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: • • • • • • #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’s 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.

More tune, more up

Bicycle against bicycle railing overlooking city

The forecast was for rain today, and Nana and I made plans (including sitting at home waiting for a box of spokes). I thought it would be a good opportunity to tune up Kuroko a bit more. On last week’s ride the shifting worked fine, although the gears were still making a bit of noise. And the rear brake could use a bit of tightening up.

Bike stand, spare wheel and tarp on balcony
Working at a higher level

As it turns out, today has been cloudy, hot and humid, but there’s been no sign of rain. I waited for Nana to go off to the spa and then got Kuroko up in the stand once again. I went over and over the derailleur adjustment, front and rear, and shifted through the whole range of gears repeatedly. I’m pretty sure everything is going to be fine now.

The rear brake was at the limit of the barrel adjuster, so I tightened up the cable a bit. At the same time, I checked the rear thruaxle. It has a way of working loose. It’s all good now.

To spare my back, I raised the bike stand up a bit higher than I have in the past. It allowed me to get at the gear and brake adjustment without bending over.

Finally, with a bit of water and a soft towel, I cleaned up yet more mud that Kuroko had brought home from England. Every time I look, I find a bit more.

A tale of two BBs

SRAM threaded and FSA press fit bottom brackets

The replacement bottom bracket for Kuroko arrived today, and I’m still debating whether I want to attempt the swap before the upcoming Tour de Tohoku. It’s making some noise now and not spinning as freely as it should. But when I last tried to remove the crankset from the BB, it was stuck. If anything goes wrong I have just a couple of weeks to get it right — and parts need to be ordered and shipped from Italy.

Meanwhile, the US-made bottom bracket for Ol’ Paint is still sitting in my room, waiting for the arrival of the crankset (and some minor details like me finishing up the sanding and painting of the frame).

So, which is the base-grade American bottom bracket bearing and which the super Italian job at more than three times the price?

SRAM threaded and FSA press fit bottom brackets
Which is the special Italian race number?

SRAM GPX Team (English threaded) [L] and FSA PFBB86 [R]

(Incidentally, this is the first picture where I overrode the auto settings on my new camera. And then I used Photoshop’s shake reduction filter.)

Tuning up for tomorrow’s ride

Bicycle on balcony overlooking city

I spent time today tuning up Kuroko for tomorrow’s ride — wherever that may take me.

I received a new saddle bag this week. Fedex and Seino put their heads together and attempted to deliver it twice while I was at work before I called them and said it was OK to leave it in the security box.

Topeak saddle bag
Topeak saddle bag — good but too limiting

Apidura Backcountry Saddle Pack
Apidura Backcountry Saddle Pack — room for onigiri

The Apidura bag is expandable and will allow me to carry onigiri and even a windbreaker without having to carry a musette. (I doubt I’ll need a windbreaker tomorrow, but it will come in handy for the Tour de Tohoku next month.)

It doesn’t look quite as nice here on Kuroko as it does on the maker’s site (especially as I’d missed the saddle rail with one of the straps — which I subsequently fixed), but I expect it will be fine once I’ve packed it full of onigiri.

Apidura Backcountry Saddle Pack
Apidura Backcountry Saddle Pack

After switching the bags, I tackled the rear wheel next. It was clear from last week’s ride that I hadn’t tightened the spokes enough when I replaced the right side. I checked them with the tension meter and ended up tightening them all about another turn and a half all the way around. The wheel is sitting closer to the center of the bike now and it’s nice and true (or as true as I can get it just by eyeballing it in the frame).

Checking spoke tension
Checking spoke tension — that’s about half what it should be

Discovered in the process: the new spokes are thinner gauge than the previous ones. And that’s exactly the spot you want to have your thickest ones.

My final job today was to (once again) adjust the rear derailleur. Before I started though, I noticed the chain had started rusting. It was fine last week! Chalk it up to the typhoons, which have brought us plenty of rain.

Bicycle chain with a light film of rust
A light film of rust

Bicycle chain after cleaning
Nice and clean

It just takes me a few minutes now to clean and oil the chain. Adjusting the derailleur took a bit longer. Before I started I once again watched Calvin Jones’s excellent guide.

Armed with that fresh in my mind, it only took me a couple of tries to get it right. Let’s see now how good of a job I did!

Bicycle on balcony overlooking city
Ready to ride

The rims have arrived

Alexrims DM18 bicycle rims

I got notice yesterday that the rims had shipped, and to expect them today. Then the driver tried to deliver them yesterday, while we were out. When we got home I found the missed delivery note in the box.

This morning I asked Nana to contact the company to arrange delivery, and she asked them to bring it between 7 and 9 p.m. today. So I was a bit puzzled when I got home from today’s ride to hear the chime and announcement that I had a package in the delivery box.

“That must be something else,” I thought. “No way we have a delivery locker big enough to hold a pair of 26-inch rims.”

After having a shower and snack, I took the delivery locker card and went to the first floor to pick up my package. Then for the first time, I noticed a row of really, really large delivery lockers. “I guess it could fit in here,” I thought. Unfortunately the door would not open. The latch kept making a “ker-chunk ker-chunk” sound, and after a minute the console announced that the door would not open.

The woman working at the front counter gave me a slip with the delivery box company phone number, and Nana phoned them. They told us to try again, and after we’d used our card at the touch panel to hold our apartment key to the same panel. That did the trick — the locker opened up and revealed an enormous box.

Enormous Amazon delivery boxTwo bicycle rims on a chair
An enormous box and two new bicycle rims

The box held an enormous amount of packing paper and two shiny (and matte) new rims. So now (as noted yesterday) I need to get some spokes and start building.

Alexrims DM18 bicycle rims
Alexrims DM18 bicycle rims

These rims were my final choice after considering a lot of options: they’re inexpensive, the right size, and an almost perfect match for the existing rims (which are by the same maker).

Growing Schwag Pile for Ol’ Paint

Cassette and bottom bracket

A couple of more bits arrived for the Ol’ Paint refurb, and the schwag pile is starting to grow.

Today we had a real Boxpocalypse as Amazon chose an enormous box for a single handlebar stem.

Open cardboard box with packaged handlebar stem insideOpen box with handlebar stem shown for scale
Boxpocalypse I & II

The handlebar arrived separately, in its own box. (I checked: the handlebar would not quite have fit in the stem’s monster box.)

Shimano stem and no-name handlebar
Shimano stem and no-name handlebar

I gave the cassette cogs a trial fitting on the Shimano rear hub. A good, tight fit.

Test fitting the cogs on the rear hub
Test fitting the cogs on the rear hub

Meanwhile, no further action on the sanding and paint prep. I’ve been busy.