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The Bearings We All Forget

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Bearings

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 forum.slowtwitch.com

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

Unfortunately that irritating click is still there.

Bearings Irritated

Postscript

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.

Saddle Up

A rider touches a bicycle at three points.  At the pedals, the saddle, and the handlebar.  When I got my first road bike the components at these three contact points were chosen for me by James Flatman, the bike builder.  Thank goodness, because the choices of pedals, saddles and handlebars are seemingly endless.

My steel Alchemy came with Speedplay Zero pedals, a Selle Italia SL Flow saddle, and a Ritchey Comp Road Logic handlebar.  I was happy with all those contact points, so a year later when I got my next road bike I was happy to stick with what I was used to.

Welcome to the concept of product updates in the cycling components world.

My titanium Alchemy came with Speedplay Zero pedals, a Selle Italia SLR Flow saddle (the SL Flow having been discontinued), and a Ritchey WCS Carbon Evolution handlebar (the Road Logic having been discontinued).  The saddle and handlebars were not very different from the models which they had replaced, but they were different enough for the change to be noticeable.

So it was that I contracted that affliction that affects so many cyclists.  The desire to fiddle.  In my case with saddles.

Fortunately the itch to fiddle has not extended to my pedals and handlebars.  The scope for mucking around with my pedals is limited anyway.  I like the dual-sided entry of the Speedplays.  Other makes of road pedals are single-sided.  So my only option is getting lighter Speedplays; chrome-moly or titanium.  I haven’t yet been cursed with the ultimate cyclist’s affliction, the desire for the lightest components on earth.  So my stainless steel Speedplays remain my pedals of choice.

I must admit that I like the Carbon Evolution handlebar more than I like the Comp Road Logic handlebar.  The Carbon Evolution has an oval top with a 4 degree sweep, which makes it more comfortable  than the Comp Road Logic.  So about a year ago I put a Carbon Evolution handlebar on the steel Alchemy.

Back to fiddling with saddles.  Of the three contact points I notice the saddle the most while I am riding.  Not that the SL Flow or the SLR Flow are uncomfortable saddles.  They both have a central cutout, which I like.  This is the SL Flow.

Selle Italia SL Flow

This is the SLR Flow.

Selle Italia SLR Flow

The SLR Flow has a slightly larger cutout than the SL Flow, but they are essentially the same saddle.  Equally comfortable.  But as I learned more about saddle shapes and the different materials used to make them, I kept wondering if there may be a more comfortable saddle out there for me.

Then in the latter half of 2011 I read about the Fi’zi:k Kurve range of saddles.

Fizik Kurve

There was enough new technology in the Kurve saddles to appeal to the geek in me.  Spine Concept designs, Re:flex construction, a Tuner interchangeable tension system, a Moebius one-piece saddle rail.  Add positive reviews about outstanding comfort to the mix, and I wanted one.

The Fi’zi:k Kurves appeared in a few London bike shops some time before they turned up in Dutch bike shops.  At the very first opportunity I popped into Condor Cycles in London.  I had every intention of leaving with either a Kurve Snake or a Kurve Chameleon saddle, depending upon what a Spine Concept test showed I was best suited to.

The sales person asked me if I had any problems or discomfort with the Selle Italia saddles.  I said “no.”

I left empty-handed.  She refused to sell me a saddle.  She told me not to try to fix something that wasn’t broken.

That cured my saddle fiddling itch.

That is until I started seeing Michelle again.  Michelle is a Rolf Method Structural Integration Practitioner.   She does myofascial release therapy.  In plain language, she manipulates deep tissue to correct postural imbalances and restrictions.   I saw her regularly in the years before I moved to Houston.  As soon as I got back to Kuala Lumpur I signed up for a course of therapy.  I had lots of things that needed fixing.  Some brought on by cycling.

After Michele had worked on my hip muscles: adductors, glutes, illiopsoas, piriformis, sartorius, etc., my saddles felt less comfortable.  They felt too narrow.

I had learned that bicycle saddles come in different widths.  Perhaps Michelle had loosened up my pelvis such that my sit bones had moved further apart. So I went to a Specialized Concept store to have my sit bones measured.  The resulting number showed that my 130mm wide Selle Italia saddles were indeed to narrow for my sit bones.

Specialized makes saddles in three widths: 130mm, 143mm, and 155mm.  My sit bone measurement showed that I needed a saddle wider than 143mm.  So I left the shop with a 155mm wide Romin Comp Gel saddle under my arm.

Specialized Romin Comp Gel

I replaced the SL Flow saddle on my steel bike with the Romin saddle.   The Romin felt very comfortable at first.  As time went by it felt less and less comfortable.  At the same time the SLR Flow saddle on my titanium bike became increasingly comfortable.  My sit bones must have slowly migrated closer together again.  The Romin saddle started feeling too wide for me.

So when I had to choose a saddle for my Ritchey Breakaway I picked the latest iteration of the Selle Italia SLR saddle.  The SLR Superflow.  A 130mm wide one.

Selle Italia SLR Superflow

The SLR Superflow has a monster cutout.  Which must work as designed because this a very comfortable saddle.

Since April this year I have rotated between the 130mm wide SLR Flow, the 130mm wide SLR Superflow, and the 155mm wide Romin Comp Gel saddles.  The Romin was a mistake.  Certainly in the 155mm width.

Last week I replaced the Romin Comp Gel with another 130mm SLR Superflow.

I think I am done fiddling with my saddles.

But about that handlebar tape . . .

I Don’t Leave Home Without Them

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For a quarter of a century the advertising campaign featuring the words “Don’t leave home without them” referred to these.

AMEX Travelers Cheques

I have never ridden with a traveler’s cheque in my jersey pocket.  I don’t know anyone who has.  All cyclists have some things that we regularly carry with us on our rides.  Some cash for example.  Or a Road ID.

There are very few items that I have with me on every ride.  I have forgotten to pack socks.  I often dispense with gloves.   I have left my mobile phone at home.  There is however one thing that I always bring with me on my rides.

Cleat covers.

I use Speedplay Zero pedals.  They were recommended to me when I bought my first road bike.  It is the only pedal system I have used since.  I like them a lot.  Like other users I have encountered the two main drawbacks with Speedplays.  Both to do with the cleats.

Speedplay Zero Cleat

When I walked in my cycling shoes the cleats got clogged up with dirt and mud.  The large metal surface area also made them quite slippery on hard floors.  I had a few near misses as I skated on concrete and the like.

It wasn’t long before I invested in a set of Coffee Shop Caps.

Coffee Shop Caps

These clip onto the cleats to keep dirt out and provide traction while walking.  I would put then on my cleats when I got off my bike, and stuff them into a jersey pocket when it was time to ride again.  My only mishap with the Coffee Shop Caps was that one fell off while I was walking around a rest area during a charity ride. I never found it, but later came across one that someone else had lost.

I found an alternative to the Speedplay branded covers while surfing the internet.

Kool Kovers Speedplay

Kool Kovers make covers for Shimano and Look cleats as well.  I haven’t tried the Kool Kovers though.  I found a better option.

My go-to cleat covers now are these Keep On Kovers.

Keep on Kovers

The big advantage of these covers is that are designed to stay on at all times.  No more muddy cleat covers in my jersey pocket.  I can clip in and out of the pedals with the covers on.  These covers still keep dirt and mud out of the cleat springs despite the opening for the pedal.  I have yet to lose a cover either.

I don’t leave home without them.  Ever.

A Rite of Passage

I was eager to take my new road bike out onto the streets of Houston for an inaugural ride.  However there was something I had to learn to do before I went out on the road.  My hybrid bike had a pair of these . . .

My new road bike came with a pair of these . . .

Clipless pedals were new to me.  James F. had recommended these Speedplay Zero pedals because they are dual-sided.  That would save me from having to flip the pedals around to the ‘right’ side in order to clip in.  I just had to align the cleats on the bottoms of my Sidi Genius 5-Pro Mega cycling shoes with the pedals and push down.  An audible click would signify that the cleats were locked to the pedals.  Clipping out of the pedals seemed easy enough to do too.  Rotating my heels outward would release the cleats from the pedals.

I practiced using my clipless pedals in the safety of the parking area in my apartment building.  I pushed one foot down on the pedal, heard a click and felt the cleat engage.  I turned the crank to get the bike moving.  I put my other foot on the opposite pedal and pushed down.  Another click and I was clipped in.  As I circled the parking lot I mentally rehearsed the action to release my cleats from my pedals.  Rotate heels outward.  Rotate heels outward.  I unclipped, came to a stop and put my feet on the ground.  Success!  I repeated the process of clipping in and out or my pedals a dozen times.  Each time without mishap.  I was ready for the road.

My apartment building had a multi-story car park.  I was on the third floor.  I clipped in to my pedals and set off.  I successfully negotiated the turns and ramps down to the ground floor.  I rolled through the car park exit and made the right-turn onto Travis Street.  As I approached the intersection with Walker Street the traffic light turned red.  I squeezed my brakes and lifted my right heel.  My cleat did not disengage from the pedal.  Unclipping had gone so well just minutes earlier.  I lifted my right heel again.  My cleat did not disengage.  Why wasn’t this working?  I was two yards from the intersection.  The light was still red.  Panic rose in my chest.  I yanked my heel up.  And toppled over onto the street.  To the amusement of the six or seven people at this bus stop.

Perhaps it was embarrassment that made the lesson stick.  ROTATE your heels, not lift.