Easy swap: new thru axles

Detail of rear axle showing DT Swiss logo
Old and new thru axles side by side
Old and new

One nagging issue with Kuroko has been the rear thru axle, which tends to work itself loose. Sometimes this happens mid-ride, and the rear wheel starts to wiggle a bit in the frame.

Having the rear wheel loose, even a bit, can cause missed shifts and rubbing brakes. It can be a bit difficult to sort out these issues, though, if you’re already dealing with shifting and brake issues from other causes. I’ve had it on my mental checklist for some time now to check the thru axle from time to time, before each ride and during rest stops. It just happened again during yesterday’s ride.

I’d been looking for replacements for some time, and was surprised the wheel vendor didn’t stock them. The reason is that different frames have different drop-out widths, apparently. Anyway, the only places I found the original parts were Alibaba and eBay, so I started looking for compatible items from other makers. A lot of vendors offer the axles but their websites can be surprisingly vague on specific measurements. I finally found an axle I was pleased with on a site that was clear about the specs: DT Swiss.

Replacing the axles was a matter of a moment’s work — they’re made to be easily removable, after all.

Detail of front wheel with old axle
Out with the old

Detail of front axle showing DT Swiss logo
Done with the front

Detail of rear wheel with old axle
Out with the old

Detail of rear axle showing DT Swiss logo
Done on the rear

With that done, I put Kuroko back on the stand and ran through the gears a couple of times. Like butter. And that’s it for today. I’d thought about riding but the Halfakid begged off. The threat of rain seems to have evaporated. But in the end Nana said she needs me at home today.

Really bright, fairly windy

Selfie of biker in helmet and shades in front of red torii

I had to fit my riding today in between a doctor’s visit in the morning (just a meds refill) and a dinner date in the evening. The Halfakid was unavailable — we’re looking at riding tomorrow but the weather may have other ideas. And Nana hadn’t made any onigiri. So I just rode down to Haneda and back, which has become my default ride.

Butterfly on a red spider lily
Butterfly on a red spider lily

Spider lily
Spider lily

Before I started the ride, Nana and I walked through Shinjuku’s Central Park, and we found some spider lilies. The weather was fair and the sun very bright, and this continued as I set out on my bike. I stopped at a convenience store for onigiri and then continued down the Tamagawa towards Haneda. I was making good time, but definitely fighting the wind. Then when I got to the picnic areas around Maruko Bashi, I had to contend with picnickers walking abreast on the path and ignoring my bell and warning shouts.

With my late start, it was noon when I reached the next rest stop. I had some water and a little snack and considered whether to go ahead and eat my lunch. But then I decided it was just another 10km to Haneda, and I would tough it out. After the next bend in the river, the wind let up a bit, and I arrived in Haneda less than half an hour later.

Tourist boat passing under bridge

Tourist boat in front of Haneda Peace Shrine
Tourist boat in front of Haneda Peace Shrine

Just as I was sitting down to eat I heard a whistleblower — er, a boat horn — so I got up to investigate.

I rested about half an hour at Haneda, in the shade, and ate the onigiri and remaining snacks. As I was resting the sky clouded up, so I didn’t bother to put on my mask for the return trip.

On the way home the wind was often helping me, and so I picked up the pace. When I got to the climb at Futako I though I was going strong, but Strava did not give me a trophy so I must have done better on other occasions.

With the climb behind me I focused on improving my average speed, and I did get it up a couple of ticks as I worked my way through the traffic on the way home. (No one tell Nana how I ride to improve my speed in traffic … )

Route map of Tokyo-Haneda ride
Tokyo – Haneda solo

Mt Fuji in sunset and clouds
Surprise visitor

When I arrived home, after I had a shower, I discovered a surprise visitor out on the balcony.


Following my recent time spent adjusting the derailleurs, shifting was butter-smooth, almost dreamy. I was very pleased with that. The front disc, on the other hand, has been squealing since the return from the Tour de Tohoko, so during my lunch break I adjusted the front caliper. Blessed silence after that.

The only concern now is the bottom bracket bearings. Yes, I just replaced them at the beginning of this month, and yes, they’re already making noise. I’ve done some research and discovered that when I changed the crankset it meant a reduction in bearing size from 7mm to 4mm. It’s a much stiffer spindle on the crankset, at 30mm, but the change in bearings may have been ill-advised. I’m weighing now whether to seek out other bearing providers (and they aren’t cheap), or to go to a different crankset with a 24mm spindle.

Building a wheel

Bicycle rim, hub, spokes and nipples

I haven’t had time for a few weeks to get back to sanding down Ol’ Paint. But I’ve been looking at the growing pile of schwag in my den and decided today was the day to build a wheel. There are a lot of guides available for wheel-building, but I found this video to be very clear.

(OK, it’s a bit verbose and the background music sucks, and he tends to over-explain things. But I found the basics to be very clear.)

I laid out all the necessary bits in preparation. It’s a 32-spoke wheel, so that means four groups of eight spokes each.

Bicycle hub with 8 spokes inserted and key spoke selected
This one’s the key spoke

Wheel and hub with eight spokes inserted
First set of eight done

Bicycle rim and hub with first 16 spokes inserted
Second eight on the opposite side

View of label on hub through valve hole in rim
Confirming the hub label shows through the valve hole
Using a spare spoke to guide the nipple into position
Using a spare spoke to guide the nipple into position

Bicycle wheel with three-quarters of the spokes inserted
One final set of eight

Wooden desk with laptop, four spokes and nipples, and a glass of sparkling water
And then there were four …

Fully laced bicycle wheel with spokes still loose and bent
Ready for tightening

With the wheel fully laced, I was ready to tighten the spokes. As recommended in the video, first I tightened each nipple so no threads showed on the spoke. Then I went around the rim again, tightening each spoke two turns, then one.

Laced and tightened wheel on floor with spoke wrench and tension gauge
One built wheel

I finished for the moment by going around the wheel and checking each spoke with the tension gauge, tightening as needed. I’ve got all the spokes close to their final tension, within a tick of each other. And that’s where it’s going to remain until I’ve done truing the wheel (which will not be for a while yet).

Cleaned and greased

Loosened front derailleur showing mud build-up
More English mud

Kuroko was delivered home Thursday evening. I quickly reassembled her (just put on the front wheel and raised the saddle) and left her on the balcony.

Today I put her back in the stand to readjust the derailleurs. The shifting was fine during the Tour de Tohoku, but there was occasionally some noise and I thought I could improve on that. I was focusing on the front derailleur so as a first step I found some misalignment there. And when I loosened the clamp to realign the derailleur, I found more English mud!

After I spent a few minutes cleaning off the mud, I greased up the bolt in preparation for realigning the derailleur.

Fresh grease on the front derailleur clamp bolt
Probably too much grease

I spent a good long time aligning the derailleur and adjusting the cable tension. Once the front was done I ran through the gears on the back and made some adjustments there as well until I was satisfied. Kuroko is now shifting through all the gears (at least on the workstand) better than at any point since Ben sorted her out.

Bicycle resting against balcony railing
Sitting pretty

With the shifting out of the way, I readjusted the saddle (cleaning and greasing that seat post clamp bolt as I did so) and put on the freshly charged lights. After putting the pump back in place, I was done for the day.

Bicycle in bike parking garage
Back to where you once belonged

We’re expecting rain for the next couple of days, so the next ride is likely to be a commute on Tuesday.

Two for Tohoku

Riders pass under the starting arch at the Tour de Tohoku

This year Tomo joined me for the Tour de Tohoku. The route was mostly a new one, and there were a few format changes from last year’s ride. Rather than having us form in groups with guides fore and aft, we joined a long, snaking queue to walk our bikes through an inspection point where we were checked for working lights, a helmet and gloves. Following the inspection, helpers recorded our bib numbers on a smartphone and used that to register our tracking beacons.

Large crowd of riders funneling through a starting gate
We can finally see the starting line

From there, it was more snaking, of the Disneyland Space Mountain sort, before we came to a stop in the middle of the pavement, in bright sunshine, to listen to the opening ceremony happening somewhere off to our left. Meanwhile, a photographer with an enormous lens was making his way down the line, getting permission to snap the entrants. Most smiled and gave a thumb’s up, but one middle-aged man with a monster-tired bike lifted his ride above his head as he mugged for the camera. We were glad to have been passed by, but then another photographer saw us. “Couple? Marvelous. Smile!” We just laughed and didn’t bother correcting him. (Now that might show up on a website somewhere … )

Finally the line started creeping forward as countdowns rang over the PA. We could see groups of 20-30 riders taking off from the front. Nana, who was on the sidelines with the Entourage, was running back and forth between our position and the starting line, trying to estimate when we would reach the front. We waited, cooling our heels, and then shuffling forward every couple of minutes as another group started off.

Selfie of two riders in helmets in front of the Tour de Tohoku starting arch
Waiting, waiting …

As we neared the starting line, the announcer gave us the usual caution about following traffic rules and being careful, and added a kicker: a rider had been attacked by a deer the day before. Tomo and I agreed we wouldn’t even want to be attacked by a squirrel.

Finally our turn came, 35 minutes after the first group had left the gate. With the Entourage cheering from the sidelines, we were on our way!

Riders pass under the starting arch at the Tour de Tohoku
And they’re off!

As we exited the parking lot of Ishinomaki Senshu University, we turned right on a narrow road, then right again, and then right again, and then … just 3.5km from the start, we found ourselves in another long queue of riders, this time single-file along the left side of the street leading up to a traffic light. Slowly we inched forward a couple of dozen meters each time the light cycled. I was starting to wonder if I should have loaded the course into my Garmin — I hadn’t bothered as I was expecting a guided ride as we’d had last year. But I didn’t have long to wonder as we finally passed through the light and then headed towards a line of mountains on the horizon.

Did someone mention climbing?

The 100km fondo was revised from last year, turning north along the coast after passing through Onagawa, rather than south to the Oshika Peninsula as last year’s route did. There was less climbing on the route this year at 947m (as measured) vs 2,055m, but there was still plenty of “up-down” in store for us. One of the more challenging climbs of the day came first at the 10km mark, a 48m rise at a 7% average. The climb had a couple of “steps” in it, welcome breaks to catch our breath for 10m or so. But that also meant the actual climbing parts were steeper than 7%.

I steamed ahead of Tomo at this point and gave it my best effort, and I’m glad to say I came out at the top. Yes, gasping for breath like a candidate for a coronary, but I made it. I waited a couple of minutes at the top for Tomo, who gave it her best but ended up pushing the bike to the top as she was stuck on the larger chainring. Knowing it was mostly downhill from there to the first rest stop at Onagawa at 18.5km, I let her stay in the high chainring until we reached the station. But after we’d filled up on meatballs in broth and bottled water, I coached her on shifting to the smaller chainring, which she did the moment we left the station.

And that was not a moment too soon, as our next climb started just half a kilometer out of the station, a 5% grade up to 52m, this time with a number of steps and turns along the way. I puffed my way up to the top and turned to wait. And after just a minute, Tomo came pedaling up to the top. “I made it,” she gasped out. I resolved to have her stay on the small chainring for the duration.

In the first bit of really good news for the ride, we didn’t have to pass over this monstrosity. I guess it was a temporary diversion and things are back to normal now.

The longest tunnel

At 37km we came to the next aid station and pulled off the road for some grilled scallops. We were getting pretty good at spotting openings on the bicycle stands — usually at the farthest point from the food.

Man cooking scallops on an outdoor gril

Tomo had been pointing out since we passed the first group of riders — the 210km fondo — while still in the taxi on our way to the start that there were not many women riders. We spotted one in the 210km group. This was borne out at each aid station as there was a long queue of men to reach the porta-potties, while there was usually one or at most two women waiting.

Aside from the lines for the relief stations, we saw a woman getting a scrape on her knee dressed. I didn’t see how serious it was, but we saw her again at the lunch stop.

It was just as well we had a nice, long wait for the facilities because the next segment took us up the longest climb of the day: an 89m climb on a 4% grade. As we started up it we were following a couple on matching electric bikes — not mamachari but the expensive kind with proper gears. As we watched, the man pulled ahead, leaving the woman struggling behind. Before long, I overtook her despite the electric power. It was a good, long 2km uphill and I wasn’t sure I would make it in one go, but I stuck with it to the top. I stopped just at the entrance to a tunnel and waited for Tomo to catch up. When she did arrive I missed her at first in the crowd, and she was busy wiping sweat out of her eyes.

Riders topping the peak of a climb as others look on from the shoulder
The longest climb

After a brief rest I signaled Tomo to set the pace and I fell in behind as we entered the tunnel, lights on for safety. The Kamaya Tunnel is 1km long, and paved in concrete with long lateral grooves (in the direction of travel) about 3-4cm apart. It made for a very slippery, wobbly feeling as our tires hunted across the grooves. We would have been quite a bit more nervous about riding through the tunnel if there had been more traffic, but we were very lucky in that regard.

Immediately after the tunnel we entered a swooping 1.5km descent, taking us right back to sea level at speeds approaching 40km/h. The drop brought us down to the Kitakami river, which we crossed and then turned to the right, heading up along the Oppa Bay and into the wind. At this point I overtook Tomo, holding a steady 18km/h pace and thinking I was providing some wind shelter for her, but when I looked back she’d fallen a bit behind.

I waited for Tomo just before the entrance to Shirahama Tunnel, which was the starting point of the most challenging climbing of the day. We knew that lunch was waiting for us at the end of the climb, a delicious seafood curry to give us motivation. And yet at this point we didn’t seem to make any headway as we worked our way up and down the ridges along the ocean’s edge. There was some fantastic scenery, but also some hurting climbs: 9% for a 27m rise, 5.5% for a 38m rise. And on and on. And after each climb, a drop back to the start. And then another climb. I looked for a place at the top of each climb to wait for Tomo to come pushing her bike up behind me — and she wasn’t the only one by a long shot.

We knew we were within 1-2km of the lunch rest — just half a screen away on my phone (which didn’t have any scale) — when we got a message from Nana. She’d taken a taxi with the Entourage and they were waiting for us at the lunch spot. More incentive to press ahead (although to be honest we were both mostly thinking about lunch and a rest at this point). At the same time, we saw riders coming back in the opposite direction, pushing up the hills we were descending, and we knew we had that waiting for us once we’d rested and digested.

Seafood curry!

A final couple of dips past the ocean, with waves pounding the stony coast, and rolling uphills brought us at last to the aid station, a modicum of shade, and most importantly: lunch! There were several unidentifiable bits that I simply wolfed down in my quest for calories. Tomo and Nana put their heads together and came up with the answer: hoya. (I looked it up later and was just as glad I hadn’t known when I’d been eating it.) It had taken a few minutes owing to the poor cell reception in this remote park, but Nana had finally tracked us down and she and the Entourage put down their beers long enough to wish us a speedy conclusion to our ride.

I knew that Tomo wanted to rest more — as did I! — and neither of us was looking forward to going back over the lumpy bits we’d just traversed in search of lunch. But we checked the time. It was 1:30, and we knew we had 40-some kilometers to go. We had a deadline of 6 p.m., when the bag check back at Ishinomaki closed. And so we bravely mounted up and headed back into the ridges. Again I found myself forging ahead, barely making it to the top before stopping to wait for Tomo to come pushing her bike up behind. And then we had the roller-coaster descents, reaching 55km/h at one point.

Safety first

At the start we were warned that a deer had attacked a rider the previous day. We were given the usual warnings about traffic rules and admonishments to use proper hand signals.

During the day we saw a couple of riders with injuries. At one aid station a woman was having her knee bandaged. At the lunch station, we saw a man with his arm in a sling climbing into a medical van. Then, after lunch, in the middle of a steepish downhill, we first saw a support rider signalling us to slow down, and then behind him a medical van. Finally we saw several people assisting a man who appeared to have lost control on the downhill and gone into the wall. We haven’t heard anything subsequently about his condition.

The Big Easy

Just past Shirahama Tunnel we turned off into an aid station. I held out my water bottle for what I thought would be clear, cold water and ended up with Pokari. It was just as well. We both felt by this time we’d been rolling in sand, and when we wiped the sweat from our faces we came away with handfuls of salt. I stood admiring another rider’s handmade steel bike before seeking out shade while Tomo went in search of a ladies’ room.

With the necessities out of the way, we hit the road again. We had a brief climb before we were back on the shore of the Oppa Bay, this time heading in the opposite direction and with the wind behind us. It was 3 p.m. and we had 30km to go. We made a little bet about making it to the goal by 5 p.m. With the wind to our backs — but the setting sun in our eyes — we crossed the bridge back over the Kitakami River. This time we turned right and followed the river back towards Ishinomaki. The going was smooth and extremely flat.

We’d fallen in behind a small group of riders straggling along at 16-18km/h. I was starting to think that Tomo was just happy to follow whoever was in front. In truth she was just biding her time for the right moment. With a quick “Here I go!” tossed over her shoulder, she was off like a scalded cat, hitting 30km/h as she passed the stragglers and aimed for open road. It took me some doing to catch up, and over the next 5km she never once dipped below 25km/h on the flat. I laughed to myself as I realized Tomo was tired and wanted to get back to the goal. We overtook more than a few riders in similar fashion until we got back into the Ishinomaki suburbs. Now, with traffic to contend with, the pace fell off a bit.

I was counting out the 5km breaks. My legs were fine but my hands and butt were sore, and I was thinking of the closing time for the bag check, as well as the bath and dinner waiting for us back at the hotel. Tomo was keeping up the pace, but she was riding the smallest cog on the rear while staying on the smaller chainring on the front, and that was making noise. She’d go at it a few minutes and then back down a couple of gears until the noise stopped. I knew what she was up to and thought about coaching her to shift up to the big chainring. But then I thought it would just cause confusion, and besides, I couldn’t be sure there wasn’t still a hidden climb lying in wait for us before we got back to the university.

Finally we recognized the car entrance to the university, just as I called out “95!” “What happened?” Tomo asked, meaning we were still 5km short of 100, but we had far less than that to go before the finish line.

“If you like, we can do laps around the university until we hit 100,” I offered. “He. He. He,” was the sarcastic laugh in reply. We turned a final corner, with a baton-waver welcoming us back, and sped together towards the finish line.

“I did it!” Tomo proclaimed. The time was 4:20 p.m.


We’d done it — that much was true. But there were still some things to take care of before we were soaking in the (separate) baths prior to a well-earned dinner. We picked up our bags from the bag check, then got our certificates of completion and “newspapers” with our group start photo.

Front page of the Kahoku Shimpo showing the group start at the Tour de Tohoku
Kahoku Shimpo

With our goodies in hand, we walked our bikes to the delivery area. It was a matter of a couple of minutes to fit them back in the boxes and hand them over to the delivery company. Tomo was so exhausted by this time she was having difficulty speaking English (taking several seconds to remember each word that I well knew she knew), and I was answering her in Japanese. She called a taxi with no difficulty, though, and we were soon speeding back to the hotel. The driver wanted to know what some Michael Jackson lyrics meant, and I was so exhausted I gave him a totally erroneous explanation. (When I confessed to Tomo later what I’d done, she said, “It doesn’t matter: he’ll never realize that.”) After that, though, he wanted to talk about a Japanese boy band I’m only vaguely aware of, and I left it to Tomo to say “Uh-huh, uh-huh” in the appropriate places.

Back at the hotel I picked up my yukata and headed for the bath. I had the rotemburo to myself as the sun began to set, and I spent much longer than I usually do letting the bath soak my aches away. Nana and the Entourage returned just in time for dinner. I ran out of steam during dinner and made my apologies and headed to bed. It didn’t matter: We’d finished. I made my goal of climbing all the hills, not pushing. And Tomo finished her first 100km ride (or nearly so), which was quite an accomplishment given her lack of practice beforehand. Meanwhile, the Entourage seem to have enjoyed their travels for the day. We’re already talking about next year, and debating whether to rent a van rather than taking the shinkansen and having the bikes delivered.

Tour de Tohoku route
Tour de Tohoku route

Kitakami Fondo route at LatLongLab

Best-laid plans of cycling giants

Tom Allen, of Tom’s Bike Trip fame and currently leading a bikepacking tour of the Transcaucasian Trail in Armenia, has suffered a mechanical midway through the tour. And oh, what a mechanical!

Muddy bike wheel with broken derailleur
Rear derailleur is not supposed to look like that

That’s one derailleur that’s not going a single kilometer further. And proof that it’s not just newbies who get done in by a derailleur failure. (Although I’m sure in the case of Tom — with his more than 20,000km of riding over more than 50 countries — the damage wasn’t exacerbated by a totally amateur mid-ride readjustment.)

With the help of a fellow rider, it looks like Tom will be back on the road, albeit with a single-speed bike until he’s able to get a replacement derailleur. (He’s removed the derailleur completely and cut the chain down to fit on a single front chainring and rear sprocket combo.)

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#BikepackingArmenia Day 4: The tough mudder • My co-guide Pete, who amongst other things has cycled from England to New Zealand and completed the Silk Road Mountain Bike Race, said today that he'd never seen so much mud in his life. It certainly has been a sticky, squelchy day, like few I can remember, with most of the group ending up sprawled in the mud at various points throughout the day. But then we have entered Tavush province at the turn of autumn. Mud is absolutely to be expected! • One upshot of all the mud is that my rear derailleur got caught in my spokes and snapped clean in half (see my story for more on this). It could have been worse – I could have lost several spokes in the process – but it did mean I had to rise single speed for most of the day. A quick look at the elevation profile of today's ride will hopefully indicate how practical this was! • Tomorrow we hope to reach Dilijan, where a new derailleur should hopefully be waiting. Because I've realised I do quite like having gears… • #BikepackingArmenia ?? From September 7–22 I'm leading a group of intrepid bikepackers on the first attempt to ride the Transcaucasian Trail across Armenia. On the way, we're attempting to raise $10,000 USD to complete the blazing and marking of the trail. This ride is a life ambition and the cause is extremely dear to my heart, so please give generously! Link in Instagram bio, or visit the campaign page here: • https://pages.donately.com/transcaucasiantrail/campaign/blazing-the-transcaucasian-trail-across-armenia • • • • • #TranscaucasianTrail #Caucasus #SouthCaucasus #Armenia #bikepacking #cycling #adventure #cycletouring #bike #mtb #travel #biketouring #bicycletouring #adventurecycling #trailblazing #fundraiser #hikearmenia #livelovearmenia #visitarmenia #tw

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So come now: how many of us carry a spare derailleur, even on the most adventurous of rides? For Lejog the only spares I carried were inner tubes, and following that experience the only addition I’m likely to make to that list is the inclusion of small bottles of chain degreaser and lube.I’m sure Fearless Leader Joe (and Koga Ambassador Alee Dunham) will point out this is all just advertising for Rohloff hubs

Boxed in

Rented Seino bike shipping box

Now that Kuroko is fit as a fiddle, it’s time to ship her off to Ishinomaki for the Tour de Tohoku. I made arrangements with Seino transport company some time back. They’ve changed their rules and I’m not able to use either the bag I got for last year’s Tour de Tohoko or the bag I got to take Kuroko on a flight to England.

Ostrich OS-500 cycle bag
No longer acceptable: Ostrich OS-500

Also NG: Evoc pro cycle bag

Instead I decided to rent a box from the delivery company. (My other options were to purchase either a box or a cloth-sided “bike transport case” — meaning I’d have yet another bike container to store around the flat when it’s not in use.) Seino’s instructions said I’d need to take off the front wheel, and possibly the seat, and they advised me to have something to wrap the front wheel in to prevent it scratching up the bike. So I spent a little time today whipping up an envelope out of bubble wrap.

Taping together sheets of bubble pack
Taping several sheets together

Bicycle wheel in a sleeve of bubble wrap
Testing the fit before adding another layer

When the box arrived today, though, it contained a cardboard sleeve for the front wheel. It only took me a moment to realize that the cardboard sleeve would serve perfectly well, and it would be just additional effort to try to use my bubble pack sleeve in addition.

Bicycle on a balcony
Ready for packing

With the box open and Kuroko ready to go, I just had to remove the front wheel and guide her into the box. The handlebar goes sideways — I had to remove the pump from the frame because it was interfering with turning the bars fully — and then the fork rests on a pad on the bottom of the box.

Bike in a boxBike in a box
Bike in a box

With everything in the box, I only had to lower the saddle. (The instructions said I might have to remove the saddle.) I’d spoken with the driver about the pick-up time tomorrow, and he said he could make it at 6 p.m. So I’m going to have to hurry home after work to meet him.

Just-in-time repair

Upside-down bike frame showing crank arm sticking up

Kuroko’s bottom bracket has been making noise over the past two months, and I needed to get it sorted out before the Tour de Tohoku next weekend. In fact the deadline is Tuesday, because that’s when the delivery company will pick up Kuroko and take her up to Ishinomaki.

I’d tried removing the crankset more than a month ago, thinking I could retighten the bearings and that might help. I had no trouble removing the right crank (including the chainrings), but then I discovered the left crank and spindle were stuck in the bearings. I hammered on the end of the spindle quite a bit, but it didn’t budge.

SRAM threaded and FSA press fit bottom brackets
Bottom brackets: Ol’ Paint [L] and Kuroko [R]

At that point I decided not to attempt any further repairs until I had a replacement bearing set. I ordered that and crossed my fingers: it was coming from Italy and there was no guarantee of a delivery date.

Meanwhile, I’d been on a couple of more rides. It was very clear on the last one, a mostly flat ride to Yokohama, that the bearings would have to be replaced. They were making more noise than before — almost like a coffee grinder. I’d also done some research on stuck BB spindles, and everyone was pretty much in agreement: use a bigger hammer.

They said it couldn’t be done

The replacement bearing set finally arrived, but I held off for a few days. With so much at stake (including the possibility of ruining Kuroko’s frame if I forced things too much), I was a bit shy of taking the next step. Instead, I took Kuroko and the shop where I’d bought Ol’ Paint, near my office. I knew from experience the mechanic there was very good, and that he was willing to take on bikes he hadn’t sold. When I explained the problem to him and showed him I had the replacement bearings, he was willing enough to take on the job. He even quoted me his standard labor rate for it, not jacking it up because it wasn’t his bike or his replacement part.

After a few hours, though, he called to say that the left crank was stuck and he couldn’t finish the job. I don’t blame him for not pursuing it. The risk to him was high and reward rather low. When I picked up the bike he was apologetic and wouldn’t charge me anything. As I said, he’s a good mechanic, and it was helpful for me to have him confirm what I’d found. It showed I was on the right track.

And so I was back where I started, with even less time to make the fix. I gathered up all the needed tools and parts, and today I finally made the do-or-die effort.

Bicycle in work stand with wheels removed
Up on the rack you go

The first step was to remove everything that would come off easily: the bags and lights, the wheels, the pedals. (Note to self: It’s easier to take off the pedals when the wheels are still on and the bike is on the ground.) Then I removed the right crank. (Note to self: ditto.) In the process I discovered the mechanic had tightened it quite a bit more than expected when he’d put it back on. But I was able to get it off without too much fuss.

One sticky bottom bracket

With the preliminaries out of the way, it was time to lay the frame on its side. I propped it up with some pieces of lumber. I sprayed some apple cider vinegar (good for aluminum-to-steel corrosion) around the spindle where it contacted the bearings. And then I broke out the special sauce.

Spraying compressed air into the hollow spindle
Special sauce: compressed air

I’d read a post from a few years ago on a bike forum that spraying an entire can of compressed air into the spindle would cool it down, causing it to contract and helping to free it from the bearings. I knew from experience at the office that a compressed air can will quickly get cold when the air is released. But I was feeling sceptical as I emptied the can into Kuroko’s guts. The spindle was cooling down, but not as much as I’d hoped. I didn’t know if it was going to be enough to help.

Hammering a bicycle spindle to release it
It’s hammer time!

I set down the icy spray can and reached for the mallet. After just a couple of sharp raps, the crank popped right out! I’d used far less force than I had done on the previous occasion, when I couldn’t get it to budge. So I can confirm: between the vinegar and the compressed air, the job got done.

Bicycle bottom bracket and rusty spindle
Free at last!

The spindle was covered with a surprising amount of rust. Most came off immediately with just a touch of degreaser.

Bicycle crank and rusty spindle
That’s a rusty spindle
Bicycle spindle with most rust removed
After five seconds with degreaser

The rust that remained was right in the trouble spot — where the spindle rides in the bearings. This was probably a job for Scotch-Brite, but I didn’t have any on hand. Instead I spent a good 10 minutes going over it with steel wool, and that mostly did the trick.

Bicycle spindle after cleaning with steel wool
After 10 minutes with steel wool

It’s hammer time!

The next problem was getting the old bearings out. The bottom bracket extraction tool was too narrow to be of help. It’s made for the original Shimano crankset that came with the bike, while these bearings have a much larger internal diameter. In the end I just stuck a screwdriver against the inside of each bearing and hammered, working my way around the bearing so it wouldn’t go cockeyed in the bottom bracket shell. It took a good bit of hammering, but in the end all the old bits came out.

Remains of bottom bracket strewn on floor with tools
These bearings with never bother you again, sir

With the bearings out, I could see quite a bit of rust in the bottom bracket shell. Most of it was in the center part, not where the bearings contact the shell on both ends. I spent a couple of minutes cleaning up as much as I could with the degreaser.

Rusty bottom bracket shell
Rusty bottom bracket shell

Bottom bracket shell after cleaning with degreaser
Much cleaner and ready for new bearings

With the bearings out and everything cleaned up, I put Kuroko back in the work stand and measured the bottom bracket shell. I wanted to compare two measurements at right angles on each side. Working with a vernier for this is not perfect, but I don’t have a laser alignment rig on my balcony. As near as I could make it, all measurements were within 0.1mm — reassuring me that the shell hasn’t been distorted.

Measuring the bottom bracket shell with a vernier
Checking for distortion

Satisfied of a good fit, I greased up the new bearing assembly and inserted it into the bottom bracket shell. Then I used the bearing press to make it all snug.

Bearing assemblies in the bottom bracket
Bearings greased and ready for pressing

Pressing in the bearings with a bearing press
The squeeze is on

I read the instructions several times through and confirmed that the bearings just need to be flush with the edges of the shell. I don’t need to torque them down.

Bearing pressed into bottom bracket shell
Nice and flush

I made sure to put plenty of grease on the spindle before inserting it. The instructions call for grease just on the contact areas, and I’d read advice that it’s best not to put too much grease on, but I want to avoid a rerun of this situation in another six months. Even after 10 minutes with steel wool, there were some pitted spots on the spindle. So in this case I think some extra grease is warranted.

Bicycle crank and spindle coated in grease
That might be enough

The spindle went back in with just a couple of whacks of the persuasion tool. But then I realized I’d left out the washer! Believe it or not, after all the research and effort I’d put into this, it took me two tries to remember the washers — a wave washer on the left and a regular washer on the right.

Tightening the right crack with a torque wrench
Torqued right

At last, I got the right washers in the right places (and the left one in the left place) and torqued the crankset back to the correct spec. I put the chain back on the chainring and gave it a spin — perfect! Or at least, no grinding or unevenness that I could detect.

It took me a few minutes to clean everything up and put the tools back where they belong, then wash my hands. I got my helmet and shades and a pair of minimalist shoes, and then carried Kuroko through the flat to the elevator.

Road test

The shake-down ride was very brief — just once around the block (about 2.5km). Not a hint of bearing trouble. Just smooth spinning. I ran through all the gears, front and back, and it’s all good. There are a couple of little things to take care of: the rear brake needs to be adjusted and the headset is a little bit loose. I can easily do both tomorrow in less than five minutes.

What am I to think about the BB going bad in just half a year (albeit with some strenuous conditions), and the spindle freezing to the bearings? Is this something I’m going to have to put up with every six months? In other words — as a friend asked — have I built myself a Jaguar here? Something that requires repairs all week so I can enjoy it on the weekend? Or did I just do a bad job the first time around — which was my first time doing anything like this with a bike? (I did a lot of research and watched a lot of videos, but there was no sempai to guide me through my baby steps.)

The answers to these questions will only come with time. Most comments I’ve found on the web seems to suggest the bearings should be good for 10,000-50,000km. Meanwhile, since I installed this crankset, Shimano has introduced a similar model with 46T-30T capability. (They didn’t offer this when I made the replacement). It’s a lot cheaper. On the other hand, it’s not carbon fiber. Regardless, if I find myself replacing this BB after another six months, I’m going to switch to the Shimano crankset or a Sugino one with the same tooth count.