The Golden Wrench

A blog about bicycle repair and maintenance by the mechanics at Freewheel Bike.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

In the Museums of the Future

Sometimes we see bike designs come and go which make us scratch our heads. [we vouchsafe that it is not cooties making us scratch our heads: we are rigorous and meticulous groomers] I remember when I saw my first SE Quadangle back in the early '80's: I was probably 8 years old, but I still remember thinking "Why the extra tubes? And where is my Stomper?"

Then the mountain bike revolution hit, and since mountain bikes were revolutionary, the sky was the limit for design possibilities. Frame designers were looking for problems to solve, and the market was more than willing to part with its brass for even the snake-oiliest promises of newer and better. Out of this whirlwind emerged the legendary Nishiki Alien. I was enamored upon first sight, and many of my math papers in Jr. High featured frames with elevated chain stays scrawled in the margins: my teachers probably thought it was crude occult symbolism. I was little concerned about the extra weight of several inches of surplus steel tubing required to climb up and over the drive train, and the excessive bottom bracket flex was not readily apparent from the pages of Mountain Bike Action. It just looked neat. Better than this poor thing, anyways.

The suspension boom brought a fresh crop of strangeness and wonderfulness in terms of bike design as heads collided with suspension designs to produce such masterpieces of poor function as the Cannondale SE1000, the Trek 9000, the Boulder Gazelle, or the Fisher RS1. Many manufacturers learned the hard way that a bad suspension will put you out of business faster than a clever analogy becomes a cliche.

Not everyone learned this lesson, however: an infamous example is Klein. Klein produced some of the worthiest aluminum frames that we know of: they were brutally stiff, they had great geometry, they dented like soda cans when you crashed, they came in "I'm compensating for something!!!!" colors, and they were all under three pounds. Add to this the fatigue life of their Gradient tubing: you could legitimately race a Klein for longer than it took for the drivetrain to go out of style. Aluminum bikes often crack n' fail within a few seasons of hard use due to the stresses of welding and the alignment process after heat treating, but for some reason, Kleins held up better than most. You just had to deal with the stupid rear-facing dropouts and infernal (oops, I meant internal) cable routing.

When it came to suspension bikes, Klein insisted on doing things the old fashioned way. This involved a design staff of various correspondence school graduates (with degrees in fields such as Vagrant Identification, Parapsychology, Reptile Health, and Taxi-cabmanship) and a test team of world class athletes (including two aggressive inline skaters, a cricket bowler, a swashbuckler, three fishmongers, and a fellow who could juggle bowling balls). This collaboration was responsible for the consumption of several bags of circus peanuts, the slow demise of four NES controllers, and the Klein Mantra.

While Klein loyalists, cycling journalists, and genial people everywhere tried desperately to enjoy the variable wheelbase, auto-firming suspension, and scary-things-which-happen-when-you-grab-the-brakes charm of the Mantra, the Klein office was facing some facts. About this time, a lot of things were happening: Gary Fisher had hit pay dirt with the Sugar, and Paola Pezzo had (sort of) won on it; URT bikes were being banned in many European countries; and most other Klein models had names which began with "A." Klein played it safe: they licensed the Fisher Sugar rear end; mated it to a light, stiff, candy-colored, ultra-thinwall front triangle; called it the Adept, and said "There." It was a rocket, and there was much rejoicing.

A few years later, another wave of designs was washing through the magazines, and Rock Shox founder Paul Turner emerged with the Maverick Monolink design. It was highly touted by touters of such things. Klein licensed it, called it the Palomino, and then went *POOF* into the night, to the chagrin of a lot of people. That's the shortened version.

We recently overhauled a Palomino.

As you can see, the rear shock is structural: the rear triangle bolts to it. When your shock croaks, your bike croaks. Rear end slop plagued the stock monolink, so most responsible owners upgraded to a Maverick-branded unit which slackened the geometry a tad and floated on precision bearings instead of bushings. It was a good trade.

The Palomino rode much like a GT I-drive, but was simpler, lighter, and had more travel. The rearward arc of the suspension was great for seated pedaling through rough stuff, but firmed slightly when standing. It rewarded bravery if you weighted the rear wheel a bit and plowed through rough sections of trail. In the end, however, the fussy, proprietary rear shock, fragile front triangle, and availability of more efficient designs probably spelled the end of Klein's valiant suspension efforts. Trek pulled the plug on the Palomino in 2005, then Klein in general when frame stock ran out a few years later.

To the museum with you!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

We are a Shimano Di2 test ride center!

We are upgrading this 56cm Madone to Shimano Di2 components for people to come test ride.

Most bikes require that one of these little metal tabs are adhered the the seat tube to protect the frame from the front derailleur's support bolt.

Trek did a nice job designing the front derailleur braze-on so that the little metal tabs are not required.

Here's the bike with all of the new Di2 components installed. We are just waiting for the internal wire kit to finish it up. you can learn more about Shimano's Di2 group here and here.

You can win this Di2 hat by being the first person to e-mail all of the correct answers to the following trivia questions to

1. What is the largest sprocket that that you can use with the Di2 RD-7970 rear derailleur?
2. Why do you have to be careful when lubricating the Di2 derailleur pivots?

1/31/10 7:09pm We have a winner. The answer to question #1 is; 27 teeth. The answer to question #2 is; if you lubricate pivots that are connected to the motor, the seals might become damaged and expose the motor to contamination. Thanks for playing.

Monday, January 25, 2010


The other day Rick the Receiver approached me with a "check this out" look on his face and said "Check this out." He set down a box that looked just like this:

"Reverent hush" and "bike shop" go together about as well as "sauerkraut" and "Pop Tart," but here, recently excavated from the cavernous depths of Rick's private stash, was some classic old Italian bike-soul. "Superleggeri..." I murmured, passing each syllable as though it were a masterwork at the Louvre. Back then, marketing was a simple task: you wrote "SUPERLEGGERI" in red on the box and the customer knew if he was in or out. The other words could be a recipe, meaningless jargon, a cryptic love-poem, or off-color roguish jesting: pay no attention to them (especially because it actually IS off-color roguish jesting). "SUPERLEGGERI" is all you needed to know in order to make an informed decision.

But you can't just have a set of track pedals boasting "SUPERLEGGERI," you need the matching toeclips or your bike will attract scorpions and vermin to infest your living space, and your milk will always spoil three days before the stamped date. It's just not right. Rick concurred. Rick then showed me what was behind door #2:

If you've never seen one of these gems in person, they are impossibly light and dreamy (which is a good translation of "SUPERLEGGERI," incidentally). We set them on the scale and the scale laughed and said "OK, I'm ready." All Rick needs now is a set of Alfredo Binda toe straps and a pair of Brancale or Rivat shoes (maybe some Bata Bikers, but they don't accept the no-exit death-cleats which were popular on the track) and he's ready to rumble! Or perhaps these immaculate gems could stay in his museum and declare "SUPERLEGGERI" at passers-by from within their still-clean cardboard cases. Nothing wrong with that.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Commuter's Dictionary word of the day

puddle noun 1. small pool of water, perhaps created by rain or snow melt (or both), not typically seen in Minnesota in January. If deep enough, can bypass fenders and spray directly onto rider's feet and lower legs, soaking them instantly.

If you think the riding conditions in our post-xmas Death Rink were bad for morale (imagine an ice skating rink with 1-to-3 inch ledges and grooves at odd intervals, then add automobile traffic), then you're going to love getting on the bike today. Temps are hovering right around freezing, yet it's raining.

What is this weather good for, you ask? Two things come to mind: hangovers and funerals.

Commuting? Not so much.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Please try not to get oil on the carpet

Freewheel sent three representatives to the Park Tool Tech Summit in Chicago last weekend to take part in what proved to be a great learning experience. Eight major brands came together to offer technical seminars on their latest products to a motley group of mechanics, service managers and bike shop owners.

We attended six seminars in two days and got our hands dirty in everyone of them. We dug into hydraulic brake systems from Avid, Hayes and Shimano; we pulled apart suspension components from Fox, Manitou and Rock Shox; we put wrenches on Campagnolo wheels, shifters and drive trains; we even got to absorb pearls of wisdom from the legendary John Barnett.

Along the way we had a chance to catch up with some folks you may recognize from the blog archives. Here we are with Nick from Fox Racing Shox, who stopped by Freewheel back in August:

...and here are with Andy from Hayes/Manitou, who we visited in Milwaukee last July:

The other great part of events like this is meeting and talking with other bike mechanics from all over the country to compare notes, trade stories and share a couple beers. And inevitably we bump into people from other bike shops here in the Twin Cities--imagine the Sharks/Jets interactions in West Side Story but without the knives and a lot less dancing, and in the end we manage to become friends.

In these two days we learned a ton, got to work on a bunch of cool new components and had a blast. And the best part is that the primary beneficiary of all this is you, the customer. Stop by and give us a chance to put our knowledge and skills to work.

Trivia!! Now's your chance to attend an intensive training session--the first person to answer all four questions below will win a full-ride scholarship to Freewheel's Bicycle Maintenance Class ($100 value)!

1) What is the name of Rock Shox's new hydraulic remote lockout lever?

2) New 32mm Fox suspension forks use their FIT damper--what does the acronym "FIT" stand for?

3) What cycling industry giant invented the quick release skewer?

4) DOT hydraulic brake fluids are rated in part by their wet and dry boiling points--what do the terms "wet" and "dry" refer to in this case?
Edit: 9:51pm 1/23/10 The first person with the correct answer wins.
1/24/10 4:13pm We have a winner. Thanks for playing.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Know Your Splined Bottom Brackets Part Two: Splines Go International

Shimano's legendary XTR 950 cranks found their way onto every conceivable type of bicycle. I've seen them on BMX bikes, observed trials bikes, downhill racing bikes with 8" of travel--even a touring bike for an elderly gentleman who needed lower gearing--and lots and lots of race-level mountain bikes. The technology trickled down to the XT 760, which had hollow arms that kind of looked like poofy bread sticks, and it looked like Shimano had another hegemonic stranglehold on the industry.

"See here!" retorted some industry malcontents with a loud retort, "why is it that we have to pay Shimano lots of royalties if we don't want our crank arms to do this..."

"...and this?!?!?"
And they dratted their luck, wondering aloud why they had left their beds and changed out of their jammies that morning.

Then one day at a local Las Vegas Denny's restaurant (they're all local: visit one and ask, "Is this a local Denny's restaurant?" An employee will nod slowly and say "Indeed.") the fellers from TruVativ and Race Face, as well as the guy who started Chris King (his name eludes me temporarily... oh well) all bumped into one another . It was a bit of a kerfuffle getting all the tables arranged so they didn't have to holler across the dining room, but over some sumptuous Grand Slams they all agreed that a new standard must be born.

During the feast, a spirit of dejection hovered over the group like an ominous cloud. The Big Red "S" had shown up at Interbike with little Nasty-Grams printed on card stock and handed them to all the other crank and BB manufacturers present. The text read thus:

Har-dy Har har, American drive train fashioners, on account of the throat-grip of the industry in my possession! We are indeed willing to extract joyfully the excise of currency for to lend from us the patents and allow the both of you to make sloppy American crankshaft arms to fit glorious Shimano wonderful bottom-set! As though it were probable. Tee! Hee!

Have a day which is niece,


To add insult to injury, the messengers were wearing XTR t-shirts over top of their polo shirts, which made them look like elementary school chaperons. It was a truly demoralizing scene.

Breakthrough occurred during some typical bike industry breakfast tomfoolery. Hoisting a sausage aloft, one of the Race Face guys said "If I put ten splines on this, tapered them one degree, and made the splines match the width of the entire crank arm, it would be delicious wrapped in half of a pancake." He was clearly joshing, but the table fell silent for several moments. It was as though Providence had spoken, and soon napkins became drafting-boards, conversation turned to fatigue life and bearing diameters, and a new standard was born. They agreed to make the design public domain since everyone was too stuffed and amiable-feeling to roshambo for the rights. In honor of the matron-goddess of Egyptian mythology (patroness to the downtrodden), they named the new interface ISIS. Other contenders for the name included "Eat Our Collective Shorts, Big Blue 'S,'" "Super Duper Spline-O-Mat 1999," Phil Niekro" (after the legendary Braves knuckleballer), and "Ten Fins On This Shark, Homeslice."

You could read about it here if you want to really be a bike nerd.

You may be saying to yourself, "what about those el-cheapo splined hunxajunk that came on my low-end rig in 2004?" You'd probably be referring to Powerspline, a 12-splined interface developed by Truvativ and limited to low-end units. Otherwise, you may be suffering from a brain injury and only think that you have a bicycle. Either way, apparently Powerspline was easy to manufacture.

Another interface was born of an inherent weakness in the ISIS design: bearing life. Since the ISIS spindle was much larger in diameter than typical square taper units, bearings had to become smaller to accommodate it. Smaller bearings meant shorter lifespan, especially in big-hit riding like downhill and freeride, where finesse may be a favorite hair product but means nothing on the trail. The spindle ends were just a tad smaller so that more material could be used in the cranks themselves, and the bearings moved outboard. This is known as the Howitzer system.

So now you know maybe a bit more about splined cranks. Study up: there may be a quiz!

Click on the pictures to make them REALLY BIG... you'll thank me!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Know Your Splined Bottom Brackets Part One: Shimano

For a long (and, dare I say, happy) chunk of history, the world was content and complacent with square-taper technology. There were two formats to choose from: you could either use Campagnolo's standard (aka "ISO," which stands for "Icebergs Smooshed Ostriches"):

or you could use everybody else's standard, the venerable JIS (which stands for "Jiminy, It's Spring!" because that was the time of year when it was developed).

You may be saying to yourself, "Why, those are clearly both 2 degree tapers: why are they not compatible?" Spoken like a gentleman: a nobler interjection was never made. If you look closely, you will notice that the measurement across the flat is slightly greater on the JIS than on the Campy spindle. In other words, your Campy crank would only go about halfway onto a JIS spindle, and a JIS crank would bottom out on a Campy spindle. I've seen people try to do both, and I felt about the same as I do when I see people ice fishing in early May or golfing in thunderstorms.

Square tapers ruled the universe until about 1992, when upstart engineer Alex Pong began making Magic Motorcycle cranks for Cannondale. These CNC'd beauties featured hollow arms, a splined interface, and external bearings. [Shimano engineers took note and set an alarm clock for the day that Pong's patents ran out, but that's another story.] They were also prohibitively expensive: one could barter a lesser-known Canadian province for a set of Magic Motorcycle cranks without chainrings, but only if one was a handsome devil.

Shimano came out with their version a few years later: the dark gray XTR 950 cranks that everyone drooled over. Splines were emerging in a legitimate high-end category. Trickle-down occurred over the next several years, and behold! The world was introduced to Octalink V-1.

As you can see, the actual splined interface is kinda wimpy in this particular design. Shimano released a tech bulletin which said: "Hmmm... Current design soft in the somewhat like green willow branches. We make spline greater valley in steel much more of an occurrence to be reckon with, and rigidness shall go forth in peals of hoot and hollering joyful, with a strapping mans' quadricepts bellowing right joyful." And thus, Octalink V2 was born. Incidentally, Octalink V2 uses the same spline as the old XTR 950 used, but who's going to tell you that?

Much deeper splines, plus a pleasant minty fragrance (only available in Japan, sorry) set this interface apart from the V-1. This interface was king until Shimano released two-piece XT M760 cranks a few years later (Bullseye? Sweet Wings? Where are the lawyers?).


We'll take a look at non-Shimano splined interfaces.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Better Way To See Spoke Tension

Park Tool just released an improved version of their spoke tension conversion calculator. It creates a spider graph that allows you to see spoke tension like this;

It also flags spokes that are too tight or too loose which makes it easier to balance the tension. By having balanced spoke tension a wheel stays true longer and the spokes will have a longer fatigue life.

The tension conversion calculator is designed to work with Park Tool's spoke tension meter and is available to everyone at

When we perform a Pro Wheel Build at Freewheel Bike we tension balance the spokes and provide you with a copy of the final readings so that you can see how well your wheel turned out.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Big Bike. Short Arms.

I have to admit that a reverent hush settled over the parts room when I discovered this little blue box. Here it is, folks, the Nitto 66 Crystal Fellow Pillar. [lights dim, a solitary cello begins playing aria lines] Nitto is famous for making some of the most elegant, beautifully finished parts in the industry. Since they are Japanese, their naming conventions probably involved selecting words at random from a Japanese-English dictionary purchased at a steep discount, but the Nitto elves certainly knew a thing or two about making aluminum into beauty. This "Crystal Fellow Pillar" (which, in Japanese, is a rough equivalent of the title of a children's song about "a swarthy and resourceful husbandman who built split-level ranch out of icicle") is about 210 mm long, requires 65 mm of insertion, has close to two inches of set-FORWARD, and was cold-forged on a press which can put out roughly the pressure of a zillion elephants trying to stamp out a campfire, or the pressure you feel when trying to ride someone else's well-broken Brooks saddle (it's a close call on that one). Just look at how the light dances on that silky finish: it's enough to make a man take up sonnet-writing.

Various companies tried to copy the elegant one-bolt design of the CFP, but they often failed to use aluminum that was hard enough to withstand activities such as cycling while seated. When I was a lad, I had a Kalloy version which used the CFP design, but featured little notches in the mating surfaces of the clamp and the top of the shaft. Despite this clever attempt to provide positive engagement between the two surfaces, the fact that Kalloy had made the thing out of aluminum which had once been gummy worms rendered the thing stripped and useless within a month.

Did I mention that it's a 27.2 diameter? You've probably got a bike this post would fit if you're 5'5" and attempting to build a 58cm LeMond up as a fixed-gear, or you hanker to put aero bars on a frame that's way too tall for you. Perhaps you just wanted that "seat real low and way out in front of my pedals" look on your current steed. Here's a piece of classic bling to make your short-top-tube dreams come true.

You had better hurry, because we're down to two of them! So if you wanted to shorten up the reach and inseam of your tandem...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

More Treasures

Ah, the cottered crank. Imagine with me: at one point, this was the pinnacle of technology. Crank arms falling off was kind of like getting a flat tire or sweating out your tweed, it just happened. We happen to have a modest selection of these ancient artifacts occupying a bin in our parts room. Nothing combines billows of nostalgia with a cold sweat of terror like an old Dunelt or Robin Hood 3-speed rolling in the door with a seized cotter pin in the crank arm. In fact, when bike mechanics tell horror stories around the campfire or prank-call other bike shops, the subject is often cottered cranks.

We are waiting to see if Trek will make a BB90-compatible spindle for a cottered crank setup, but suspect that Cannondale will beat them to it with their BB30 design.

Here are a couple of gems from the mine: a 3-pin Stronglight (good luck finding chainrings); a 5-pin Nervar with a 50mm BCD (can fit chainrings from 26t up to 52t if you can find them!); and a microscopic Sugino, probably for a unicycle.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Such Treasures as King Solomon's Mines Never Yielded

Recently I had the enviable opportunity to rummage through the Freewheel Bike Parts Museum on company time, and it was sort of like a vacation for bike geeks. For the non-bike geek, it was something like what Sisyphus went through, or trying to solve a Rubik's Cube in mittens, or painting stucco with a foam brush, or cutting wet wood with a hacksaw blade. The task at hand was to organize a parts room that had well over a decade worth of inventory nightmares heaped untidily into cardboard bins and labeled cryptically with random bits of gibberish. Fortunately, I speak gibberish fluently (it's my mother tongue, in fact), so I was the man for the job.

The tedious moments were broken up by some strange and wonderful discoveries. Freewheel Bike has quite a reputation for being one of those places where you can conjure up obsolete parts. This is delightful for customers, many of whom can be seen capering out the door, singing merrily about lifted clouds and sunshine because we found a replacement for their antiquated hub cone. It also makes for scintillating intra-shop trivia questions amongst the employees. [Hint: do not challenge Marcy to a game of "identify that part:" you will lose, and she will mock you] Some of the items probably will never find a home, but that's OK. They can live peacefully in their respective bins, trading embellished stories about the glory days when dinnertime conversation in the average American home included glowing references to cottered cranks and three-speed hubs.

Now comes the part of the blog post designed for those who prefer pictures to a thousand words.

OK, you've probably heard of Stronglight. They're still around, still making nice cranks and chainrings and other stuff. But there is something special about this particular Stronglight chainring:

If you are in the market for some serious gear inches, this immaculately-crafted beauty is your secret weapon (although the secret may be somewhat easy to spot). The ideal customer profile is someone who desires to hit 25 MPH on his Alex Moulton with a 20" rear wheel, happens to have Stronglight (or compatible) cranks from this era, and who doesn't mind that someone wisely wrote the bolt circle diameter and tooth count in red permanent marker on the back of it.

For reference, here it is the mighty 60 with a standard 52-tooth ring from a triple setup. I don't know about you, but my kneecaps are writing letters to their congressman trying to get that thing banned. But that's not all: "someone" (I'm refraining from mentioning Bill's real name so he doesn't feel sheepish) anticipated a 60-tooth chainring fad amongst Stronglight owners and bought not one, not two...

They'll be around if you need them. Incidentally, we're getting rid of our 2009 Bike Magazine calendar as well, and could probably get you a sizzling deal.