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....