Bag of Spanners

Words: Rohan Dubash

Rohan and Rouleur Editor Guy Andrews host our first Road Bike Maintenance Evening  in London on Monday, December 5. It will be a closed event and space is limited. We have goody bags for budding mechanics courtesy of Park Tools, Finish Line lubricants, DT Swiss and Continental tyres. See you there.

A few years ago I was working in a high-end road bike shop and approached by a customer who was complaining about noise coming from the rear hub of his Colnago EPS. It was a very nice bike with all the trimmings and a full Campagnolo Record 10-speed groupset, the top of their range at the time. I asked him to pop his wheel out so I could feel the bearings. When I saw him struggling it became clear that he was not well versed in something as rudimentary as wheel removal. For starters, he tried to remove the wheel while the chain was half way up his cassette and on the large chain ring and, to make matters worse, thanks to the fact that he was running his brakes very close to the rim, his tyre got stuck between the pads. I told him to open the quick release to make his life easier and he said “What’s that?” – a comment that surprised me as he had owned the bike for several months. I showed him the small brake release buttons on his Ergopower levers and he said “Oh wow, I never knew they were there and nobody has ever told me to position the chain before taking out the wheel. Thanks… that’s much easier.”

It was at this point that I realised that sometimes the things we take for granted are not always obvious, which is why we want to share with you some simple tips about correct bike set up and adjustments that will make your life easier and your cycling more enjoyable…

Wrapped, Rouleur issue 7

To me, fresh bar tape indicates a state of mind – as, for that matter, does a spotlessly clean bike. The former world pursuit champion and Six-Day star Tony Doyle would agonise over the wrap of his bars and have them re-done, even minutes before a pursuit heat, if they weren’t perfect. Nothing left to chance, pride in your workplace, as it were. Whenever I see freshly fitted white bar tape, I am reminded of a passage from The Rider by Tim Krabbé: “Kleber is standing in front of me. We greet each other. I point to his bars. ‘New tape?’ He smiles apologetically. ‘For morale.’” Exactly.

Delta, Rouleur issue 5

Computer modelling and new materials now produce better brakes made out of less material, which meant the Delta route was washed aside by the super-efficient dual pivot caliper and the more user-friendly combined brake and shift levers. Even though the Delta has gone, it certainly left its mark as component design moved on, perhaps for the better. But let’s face it: love it or loathe it, and function aside, has there been anything since as aesthetically pleasing as a Delta?

Colnago, Rouleur issue 4

But maybe the final decades of the 20th century were the golden years for frame design and manufacturing. After all, it took ten years to make a better carbon frame than the C40, and customers now demand new developments every year. It is sad to say, but Colnago has to change, and change it will. But whatever happens in the coming years, Colnago is still the name that instantly conjures up images of countless victories, quality products, innovative engineering and a love of the bicycle – a love of cycling.

SSC, Rouleur issue 3

Time moves on and the days of the hand built wheel have all but gone. A new, almost brutal, technology has been fuelled by CAD programs, the demands of less weight coupled with greater strength and the eagerness of designers to push the boundaries using their imagination and new materials. Yet still the hand built wheel will not die. When adversity calls, many turn to a traditional wheel. One has to understand that the bike is a sum of parts. Each component must work in harmony. If a part fails to do this, unreasonable demands may be made on others. Did Hincapie’s choice of wheel in the 2006 Paris Roubaix make unreasonable demands on other parts of his bike? A wheel  may well be stiff and strong but is that enough?

Campagnolo, Rouleur Issue 8, 23 and 24

That afternoon changed everything for me. I found myself collecting catalogues and posters scrounged from local bike shops. The more I read, the more obsessed I got. Holdsworth’s Bike Riders’ Aids and its pages of European cycling exotica was my bible. It had beautiful photos and sketches of Campagnolo components with weights, prices and brief résumés for each product. I used to pore over those pages for hours, committing almost every word to memory, and writing out imaginary build lists with Campagnolo, Cinelli and Clement.

Today when you receive any modern bicycle part it is accompanied (or should be) with a heap of warranty information, disclaimers and a comprehensive instruction manual written in several languages, labelled with repeated warnings about excessive torque, use with non-associated parts and danger of injury – or even death – if you choose to ignore the manufacturer’s recommendations. In 1982, all you got was a simple picture of a rear derailleur sitting underneath a set of sprockets with sparse text explaining how the travel adjustment screws should be set – nothing more, nothing less. It was not the mech itself but this greaseproof paper instruction sheet that set me thinking. There was no question about the emotional gratification of finally getting my hands on my very first bit of Super Record gear, but that shiny instruction sheet that lay flattened out in front of me had been carefully folded by someone and placed in the box, prompting me to think about how that iconic component part ended up sitting on the dining room table. Up until then, a product was simply a product – lovely as it may be – but the moment I opened that box I began to consider that there might be more to owning it than simply ownership itself.


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3 Responses to “Bag of Spanners”

  1. Steve Young Says:

    Great read Rohan especially the bit about assuming people’s level of knowledge and how, over the years, we can accumulate a great deal and think it the norm. Teaching Nan to suck eggs is necessary when Nan doesn’t know her quick release from her bottom bracket.

  2. Larry T. Says:

    The comments about the chap not knowing how to take his wheel off or how the Q/R worked makes me wonder. Is it the retailer to blame here for not demonstrating any of this OR the customer himself for failing to admit he doesn’t know these things when the shop guy offers to demonstrate? Or more likely, did he buy the whole thing from an internet retailer whose only concern was that his credit card charge was approved? The world of cycling is becoming so full of “instant experts” who really have little knowledge or experience that it’s scary. Reminds me of the old t-shirt, “I didn’t know shit before I started reading Brand X magazine, now I’m full of it”

  3. gary harris Says:

    Any self respecting high-end bike shop wouldn’t ask a customer to remove his own wheel. If you owned a Ferrari and took it to your Ferrari dealer and told the highly trained technician you had a noise coming from the engine you wouldn’t be asked to remove the gear box yourself! Anyhow: Did you stop that noise? Was it the wheel,the bottom bracket? As for removing the wheel, not being an expert myself, I thought removing a rear wheel in any gear would be okay,it’s when you put it back in. That’s when you need the chain on the small sprocket. If the nice man with his Colnago knew how to remove his own wheel and how to reset his QR on his nice brake levers maybe we all could perform open heart brain surgery. Or should we leave that to the experts?

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