What are the biggest pet peeves for a bike mechanic?

By Jake Voelcker, owner, Bicycleworks

This piece first appeared in the January edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here 

All mechanics have their pet peeves. If only all headsets and bottom brackets were standard. Why are internally routed cables becoming so common? Perhaps the new law making white goods serviceable should be extended to new bikes as well.

Internally routed cables
Maybe internally routed cables make sense on a time trial bike where aerodynamics can be the difference between winning and losing, but what is the point of routing a gear cable inside the frame on a hybrid or touring bike? Especially if, as on some bikes, you have to remove the fork or bottom bracket simply to install a new cable.

Do bike designers ever think of the mechanic? They certainly don’t think of the customer who discovers that their simple gears service has turned into an overly expensive bike overhaul.

Yet another bottom bracket
Why do we need a new bottom bracket standard every year or two? Time for a short quiz:

1. Is a Hollowtech 2 crank compatible with: (a) GXP bottom bracket (b) MegaEXO bottom bracket (c) Both (d) Neither
2. What (if anything) is the difference between BB30 and PF30?
3. Which is the odd one out? ISIS, Gigapipe, Overdrive, Octalink, Powerspline, Powerdrive?
4. When is a MegaEXO crank not compatible with a MegaEXO bottom bracket?
5. And a bonus question: what do you say to the customer when you’ve tried absolutely everything, and their BB30 is still creaking?

Non-standard standards
If you thought bottom brackets were bad, headsets are worse. Internal. External. Semi-integrated. 1-1/8”. 1-1/4”. 1-1/2”. Straight. Tapered. Cartridge. Semi-sealed. A mixture of these on the same bike! SHIS. ZS44. EC34. IS52. WTF?

As a mechanic or bike shop owner, did you ever think your job would involve so much internet research? Too often we disassemble a bike only to discover that the headset is ever so slightly different to any of the ‘standard’ sizes, and we have to spend hours online trying to track down parts. This isn’t real work. This doesn’t benefit the customer. This is just a waste of time.

Too many gears
Some customers love the idea of more gears because it sounds better – 11 sounds better than 10, and 12 sounds even better, right? But in reality what do most customers want: more and more actual gears, or a wider range of gears? In my experience, the average rider is just as happy with an eight-speed 11-36 cassette as an 11-speed 11-36 cassette. It’s the range that really matters, not the number of increments in between.

Because modern cassettes have so many sprockets packed into the same small space, modern chains must be very narrow: the outer width of a vintage 3/16” chain was typically 12mm, and even a six or seven-speed 3/32” chain was around 8mm wide. But the chain for new 11 and 12-speed cassettes is less than 6mm wide. This can only be achieved through the use of narrower side plates which wear much more quickly. And mid-drive e-bikes make the problem worse.

The same customer who liked the sound of a shiny new 12-speed bike is understandably not so happy to learn that they need a new chain and cassette after less than 1,000 miles – and at a cost of perhaps £150 or £200.

Cheap chains
As well as the width of the chain, in real-world testing we have found there to be a big difference in wear rates between cheap and expensive chains. The brand of chain does not seem to make a huge difference; the model of chain within each brand’s range does. Fair enough if the cheap chain is only used on a low-end bike, but we frequently see quite well-equipped bikes with really budget chains which will wear prematurely and take the cassette and chainrings down too.

Rant over. What is the solution?
At Bicycleworks, we have decided enough is enough. We are not going to take part in this proliferation of incompatible standards, and bikes which wear out in no time, and aren’t designed to be serviceable:

– We only use 1-1/8” external-cup headsets
– We only use threaded 68mm bottom bracket shells
– All of our gear or brake cables are externally routed
– All brake cables and all spokes are stainless steel
– 99% of our bikes use good old Shimano square taper bottom brackets
– 99% of our bikes use Shimano eight-speed drivetrains, with top-quality chains

In short, this is a mechanic’s bike, designed to be easy to service and maintain. This is a bike for the real world, designed to be used in all weathers for thousands of miles. This is a bike which will still be going strong after the current crop of fashionable headsets and bottom brackets are discontinued and unobtainable.

Quiz answers:
1. (b) MegaEXO bottom bracket, but only if it’s the 24mm type
2. The cranks and bearings are the same, but BB30 bearings press directly into the frame, whereas PF30 bearings sit in a cup that presses into the frame
3. Overdrive. The others are all (mutually incompatible) types of splined bottom bracket for a standard threaded frame
4. Omega cranks have a 19mm spindle and are not compatible with MegaEXO 24mm, even if some of them are called MegaEXO. Confusingly, some BB30 cranks are now also labelled MegaEXO but are not compatible with MegaEXO 24mm or MegaEXO 19mm
5. I have no idea… 

Jake Voelcker, owner, Bicycleworks –www.bicycleworks.co.uk
Bicycleworks offers everything you need to launch your own bike brand and build bikes in-house.

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