the setback post

Category: Mechanics

Quill stems


Rickets are better. They allow you much easier, faster skeletal deformity, and treatability (curing the dang disease) is a huge, HUGE deal in comfort. Healthy children are part of the heedless system that now dominates the medical world in First-world countries, but the benefits are mainly for the pharmaceutical companies, not real people. Once you know of your condition, and IF you can get it there with modern medicine, then it’s fine. But it is really hard to get it there, given that most children are sized small and come with limbs that are necessarily too short to lengthen them more than about an inch and three quarters. That’s not enough.

By which I mean to say, anyone that spends $228 on a quill stem is a fucking idiot.

Love’s labours last: pedals and stuff

It’s unclear to me what set of rules my internal bike maintenance schedule abides by. Sometimes something in me snaps, and action must be taken. This time it was the thought of the poor, benighted Speedplays on The Last Bike I Will Ever Buy* experiencing another day of dry, ill-lubricated drudgery.

[*It's titanium. When you buy Ti, you are legally obliged to remind people that it mates for life. Them's the rules.]

So, I got greasy.

Forget your fancy pants grease guns and cartridges of unob-lubium. What you need is a piece of crap plastic syringe off ebay and the grease of your choice. Normally I endorse the use of the el-cheapest of the el-cheapo because it used to come in a tin that even the truly slow of cadence would struggle to misinterpret (it doesn’t anymore, sadly, whatever Amazon may claim):

granville grease

…but on this occasion I had half a syringe of the posh bike stuff to use up, and also it’s much easier to refill the syringe from a tube than from a pot so there’s that.


Servicing these is straightforward and in no way warrants photography, but I know y’all love a bit of screwdriver on screw action:

speedplay service (2 of 2)You people make me sick.

That’s the screw that seals off the grease port. Once it’s removed and in no way lost on the floor, it’s time to play Doctor.

speedplay service (1 of 2)

I’m making this look easy by doing it all nonchalantly and one-handed, but that was just so I could hold the camera. It actually takes a bit of pressure to force grease through the pedal and you’ll probably need both paws – especially if the black plastic bit keeps trying to pop off and squirt grease everywhere like with my pedals.

You’ll know it’s working when grease starts bubbling out around the pedal spindle (next to the “R”, above) and you can stop when it’s coming out clean-ish. I say ish, because I refuse to pump half a litre of grease through on grounds of being a huge cheapskate.

Once completed, the pedals should be smooth and have pretty much zero ‘spin’ when you flick them. Now you can stop feeling guilty about neglecting your bearings and go back to feeling guilty about never bothering to lube your cleats.

I have a love/hate/meh relationship with my Speedplays, incidentally; I like some of their features, principally the non-centering float, but the cleats are fussy and expensive, and the company is, shall we say, difficult to love.**

[**Do your own research.]

Back to bike maintenance.

Since I was on a roll with the Speedplays, I decided to give my SPDs some love, starting with the two pairs of XTRs from the TCX and the XLS and finishing with the horribly neglected pair of cheapies on the Geophysicist’s commuting bike. I’m not writing a guide to servicing these as there are plenty of good ones out there, but I do recommend finding your nearest scientist and borrowing her favourite Christmas-themed tray on which to work:

spd service (1 of 4)

Here’s some more new grease/old grease porn for your delectation:

spd service (3 of 4)

Note the use of Park Tool’s peerless TP-1 (just £19.99 a roll) for general absorption and cleaning purposes.

If, like me,  you are overly enthusiastic and extremely generous with the gooey stuff, you’ll probably end up driving the rubber seal part way out of the lock bolt/spindle assembly. I splashed out on the Park PC-1 for this very eventuality:

spd service (4 of 4)Pro.

So yeah, pedals need love too. You heard it here first.

Campagnolo and the death of hope

This is not a love story.

I fell into Campag quite accidentally. My first serious road bike purchase – after the fixie and the somewhat oversized Cannondale – was from a popular internet retailer, which I’m going to call Wibble. Not for any particular reason, I just like to be ornery. Anyway, it came with a full Centaur groupset.


Ostensibly it was pretty good; it looked expensive with its carbon shifters and it worked well. I had no idea of the rabbit hole down which I’d be lead.

For starters, limiting yourself to Campag compatible wheels greatly complicates and reduces your options. In theory, all the major manufacturers support Campag and have done since Tullio invented the Pret wrap so his jersey pockets could remain unsoiled, or whatever it is he’s famous for.

campagqr (1 of 1)

It’ll come to me.

In practice, third party support for Campag often feels like an afterthought. I had a set of Reynolds MV32 clinchers, which use DT 240s hubs. With the correct DT freehub fitted, a perfectly straight hanger, and a correctly set up rear derailleur, the mech would gently ‘kiss’ the driveside spokes in the biggest cog. This was with a 10 speed cassette. Given that Campag’s 11 speed cassette overhangs the base of the freehub even more, I don’t see how it could ever have worked. The internet is littered with the accumulated angst of a hundred similar problems.

Also, kittens.

Back to the Centaur. Most of the time it shifted fine but sometimes, it just wouldn’t. It took me a long time to figure out what was going on; it seems that by buying a bike in 2009 I’d unwittingly volunteered to be a guinea pig for one of a series of rolling changes Campagnolo was making to its product lines. Some critical details of the shifter internals were changed and long story short, they fucked up. In tacit acknowledgment of this, Campag actually made an upgrade kit (the memorably named EC-CE110) but it was only available for five minutes and I was too busy lancing saddle sores to notice.

Anyway, like I said, it worked most of the time. So like a good roadie, I put up with a little adversity.

Andy Hampsten Gavia

The snow is a metaphor for Italian engineering. Photo: Sirotti via Cycling News

Roll on 2011 and, dutiful gear-o-tard that I am, I built myself an honest to goodness titanium bike-for-life-not-just-for-Christmas and what did I choose as a groupset? Why, Campag of course – Veloce. Specifically, the new shiny downgraded Veloce featuring Power Shift (TM) levers and Power Torque (TM) cranks. Ah yes, those.

Again, on paper Veloce was a really good buy. It was cheap and in its defense, it’s quite nicely finished and the shifting is ok. Well, the rear is. The front is pretty agricultural.

agriculture (1 of 1)

Gratuitous cow photo.

But the cranks? The cranks are really stupid. When Campag released this system there weren’t even any official tools for removing the chainset. You could install them no problem, assuming you had a totally standard and in no way unusual and massive 14mm allen key lying around. Removing them, on the other hand, requires an automotive style gear puller of the kind literally no bike mechanic owns.

Two years down the line, various tools are now available, with the Park version (a combination of the CBP-3 and CBP-5) costing around £100 at the time of writing. In comparison, a Shimano Hollowtech II chainset needs a £2 preload cap tool, a 5mm allen key, and a mallet to remove.

At some point I decided that my astonishing souplesse demanded the fitting of a compact in place of my standard double, and in any case I was sick of my cranks bearing mute metallic witness to my mechanical impotence, mocking my inability to remove them. I refused to buy the proper tools as this was to be a one time job, so with an £8 gear puller from a well known auction site, some odds and ends, and a lot of swearing and wincing, I got that fucker off and sold it.


Photo: AFP via Cycling News

As an interim measure, I’ve replaced the Veloce monstrosity with an older Centaur Ultra-Torque (TM) chainset. UT comes with its own drawbacks, but at last it’s easy to take on and off whilst I plot Campag’s demise.

Does any of this matter? Of course not. But it’s symptomatic of a company that frequently outdoes itself in its defiance of common sense. When Campagnolo introduced 11 speed in 2008 they stipulated that their chains could only be joined using their own chain tool (retail circa £150) because of the need to peen the end of the joining pin. Soon enough third party joining links became available, but naturally such an idea is far too simple for the likes of Campag.

Then came the Power Torque (TM) fiasco and most recently, in response to the plethora of crank and bottom bracket standards, Campagnolo thought it could do better and launched Over-Torque (TM). Would this be a study in mechanical simplicity? A paean to the company’s engineering heritage? Would it fuck. Yes, it’s light and stiff and carbon and whatever, but it requires yet another overpriced proprietary tool.

Don’t get me wrong. Campag makes and has made some beautiful components, but I’m done here.

Jonah and the disc brake: TRP Spyre recalled

It’s a safe assumption that if I express an interest in a product it will immediately either cease to be available or suffer some sort of critical failure. So naturally, it is no surprise that TRP (Tektro) has recalled the lovely looking Spyre disc brake. Every single one.

Full details here.

TRP Spyre

Photo: Tektro via Bikeradar

Shimano Pressfits and the Naming of Things

Like all spanner grouches I have various axes to grind when it comes to press fit bottom brackets, but I’m not going into that now. This is about nomenclature, or the lack thereof.

A great many mainstream road bikes and mtbs (cf. Scott, Giant etc.)  are specced with Shimano pressfits, variously described as “Shimano Integrated”, BB86, BB92, BB71, BB91 and countless other helpfully similar alphanumeric combinations. They’re all talking about things that look like this:

Looks pretty innocent, amirite? (Photo from the Haribo hounds at Wiggle)

Park Tool has a pretty good article on dealing with these bad boys, but it skips rather quickly over the naming confusion. Shimano further muddies the waters by using the codes SM-BB71 and SM-BB91 which are product hierarchy designations (like groupset levels), and not the names of different standards.

Essentially, Shimano pressfits fit Shimano Hollowtech II cranks (which have a 24mm spindle) into bottom bracket shells of 41mm diameter with a width of 86.5mm (road) or 89.5/92mm (mtb). The 86.5 and 92mm dimension give rise to the BB86/92 name. The cups themselves appear to be identical between road and mtb, the only difference being the length of the plastic tube doohickey in the middle.

You’ll sometimes hear people call the Shimano pressfits “BB90″, which is extremely misleading. BB90 (or BB95 for mtbs) is a Trek proprietary standard that is completely different. Although it also accepts 24mm spindle cranks, it uses ‘slip-fit’ bearings that sit in recesses moulded into the bottom bracket, a system which probably seemed terribly elegant when the engineers drew it in CAD but which is a pain in the arse in practice.

By the way, Shimano isn’t the only company that makes bottom brackets to fit 41×86.5/89.5/92mm shells, but if you have a Shimano cranks then you’ll keep things simple if you stick with their product. SRAM have their own version to match their cranks, and there are expensive third party options too if you like that sort of thing:

If you’re too lazy to read all that, here’s the short version:

  • BB86 and BB92 are both the ‘Shimano standard’ using the same cups but with different shell widths, to accept Hollowtech II cranks.
  • BB71 and BB91 are two levels of the same Shimano standard, and are not bottom bracket standards themselves.
  • BB90/95 is a different, Trek specific standard that you only need to know about if you have a Trek.
  • If you don’t have Shimano cranks, you probably didn’t need to read this.