Frozen Solid
Thursday January 21st 2010, 9:14 pm
Filed under: Advice & Tips

Today I got to work on some wheels. Really just installing new—brass—nipples. I started the job yesterday, and was surprised and hindered by the lack of this tool at the shop; today I brought mine from home. It really makes the job of inserting nipples a breeze. This dude’s wheel was built with alloy spoke nipples and from all the corrosion or whatever, they were cracking and causing all sorts of havoc. So much so that when I was deflating the tire to start replacing them, another one snapped in half. Brass yo!

Anyway, I’ve not been working on—or building—many wheels lately, much to my dismay, so it felt good to sort of go through the process of lacing and building a wheel. The last time I really worked on a wheel like this I was investigating why my neighbor’s rear wheel wouldn’t stay tensioned. From what I could tell it didn’t look like any spoke prep or thread locker was used in the original build—difficult to determine to be sure, but for all intents and purposes the spokes wouldn’t stay tense. So unbuild and rebuild, just to be sure, I thought I’d apply a little spoke thread locker to each spoke.

I had a small bottle of DT Spoke Freeze on hand. The directions on the bottle indicates the following:

Instructions for use: after truing the wheel, apply to the nipple drop by drop

Seems simple enough, albeit vague. A little clarification would help, because using the bottle provided the act of dripping it “drop by drop” makes a huge mess all over your rim, and whether or not the liquid actually penetrates into the threads of the spoke/nipple interface is quite unclear. I’ve attempted to use the stuff a couple of times, never really coming to trust it.

Working on my neighbor’s wheel, deciding to use some liquid resistance, I looked in my toolbox to discover no options except the aforementioned DT product. Well, I thought, I’ll unwind the wheel to it’s extreme lowest tension and drip the Spoke Freeze into the head of the nipple with one of the hypodermic needles I use for lubricating. Seemed like a clean and straight-forward idea. Pretty quick process too.

Not quick enough however. By the time I finished dripping, drop by drop, and began spinning the wrench to add tension to the spokes, the liquid in the nipples had gelled almost completely solid preventing the spokes to turn any further into the nipples. Wow, lesson learned. What would have been a half hour job at most just became a two hour job of incrementally chipping out  the solid red cement and slowly tensioning the spokes a quarter turn at a time. My sturdy dental pick won the tool of the day award for that job. Tediously, the wheel was eventually brought up to proper tension, true and round. My intention through the process was to just leave some as much residual thread locker as would prevent unwinding spokes but still allow tensioning. It worked, and last I checked, the wheel is still straight and tight.

Moral of the story: follow the directions, if you don’t understand them, follow them anyway. Kidding—maybe look up the instructions online for more in-depth instruction (PDF). To clarify, DT makes great spokes, tools, hubs and rims, I’m a big fan; their Spoke Freeze WORKS, but from here on out, I’m using straight up Loctite or at the least Wheelsmith’s Spoke Prep; I don’t have much experience using linseed oil, or without any thread prep. What’s been your experience with these types of de-tensioning fluids?

Tuesday January 19th 2010, 8:44 am
Filed under: News

I’m getting a bicycle tomorrow* and suspect to be riding it this weekend. It’s a Cannondale CAAD9 4, it comes stock with Rival shifting and Cannondale’s BB30 bottom bracket standard (with SRAM Force cranks). I’m looking forward to it, especially the part of learning more about BB30: what it rides like, what it’s durability is like, what it’s maintenance is all about.

I don’t anticipate this standard will wipe away any opinions I have about good ol’ square tapers, but I do think it will surprise me for the positive. Checking out the several I’ve worked on at the shop the past few months has impressed me a bit already. Installation, while blunt and ungraceful, seems like a piece of cake. Extraction, equally so.

I’ll be happy if it spins even half as smooth and fast as the UN54 that’s been neglected and un-inspected for four + years in my fixie. And I’ll surely be happy if it spins faster than the outboards on the ‘cross bikes in this household. We shall soon see.

* or rather it’s shipping tomorrow.

Taped Up
Monday January 18th 2010, 1:00 am
Filed under: Observational Review

Why do they do this? I like wrapping bars, like cleaning derailleur pulleys or building wheels, it’s one of my favorite things to work on a bike. But when bars are designed like this, it makes me wonder how far up these bars should be taped, does 3T want their logo and model name obscured? Am I missing something? I decided to tape just up to the 3T logo on the left side there, but the model name had to be left half showing on the right. Nice and clean.


How far up to wrap?

They’re not the only ones that do this either, but they come to mind most readily. For instance, these Ergonova Team bars also by 3T have this sharp-looking racing stripe going down the front face of the drops that is just going to get covered by tape. Why bother? Are there any pros out there riding non-taped bars? Is a bareback trend developing that I’m not aware of? Is this why clear, gummy handlebar tape has come around?

Another example of mildly odd bar design are these by FSA, the K-Force handlebar. The oversize bulge steps down abruptly, which is fine, but what’s odd in terms of wrapping, is the angle they chose the step down. It doesn’t meet the angle of the tape equally; it’s just weird. (These bars have cool racing stripes up the drops that also get covered by tape). Sometimes an aesthetic becomes invisible, sometimes it obstructs, either way I scratch my head wondering why.

However, it’s not a big deal really, just a minor curiosity for me. To be sure, the combination of bar and stem on this Cannondale, to me, are especially well-designed. The 3T cutout in the stem being highlighted by the white color band of the bars is particularly hot.

Nice reveal

Winter Garb
Sunday January 17th 2010, 3:21 pm
Filed under: Commuting,Photos

The weather has changed for the better the previous two days. Compared to the bitterness we’ve had in this area the past several weeks, I really hope these 30˚+ temps stay around a little while longer. A stay from rain may be asking for too much, but I’d appreciate that too. (No such luck today). What do I know though, it’s not even spring yet.

See, I ride my bike to work every day. It’s my only mode of transportation here in Louisville; am I a commuter? I guess I am. I really don’t call myself that though; all the multitudes driving their cars to work everyday, do they call themselves commuters? My mode of transportation to work isn’t who I am. I commute to work by bike though, yes. I also run all my errands by bike, and I pretty much occupy my leisure time by bike. My work is bikes, sometimes even my sleep is bikes. Is it an obsession or a passion? Hard to say. Anyway, enough about me, back to this weather!

The past few weeks have been seeing temperatures in the ‘teens but a “feels like” between -1˚ and 6˚so when the mercury skyrockets to 28˚, 32˚, or like yesterday 36˚ the layers start to shed—and thankfully too!


Click the image to get the details of my laundry

Sometimes I justify not riding on the weekend when the weather is less than ideal because I ride everyday when the weather is less than ideal. Is that so “non-cyclist” of me? Am I  being a wuss? At any rate, people riding in inclement or uncomfortable weather has sprouted an enormous market for winter cycling apparel. I’ve been remiss to dive full on into that consumer cesspool. There is certainly an article of clothing that is made specifically for an individual weather system, pinpointed to the day and hour of its occurrence. But who’s got the wallet for that kind of pigeonholing?

As seen from the above photo, I’ve got a few essentials and a few items that swappable dependent on what it looks like outside my door, but for the most part, I’m wearing pretty consistent stuff. That Chrome hoodie has been a godsend. Is it space-age synthetic material to keep the wind, water off of me? No, it’s wool and does just the same. I don’t mind wearing it any other time either, I could just as comfortably be wearing it right now. Even though this one is green, what other piece of clothing do you have that makes you feel like a ninja? Wool socks, wool-like skull cap, wool glove liners. Wool!

For the most part, this isn’t a edict on the benefits of strict wool use; I really use a combination of materials. For instance those Chrome pants, they’re durable (over four years old), they’re comfortable (thicker in the rear-end), they dry quickly, and they’re synthetic. I’m also using other none wool bits. What’s my point?  None really I guess, it’s just me blathering on about what I wear in the cold, how I’m not necessarily an advertisement easily seen in Bicycling magazine (perhaps an ad for Chrome though, eh?). I hope I don’t have to put all this shit on very much more this year, I’ve got the process nailed down to a quick five minutes without over-heating, but still….

Thursday January 14th 2010, 8:39 pm
Filed under: Observational Review

I like new parts on my bike. I like bike components in general. I get excited about them, I enjoy analyzing and figuring out how the manufacturer did things, why they did things, and if I agree either way. I do this, and feel this way, about even some of the smallest, insignificant, and non-tech heavy, inexpensive components. I’m no snob, I’m just a mechanic.

I’ve got a new lever on my ‘cross bike. It now matches (ergonomically) the right-side shift/brake lever. I’m stoked on it, I’m stoked on this mid-level bike. I think it should be deemed higher than mid-level, it probably is. There; I said it; therefore, it is. Why should I be stoked out on a new lever on my bike? Well, because it feels better, it feels right, and just looks right as well. The new bars are rad shit too! FSA Omegas. Shallow drop, because I don’t need to be all deep, nor do I need “ergo bars”. Their bends are garish, and honestly, they feel like they put my hands even further from the levers while in the drops. Shallow feels like my hands are right where they need to be in an aero position. Second choice is the classic curve bar, just like my Cinellis. The Ritchey WCS Classic is right up there too for modern bars. Good stuff.

Back to those levers. Now my ‘cross bike has ergonomically matching levers. I’ll admit, I thought I was all unique by putting a black Tektro left brake lever on my ‘cross bike to run it as a single ring set up. Found out soon enough I wasn’t the only one doing such a crazy stunt. I really just wanted to set the bike up with SRAM Force because a.) the shifter was an ’09 model, b.) due to a. the shifter was inexpensive, and because of—the most important to me—c.) I wanted to experience and experiment with some different road components. Besides, what mechanic rides a stock bike, right? I already know what 105 rides like. But c.) is what I do, but not like how a lot of other folks do it. I wanted to learn more about what riding SRAM is like, what working with SRAM is like, and what durability, reliability, and sexiness with SRAM is like, but once I see all that, I don’t just toss it aside like a half eaten cookie. I learn the most about a product by developing a long-term relationship with it. I’m going to find out how that ’09 shifter works a year or more from now instead of the cursory roll in the hay, the quick in-and-out, that some other mechanics may perform. Which wrench knows more in the end? I’m sure it’s debatable, everything is.

Learn I did, and like I did too. Actually, still learning and liking to this day. SRAM road is cool stuff. I’m pretty sold on it, but this isn’t a review on SRAM shifting, but rather a review on SRAM braking—sort of. Tektro lever out, SRAM 900 single speed brake lever in. The color match isn’t perfect, but the feel is, and honestly that’s infinitely more important. Were I so inclined, I evidently can install front shifting guts inside this brake lever and be able to shift a front derailleur. Were I so inclined—if I had a operable front derailleur. In fact, these single speed brake levers might even be a way to inexpensively replace a SRAM shifter that was crash damaged, i.e. not covered under warranty, i.e. wink wink. You should look into it.


Offering an ergonomically similar brake lever should be something Shimano might want to consider. Does the new Campy have shiftless brake levers available? I know they used to.

Now while I admitted earlier here about not liking ergo bend handlebars, this isn’t to say I think ergonomics are a bad, or unnecessary, thing. Au contraire! I think the big brands are finally figuring out the issues with ergonomics, sticking to the focus we’re discussing here: hands. Shimano and Campagnolo have both released fantastic new grips on their road levers this year past; SRAM, being fairly new, by default did so too. As far as I know, SRAM’s have a couple things the other big two don’t and that’s adjustability, with both the brake lever reach and the shifter lever reach—independent of each other. Thoughtfully executed, and exactly the kind of manufacturing and design feature I totally lose my rocks on.

As far as the actual braking action goes. Snap snap, just like a ‘cross bike should. Were they actually cabled to brakes that stopped on a dime, I wouldn’t doubt for an instant the levers would perform perfectly.

IMG_0172.JPG IMG_0598.JPG

This has been my daily rider for quite a while now, hence the plethora of pictures of it on flickr.

Tuesday January 12th 2010, 7:17 am
Filed under: News

Have lately been conflicted with a bout of writer’s block. Just having trouble resigning myself to sitting in front of the computer lately. In need of some inspiration or something. Maybe the French class or the welding class will do that.

Will return soon.


Thursday December 31st 2009, 8:00 am
Filed under: Anecdotes

As elegant and beautiful as bikes are, they sure are prone to clumsiness when not aided by their human handlers.

Without our constant assistance the bicycle is just an awkward heap of metal prone to the ill effects of gravity. I hate getting so frustrated sometimes battling that.

Oh, Happy New Year, gravity will probably be just as strong next year as it this, let’s all work on balance a little harder!

Ripped & Torn
Sunday December 27th 2009, 11:35 pm
Filed under: News,Photos

Yesterday I took a ride on the Coppi with my wife and a few other people, it was a nice leisure thirty miler. Recently I discovered a grinding noise in the—suspected—bottom bracket. So the night before, I removed the cranks and found that the Chorus sealed cartridge bearing was loose, happily finding the culprit of the noise, I reassembled and confidently took it out for Sunday’s ride with the plan of replacing the bearing during the overhaul I was intending on performing in the next few weeks. Fausto had plans of another sort for me though. On Sunday’s leisure ride, a different noise made itself apparent to me, it seemed located up near the stem or headset. During the ride, periodically I pushed down on the handlebars to recreate and emphasize the sound hoping to pinpoint it better. After the ride, as I was hanging it up, I decided it’s probably just the stem/bar interface and that I’d take care of it during the overhaul.

It was at this point the creaking sound that had been bothering me during the ride revealed itself visually. Hanging the bike up gave me a distinct view of the underside of the top tube—my stomach sank from what I saw: a hairline crack a quarter of the distance from the headset on the top tube, right at the front internal cable routing hole.

Seeing this, a whole slew of thoughts flashed across my mind. First was sadness and mild anger, disappointment across the board. Next was a series of questions, how? When? Who? Me? How and when did this happen? Someone must have sabotaged it, dropped it when they shouldn’t have even been looking at it. Ugh, it was too much to bear—but I overcame all that quicker than I’d imagined; I’m still calm about it too somehow. I love that bike, how it looks, how it rides, and it’s “heritage”. A brief sense of relief was also considered; relief that I didn’t have to get hospitalized at any point on that thirty mile ride. Images of the tube separating while riding, sending me painfully off the bike somehow made me thankful I noticed it visually on my storage rack rather than “physically” wondering what happened as I lay bleeding on the pavement.

Irony is telling me right now that I should have performed that overhaul I’d been planning much sooner. Especially the left side of the bike; this all makes me wonder how much the left side of a bike gets neglected. Who knows how long this crack has been progressing. There is a very small showing of rust on what I would assume the start of it would be; this is obscured however by the brake cable housing entering the port. I only wrecked once on this bike through the three years I’ve had it, and that over a year ago. A thorough inspection was performed afterwards, and nothing was found; perhaps, considering the location of the crack, the beginnings of it were overlooked, a small minuscule stress point that grew in time to the fully compromised crack that showed yesterday. It is nearly half the circumference of the tube, the crack itself looks like it’s literally tearing, probably increased every time I “stressed” the handlebars on the ride yesterday. Wanting to rip and separate completely.

This experience has made me question the integrity of steel for a minute. Especially such thin high-performance steel, like the Columbus Genius grade the Coppi was crafted from. Is it ill-advisable to ride such “vintage” steel like this? Fifteen years isn’t exactly vintage per se, but the question crosses my mind nonetheless. Historically, were internal routing ports like these prone to this type of cracking? Do they offer an easily developable point of stress? In other words, do they weaken the tube? This tubing is thin to be sure, thin and light. At least it didn’t suffer the same fate as my friend’s Coppi: so sad. But some explanation as to what exactly happened would be nice, only the bike knows. Had I jinxed the bike by having thoughts of upgrading/replacement, that’s definitely the only realistic explanation I can come up with.

One of the benefits of steel that I always tout to people is it’s repairability. This, I’m pretty sure, can be fixed. I can get a new replacement tube brazed in. I’d opt to get a new decal set and a pro paint job reapplied. However, just writing this sounds expensive; it’s likely going to be a far far back-burner project unfortunately. So a replacement frame is in order—I’ve begun looking already. Considering the bottom bracket needs replacing, the new frame doesn’t have to be threaded Italian—that’s a silver lining I guess. Maybe I don’t exactly need a crit bike either. Research to be done, decisions to be made.


It’s Eccentric
Monday December 21st 2009, 11:16 am
Filed under: Observational Review

The other day we got a Niner in the shop for a customer. We were all stoked on it, appreciating it’s quality 853 steel construction, nice flake in the paint, and the curve of it’s stays. I had the benefit of assembling it for the customer who had ordered this S.I.R. 9. The website shows a lot of the bike’s attributes, which you can see yourself. I particularly liked some of the company’s “attitude” on the frame, especially the top tube decal: “Pedal Damn It”. The option of running this model as either single- or multi-speeds, with the inclusion of two swappable drop-outs—one with a derailleur hanger—is a nice touch. Part of this frameset included Niner’s own eccentric bottom bracket, dubbed the Bio-Centric.

They seem confident in this Bio-Centric eccentric bottom bracket, but they may have been the only ones the day that bike was put together. Initially and instinctively, I greased the aluminum bottom bracket assembly before installing it in the frame. Greasing the system was immediately deemed incorrect, as there was no way the eccentric would remain in a locked position. Like all good mechanics (wink, wink), I searched for the instructions after assembling the component (found here—PDF link). None were included unfortunately with the frame, I needed to download them from their website. (You’d think if this design was so revolutionary, new, and it’s installation so critical, specific directions would be included with the component). Reading the instructions I learned that the assembly needed to be completely degreased and roughed up with sand-paper, (after roughing it up, I gave it a good cussing out too). The directions then stressed the importance of proper installation with—and here was the shocker to me—teflon tape.

Hey, they have colors too! Image courtesy of WiseRacer Sports.

There is this write-up (actually it’s the same as Niner’s site) that describes how the Bio-Centric is supposed to prevent rounding out the bottom bracket shell. While it does tout the Bio-Centric’s benefits in a pretty convincing light, curious however is the complete lack of mentioning the teflon tape. (Same omission on the videos on Niner’s site). Relying on two layers of teflon tape to keep pedaling and vibratory forces from loosening that smooth aluminum surface around a smooth steel surface just doesn’t seem like enough. The Niner website speaks to their “revolutionary” system as eliminating oval-ized BB-shells and stripped parts and creaking, but isn’t teflon tape attacking those problems in a somewhat flimsy manner? I suspect the bean-counters got in on this component’s design, and sometimes, their advice just doesn’t work out as well as it sounds.

Eccentric Bottom Brackets, hmmm, agreeably a great problem-solving component. These seem reputable enough: Bushnell (which Salsa uses),  Carver (also expansion), and others (er… wow); the so-called “problems” plaguing these designs seems to be a matter of operator error. Niner’s description to me sounds like their biggest focus was on eliminating the creak, a general problem I often find is solved by proper installation and lubrication. Like I said, it’s just a matter of confidence, and teflon tape doesn’t inspire much in my mind unfortunately. Have I ridden it extensively? No. Has it slipped on the bike’s new owner? Not sure. Do I think it will? Again, not sure either way. We’ll have to believe that Niner’s testing proved sound—I look forward to my apprehensions proved wrong. I’m not here selling Niner EBB’s or any other type for that matter, I’m really just curious about the subject is all, and writing this up hopefully brings light to a system that initially seems dubious. Hopefully we’ll have a satisfied customer for a long time on their Niner.


Wednesday December 16th 2009, 8:40 am
Filed under: Observational Review

So, these were the hot brakes to had to have on your ‘cross bike this year. I’ve posted before of the lightness of this line of brakes. As far as mechanics go, they’re just about the same. The same in the fact that they’re both an interesting resurrection of a brake technology that, in many people’s opinion, should have remained “obsolete”.


TRP and any others that have “developed” new brake calipers that utilize the posted-cantilever brake shoe have basically brought back the scourge of mountain bike history. (Over-dramatization intended). Surely, for anyone that has worked in a bike shop has been glad, that the infinitely adjustable cantilever brake has been replaced by more easily adjustable systems for a while. Only to be found on cheap mountain bikes, the kinds of BSO’s that have “Cantilever Brake Technology” written on the chainstays, or, more preferably on nostalgic touring bikes where some Dia-compes or Suntours are being used. Even on the nice ones, a frustrating half hour could be spent adjusting a customer’s bike.

I can’t see how this resurrection can be deemed an advantage in a race (unless it’s just a matter of mere lightness). Perhaps, on the course, where a race likely only lasts an hour, it isn’t a problem; but setting them up sure could be easier. This is a component that requires eight tools to install and set up (not something I’d like to have to tackle in the pits). Interestingly enough, the design foregoes one adjustment in particular, the vertical alignment to the rim’s braking surface. Therefore, if the frame’s canti posts aren’t dead on, you’re going to have your pads hitting the rim at an angle. So why’d we return to this design? Is the shape of the arms merely a factor for lightness, and the posted shoes were the only way to execute it that way? Mechanics want to know!

But how well do they work? I’ve only ridden them on a test ride, and they brake like a cantilever brake does. Lever and cable action feels great, but we’re really just scrubbing speed here, not necessarily stopping on a dime—maybe a half-dollar. They feel a whole lot like my Tektro CR720’s. Yeah, yeah, who needs superior braking power in a race anyway. It only slows you down, and we all know that’s no way to win a race.