can be your best friend

Hardy Menagh   7/20/10
(not affiliated with or compensated by Bike the River Valley, Bicycle Shows U.S. or any of the other businesses mentioned in this article)

Good company, hills, breathtaking riverside views and some mechanical challenges.

Greenway Sign

Like last year's Farm Ride, Bike the River Valley was another century ride put together by Bicycle Shows U.S. Glen had plotted a course that avoided the steepest hills while being scenic and inclusive of the local points of interest.

The Hills

If you prefer flat centuries, this ride wasn't for you. There were many hills and a few near the end of the ride that some seasoned cyclists found to be challenging. There weren't any that I personally felt required the use of a granny ring, although I did use mine once, for about 25 yards of a steeper section. This was late in the ride when my legs were becoming less responsive and I wasn't sure what challenges might yet lie ahead.

The Bike


I made an impulsive decision a day before the ride. I had recently acquired and tuned up a 1985 Nashbar touring bike. I had only about 60 miles on the bike since the tune-up, not a really good shakedown but it had been working perfectly and it felt great on the road. The aluminum Cannondale I used for last year's Farm Ride was also tuned up and ready to go but I got it into my head that some lightweight steel would make for a nicer ride and it did... for a while.

The Ride

There was a lot of variety in this ride. It included the Walkway Over the Hudson, some highway shoulder riding and lots of quiet farm and woodland roads. There was also the opportunity to cycle the grounds of the historic and cultural sites along the way. Like some cyclists, I was keeping in mind that temperatures were going to be in the 90s and I didn't spend much time with these sites, skipping two entirely. I wanted to get as much distance covered as possible, before the heat of the day.

Along the way, a couple of riders noticed what one called my "old school" bike, which stood out from the usual aluminum and carbon bikes on the ride. The other rider had the only other steel framed bike I saw on the ride, although it was much more recent and a cut above mine. I was happy to oblige each of them with conversation about my vintage mount.

The rest stops were loaded with a variety of fresh fruit. There were bananas, strawberries, blueberries and peaches, along with baked goods, wrapped bars and snacks of different types, as well as staples like organic natural peanut butter and jelly. There was water, of course and Gatorade for those who wanted it. Glen's boast of "too much food" is never an idle one.

Fire Truck

I made it to the first 25-mile rest stop at the Rhinecliff Fire Dept, without incident and was quickly on the road again after refilling my bottles and having a quick snack.


Shortly before the second rest stop at Germantown, I heard a sound from the rear of my bike. If you've ever had a spoke break while riding, you know the sound and you wished it was just a flat tire.

This bike had a broken spoke on the rear wheel when I got it. I replaced it and dismissed it as probably just an odd spoke that was too loose and had flexed itself to death.

I found a place in the shade, removed the broken spoke, and trued the rear wheel to make up for its absence. I had a bad feeling about this. There was still a lot of ride to go.


By the third rest stop, two more spokes had broken. The rear wheel originally had 40 spokes and, being designed for an honest-to-gosh real touring bike, it was made to carry a load. I consoled myself that I could get by without three spokes for a while but I had no illusions that more wouldn't break. The missing spokes were making the tension uneven and breakage even more likely. The stopping, removing and truing process was getting tedious and the temperature was rising. There was however, moral support from each cyclist who passed during my pit stops. Every single one asked if I was ok or needed help. I've never met a cyclist I didn't like.

As I approached the fourth rest stop at Kingston Point Beach, my rear wheel was now down 5 spokes. The surprise pit stops were without wind and quite perspiration intensive. I had run out of water. Two of the broken spokes were adjacent, leaving a large gap and truing had become problematic, to say the least. Now my rear brake pads were rubbing the rim briefly with every revolution and I could feel a wobble at slow speeds. I loosened the rear brakes a little and weighed my options.

I could call for SAG transportation but it would take some time for them to get to me and the last rest stop at the winery was just 7 miles away. My wife was volunteering for the ride there. I decided to try to cautiously nurse the bike there and end my ride. I grabbed a snack, filled my bottles, got back on course and made it with no more breakage.

Ride's End

Winery Stop

At the El Paso Winery stop, one of the ride mechanics noticed me scrutinizing a fist full of broken spokes. He came over and apologized for not having spares due to the infinite variety that would be necessary. I laughed and said that it would be crazy to carry around spokes for a 27" wheel. He conjectured that the wheel had probably been improperly trued one or more times in its life. The spokes had likely been unevenly tensioned and it was just a matter of time before some of them fatigued and broke. There had been a warning of this when I got the bike, the first broken spoke that I had replaced and dismissed.

My ride was over. I had gone 97.5 miles, 2.5 miles short of a century. There was another 10 miles or so, back to the Highland start and finish but I decided not to risk the bike and myself on a wheel that was now seriously structurally compromised. I'd rather be able to rebuild it than to have it collapse for the sake of a round number.

After working registration at the high school, my wife had been busy at the winery, directing cyclists to the stop and arranging transport for those who didn't want to continue the ride, along with their bikes. She had been on her feet all day and although she hid it well, she was at least as fatigued as I was.

At closing time, I helped her and the other volunteers clean up, knock down and pack up. I loaded my spoke-challenged bike on our car and we called it a day.

I got some good riding done, I learned a lesson about untried bikes on long rides and now I have an excuse to rebuild a wheel with all new spokes. In all, it was a gainful day!

Broken Spokes

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