Optimum Tension

“The state of mind which enables a man to do work of this kind is akin to that of the religious worshipper or lover. The daily effort comes from no deliberate intention or program, but straight from the heart.”  – Einstein


Liam the Bike mechanic is talking us through the intricacies of tuning cycle gears.
He points to the tiny inhibitor screws on the gear derailleur (thing that changes gears on the back wheel of a bike….yes..I had to look up my notes) and explains that loosening or tightening these screws affects the movement of the mechanism across the gear cogs. (forgive my lack of detail, I got the gist)
He demonstrates by tightening one small screw and moving the pedals, clicking gears up and down….he points to the hesitation and resistance in the gear shift – to me, it looks taut and the chain jumps snappily from cog to cog .
Then he loosens the screw massively and the gear shift flops idly, chain rolling without precision onto cog after cog and back down.
The trick, he tells us, is to find good tension.

My fellow bike maintenance attendee asks: how would we know what good tension is?
He says: You can kind of feel it in the gearshift, but the best way is just to listen….
He tightens the screw again and shifts gears…. we can hear the taut metal-on-metal battle in the gear shift – a scraping, teeth-edging sound.
As he loosens it, we hear a kind of flobby, slack-chained noise.
And as he brings the tension back to the middle we hear….. nothing… nothing but the whirl of the chain and click click click as it pops up the gears and back….it sounds kind of beautiful.


Optimum tension means the bike runs smoothly and the chain doesn’t knacker the cogs or vice versa.
Optimum tension is not taut and rigid.
Optimum tension is not laid back and loose.


Liam couldn’t tell us exactly what optimum tension “was” another way than to pay attention to it- feel it, hear it, sense it.
When it comes, it is quiet and you barely notice it until it is gone…
 His invitation to us was “Spend some time with your bike. Get to know it a bit. Every bike is a bit different and will need some different thing” he later said something along the lines of – get the basics so you can apply them – but it will be a different application each time.
I later said to him he seemed to love his job. He grinned, surprised, and said – yes… it can be great – just tuning and sorting and fixing – bikes can pose a real challenge now, if they are high spec disc-braked-multiple geared and complex suspension. But it comes down to working through the basics. Trail and error, feeling the way toward Optimum Tension.
Perhaps there is a good question in here somewhere…
Perhaps, when there is a little too much resistance or a little too much slack, we can pay attention to the noises and the quality of what is happening around us, in our lives, in our organisations, in our bicycles and ask ourselves: what needs loosened or tightened to get this running at Optimum Tension?

2 thoughts on “Optimum Tension

  1. Pingback: Emotions and labels | Thinking About Learning

  2. Pingback: My Relationship with my Trusted Bike – #21daysofwriting | fuchsia blue

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