Turns out that disc brakes on a bike do, in fact, stop a helluva lot faster than rim brakes. Especially wet rim brakes. That are kind of sticking anyway. Especially when there’s still slush on the road and snow on the shoulder and you’re tired and feeling a little slow on your ride in to work. And when the guy in front of you stops suddenly at a cross walk.

I rode the Schwinn in to work the other day because it needed some love. Among other things, I’d dropped it on an icy patch and had a nice little slide with the bike on my way home a couple of weeks ago on this bike path leading away from a T station back toward my town. Then, riding in flats, on another trouble spot (same path, different end) going in-bound, slipped a foot off my pedal and kicked the shit out of the front spokes (whoops). So the wheel was a little out of true. And the brakes were gummy because they’re both old and were covered in winter and salt. And there were a few other things I wanted to do to make the bike a bit more functional, too.

So I rode the bike in.

A little ways past Harvard on Broadway I get passed by a guy on a pretty blue Salsa. I’m pretty sure it was a Vaya but I couldn’t really tell from the rear of it. I was tired and feeling slow. The bike had a road chainset in it, a 52-40, and while I could usually cruise in the big ring OK, I was granny-gearing it pretty much all morning. I think my rear tire pressure might have been too low (is what I’ve been telling myself). The guy passes me, and I’ll admit I’m a little prideful: I’m usually the one making passes on my commute. So I catch up and ride behind him, if only to prove to myself I’m not a complete lazy POS.

Riding behind is fine: he’s got a good, steady cadence, and seems to be riding predictably and sensibly in the city. He takes a few holes in traffic that I do not, since he’s got probably a ~35mm knobby tire on there and I’m riding 25mm Paselas on a bike that I do not ride that often in the snow anymore.

And then there’s cars stopped at a spot where they normally are, but the guy slams on the brakes at a cross walk (people coming from the other side of the line of stopped cars, so I couldn’t see and he could only see last second), and so I try and hit the brakes too, but I can’t stop as fast, and so take flight over my handlebars into a snow bank, leaving my poor bike behind to get snugly settled with my handlebar resting on his rear rack.

I’m fine, he’s fine. I got a little scrape on my arm. He got some fender rub, which I helped him fix. He didn’t seem too mad. My bike and I were fine.

But I sure felt like a fucking jackass, I’ll tell you.

So, disc brakes stop faster than rim brakes: a real life example. And also I shouldn’t follow strangers so close. Lesson learned.

I get the bike into the stand over my lunch break and fix the brakes. True the wheel. Start swapping the crankset for a compact that makes more sense for the bike and how I ride it. Realize then that I’ve somehow been able to get away with a 32-max cog cassette with a short cage derailleur, which super doesn’t work with the compact once I’d shortened the chain to remove the small-small rubbing thing, and so I swap that for an 11-28 I’ve been hiding away in my locker for a while anyway. I wasn’t planning on doing all that work to it, but hey, when in the bike stand. I’m a little bummed I’d apparently taken the new rear derailleur I’d been saving for that bike home — or maybe I donated it to a buddy’s bike? Not sure — but I’ll fix that later. The old one works fine, just squeals like the devil (I think I’m missing some balls in the jockeywheel bearings). In any case, I rode the bike to a poetry/prose reading afterwards, and then the rest of the way home, and the compact was a good decision.

In all, my bike works, I learned some bike things, and a lesson. Still feel like a jackass, but hey, I got to ride my bike.