Tuesday, July 19, 2016

New Uses for Old Tools

July 4th was not a good day for my poor put-upon racing bike.

With just shy of 2000 miles on it since buying the thing, I'd already replaced just about every single moving part except the crank, chain-rings, and brake calipers, but the team had decided to have a fun ride in the rain. Since I had some weird internal personal rule about both road bikes having similar mileage, and with the cheap-o Fuji well in the lead, I figured I'd put some miles on the Blue.

Oh what a mistake.

We rode just shy of 50 brisk-but-casual miles with a couple of bursty efforts near the end, all in varying levels of precipitation from "moist" to "holy crap I can't see". It was fun, and afterward I hung the bike on the wall as usual and got back to my normal life.

A few days later I pulled the bike down for a quick cleaning. The first indication that things weren't going to be great was the sloshing sound. Inside the frame. Uh oh.

I put the bike up on the stand, turned the crank, and winced: the bottom bracket had a nasty grind. Pulling the NDS crank-arm revealed a ton of grit, which I cleaned as best I could, but for the life of me I could not remove the drive-side arm. Too much crud was packed into the bearing interface. So I cleaned and cleaned and whacked with the deadblow hammer until it came free, revealing STANDING WATER inside the bottom bracket.

This is no ordinary bottom bracket, mind you. Blue chose to equip the 2011 Axino with a BB30, an odd choice for a dedicated racing bike, and a curious cost-saving measure in a bike that retailed new for about what I'd like to get in selling the race car. BB30's are not compatible with Shimano cranks, but somewhere in the bike's history it was equipped with a Dura-Ace 7900 crank. That conversion was done with a cheap adapter that leaves the bearings inboard, where they can flex and apply less optimal sideways pressure. When I first felt a grind in the bike last year, I decided to run a proper conversion bottom bracket that put the bearings outboard, stiffened up the lower end, and was directly compatible with my Shimano crankset. With those parameters in mind, and with an eye toward reducing future costs, I went with the nuclear option and got the PraxisWorks ceramic bearing BB30-conversion bracket. A $200 part that, based on online reviews and product descriptions, should have been damn near bombproof.

Only there are two problems with this particular nuclear option: it's not serviceable, and any attempts to service it render the 2-year "warranty" null and void. Why the air quotes? Because that 2-year coverage only extends to materials and craftsmanship, and as it turns out, ceramic bearings require periodic service, so screw you, consumer.

I weighed my options for resolving the bracket issue:

  • Do I spend another $200 and just vow never to ride the bike in the rain again? That's ridiculous, as sometimes rides can cover 100+ miles, and you can't control the weather.
  • Do I pull the trashed bearings and press in new ceramic ones at $80? The warranty would be gone, but the performance would not diminish.
  • Do I pull the ceramic bearings and put in cheap steel ones? They're consumables, after all, and maybe one season is all they have in them. Better to blow $30 every year than $80.
  • Or do I try to rebuild the non-serviceable bearings? Well, they're trashed anyway, and if it doesn't work, I'll still have to replace them. Sounds like a winner.
I took the bike to the team mechanic for a once-over, and he confirmed the bearings were likely trashed, told me not to hold my breath asking for warranty coverage, and wished me luck.

In the meantime, I'd also discovered that the headset was grinding again, and in spite of pulling it apart, regreasing it, and putting it back together, it was also not getting any better. Worse, the yokels who replaced the first failed headset bearings didn't add any spacers, so the fork always flexed a bit under braking (attempting to resolve this resulted in a bound-up steerer). I knew I couldn't service angular-contact bearings, but that they were going to be cheaper and easier to toss than the BB bearings, so I ordered a set of Cane Creek 41/52mm series 40 bearings. There is no flex in the fork now, and sizing the correct bearings meant no need for shims to keep from locking up the steerer. Yay!

So after taking a day to calm down, I rolled up my sleeves and tore the bottom of the bike apart. Water was everywhere and had fouled every scrap of lube and grease, so the first thing I had to do was a thorough cleaning of the inner parts of the bike, along with rotating the frame around to get all the water out.

After that, I put a big socket on the inside of the bearings and popped them both out with a hammer, then pulled off the outer faces. There was standing water INSIDE both bearings, and rotating the inner race forced even more water out.

I'd never torn down bearings so small, so it took a while to figure out how to remove the retainers and balls, but everything came apart and got as cleaned as it could be. I repacked the whole thing with Redline CV2, a fully synthetic grease I'd used to pack Miata front hubs over the years. I figure if it can stand up to the rigors of jumping on the brakes at 120mph, it can handle the occasional burst of power through a bike frame. Even so, it's probably way too thick for this application, but it's what I had.

After getting the bearings fully re-packed, the grind was almost imperceptible. There's no question that crud was etched into the inner and outer races, but given the incredible hardness of ceramic, I doubt the balls were etched, so if the repair does not hold up, I'll buy and gut a pair of steel 2437 bearings and transfer the ceramic balls.

I went out and put down a couple of test rides after getting everything patched up, and almost instantly realized the Shimano Ultegra 6800 chain was binding at the connector pin. No matter how much I've lubed and cared for that chain, it just keeps jumping on the 11 & 12 cogs. Can't have that during a race, so I ordered a KMC X11.93, which came with an unexpected (and minimal) 2g weight savings.

So now this bike is on its 3rd headset, 3rd chain, and functionally 3rd bottom bracket in just over 2000 miles. Going fast costs money, but it's always nice when it costs money that was already spent on the hobbies of yesteryear.

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