Monday, October 29, 2007

On wrenching, or, the sheer audacity of idiots too lazy to learn

There exists a peculiar group herd of inDUHviduals out there who think feel that just because I acquired the skills of a bicycle mechanic, I am obligated to come to their assistance, or, worse still, that my services can be purchased. Nothing is further from the truth.

Let me make this clear: if I like you, I may help you; if I don't, no amount of money/flattery/gifts/food/alcohol/lascivious offers of coitus (or, rather, cooties. Ugh!) would persuade me to render you any assistance.

By the way, this is why I am adamant in my refusal to hire out my services as a bicycle mechanic to bike shops. To do so would mean surrendering my autonomy as I would have to service a customer's bike whether I like him/her or not. Now, before I am chided for being idealistic or naive, two close friends run their businesses in this manner. One of them is the sole owner of a camping outfit with a turnover in excess of a million dollars a year. If he likes you, he deals with you. If he doesn't, you are instructed — in no uncertain language — to take a hike. For what it is worth, Professor Shirley Geok-Lin Lim operates in pretty much the same manner. But I digress.

While I am by no means the best bike mechanic, I am certainly one endowed with freewill. So, if you are whining away about a problem with your bike, and I don't offer to help — don't ask.

Pick up a book. Learn something.
Those who took the time and trouble to learn don't owe you anything.

That is all.

Bike Snob NYC

Announcing the latest addition to my blog roll: Bike Snob NYC. His scathing humor leaves me breathless... in stitches :-D

A sampling:

Infrequently Asked Questions

Why are the woods squeaking?

No, you’re not about to be attacked by spider monkeys. If you’ve noticed recently that your local sylvan refuge sounds like the boxspring of your overly amorous neighbor, this is probably due to the fact that it is full of mountain bikers on dual suspension bikes who don’t maintain them properly. While these contraptions are admittedly complex, it would be nice if these riders would occasionally lubricate their pivots. Or failing that, they should take a cue from your overly amorous neighbor and discover the joys of riding rigid.

I think I need a new bottom bracket. How do I know which type I need?

If you’re not sure what kind of bottom bracket your bike has, use the Samuel L. Jackson method of BB identification. If at the time you bought your bike Sam Jackson was an extremely talented character actor who appeared in films like “Goodfellas,” “Jurassic Park,” and “Patriot Games,” then you have a square taper bottom bracket. If Jackson had already done “Pulp Fiction” and was now getting top billing in films like “Jackie Brown,” “Unbreakable,” and the new “Star Wars” movies, then you probably have Octalink. If your crank is neither Shimano or Campy, Jackson was starting to do movies like “Changing Lanes,” and you were starting to ask yourself, “Is Sam even reading scripts anymore?,” then you’ve probably got ISIS. Finally, if Jackson had completed his transformation to camp-mongering schlockster specializing in B movies with serpentine references like “Black Snake Moan” and “Snakes on a Plane” then you’ve most likely got an outboard bottom bracket system.

If you’ve got a Campy crank, it’s a square taper. Unless your crank is ugly. Then it’s one of those Hirth joint things.

Carbon Fiber Bottle Cage Review

A surprising number of people pay little attention to their choice of bottle cage. But the fact is, most cages are too loose or too tight. For example, how often have you ridden over a rough patch of pavement, only to have your bottles eject themselves from your cages like pilots from a crashing fighter jet? And who hasn’t reached for a bottle only to have to pull and twist to free it, like trying to wrest a rawhide bone from a Rottweiler’s jaws? I know I’ve crashed innumerable times because I came into a turn at speed while pulling at the bottle on my seat tube with both hands.

Enter the Elite Custom Carbon bottle cage. At only $124.99, this cage is engineered with astounding precision, and boasts the kind of manufacturing tolerances that make a Swiss watch seem like a Play-Doh sundial sculpted by a two year-old with his feet. I was lucky enough to test this supermax of cages. So if beverage retention is as important to you as it is to me, you’ll want to keep reading. says of this cage that “Elite puts equal priority on style and bottle security, and you get both in spades here. In a marketplace of Taiwanese knock-offs, the Custom Carbon is the only cage we know of that visually stands apart.” All of this was immediately apparent to me upon receiving the cage, as aesthetically it is simply stunning. The clear coat is so shiny that it looks wet, and it took a thorough examination with my tongue to confirm that the cage was indeed dry. And underneath it was the nicest weave I’ve seen since I got a close look at Johan Museeuw’s head. This is not just a bottle cage, I thought to myself. This is an engineering masterpiece.

Of course, like most carbon fiber products these days, the Elite Custom Carbon has very specific torque specs and must be installed with care. I recommend that you leave installation to a professional, which is what I did, since the recommended bolt torque of .0000297 newton-meters is roughly equivalent to a fly alighting on a pudding skin and is not attainable without laser-calibrated instruments. (I took mine to a neurosurgeon at Columbia Presbyterian.) Because I wanted to compare the Elite to my current metal bottle cage (and because the doctor charged me $17,000 for his labor), I installed only one on the downtube and left my old cage on the seattube. As beautiful as the Elite was, I couldn’t help but be skeptical as to whether it was really worth the money, so I figured a good old-fashioned bottle cage duel was the only way to know for sure.

Well, any doubts I had about the Elite were allayed as soon as I slid my bottle out for the first time. If you’ve ever removed a sterling silver Tiffany letter opener from a velvet pouch, withdrawn a handmade sword from its jeweled scabbard, or taken a bottle of Chateaux Margaux from its rack in a musty wine cellar in Provence, you can begin to appreciate what it’s like to pull a plastic bidon from an Elite Custom Carbon cage and take a swig of cleverly-marketed sugar water. And putting the bottle back in was no less sublime. It’s probably not necessary for me to make any obvious comparisons to putting something hard in something soft, but let’s just say that with the Elite it was impossible not to think about it, and as I rode my carbon fiber frame was not the only thing that was stiff yet compliant.

Well, after just one drink I was sold. Nonetheless, in the interest of objectivity I took a drink from my old cage on the seattube. Before the Elite I had never noticed how poorly my old cage functioned, but now grabbing that bottle felt like uprooting a carrot, and putting it back felt like trying to force-feed medication to a housecat. So if you think a bottle cage is just a bottle cage, think again.

The Bottom Line:

Buy it if: You want to feel like King Arthur pulling Excalibur from the rock.
Don’t buy it if: You want to feel like all those other losers tugging vainly on the handle.

Lots more at his site.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Crank Brothers Eggbeater Damaged Cleat Bolt Removal

While replacing my cleats, I discovered a downside to Crank Brothers' decision to use stainless steel for their Eggbeater cleat mounting bolts.

Although the Crank Brothers cleat mounting bolts remain rust-free compared to the Shimano SPD bolts, the holes for the 4mm Allen keys have caved in. The holes on the Shimano cleat mounting bolts remain intact as they are made from a much harder (non stainless) steel.

There is a type of stainless steel much harder than what Shimano is using, but even if Reynolds is to dramatically lower its price, the sheer difficulty in machining 953 would render the item commercially nonviable.

That 4 mm Allen key is not going to fit in those holes (and a 3 mm Allen key is too small and/or will round the bolt out.)

Drilling the bolts out is one option. But (IMHO) it is a messy operation meant as a last resort.

There is a neater, less risky, and more elegant solution: use a Torx T25 Bit.

While Torx T25 Inserts are more common (and cheaper), they generally only fit into screwdriver bodies; unless you are a chronic wanker porn addict, it is rather doubtful you will possess the necessary grip to break the cleat bolts loose — you need a ratchet.

Use a Socket Torx T25 Bit. It usually comes in 1/4" drive. A ratchet would give you all the necessary torque you need for this operation.

The harder tool steel of the Torx bit cuts through the softer, deformed sides of the Crank Brothers stainless steel bolt hole, while the outer shape of the bit matches the hexagonal profile of the bolt hole. You may use a plastic mallet to force the bit straight in. Note: do NOT pry! The bit is made of hardened steel. I.e. it can't be drilled it out. If you break the bit in the cleat bolt, you are screwed.

Cleats (and bolts) replaced.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A locked out fork, retarded hikers, failed bunny hops, and a big bike

As Guan Peng overslept, the guys decided to meet at 8:30 AM. The extra half-hour allowed me the luxury of firing off a particularly humorous post.

8:45 AM. Guan Peng is still asleep. Here, NicIz2HardKore is deciding which tree he would hang GP from.

I really don't know what is it with park users on this repressed, mollycoddled, schizophrenic, little island. At East Coast Park, jogging and cycling paths are clearly demarcated with signs and pictorial markings — and yet, many park users insist on walking on the cycling path. At the Bukit Timah Mountain Biking Trail, the same phenomenon occurs. Hikers and joggers enjoy access to 5 trails that are off-limits to mountain bikes, and yet, they persist in using the only trail that is open to mountain bikers.

The fact that the mountain biking trail only goes in one direction should give a clue to these hikers. Besides hikers and joggers, clueless teachers from the nearby MOE Adventure Centre regularly bring their charges — which can number up to 30 students in each group — on to the narrow trail.

It is one thing to set a policy where mountain bikers have to give way to the occasional hiker or jogger, but it is another matter altogether when hordes of joggers and hikers clog up a dedicated mountain biking trail, endangering themselves and mountain bikers. On weekends, I encounter more hikers and joggers than monkeys on this trail. It may very well be that the monkeys are more intelligent. Many mountain bikers have crashed whilst avoiding hikers and joggers on this trail.

On sundays, the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is a zoo. While waiting for Guan Peng, we counted at least 8 joggers and hikers coming down the slope by the parking lot (as well as 6 clueless newbies riding the wrong way). On the first descent (i.e. short, steep concrete slope with potholes in the center), a balding, middle-aged man failed to yield immediately, causing me to switch to an undesired line. When I admonished him that this is a mountain biking trail, not a hiking trail, Baldy decided to wait until I was up the other slope — and him, a safe distance away — before he yelled in reply, "GET LOST!"

Mighty brave words, Baldy. Let me see you on the trail again and I might just run you over and perform donuts and figure-of-8s on that shiny pate of yours.

A little later, while descending a slope, Nic had to swerve hard to avoid another pair of clueless hikers. The crash tore the inner tube on his front wheel. He had to replace it at Echo Valley / Dairy Farm Quarry. It is unclear whether Arthur meant Nic has 2 punctures or Nic mowed down 2 stupid hikers. Nic is considering getting some tungsten carbide studded snow tires to shred stupid hikers into little, manageable chunks (think of a wood chipper).

Back at the same place. Here, we are convincing NicIz2HardKore of the feasibility of bunnyhopping the barrier.

RED JERSEY GUY:  It can be done. Hop the 1st barrier, then jump off your bike. This friendly bush will catch you.
ARTHUR:  It will make a great pic!
BEN:  Think, man! If you don't make it, you might be downgraded to Pes F. You may not even have to serve anymore NS.
NIC [Aside] :  Are these guys my friends? I think they're trying to get me killed.


NIC:  Muthafu...!!
ARTHUR:  Smile for the camera!

At Rifle Range Road, I discovered that I had locked out the suspension fork for the entire ride. No wonder I was slipping on all the climbs. Doh!

After a big brunch at Binjai Park (and unsuccessfully trying to con Evie, the Char Siew Pao Babe, into giving the boys a ride back to East Coast), we decided to shed off some mud on Tay Cycle's nice, shiny floor. Here, Nic pulls off a handsfree trackstand on Cloe. At 20.5" (52 cm), Cloe's top tube is the height of Nic's saddle on his 14" (35.6 cm) 1x1 Surly. I.e. any mistake may turn him into a eunuch — this guy is truly hardcore!

Total distance:  cyclo-computer 11.9 miles (19.3 km) / GPS dead
Total elevation climbed:  Altimeter 810 ft (247 m)

Shimano Hub TLC

'Decided to overhaul the Shimano hubs in my stable:

They consist of a pair of 1991 Shimano DX hubs (HB-M650 and FH-M650), a 1996 Shimano LX Parallax Front Hub (HB-M564), and a 1997 Shimano XT Rear Hub (FH-750).

SteveUK posted an excellent write up on this procedure. Click on the image or here.

Tools required

Chain whip
Hyperglide cassette remover
13 mm Cone wrench (front hub)
15 mm Cone wrench (rear hub)
17 mm Cone wrench. The locking nuts of the FH-M750 XT rear hubs come with flanges, regular wrenches won't fit.
Large Adjustable Crescent wrench
Long 10 mm Allen Hex Wrench

I rarely open up my hubs, but when I do, I replace the ball bearings.

Ball bearings come in different grades. The higher the number, the lower the tolerance. I.e. the greater its deviation from the dimensions of a theoretical, perfect sphere. Grade 1000 is too low a grade to be used in Shimano hubs. Grade 100 is acceptable. If memory serves, Shimano uses Grade 45 bearings in their hubs (up to XT). Shimano XTR and Dura-Ace use Grade 25. Enduro has Grade 5 ceramic bearings. Another dealer offers Grade 3 ceramic bearings.

John kindly pointed me to a local business that sells high quality bearings. Located along Jalan Besar, near Singapore Casket (where you can get beds with a lifetime guarantee :-D ), SLS Bearings (S) Pte Ltd is an authorized distributor of SKF bearings. Trivia: Leonardo da Vinci conceptualized the ball bearing around 1500 AD.

Bearings are sold in minimum quantities of 100 pieces. While I do not doubt the quality of the bearings delivered to SLS, their storage procedures seem inadequate. Many bearings were marred from oxidation.

3/16" (4.762 mm) Bearings
Grade 40
Part Number:  NIS RB 4.762 G40
SG$5 (US$3.41) for 100
Inspected:  50
Rejected:  10
Good:  40

1/4" (6.35 mm) Bearings
Grade 40
Part Number:  AKS RB 6.35 G40 (1/4)
SG$6 (US$4.10) for 100
Inspected:  100
Rejected:  61
Good:  39

Inspection was carried out without aid of a magnifying glass or high-powered desk lamp. If I used them, the rejection rate would probably be significantly higher. In other words, buy a lot more than you need.

Note: if you have Dura-Ace or XTR hubs, they come with Grade 25 bearings. I.e. Grade 40 is too low a grade for your hubs. At the very least, you need Grade 25 or better.

Removing the freehub cassette body bolt can be a royal pain in the rear as the 10mm Hex bolt is torqued down to 36 ft/lbs or 50 Nm. Many mechanics end up clamping the 10 mm Allen key to a vise and cranking on the wheel with both hands in order to break the bolt free.

Even at 7 - 15/32" (190 mm), the long Allen key may prove insufficient (without resorting to a vise). Park Tool has an extra long version to address this.

Never one to follow the crowd or convention, I sought another way.

I did it my way! A 16 - 5/8" (422.3 mm) Craftsman 1/2" Drive Flex Ratchet makes short work of the freehub cassette body bolt. With over 8 cm more leverage, at 19 - 13/16 (503.2 mm), the Craftsman 3/4" Drive Quick Release Ratchet is also a great contender.

Overkill? Maybe.
Fun? Definitely.
Why bring a tank to a knife fight?
Because it's fun.
Because it's viscerally more satisfying.
And more importantly, because I can  :-P

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Numbers 22:21 (KJV)

The folks at Bike Works NYC show that it doesn't always have to be a choice between...


or this.

As a wise man once said, "Come to kindly terms with your ass, for it bears you."

Related post:
Cycling, saddles, and impotence.