Beware the Rides of March

Dunlap Disease
Backlit mountain bikers on a trail
On the way to a perfect spot

We headed up the first climb, called the First Sister, under a tall stand of bare poplar limbs. The three of us were quiet, taking in the scenery of another new spring coming to life around us. A hawk screeched in the blue sky. The flock of goldfinches that had been chirping suddenly exploded off their roosts and disappeared into the laurel thicket. The double-track narrowed to a thin band of dirt laid bare by thousands of fat tires that had rolled here the last fifteen years. A luxuriant mat of moss grew on each side of the trail. If there was a perfect spot to be on this spring morning, I thought to myself, this must be it.

We stopped at the top. "This is great, hey?" Bob said, holding on to a sapling and staying on his bike.

"Yeah," I said, "I wonder what the poor people are doing now." I looked at Porter, who was off his bike looking at his back tire. "What's wrong, Porter?"

"I'm not sure. It felt like I was getting a flat on the climb up here. The harder I pedaled, the slower I seemed to go."

"Your back tire looks okay," Bob said. "Your front's fine, too. But I'm a little worried about your spare tire."

We laughed and Porter said, "Becky told me I developed Dunlap Disease since Thanksgiving and Christmas. I said, 'What do you mean?' She said, 'Your belly's done lapped over your belt.' "

"Well," I said, "let's put it behind your handlebar."

We rode along the ridgeline for five miles, dropping to gaps where we would occasionally find small springs oozing out of the mountain's flank, then climbing another "sister" and doing it again. The trail got its name from the seven rollers that occur on the loop. Supposedly, a mountain man raised a family of seven girls, each of them marrying and moving to a separate peak. I thought back to the days when the area's first settlers came here and built cabins deep in the coves. What they would have given for a good mountain bike!

It was on the climb up Third Sister that I heard Porter yelp and say some things his mother wouldn't want repeated. I stopped and got off. "What happened?" I called back.

Porter stood over his bike muttering and holding his right shin. He said, "Chain suck!" before adding a few precise curses about what it all meant to him.

I coasted back to where Porter was trying to pull the chain out from in between the crank ring and the stay, where it had been violently wedged in an ugly kink. "Here," I said, "You hold the bike and let me try to crank it backwards."

We were able to get the chain out, but it was plain to see what had caused the problem. Porter's chain needed lubricant. "We need to lube the chain, or you'll be sucking it back again. Problem is, I left my lube back at the car." I rummaged around in my fanny pack, looking for something—anything—that might give his chain some lubrication. Matches, patches, tool kit, apple, sandwich, soap. Soap? I remembered how my mom used to take a sticky drawer out and rub a bar of soap to make it glide more smoothly.

"Here's a little bar of soap," I said doubtfully. "I don't know if it'll work, but let's give it a shot."

We balanced his bike upside down on its saddle, and while Porter steadied it, I slowly cranked the pedal forward and held the bar to the chain. The bar of soap was quickly eaten away, but after a couple of revolutions, I stopped. The chain was coated with a thin film of soap. I backpedaled, and the chain traveled relatively smoothly over the derailleur. "Why don't you give that a shot, Porter?"

He hopped back on and pedaled uphill. The chain clattered a little, but the more he pedaled, the smoother it sounded. After about 50 yards, he stopped and yelled back, "Thanks, Steve. I think that'll work."

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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