Back in the saddle again

Bicycle in front of condo entrance

Today I’m happy to report the end (or nearly so) of the saga of Kuroko’s drivetrain upgrade. I had three goals in the upgrade:

  • A further improvement in climbing, from a larger rear cassette
  • Sorting out an issue with a sticking front shifter
  • And performing another (and hopefully last for some time) bottom bracket replacement
Removing the shift lever with a hex key
Removing the shift lever with a hex key

I began working on Dec. 1 and things immediately went sideways as I decided that I needed to replace the shift/brake levers in addition to everything else, to sort out the sticking shifter. I still recall vividly the half-hour wasted with a bike store employee who didn’t seem to understand a bike could have cable-operated disc brakes. With the time wasted, all I accomplished that day was installing the new levers.

Loosening the crankset bolt with a socket wrench
Loosening the crankset

Things went on hold then until Jan. 4, in part owing to a vacation and the New Year’s holiday. The Halfakid dropped in to lend a hand with new cables, installing the new derailleurs, and finally, attempting to replace the bottom bracket. We were able to remove the old (er … the one I installed in September last year) bottom bracket without much trouble, but when we tried to install the new one, of a different make and style, we discovered we needed a different tool.

Bottom bracket pressed halfway into shell
Half-way there

I finally got the tool and completed the bottom bracket installation on Jan. 11. Which brings us to today.

Replacing screws in a rear bicycle dropout
New screws for the dropout

The first thing I did was to replace the dropout screws I’d installed earlier this month with some better-fitting ones. These new screws fit more snugly and flush, and I remembered to use Loctite and not grease when I screwed them in.

Using a torque wrench to tighten a rear derailleur
Tightening the rear derailleur

That done, I needed to reinstall the new rear derailleur. I’d given the Halfakid the wrong orientation when I coached him on the install earlier this month, and it was immediately obvious when I wasn’t able to fit the rear wheel in place. A few long, hard stares at the instructions showed me the error of my ways, and all was soon good. The cable housing is a bit long, but I decided to tackle that another time.

Derailleur, wheel and cable
Derailleur, wheel and cable

Bicycle drivetrain with new chain sized to fit
Getting the length right

With the front and rear derailleurs installed, I had to cut the new chain to length and install it. I’m glad that I was taking my time at this point and checking everything twice, because I nearly forgot to run the chain through the rear derailleur before pressing in the final rivet. (Sizing the chain is done without running the chain through the derailleur.) I’m glad I noticed in time.

Bicycle in stand showing new derailleurs and chain
Drivetrain done and done

Finally it was time to adjust the brakes and derailleurs. The instructions for the new derailleurs are quite a bit more complicated — in part I followed the instructions, and in part I let tuition guide me. I played for some time with tension of the rear derailleur cable in particular. When I was finally satisfied, it was time for a shakedown ride!

Bicycle with helmet overlooking city
Ready to roll

Given the hour (and the fact I’m still overcoming a cough) I just went for a quick spin around the block. It was very satisfying to be back on the bike after a hiatus of two months. The new drivetrain is working well, although I didn’t encounter any hills steep enough to allow me to test out the new low gear. The rear derailleur is good but not yet in perfect adjustment, while the front is making a bit of noise on the larger chainring. Just a couple of tweaks needed and all should be good. And I need to remember to tighten up the front brake just a hair more while I’m at it.

Bicycle in front of condo entrance
Back home again

I’ll probably commute once or twice this week, and meanwhile I’ll hope for good weather on the weekend for the first proper ride of 2020!

Light at the end of the bottom bracket

Bottom bracket pressed halfway into shell
Park Tool HHP-2 on a shipping box
This thing is massive

Last weekend, the Halfakid and I were stymied in our attempt to insert a new bottom bracket by the lack of the proper tool. I ordered the tool from Amazon in the US and today I picked up where we left off. Unfortunately the Halfakid was not available to continue to help me today.

The Park Tool HHP-2 arrived on Thursday, and it is massive! I’ve seen it used in a number of bicycle assembly and maintenance videos, but I was just not prepared for how large and heavy it is. According to Amazon, it’s 3kg, but it feels closer to 10kg. By contrast, my Shimano bottom bracket tool is less than half a kilogram.

Bottom bracket, bottom bracket press and tool next to bicycle frame
Checking that I have everything

I spent a few minutes going over the instructions again before committing myself to the job. It seemed straightforward enough, but there are certain details to keep in mind — such as the fact it’s made to go in from the non-drive side only.

Bottom bracket pressed halfway into shell
Half-way there

I took a deep breath and made the plunge. The initial resistance was higher than I’d experienced with the previous bearings from FSA, but they had a plastic shell and this bbinfinite model is aluminum. After checking the alignment once again, I bore down on the handles and soon the thing was half-way done.

When the bottom bracket reached the opposite end of the shell, the big Park Tool press bottomed out: it just wouldn’t go any further. After I’d finished the job I realized that the two cup guides had come into contact in the middle. I should have reversed one so it would be pressing on the larger flange from outside the shell. At the time, though, I just removed the Park Tool press and continued with my Shimano press.

Bottom bracket partially inserted in bike frame, with tools and pressBottom bracket fully inserted in bike frame, with tools and press
Nearly there … and it’s done

After withdrawing the bearing press, the next step was to grease up the spindle and press it into the bearings. bbinfinite’s guide suggests putting the spindle in the freezer for half an hour to ease the job, but it wasn’t necessary — perhaps because it had scarcely reached 10C when I was doing this. At any rate, I was able to get the spindle in with just a couple of slaps with the flat of my hand against the crank. This was a good sign, as I’d always had to use a mallet with the FSA bearings.

Greased spindle ready to insert into bottom bracket
Greased spindle ready to insert into bottom bracket

Tightening bicycle crank with a torque wrench
Torquing the crank into place

Crank installed on left side of bike with proper spacing
Spacing looks OK

The final step was to put some more grease on the spindle and tighten on the crank and chainrings with a torque wrench. With the wrench I’ve got it’s a challenge to get the recommended 41NM, but I can always manage by putting my weight into it. With both cranks on (and pointing in opposite directions) I checked the clearance on the left crank. The wave washer should be slightly compressed, not fully, and it looked good to me.

Finally, the moment had come for a test spin! I gave it a few turns, and it’s smoother than it had been with the FSA bearings. It doesn’t run forever: just a couple of turns and it stops. But it’s definitely more free than before. There’s a clicking noise (not a grinding noise as the FSA bearings had been making) which I think is the aluminum collar inside the shell between the two bearings. I hope that with a few hundred kilometers the crankset will smooth out even more and the clicking will sort itself out.

Test spin with bbinfinite bottom bracket

How much longer must this go on?

So what remains to be done before Kuroko is ready to ride again? A number of smaller things: I’ve found some screws which will probably be a better fit for the rear drop-out, so I’ll put those in. I need to cut the new chain to length and install that. Finally, I need to adjust the brakes and the new derailleurs. I hope I can find time next weekend for that, and that the Halfakid can help out again. After all, he’s been waiting patiently for the first ride of 2020.


Detail of dropout with missing screws

Yesterday when we were putting a new rear derailleur on Kuroko we discovered that some of the screws for the modular dropout were missing — in fact, most of them were missing. And from the looks of the recesses in the frame, one of them has been missing at least since my ride in England.

I hadn’t paid enough attention to the dropouts before to realize they were modular, much less that they were held in by screws. A quick inspection showed that the other side was fine: all present and accounted for, and nice and snug. On the drive side, just one screw remaining, and holding in by a single thread. It has me wondering if this contributed to the earlier issue of the thru axle coming loose on a regular basis. And I’m sure a wiggly dropout would contribute to sloppy shifting.

A variety of similar screws
A variety of similar screws

Regardless, it would be unsafe to ride Kuroko in this condition. I needed replacements. I tried searching online for information, but nothing was forthcoming. So today I took the remaining screw and set out for the bike store. The clerk there was able to find something similar for me, but he was concerned the head shape was different and wouldn’t sell it to me.

Instead I went to Tokyu Hands and bought screws in three similar sizes, thinking that one would be a sure winner. Amusingly, the three varieties of screws at Tokyu Hands (not known for its bargain prices) cost pretty much the same as the one screw at the bike store.

Modular dropout in place with replacement screws
Good enough?

The first screw type I tried was a pretty good fit. Not perfect: the head is a bit round and stands out just slightly from the frame surface. But I think it’s good enough. If there’s a clearance issue I’ll cut down the 16mm screws to fit as they’ve got flat heads. Meanwhile, I put Loctite on the screws and tightened them up.

So who’s to blame?

Rear bicycle wheel and derailleur
Wheel and derailleur back in place

Obviously having a dropout fall off while I’m on a ride is a safety issue. I’m lucky it didn’t happen on one of the English canal paths or halfway around the Tour de Tohoku. How could this have come to pass?

I don’t really know where the blame lies. There’s not really a good reason to use a modular dropout on a production frame unless you use the same frame for a variety of models, some with thru axles and some with quick release. But given that’s what we have here, were the screws driven in by the maker or the bike shop that assembled it for me? I don’t know for certain, but I’m guessing the maker.

The final possibility is that I damaged the screws when I had the derailleur go into the spokes on that fateful day in England. I can’t completely rule that out. I do know that I was having the issue with the thru axle loosening up before that time.

Regardless of where the finger points, I now have something to add to my pre-ride checklist, and it probably wouldn’t hurt to carry spares on longer rides (particularly given they weigh next to nothing).

Kuroko maintenance continues

Loosening the crankset bolt with a socket wrench

Today, with the help of the Halfakid, I picked up where I’d left off the maintenance of Kuroko, begun more than a month ago!

At that time I decided I would replace the bottom bracket (again) as the bearings (just four or five months old at this point) were making a bit of noise, and the crank was not turning very freely.

Sad bottom bracket

I’ve had the replacement bottom bracket sitting in my den for months now, waiting for the right moment to install it. As I’ve already been through two sets of bearings from the maker of the crankset, FSA, I decided this time to give a different solution a try.

bbinfinite bottom bracket and tool
bbinfinite bottom bracket and tool

Today was cold and grey (while the last two days have been sunny and mild), and we both put on an extra layer before venturing out into the wind on the balcony. But we took the plunge. I quickly located the correct socket size and handed it to the Halfakid to loosen the crankset.

Loosening the crankset bolt with a socket wrench
Loosening the crankset

It took him a good few tries! He was obviously using more force than I’d used putting the crankset on, and it wasn’t budging. So we decided to take a break and look up the threading information to make sure we weren’t trying to turn it the wrong way. (Many threaded bottom brackets use a left-hand thread on the drive side, and I needed a sanity check to make sure the same wasn’t also true of the crankset.)

Reassured we were torquing in the proper direction, we returned to the balcony and then, with just a couple of more tries, the crank finally loosened. We had it off in a minute and then hammered the bearings out of the bottom bracket shell.

Screw in vice and grinding tool
The loud part — grinding down the screw

The new bottom bracket has a full aluminum shell, so we needed to grind down the screw that holds the cable guide to the outside of the bottom bracket shell. This took a few minutes with the help of the Dremel and a grinding wheel. It was pretty noisy, but (for a change) we didn’t bother the neighbor’s dog with our cacophony.

Bottom bracket shell showing protruding screwBottom bracket shell with screw ground down flush
Grinding down the screw until it’s flush

We were finally ready to install the new bottom bracket! We took a few minutes indoors to warm up while I went over the instructions once more, then once more again. We had all the tools and parts, and were ready to get the job done! So we thought. We got no more than a minute into the operation when we realized that my bottom bracket bearing press wasn’t long enough for the job. It’s made for bearings that are separate, and so doesn’t have the reach to go the whole way through first the integrated bearing set and then the bike’s BB shell.

Time for another break under the heater while I looked up the recommended BB tool. It’s not cheap. Amazon showed several sellers that could deliver it with a minimum wait of 10 days. Rakuten had a seller willing to take the order but without any commitment to a delivery date. I decided to check with the local bike shop before ordering.

Man in a hoodie manipulating a bicycle shift lever
Getting the cable out

With the bottom bracket fix on hold, we turned our attention to the parts we could take care today: replacing the rear derailleur and associated shift lever. We cut the cables for the existing rear derailleur and front brake and loosened the lever from the handlebars. We had a time of it trying to get the shift cable out of the lever, and in the end decided we didn’t actually need to get that done while standing in the cold wind.

The new cables threaded into the new shift lever a lot more easily than the old ones had come out, so we quickly mounted the new lever to the handlebar. Next we spent a couple of minutes trimming and adjusting the front brake. We didn’t get it perfect today, but that’s OK because I’ll check all the adjustments again once I’ve got the crankset back on.

Removing the sprocket with a sprocket tool and chain whip
Out with the old

Replacing the rear cassette was another job that turned out to be more difficult than expected. As I’d put the existing cassette on and used less than my full strength tightening it, I figured the Halfakid could remove it in a second. But, as with the crankset bolt, it turned out to be a lot more tight than expected. He finally got it turning after several tries and different positions to increase leverage.

With the old cassette off, we then fought with the packing of the new cassette. The sprockets were mounted on a plastic insert to hold them in place, and I spent some time trying to force out the insert or cut through it. Finally the Halfakid found out which way we needed to tug at the insert and then it popped out in a second. After that, the new cogs went onto the freehub in a minute, and with the application of a bit of grease, the Halfakid gave the cassette lockring a good tightening. (I doubt I’ll be able to get it off again without his help.

Bicycle wheel with shiny new cassette
In with the new

The final step for the day was mounting the new rear derailleur and attaching the shifting cable. But in the process we were in a for another shock, and this one a nasty one. While we were mounting the derailleur I noticed a loose screw on the inside of the dropout. A closer inspection showed that it was the only screw remaining of an original four meant to hold the dropout to the frame, and it was hanging by a single thread! The Halfakid tightened it up, but reported that it wouldn’t seat in and stop turning. So that might mean the frame threads are stripped. In any case, I have to figure out what size screw it is and find three replacements before I can ride the bike again. Meanwhile, the dropout certainly is loose, and this probably contributed to shifting issues I’ve had in the past.

I don’t know at what point the other screws were lost. It certainly points to a quality control issue, but I don’t know if it’s the manufacturer or the shop where I bought Kuroko — I rather suspect the former.

Between the bearing press being too short and the dropout screws missing, Kuroko is probably going to be laid up for at least another week. I’ll have to put of my first ride of the New Year for a while yet.