Major Surgery on the Venge’s Fork: Cutting A Fork Down to Lower a Spacer Stack – Making Perfect… Erm… Perfecter?
Every year, at some point during the winter, I take the headset of my Specialized Venge apart. I break everything down I can and clean everything up. This is how my ’13 bike looks like it was rolled off the floor a few months ago, and rides as well, too. Taking the headset apart can be a bit of a daunting task, unless you’ve done it before. On modern bikes (2003 and newer) it’s quite simple, though putting everything back together requires knowing the procedure and order of everything because it has to be done right or the bike won’t turn correctly.
This year’s cleaning was a bit more involved. After changing my stem cap for the umpteenth time, the new edition (a gold Trek 1000 mile month special edition cap that is fantastically light), the headset system wasn’t allowed to tighten properly. It was so close, too. This actually presents an interesting case study in diagnosing a fork that’s just a millimeter too long, because this didn’t behave like there was a problem at all.
When I tightened the headset up, it would tighten to a point there was zero play in the system. The front brake and rock check was perfect and I couldn’t feel a thing on braking. Normally, front brake and rock, you’ll feel play in the headset if it exists. If it’s minor enough you can’t feel anything like that, if there’s a problem, you’ll feel it when you hit the front brake at speed – it’ll feel like the front end “clunks”, ever so slightly. It’s inevitable… except in this one, rare case. What would happen is the stem bolt would loosen a little bit causing an annoying noise when I hit big bumps. I could tighten everything up and within 20 miles it’d clunk, ever so slightly, when I hit a decent crack in the road. It was maddening. Stranger still, when I removed the stem cap, the fork was cut about a millimeter below the top of the spacer. Everything should have been fine.
Finally, fed up, I went out to my mountain bike and grabbed a 10mm spacer. Sure enough, it held. No more annoying noises. I rode around the last couple of months of the season with a 10mm spacer above my stem, till I was sure there were no more Venge days left in the year to take it apart.
After taking everything apart and cleaning all of the parts (spacers, bearings, everything), I took the fork up to the shop to cut it down. Now, I have a hacksaw and I have tape, but I don’t have three professionals working on other stuff to advise me on the non-ignorant way to do things. In fact, I had it in my head that I would simply buzz the fork down another millimeter or two on the shop’s belt sander. Seemed sane to me. What I wasn’t thinking about was what that belt sander would do to carbon fibers (the Venge’s fork is all carbon fiber except the lower bearing race – it’s amazingly light). It was recommended I tape just below the section I wanted cut off, first as a guide, second to keep the fibers from fraying whilst I cut the top of the fork off. I also had to go slow, creating a groove all the way around the fork end before finishing the cut. I went one better and even slower. On completing the cut, I sanded the edges down, inside and outer.
I headed home and put everything back together, carefully lubing all the right parts, tightened everything down, pumped the tires, and took her out for a test ride. Perfect made perfecter.
Now, let’s talk about my ridiculous need to have my Venge perfect in the first place. Most normal folk would have been just fine leaving that 10mm beautiful carbon fiber spacer atop their stem forever more (I actually thought about buying an 8mm spacer rather than cut the fork top down). In the end, because I had a 5mm spacer below the stem, I simply couldn’t have a 10, or even an 8, above the stem. It had to be a 5. It had to be symmetrical. Had to be.
To thine own self be true, was ever thus. I could have left that 10mm spacer up there. I could have gone with an 8 and your average cyclist would never catch the difference. I’m not your average cyclist, nor are my friends. Every time I threw a leg over the top tube, I’d have a nagging thought at the back of my head saying, “You should have fixed that, you knucklehead”. Friends, some $#!+ just isn’t worth fighting. It took me a couple hours of farting around, two hours I’d have spent on the couch (after my 27-mile ride in below freezing temps). The time couldn’t have been better spent, and now every time I throw my leg over the top tube of my Venge, I’ll think, “I went the extra mile. Thankfully, there’s rarely much traffic on that one.”