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The Bearings We All Forget

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Bicycles run on bearings.  Starting from the front of the bicycle, there are bearings in the front wheel hub, which allow the wheel to spin on its axle.  There are bearings in the headset, which is the assembly that connects the front fork to the frame, and permits the fork to turn for steering and balancing.  There are bearings in the bottom bracket, which allow the crankset spindle to rotate freely.  There are bearings in the rear wheel hub and the freewheel attached to it.  There are bearings in the two rear derailleur pulleys.

Bearings Bicycle.png

Cyclists pay lots of attention to the bearings in wheels and drivetrains.  These are the bearings which help the bicycle’s forward progress.  Any reduction in friction (loss of watts, in cyclist’s parlance) is highly sought after.  These bearings are regularly serviced. Steel bearings are often replaced with ceramic bearings, which have a lower rolling resistance.

Headset bearings get less love.  Bike mechanics should check headset adjustment when servicing bikes.  Occasionally a headset needs tightening.  It is usually only after the rider feels roughness, notchiness, or uneven drag while steering, that headset bearing get serviced or replaced.

And the bearings we all forget?  The ones in our pedals.  Cyclists notice when their cleats need replacing.  The wear is visible, and that wear is often made tangible by clipping in and out of the pedals requiring either too much or too little force.

Pedals just seem to go on and on doing their job with no fuss or bother.  That adage about the squeaky wheel is certainly true where pedals are concerned.

I bought my Alchemy Eros, and the Speedplay pedals that I specified for the bike, in June 2015.  I had given my pedals little or no thought since then.

A week ago the bike developed an irritating click.  Lim, the mechanic at The Bike Artisans, thought that my pedals could be the source of the noise.  The pedals were spinning too freely on their spindles, which is a sign that they needed regreasing.  He didn’t have a needle-type grease injector gun, so couldn’t do the quick and easy pedal maintenance via the grease port hole built into the pedal bodies.

When I got home I consulted the Speedplay website.  Speedplay recommends that the pedal bearings be regreased at least every 3,200 km / 2000 mi, or every two months.

Bearings What

That means my pedals should have been regreased between five and twelve times by now.

I found online instructions to disassemble my pedals.  The Spindle Screw was held in place by some Loctite Threadlocker Blue, but I got the screw to turn without having to heat it, as mentioned in some posts.  The fiddliest step was removing the retaining ring.

It is possible to replace the bearings – Speedplay sells a pedal rebuild kit for USD100 which replaces everything but the spindles.  I just cleaned all the parts, flushed out what grease was left in the bearings, flooded the pedal body with fresh grease, and reassembled the pedals.

Bearings Pedal Disassembly

Diagram courtesy of

So far so good.  The pedals are turning smoothly and quietly.

Unfortunately that irritating click is still there.

Bearings Irritated


I have found the source of the click.  It was coming from the rear dropouts.  A touch of lubrication between the QR faces and the dropouts, and silence was restored.

Thank you Uffe Lindhardt for the link to Keep It Quiet!  Jim Langley’s wide-ranging bicycle blog is an excellent resource.

4,000 km / 2,500 mi Update: Alchemy Eros

Alchemy Eros Full Side

Photograph courtesy of Alchemy Bicycle Company

I wrote an early review of my Alchemy Eros in October 2015.  At that time I had ridden the bike 1,400 km / 870 mi.  Today it has more than 4,000 km / 2,500 mi on it.  I have had some long days on this bike, including a 220 km / 137 mi brevet.

My impressions from last October still hold true.  This is a stiff frame with sharp handling, thanks to the large-diameter titanium tubes and the excellent welds, which meet the American Welding Society guidelines.  It tracks precisely through turns.  I have yet to induce any shimmy at high speeds.  This frame flexes very little, if at all.  The integrated rear derailleur dropout helps in that regard.

The tradeoff for this degree of stiffness is that the frame does transmit road vibration to the saddle and bar.  This is not a silky-smooth riding Ti bike.  I continue to steer around as many of the ruts, cracks, patches and other rough stuff on the roads as I can.

Fortunately the wheels that were specified with the bike, ROL Race SLs, certainly help to smooth out the ride quality of this frame.

Photograph courtesy of ROL Wheels

Photograph courtesy of ROL Wheels

The rims are 23mm wide, which allow me to use 25mm Continental Grand Prix 4000s.  I can run 80psi in the rear and 70psi in the front, which certainly helps dampen road chatter.  The ROL Race SLs are not super light at 1,555grams for the wheel set , but they are excellent value for the USD675 asking price.  The build quality is excellent, and the wheels have taken some significant hits – potholes and the like – without any ill effects.  The wheels are as true today as they were when I took delivery of this bike.

A few days ago the bike went in for its first tuneup since it left the Alchemy Bicycle Company.  The SRAM drivetrain needed a slight adjustment to offset the normal cable stretch / housing compression that happens during a new drivetrain break-in period.  And the Cane Creek 40-Series IS headset that came with the frame had loosened slightly, probably from clattering over speed bumps and the like.

I reckon it will be another 4,000 km before this bike needs another tuneup.  Assuming I don’t inflict any damage on the bike by dropping it, or, heaven forbid, crashing it.  By then I will be looking to replace the chain, and perhaps the brake pads.  In the meantime, this “Twin Towers” Eros will continue to be my ‘go to’ bike.

Photograph courtesy of Alchemy Bicycle Company

Photograph courtesy of Alchemy Bicycle Company

My New Best Bike: The Alchemy Eros

Photograph courtesy of Alchemy Bicycle Company

Photograph courtesy of Alchemy Bicycle Company

It has been two months since I laid my hands on this Alchemy Eros.  Since then this bicycle has carried me a little over 1,400km / 870 mi.  That is not an extensive amount of time or a huge distance.  But enough for me to like this bike.  I like it a lot.  So much so that I was comfortable selling the two Alchemys that came before this one.

Alchemy has what they call a Baseline DNA Chart.  Alchemy has rated each of their current lineup of bicycles on three dimensions:  ride comfort, drivetrain stiffness, and steering precision.

Chart courtesy of Alchemy Bicycle Company

Chart courtesy of Alchemy Bicycle Company

This chart nicely summarises what I like so much about my Eros as compared to the bikes that came before.

My first Alchemy was this mostly steel frame.

Alchemy ISKY 1 1

It has Columbus Muscle carbon seat stays, and an Easton EC90 SLX carbon fork.  This was my first road bike, built for me in January 2010.  Alchemy’s builder then, James Flatman, spent a number of hours talking to me about the kind of riding I did, and what I wanted to do with the bike in the future.  At the top of my list was comfort.  I was just starting to ride longer distances.  The BP MS150 was still an aspiration.  I had yet to ride an imperial century.  I wanted a compliant bicycle to get me through those longer rides to come.

If that steel bicycle were on the Baseline DNA Chart, I would think it would score 2 (compliant) for ride comfort and drivetrain stiffness, and 3 (moderate) for steering precision.  It is certainly not a bicycle that translates every last watt the rider puts through the drivetrain into forward motion.  It does have some get up and go, but it is designed for comfort.  It is a lovely bicycle for long rides.

In January 2011 I was talking to James again.  I had been bitten by the cycling bug.  It was time to upgrade.

I had covered 3,000km / 1,864mi on the steel bike.  I still wanted comfort, but also wanted a bicycle with better power transfer.  James’ answer was this bike, with a titanium front triangle, a Columbus Muscle carbon rear triangle, and an Edge carbon front fork.

Alchemy ISKY 2 1

In Baseline DNA terms, I would score this bike 2 (compliant) for ride comfort, and 3 (moderate) for drivetrain stiffness and 3 steering precision.  This bicycle is as comfortable as the steel one.  Blindfolded, I’m not sure if I could tell the difference in the ride quality between the two.  But this frame certainly flexes less than the steel one.

Come mid-2015, and I had conjured up an excuse to upgrade again.  Alchemy had moved to Denver, and had expanded their lineup of offerings.  These offerings were also becoming much more sophisticated as the Alchemy design team developed their craft.

Ryan Cannizzaro is a founder of Alchemy Bicycle Company, and I have known him since his Austin, Texas days.  He and I exchanged emails and chatted over Skype about what I was looking for in a new bike.  I wanted a stiffer, better handling bike, and still in a metal frame.  Given the characteristics of the two Alchemys I already owned, Ryan suggested the Eros.    He felt that the Aiolos would be too similar to the titanium bike I already had.

Ryan’s recommendation was spot on.  As you can see from the DNA Baseline Chart, the Eros has greater drivetrain stiffness and steering precision than my previous bikes.  In fact, identical to the Alchemy Helios and Alchemy Aithon.  So I have carbon characteristics in a fully titanium bike, apart from the Enve carbon fork.

This bike frame has no discernible flex, at least at my decidedly non Cavendish-like power output.  The Eros is rock-solid at speed.  I have descended on it at 80kph / 50mph.  No sign of shimmy or a wobble.   It certainly has a sharper response to steering input.  This improved handling does come at the cost of ride comfort though.  I do find myself steering around rough patches of road much more than I did on my other bikes.  Or lifting off the saddle if I have to ride through the rough stuff.

The additional road vibration is a small price to pay for the increased performance.  I will miss Alchemy 1 and Alchemy 2, but I wouldn’t trade my Eros for them.

For more on the Alchemy Eros, Road Bike Action magazine has a review in their October 2015 issue.

A Bicycle for the Cognoscenti Adventure

Alchemy logo

Do all avid cyclists do this? Rationalise the need for a new bicycle based upon the flimsiest of arguments?

In my case, the arguments were that the Cognoscenti rides would be in Boulder and the surrounding area. Alchemy Bicycle Company is in Denver. The two places are only 56 km / 35 mi apart. I would need a bicycle for the ride. If I bought a new one in Denver, I would save the hassle of having to travel with a bike from KL to Boulder.

Of course I needed a new bicycle!

I looked at the Alchemy Bicycle Company website. I am an avowed metal frame rider. So my options were the titanium Eros, the titanium Aiolos, or the stainless steel Skylla.

An email exchange and then a Skype consultation with Ryan Cannizzaro of Alchemy followed. Ryan’s suggestion was to go with the Eros, which is more performance-oriented than the Aiolos. Interestingly, Alchemy is considering removing the Skylla from their line of offerings. Stainless steel is a great material for ride quality, but it requires care to prevent corrosion and ensure durability.

Alchemy already had my frame dimensions. This would be bicycle number three that they have built for me. Read about the first bike here.

I stuck with a SRAM Red 22 drivetrain.  I have SRAM on my other bikes.  I must admit that if the SRAM Red eTap wireless electronic groupset was already commercially available, I would have opted for it.

The handlebar is a Ritchey Carbon Streem II.

When it came to choosing a wheelset, Ryan told me that Rol Wheels share workshop space with Alchemy. Ryan recommended a pair of hand-built Race SLs.

All I needed to do was bring my Speedplay pedals and my Selle Italia SLR Superflow saddle with me to Denver to complete the bike build.

The bicycle that Alchemy built for me is gorgeous.

Photograph courtesy of Alchemy Bicycle Company

Photograph courtesy of Alchemy Bicycle Company

There are a couple of personalized touches on this bike.  My first Alchemy bike is purple.  The second is orange.  As a nod to those bikes, the front fork is painted orange and purple.

Photograph courtesy of Alchemy Bicycle Company

Photograph courtesy of Alchemy Bicycle Company

Each of my Alchemys has a decorative element related to where I was living when I got the bike.  One bike has a Texas star on the seat tube.  Another has the crest of the City of The Hague on the seat tube.

And for my KL bike . . .

Photograph courtesy of Alchemy Bicycle Company

Photograph courtesy of Alchemy Bicycle Company

Ryan took me out on a 70km / 43.5mi shakedown ride along the Cherry Creek Trail.  This bike rides as nicely as it looks.

Cherry Creek Trail Ride

The Cherry Creek Trail is very picturesque.

Photograph courtesy of Lennar Corporation

Photograph courtesy of Lennar Corporation

If the riding in Denver was anything to go by, the riding in Boulder promised to be spectacular.