Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Interbike 2008, How to Clean and Lube a Chain in Three Minutes, How to Clean a Derailleur in Ten Seconds, and More....

Tracking data indicates that the less frequently I update this blog, the more people read it. I've been riding that trend since July, but today I've decided to throw caution to the wind and post what amounts to an "Interbike Issue" of Maintain That Ride. It's a long one, so if it doesn't fit into your lunch, study, or bathroom break, please go ahead and bookmark it using one of the many buttons to the right, and while you're at it, please go ahead and subscribe as well. It'll make your bike ride more smoothly, I promise....

And if you find it so long that you decide to go for a ride before you read, enter your location into the weather tool to the right, get your weather, and then click on the "What Lube To Use" link under the weather tool, and get your lube. I want to make sure that you have a smooth ride, so that you're ready for the....

Yeah, I was in the Show. I was in the Show for 21 days once - the 21 greatest days of my life. You know, you never handle your luggage in the Show, somebody else carries your bags. It was great. You hit white balls for batting practice, the ballparks are like cathedrals, the hotels all have room service, and the women all have long legs and brains…they throw ungodly breaking stuff in the Show, exploding sliders…

-Crash Davis, from Bull Durham

In my case, working as a rogue know-it-all for Finish Line Technologies, I was in the Show for 7 days rather than 21, handled my luggage whenever possible to avoid paying to have it handled, worked on race bikes that are usually lost in the distances of magazine photos, stood under a vast, cloudless sky, and as for the women….let’s just say they all have legs that can put out more power than yours, a stronger core, and a tactical sense and focus that causes you to run out of sample product long before you should. We’re talking about women like Selene Yeager, whose nom de guerre, The Fit Chick, says it all. On the second morning of the Outdoor Demo, I recognized her by dint of her short, black hair and a chiseled trapezius uncommon among cyclists. I said “You’re the Fit Chick, aren’t you?” She replied, “Yes, I am. Kona’s coming up…” meaning, “This is not a stroll through the Demo grounds. It’s a recovery workout. Don’t interrupt and thanks for reading my column.” We’re talking about a different kind of Show. We’re talking about


Or “Vegas,” as industry insiders refer to it, after the city whose suitability for hosting a cycling trade show has been under fire for years now, though I don’t really know why, since the hotels are so huge that the right booking allows you to sleep at altitude and train at sea level…anyway, it’s moot now, since Interbike management recently signed an agreement with the Sands to remain in Vegas for another three years .

And perhaps it’s just as well, at least in a larger, metaphorical sense. It’s Sin City, after all, a place engineered to provide desire with the objects it can’t find elsewhere. Believe me when I say that Interbike fits right in. I’ve been back for three weeks now, but my mind is still reeling.


This year, Finish Line, for the first time in a storied relationship with Interbike that includes a house party visited by local law enforcement, decided to have a presence at the Outdoor Demo, headed by none other than yours truly. After all, who else would be willing to stand outside all day in the scorching heat, trying to explain to retailers the differences between dry, wet, wax, and ceramically reinforced lubes while trying to keep all four from combusting right there in front of them.

The thing is, The Outdoor Demo is just that, a demo, a place to demonstrate by giving visitors the opportunity to try things out, and Finish Line doesn’t really have any products that can be tried out, in the direct sense of the word, like a bike. And we weren’t the only ones. In fact, other than the bike companies and energy drink companies that were good enough to open up and let it flow, there weren’t many companies that were able to draw visitors to their booths, or keep them there when they did.

In that regard, we were actually more successful than most, thanks in part to the loquaciousness of my sidekick Eric “Shorty” Short, glad-hander and ‘cross racer extraordinaire. However, in order to demonstrate as best as possible, we also decided to team up with certain bike companies and help them with the dirtier aspects of prepping their bikes for visitors to ride. This included cleaning and lubing chains, and washing down and polishing frames, so that visitors could see the products in use, and effectively try them out by trying out the bikes we were using them on.


In the end, I probably spent the most time with Cervelo, followed closely by Trek. We also worked with Felt, Redline, Surly, Yeti, Masi, and others.

When it comes to cleaning, lubing, and polishing, I’ve always found that road bike maintenance requires a greater degree of detail than mountain bike maintenance, not because road bike equipment is necessarily more sensitive, but because the irregularities caused by careless maintenance are more noticeable. On a road bike, especially on blank roads that disappear into the desert, you have nothing to focus on other than your suffering and the relative efficiency of your bike….

In the case of Cervelo’s beautifully formed carbon road bikes, I wanted to make certain that the drivetrains disappeared into the background of the bike as much as possible. So I cleaned the chains with a Chain Cleaner using Multi Degreaser, which, unlike any citrus degreaser, is guaranteed to be safe on all plastic resins and rubber, and is biodegradable so that I could pour it out of the chain cleaner without harming the bizarre ecosystem known as the desert.

I then sprayed the chain down with Speed Clean Turbo Spray, not so much to degrease it any more, since the Chain Cleaner and Multi had already done that as thoroughly as possible, but to blast any remaining dirt from out of the links, dry it off, and prep the metal to ensure maximum lubricant adhesion. Generally speaking, Speed Clean dries immediately, but this was especially true in the desert air. Once I swayed back to the relative shade of our booth, I wasn’t going to return to Cervelo’s, so I wanted to make sure that those chains wouldn’t need a second coat of lube, no matter how many people rode them.

Finally, I lubed the chains with the superlatively smooth, ceramically reinforced Pro Road, soon to be called Ceramic Wet, in contrast to Ceramic Wax. More on those in a coming post….
Anyway, here’s what it looked like, kind of....

Now, keep in mind that by this time I had been kneeling on gravel in direct desert sunlight for almost three hours, as if in homage to Vroomen-White Design, cleaning and lubing chains, blissfully unaware of my progressively worsening electrolyte levels. So you’ll have to forgive the slurred speech, and my continued insistence, to no one in particular, that these are the best bikes in the world.

Instead, what I hope you’ll take away from this video clip is that I filled a Finish Line Chain Cleaner, cleaned a chain with it, emptied the Chain Cleaner out, blew the chain out using Speed Clean, and lubed it – all in under three minutes, all the while explaining what I was doing. So please don’t tell me that you don’t have time to clean your chain, or use a chain cleaner, or whatever. And believe me when I say that those chains were perfectly clean and lubed when I was through with them, as this photo, if not the video, will attest:

Nothing less will do for the best bikes in the world…
And no, I didn’t get to work on the Cervelo P4 It wasn’t introduced until a couple of days later, but I doubt I would have been able to get my hands on it anyway.

As for Trek, most of the work I did on their bikes, including the supple, lightweight Top Fuel 9.9 SSL shown here:

came at the end of the second day, when they were breaking down the fleet and preparing to move off of the Demo grounds, and most of it involved Speed Clean, which, rather fortuitously in this case, now comes with a feature called Turbo Spray. Essentially, what this means is that the degreaser now comes out at about the same high pressure as air out of a compressed air gun, which every shop mechanic knows is the tool of choice for blowing dirt out of parts with inaccessible interiors, or out of any part at all, depending on the mechanic. Here’s what I’m saying:

The pool of liquified grime left behind is actually kind of lovely, a rear derailleur fleur du mal....

I believe I referred to the Turbo Spray feature of Speed Clean, perhaps implicitly, in two of my earlier posts, the one with instructions on how to overhaul sealed bearings , and the one with instructions on how to overhaul a Dura-Ace Octalink bottom bracket. Anyway, it was a good thing I had one of those new Turbo Spray cans and was able to get the chains fully cleaned without needing to take the time to brush them down, because Dave and the rest of the demo crew were absolutely flying through those bikes. They were so scary professional and well-coordinated that the demo fleet practically melted before my eyes, a process no doubt accelerated by their desire to get the hell out of there, wash up, and hit the Interbike parties.

As for the rest of the Outdoor Demo, if there were ever any questions about what a dry lube is, and in what conditions it should be used, the dust, dirt, and dry desert air of Bootleg Canyon answered them. I don’t know if it was a particular quality of the dust in that region, or if the perfectly dry air was actually able to evaporate certain ingredients in the lubes that had been used on the chains, but those chains ran dry faster than any I’ve ever seen. I’ll have to remember to ask Hank for his thoughts on what caused it….

Although we used Pro Road on the Cervelo, Felt, Trek, Masi road bikes, we used Dry Lube, also known as Teflon Plus, on everything else, which is to say on all of the mountain bikes. The “dry” part of Dry Lube actually refers to two things. First of all, the primary lubricant, Teflon, exists only as a dry solid. It’s applied to the chain in a carrier fluid that evaporates almost immediately, leaving behind a dry film. Second of all, it’s the perfect lube for dry conditions like the ones in Bootleg Canyon, because there’s no rain to wash it off the chain, so it doesn’t need any oil to resist water. This means that it doesn’t pick up nearly as much dirt, and keeps the chain clean.

Woe indeed to the bike companies that didn’t listen to us on the first day of the Outdoor Demo, and used either an oil instead, or worse, nothing at all. By the morning of the second day their bikes were coming to our booth with their chains crying out for lube, in a manner that, to our deranged, dehydrated brains, seemed not unlike a scene from Oliver Twist (replace “food” with “lube”). The riders of these bikes were embarrassed, and in some cases rather…reserved in their evaluations of the bikes’ overall ride quality.

This was the case with Felt, whose booth adjoined ours, and whose mechanics politely accepted the care products we gave them on the morning of the first day, then came running back for more the following day when the screams became too much to bear. I recall their Team Six in particular, creaking under the legs of a rider who enjoined us to, “Please, please give this bike some lube.” (the photo was taken right next to our booth). Not only did we fulfill his request, we cleaned it up with Bike Wash and Showroom Polish and Protectant. It’s way too sleek a frame to leave looking dirty.

I also used Dry Lube to lube the chains on the Trek fleet after I cleaned them with Speed Clean Speed Clean. Generally speaking, it’s my “safety lube:” if I want to rest in the knowledge that a chain is well-lubed but will also remain clean, I use Dry.


Lesson One

Here’s something I noticed while cleaning those chains….being the best bikes in the world, the Cervelos were equipped with either SRAM Force or Shimano Dura-Ace drivetrains, depending on the model, and had in neither case been ridden more than a couple of times. Now, the Finish Line Chain Cleaner comes equipped with a removable magnet in its base, to pull metal shavings out of the cleaning solution and keep it from becoming abrasive. Given that the chains on the bikes were practically new, I was surprised to find that the magnet was retaining a small but significant pile of metal shavings, when I wouldn’t have expected any at all. It occurs to me that utilizing a chain cleaner on the first cleaning of a chain, rather than wiping it down with a rag, even if it doesn’t appear necessary, might well prevent premature wear on the chain by removing those initial shavings….

Lesson Two

This one isn’t so much something I learned at the Outdoor Demo as one I was reminded of by the practically continual squeal of disc brakes in the distance. If you’re running discs, don’t use a spray lube on your chain. It’s almost impossible to avoid getting the lube on your rear rotor, almost impossible to get it off once it’s on, and almost impossible to avoid fouling your brake pads, which you won’t be able to clean, and will have to replace. If you do get lube or any other contaminant on your rotors and notice it before you’ve actually depressed the brake lever, take the wheel out immediately and clean the rotor with Speed Clean. It’s one of the intended uses of the product, and will get the lube off so that you can spend your scratch on burritos instead of brake pads.

Lesson Three

If you’re going to ride in a desert climate, buy a bottle of Hammer Nutrition’s Endurolyte Capsules and take them with you. You never know when you’ll run out of energy drink and have only water to drink, and believe me when I say that the resulting imbalance in your electrolyte levels can leave you stupefied. I’m not sure if the fellow with the handlebar moustache on the High Wheel bicycle was ever really there, but I do know that he disappeared with a wave and a “tally-ho!” once I took a couple of Endurolytes. Thanks, guys….


I wish I could do what all people who didn’t go to Interbike expect from those of us who did, which is list here all the products that haven’t already made it into the daily Interbike updates that every online publication continues to offer almost a month after the show, even while swearing that the latest update will be the last. I wish I could provide my readers with photos revealing features of products that no one else, not even the engineers who designed them, knew existed. But one of the things I found out the hard way at Interbike was that the rights of the cycling media are heavily guarded. We got dubious looks even while shooting the video at Cervelo, and were doing it with the permission of Fabio, Tim, Dave, and the rest of the Cervelo crew, and using our own products, and a camera I bought new for $80 three years ago that hardly looks like professional equipment.
So in the end, all we got was the shot of the Trek Top Fuel that you saw earlier, which caused all kinds of recrimination from the Outdoor Demo staff until Trek intervened, and this shot of TRP's carbon ‘cross brakes, courtesy of Shorty’s gift of gab and his relationship with the guys at TRP:

I think it’s neat that they’re carbon and all, but…they have a cable adjuster on the brake arm. My Paul’s Neo-Retros, bless their little souls, don’t, and I have to choose between either running them looser than I’d like, or running them tight and not being able to open them to do a wheel change. I mean, I’ve worked around it by installing cable adjusters elsewhere, at the stop, inline within the cable housing, etc., but….a cable adjuster on the brake arm…


Besides, as an exhibitor for one of the smaller companies in the cycling, all you really get to see anyway is what you take in on your way from your booth to the bathroom and back, or from your booth to the sandwich stand where a croissant with turkey, lettuce, and a slice of cheese costs ten dollars. The rest of the time is spent explaining the details of your products, fielding criticism, writing orders, and stretching out your quads. By the end of the day, it’s downright hilarious to look around and see everyone standing around on one leg, with one heel pulled up to its corresponding cheek. The only exceptions are the Park Tools employees, who get to stand on the most luscious flooring you’ve ever stood on in your life. Whenever I had to walk to a different part of the floor, I made it a point to cross their booth, until they finally noticed and told me to use the aisles.

Don’t you just want to stand on that? The photo is from the Park Tool website, and was actually taken at Interbike 2005, but the flooring is the same. As they say in the caption, “The flooring defines our space, and it goes down first….”
Though I have to say that, Sands "deluxe" flooring aside, the Finish Line booth looked damned good….

Tight, no? That’s largely the consequence of Finish Line’s decision to coordinate the colors of their products to make it easier for you, the consumer, to identify them and decide which are most suitable for your ride, and for you, the shop employee, to make it easier to sell them. Since the latest tracking info shows that neither one of you is actually reading this, I feel comfortable addressing both of you at once…
Naturally, Finish Line is also trying to sell its products, but mostly it’s trying to make things easier all around, so that the focus remains on the quality of the product, and not on, say, the label. Besides, retailers are not easily parted from their money by the mere sight of a bright, happy display. The bike shop owners and employees are the ones whose presence is the reason for Interbike in the first place, and they know it. You can tell which ones have been hardened by years of walking the Interbike floor in the way they studiously avoid the hard sellers and those made desperate by their products’ lack of commercial viability. Some of the pitches you hear are absolutely outrageous, but I won’t specify, because in the end, I remain convinced that practically everyone in the cycling is a good, enthusiastic person and means well, and no number of hopelessly fragile aluminum adapters is going to change that.
I was a good boy in Vegas, really, but I still don’t recall a lot of what was talked about in the booth, mostly because I was so badly dazed by the desert. However, I do recall two things in particular.
The first was an overwhelming interest in Fiber Grip, a fairly new product designed to create friction between carbon parts in order to reduce slippage. What surprised me about that was that even though it’s a new product for Finish Line, it’s not really a new product category. “Friction pastes,” as they’re commonly called, have been around in one form or another for a couple of years now. Naturally, I’m convinced as always that Finish Line’s contribution is the best, in this case because it works as well when the surfaces it’s applied to are carbon-on-carbon as it does when they’re carbon-on-aluminum, -titanium, and –steel, meaning that it has a wider range of use than the competition. As a shop mechanic, I also appreciate the fact that it’s clear, meaning that it’s less visible if you accidentally smear it on a part of a bike that it’s not intended for. It was recently mentioned in Bicycling magazine, in an article by Ron Koch about one of the most overlooked and poorly maintained parts on your bike, the generally stout, generally uncomplaining seatpost:
It seems that Bicycling has a healthy obsession with seatposts. Not all that long ago, Arone Dyer, writing for Bicycling, described in painful, dare I say wrenching, detail what can happen when a seatpost is not properly lubricated prior to installation. Her article is about seizing rather than slipping, and she refers to metal posts, not carbon ones, so she recommends the use of Finish Line Anti-Seize Assembly Lube as a means of circumventing the horrible consequences of a seized post. I reference the article in the July post of this blog....
Anyway, one reason for the overwhelming interest in Fiber Grip turned out to be that the corresponding offering from one of Finish Line’s competitors causes seizing when used on carbon-on-aluminum. The first person to inform me of this was the representative of a company that recommends use of a friction paste on all of its products, and the second, third, fourth, and so on were shop employees who’d had the great misfortune of repair and installation customers coming back, demanding that the shop replace parts that had seized and could no longer be separated without damaging them. Because I’m a stand-up guy, I won’t say which competitor it is whose product is causing this kind of seizing, but I will say that ours won’t.
The other thing I recall is how many visitors to the booth asked what we recommend as a ‘cross lube. I’ll go into more detail about why in my next post, but for now, my answer is Pro Road This surprised a lot of people, since Pro Road contains oil and will therefore pick up more dirt than, say, Dry Lube or Wax Lube.
The thing is, you need to clean a ‘cross bike a lot more than you do a road or even a mountain bike, because you’re using what are essentially road parts in an environment normally reserved for mountain bike parts, at the sloppiest time of the year, on courses designed to be…sloppy. You wouldn’t ride your ‘cross bike twenty times through a sand pit and not clean it, now would you?
Consequently, the criterion for a ‘cross lube’s cleanliness comes down to how clean it stays on a given course over the period of about an hour, which can be very different from how clean it stays over six hours, or ten. And you have to consider its cleanliness in the context of how well it holds up in wet conditions, and how slick it keeps the chain. And it has to be versatile, since variety is the essence of a good ‘cross course….
And when I take all of that into account, I arrive at Pro Road. I used it on a ride this morning here in Ithaca, New York, where we have slick, tacky mud that was at its slickest and tackiest after a night of rain, sleet, and snow, with morning temperatures holding steady in the low 30s. It worked wonderfully, kept my chain so silent that I could hear the first snow falling off of the branches as I rode through them. When I cleaned my chain, the lube came off with way more ease than a wax lube would have, and it left the metal gleaming, which is one of the qualities of Pro Road that I like the most: it actually treats the metal, gives it a slick sheen that never really goes away, regardless of what you ride through, or what you use to clean it off.
While I’m on the subject….that the ride I described above was about as raw as it gets for me right now. It had it all, wind, a cold rain, steep, slippery climbs, missed turns, flat tires, not nearly enough to drink or eat, and, finally, exhaustion. By the end of it, in order to make it back, I had to pretend I was
On the first morning of the indoor part of Interbike, I stepped into a dimly lit elevator, and saw, in the shadows, a man who was obviously a fellow Interbike exhibitor, head down, fiddling with his Blackberry. I did what every exhibitor does when confronted with other exhibitors, which was look for the Interbike badge identifying the company he worked for. He didn’t have one, so I looked at the name embroidered on his shirt instead. It said “Museeuw.” At that very moment the man looked up, having awoken from his Blackberry to notice me staring at his shirt, and a shock ran through me. It was the Lion of Flanders himself.
“Steady, now, Stephan.” I thought. “Steady….” Luckily, in the course of following the daily media reports coming out of Interbike, I had that very morning read Lennard Zinn's notes on Museeuw’s new line of carbon fiber bikes reinforced with flax. Obvious jokes aside (“a good bike for the constipated”) reinforcing carbon fiber with flax has been a practice in automotive engineering for years now, and Museeuw’s company is adapting that technology to frames. On the basis of that, rather than “Oh my God it’s you,” I began a conversation with the Lion, ranging from his bikes, to Interbike in general, and, finally, to Paris-Roubaix. “I’m Johan,” he said, extending his hand.

At Interbike, it’s not uncommon to take a trip to the bathroom and run into Eddy Merckx, Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton….there are any number of names casting long shadows down the convention center aisles. I noticed that one’s perceived coolness and understanding of cycling in general was evaluated in direct relation to how coolly one handled these chance encounters, specifically how readily one dismissed them. “Oh yeah, that’s Eddy. He’s here every year….”

I am not cool. For that, I have too great a weakness for the stories of perseverance that make cycling so achingly beautiful, the manner in which those stories dovetail with narratives of locales, histories, and Marian apparitions. I ran into the Lion three more times after that, entirely by coincidence, once for each of his victories in Paris-Roubaix. Each time he laughed and said, “You again,” and I replied, “You won’t drop me that easily.”

So I’d like to conclude with a Youtube homage to Museeuw’s last Paris-Roubaix win in 2002, when he won the Hell of the North for the third time. It’s a magnificent video, and the fact that someone took the time, effort, and emotion to put it together means we’re not alone....

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Rudge, Bike Works NYC, and How To Overhaul a Dura-Ace BB7700 Octalink Bottom Bracket


photo by Bike Works NYC


That captivating chainwheel belongs to a Rudge cottered crank from the early 1900’s. Rudge was a renowned British bicycle manufacturer of antiquity, or at least of what passes for antiquity in the history of bicycles. Rudge produced all of the parts on its bikes, right down to the bearings, and incorporated the hand logo into most of them, always as elegantly as possible. The origin of the logo itself was the Red Hand of Ulster, which was used, in the manner of an emblem, by British families of Northern Irish origin. If I’ve piqued your curiosity, take a look at this.

I’m using the photo courtesy of the good wrenches at Bike Works NYC, the “Lower East Side Cycling Center,” who collected it and others like it into an archive on their website that you’ll have to see to believe. I could provide you with a direct link to the chainwheel archive, which itself is divided into chainrings and chainwheels because, as we all would pretend we knew, they’re not the same, but that would dishonor the way in which both the website and the shop are set up, namely, to browse, and hopefully find what you weren’t looking for. However, I will fold and provide you with this direct link to their chainwheel kaleidoscope .

And of course, if you find yourself on the Lower East Side, stop in. It’s a crazy, classic shop, like Kraynick’s in Pittsburgh, or Citybikes in Portland, that makes you want to browse, sit on the curb with a cup of coffee, or just close your eyes and feel, well…bikey. Track racers and fixed-gear aficionados will feel especially welcome, but trendy wendys beware….


Actually, it’s a creak, a click, and an occasional crunch, and it’s my bottom bracket, which I have studiously avoided overhauling for well over a year now, or maybe two, or three….

And all because overhauling a bottom bracket is one of the dirtiest, most painful acts of bike maintenance there is, not to mention that I happen to have one of the only bottom brackets that can make that act even more painful by virtue of its very design: the dreaded Dura-Ace Octalink.

Not the Octalink II, mind you, with its external sealed bearings and proud ways. No, I'm talking about its short-lived predecessor, the Octalink, with its two sets of needle bearings and two sets of ball bearings, all of which have the habit of falling out of their retainers and disappearing forever the moment you open the assembly.

The thing is, Shimano's components are engineed and produced to the tightest tolerances possible, especially at the higher end, which is one of the reasons why I've always used Shimano on my own bikes. The Dura-Ace Octalink bottom bracket is no exception, and when it's properly lubricated, installed, an adjusted, it it allows its rider to stretch maintenance intervals to their breaking point with no conspicuous drop in performance.

Alas, this work can wait no more: yesterday afternoon, after meticulously cleaning and lubing my chain, which is to bike maintenance what paying minimum balances is to credit cards, I placed my hand on my bike and asked it once again if it would turn its cranks for me. And this time, from deep inside, came a tiny reply: “no.” I tried anyway, and the cranks turned a quarter turn halfheartedly, then stopped.

Which puts me in mind of a story my father once told me….


Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess named BB7700. Though of royal birth, BB, like all 7700’s, was given a task to perform, in her case nothing less than the creation of momentum from motion. Though she carried out her task without complaint, and with joy in her heart, she was shunned by the rest of her family, who hated her for her narrow q-factor, and abused her, telling her that she was finicky and refused to adjust despite their best efforts. Finally, she was made to live in darkness, and toil in water, dirt, and grease.

A year passed, or maybe two, or three, and BB’s suffering grew boundless. First her ball bearings roughened in their endless rotations, then her needle bearings, then her spindle, until she was sure her races were damaged beyond repair. Finally, her heart broke, and she seized, and would turn no more. She slept, and dreamt of the day when she would spin again, twirling around and around and around in smoothness and light.

One day, three degreasers of the Finish Line family came riding along. Their names were Citrus, Multi, and Speed Clean, and they were followed by their prince, Teflon-Fortified Synthetic Grease, a tacky fellow, to be sure, but unfailingly smooth. Weary from their journey, they finally came to


What follows here is instructions on how to overhaul a Dura-Ace BB7700 Octalink bottom bracket.

But first, a disclaimer: my intention is to offer my opinion on how to overhaul the above bottom bracket, not on how to extract it, disassemble it, upgrade its bearings to ceramic, reassemble it, or modify it in any way. It’s not because of liability issues or anything like that, just that overhauling it is already more than enough for this post. It’s work you have to obsess over, because even though the bottom bracket sees the highest stresses at the highest frequencies in the dirtiest conditions of all the parts on a bike, the time and effort required to extract it mean that it also gets the least maintenance.

And that’s too bad, because a dirty, poorly adjusted bottom bracket can create massive amounts of drag. Even if you have a sealed bearing bottom bracket like the Octalink II, you should overhaul it regularly, as described in the instructions for overhauling a sealed bearing I provided in my June post.

Anyway, because it’s work you have to obsess over, and because this bottom bracket in particular consists of many different parts made with different materials, I feel the use of all three Finish Line degreasers is justified, because they actually take care of things more efficiently than any one of them alone, and they work together to provide the best results.

To begin with – and this the only thing I’ll say about extracting the bottom bracket – always make sure to clean out the splines on the bottom bracket lockrings and cups, as well as the splines on the bottom bracket tool:

Bottom brackets can be almost impossible to extract, and often require considerable leverage to crack free. If the splines on the bottom bracket and the tool are dirty, you run the risk of the tool slipping under torque and absolutely destroying the splines, and with them any hope of extracting the bottom bracket without considerable cost and effort. This is true even if you use one of the many improvised tools at your disposal to keep the tool in place on the splines.

With that said, let’s put on some soothing music and get started. By the way, I don’t mention it in the instructions, but the stiff wire brush I use to clean out the cups and the races is part of Finish Line’s superlative Brush Set, which I love and use all the time, especially during ‘cross season.

The Scribd player below contains my instructions in the form of a Powerpoint 07 presentation (.pptx), though you don't need Powerpoint to view it. You can view it as a slide show, book, or in tiles, you can zoom in or out, and you can view it full screen, though when you're done viewing it in full screeen, you'll need to click the back button on your browser to return to this post. If you really like it, you can go to Scribd's website and download it for your own use.

Read this document on Scribd: bottom bracket overhaul

And Princess BB7700 and Prince Teflon-Fortified Synthetic Grease were married and spent the rest of their days spinning blissfully ever after.


To end with – and this is the only thing I’ll say about reinstalling the bottom bracket – use Finish Line Antiseize Assembly Lube when reinstalling the bottom bracket, instead of grease, Permatex, or Teflon plumber’s tape, all of which work, sort of, but not as well. Use gloves, and apply it to the threads in the bottom bracket shell instead of the threads on the cups, because it’ll make less of a mess, and believe me when I say you don’t want to get this on your hands, because it’ll get on everything you touch, though it does glitter and look pretty. If you’re using one of the tubes, squirt it directly on the shell threads, then use a piece of cable housing to swirl it around and distribute it all around the threads. If you're using the can, you're all taken care of, because it comes with a brush attached to the cap.


You know who else likes Finish Line Antiseize Assembly Lube? Arone Dyer, the New Voice of Bike Repair in the cycling industry. At least she claims to like it in her article in Bicycling magazine..

And do you know where Ms. Dyer works when she’s not writing about Finish Line Antiseize Assembly Lube in Bicycling? Bike Works NYC.

And the chainwheel turns round and round and round….

Incidentally, that really was my bottom bracket, and I really did overhaul it, and I really did just put it back into my bike to the sounds of trumpets and swallows. There are clouds creaming on the western horizon. I’m going to ride toward them and see where that takes me.

Photo by Bike Works NYC


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

How To Remove and Install Sealed Bearings, How To Overhaul Sealed Bearings, and What Products to Use


Get it? It’s supposed to be a pun on the word “content:” normally, you would pronounce the phrase “content thyself,” with the emphasis on the second syllable, but I’m pronouncing it “content,” with the emphasis on the first syllable, as in “web content,” which is what I’m going to try to provide more of in this blog from now on. Many of my readers, about seven of them, have mentioned that I basically talk too much, so what I’m going to try to do is show, not tell, with links, photos, videos, how-to’s….mostly, I don’t want to end up sounding like Nicholas Fehn:


Content….” Hilarious. In linguistics, I think it’s called a heteronym, when two words are spelled the same way but pronounced differently, and have different….

Wait a minute….never mind. Onwards and upwards, to


Why, with a dental tool, of course….

In the current issue of Velonews, Lennard Zinn, who by now is so renowned that his name would be capitalized even if it weren’t, has an article entitled Upgrading To Ceramic Bearings: A How-To Manual, in which he provides instructions for removing steel bearings and installing ceramic ones. Here’s the article in pdf form:

If you click the arrow to the left of the word "ipaper," a pull-down menu will appear allowing you to do things like email the pdf to yourself or a friend, or print it out. If you click on the maximize tab in the upper right, a full-sized version will appear on your screen, but you'll need to click the back button on your browser to return to the blog.

Velonews is a large publication with small margins, and my poor little 3-in-1 couldn’t handle its full page size, so I had to scan it half a page at a time to keep it legible. If that doesn’t work for you, I encourage you to buy the issue. It’s a good one, really.

Anyway, I have to say, with all due respect, that I’m surprised Velonews printed the article. As usual, Zinn covers everything with his framebuilder’s attention to detail, and provides all the “tricks” that you would expect from this kind of article, like using sockets and quick releases as bearing presses for hubs. It all comes across as easy, rewarding, and maybe even fun. It’s the kind of article that shop mechanics take with them into the bathroom so that customers don’t see them reading it, and it divides said mechanics into two groups: those who come out of the bathroom saying “why didn’t I think of that?” and those who come out saying “I was the first one to think of that.”

To me, it all makes sense, and I can read it and apply Zinn’s instructions with relative ease. That’s partly because I was obviously the first one to think of them, and partly because I’ve worked as a shop mechanic for the better part of ten years. However, I can still recall when I was reading those articles as a beginning cyclist, and trying to apply the instructions contained in them to my long-suffering KHS mountain bike. The result was my first foray into debt. As one bike shop manager replied, when I apologized for trying to work on my bike myself instead of bringing it to him, “Not at all. Home mechanics are our best customers.” Believe me when I say that bike shops all over the country are lighting candles in front of custom Zinn cranks as thanks for this article, not in the least because the hubs, bottom brackets, headsets, as well as the ceramic bearings that are being crushed I mean installed are about the highest of high-end product, and therefore the most expensive….

“Oh, it looks like you damaged the hub body when you tried pressing the bearing in at an angle. No, it can’t be machined. Yes, you can replace the hub, but we’ll need to cut the spokes out, which means we’ll need to rebuild the wheel. I suppose you can save the rim, but it won’t ever be the same, and with what you’ll be spending in labor, you may as well get a new wheel. I suppose you could always build it yourself….no? I don’t know, let me get my Mavic catalog. Oh, it looks like these wheels are only sold in front-rear sets….”

You get the idea….


Maybe you need to upgrade to ceramic bearings. Maybe you don’t. All I know is that sealed bearings need to be maintained like any other. If you have steel ones, and they feel rough, why not try to overhaul them first? Worst case scenario, you decide to upgrade to ceramics anyway, in which case you will have practice in how to overhaul sealed bearings. Because, yes, even sealed ceramic bearings need to be maintained; as Zinn mentions in his article, “SRAM recommends a service interval of 100 hours for the ceramic bearings in its Red crankset.” So for you, that means once every two weeks, right….?


For this, I really will refer you first of all to the manufacturer’s instructions, and second of all to Zinn’s article. However, I do mean “first of all to the manufacturer’s instructions.” Manuals are easy to find online, and if you have questions, there are always customer service staff sitting at their desks, tapping their pens and watching cycling.tv, who are ready to answer them, and occasionally even guide you through the process.


Here's what we'll be using. Yeah, yeah, I know. But you have to understand one thing: I wouldn't promote Finish Line products this shamelessly if I didn't think they were the best ones for the job.

You’ll notice what appears to be a dental tool lying alongside the grease gun. That is not a Finish Line product. Every shop mechanic has a species of tool belonging to the genus pointy. It can be a spoke that’s been sharpened on a grinder, a metal rod that’s been turned on a lathe, then sharpened on a grinder, or, in this case, a dental tool, which I find to possess a point of unparalleled sharpness.

Incidentally, Brett Fleming, the service manager of The Bike Gallery in Portland, Oregon, and unequivocally the best mechanic I’ve ever met, gives his mechanics a custom, hand-turned pointy tool when he feels they’ve earned it through consistent, quality work. Mine has sadly disappeared, or more likely been stolen. If it’s the latter, the mechanic who stole it will get his the next time he’s called upon to repair the internals of an older generation Rolf freehub body using a technique known only to Brett…


In addition to superior durability, sealed bearings, whether steel or ceramic, are designed to offer significantly smoother performance than loose or caged balls. As a result, your criterion for smoothness when you reach the end of the overhaul should be really high: you don’t want any roughness at all. Consoling yourself with a “good enough” isn’t acceptable.

Which is why you need to be really careful with this step, because it’s the only one in which you really stand to damage the bearing, in this case by damaging the seal so that it doesn’t seat correctly when you put it back on at the end.

What you’ll need to do, as carefully as possible, is insert your pointy tool between the outer circumference of the seal and the metal retainer of the seal, lift the seal out at that point, then simply slide the dental tool under the seal and around the outer circumference to lift the whole seal off.

It’s almost exactly the same method as inserting a tire lever under the bead of a tire, then running the lever around the circumference of the tire to get it off.


This is what the open bearing looks like. Most bearings have another plastic seal on the opposite side, in which case you may as well remove that, too. Some have a metal seal that can’t be removed.

You’ll notice that the bearing is not actually dirty. Because I am obsessive about keeping my bike clean and well-lubricated, I literally could not find a dirty bearing, at least not off of my bikes….


Many shops will soak a bearing in a bath of degreaser, then blow it dry using an air compressor, also blowing any remaining dirt and grease out in the process.

Since I don’t have a compressor at home, I use Speed Clean. It’s a powerful degreaser with an equally powerful spray, and it also dries quickly, in only a couple of minutes, which is not the case with other degreasers.

And the drying part is important, especially for a sealed bearing, where you can’t really get at the internals with a rag. You don’t want any leftover degreaser in there, breaking down the fresh grease you just put in.

If you decide to use the bath method, use a degreaser like Multi, not Citrus; the latter might damage the plastic seals, which need to fit back in as tightly as possible.



First, I like to use a grease gun to fill the gaps between the balls.


Then, I like to put another layer of grease across the top of the bearing using my finger. Naturally, if you removed the seals on both sides, you would do this on both sides.


In keeping with the tire comparison we used earlier, this is much like seating the bead of a tire on a rim. Lay the seal on top of the bearing, then press down on it, moving along its circumference. You’ll feel the depressions along its inner and outer circumferences seat themselves in the metal retainer, much like the bead of a tire seating itself in the rim. Take a look to make sure there aren’t any bulges where it didn’t seat, and….


You’re done.

Put your finger through that hole, and give the bearing a spin to distribute the grease. Feel that? Now tell me: do you really need ceramic bearings?

And even if the answer’s yes, remember: ceramic bearings need love, too….

Here are links to the pages on the Finish Line website for the products I used or mentioned:






Seriously, it’s kind of a long story, but essentially what it comes down to is that I’m friends with Hank Krause, the owner of the company. He came into the first shop I worked at, only a couple of months after I’d been hired (see the second entry in this blog to find out what that was like), and when he saw me using Cross Country in the shop, walked over, told me who he was, and talked to me for an hour, much to the chagrin of The Owner.

Hank founded Finish Line in 1988, and in doing so, founded the category of bike-specific lubricants, degreasers, and greases, the so-called “maintenance products,” all when he could have been doing something much more lucrative with his time. Because the manufacture of Finish Line products didn’t require a CNC machine (or anodizing machine; it was the 80’s, after all), Hank and Finish Line never really got the recognition of a company like, say, Paul’s, but I don’t think that really bothered him, and he continued producing the best possible products with his usual humility and earnestness. He shaved his moustache….

Anyway, Hank and Finish Line gave me all the support I asked for at the different shops I’ve worked at over the years, whether by providing samples for events, replacing defective aerosol cans, or supporting teams, so now it’s time to reutrn the good will. For another take on why I'm doing this, take a look at my profile...


Yesterday, when I turned onto the main road that runs through Dryden, I noticed that the street was glittering with broken glass. I rode through it, periodically dipping one hand down to clean the glass off my tires, figuring it would end in clean road again. Note to self: next time, wear gloves…. As I kept riding, I passed Rick, who had pulled over one of those tractor trailer dump trucks, and waved hello.

Moments later, the same truck passed me at highway speeds, spraying a seemingly endless, billowing cloud of the powdered glass out of its rear, and all over the road, and me. I stopped, not sure what to do, and then the sun came out, and the road turned diamonds. It was one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever seen.

I was right near a country road that I’d never taken before, so I turned onto that, and it took me into the high hills, where spring is still scrawling its name in lowercase flowers, and the air is filled with apple blossoms.