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Check Your Crankarm Bolts… Especially On A New Bike. And What to Do If Yours Needs To Be Tightened After Every Ride

Jess, my wife, recently pointed out that we’ve had some crankarm issues over the years. Because there were always distinct causes for the issue, and because we’ve always addressed the causes before they became a problem, I never gave it much thought.

After our little mishap on our brand new top-end tandem the other day, where the bike was completely perfect and that crank arm fell off 7-1/2 miles into a ride, and an extended conversation with my wife (and a short one with Matt Assenmacher), I decided to start checking the crankarm bolts a little more regularly. Well, a lot more regularly, especially on the tandem.

Now, I have it on authority that Campagnolo makes the best crank as far as crank bolts go, so I can accept that. A close second would have to be Shimano for my money. Now, that’s just my experience. Yours may differ.

Over the years we’ve had a Shimano 105 crankset come loose on us (but it was on my wife’s bike and I was drafting her when it started to go bad so it was fixed before it was a problem), we’ve had a FSA crank loosen up on us (wife’s gravel bike, but there was a massive quality flaw in that particular crank), then our tandem – a bike with just under 200 miles on it, seemingly out of the blue, and that was utterly catastrophic though we managed to keep the rubber side down.

As it turns out, it’s common for the bolt(s) just loosen up over time and effort so they should be checked regularly to make sure they’re staying snug – especially on a new bike. In fact, I’ve had to check my Specialized S-Works crank fairly often as well, now that I think of it, and it loosens quite easily with hard riding. That’s a long story for another post, though.

In the case of our tandem, the crank bolt is a two piece bolt. The outer screws into the crank arm and the inner pulls the two crank arms together. When I set my crank, I must have set it perfectly because it’s staying tight. I’ve checked after every ride. My wife’s crank was loose too when mine fell apart, though, and that’s loosened up with every ride we did until I decided loosen the outer bolt so the inner would get more “purchase”, thinking there needed to be more threads engaged on the crankset.

And that was exactly the answer. After our 40-miler Monday, the crank was just as snug when we got back as it was when we left.

And so, a lesson learned.

What You Need to Know About Buying, Riding and Fine-Tuning a New Bike; Also, “It’s Tandem Time, Baby”!

If you’ve dropped a good bit of money on a bicycle and you think, because you paid upwards of several Thousand Dollars, the bike will be problem free for the foreseeable future, you’ll have to think again… and likely a lot sooner than you’d think.

When you bring a new bike home from the shop, the chance it’s properly perfectly tuned and ready to roll is somewhere between slim and none. I suppose, before I really dig into this post, I should clarify that I’m exceedingly picky that our bikes (my wife and my bikes) are operating at their peak.

It usually starts out like this; you bring a new bike home, ride it a time or two, and things start creaking or rubbing or the derailleurs don’t shift quite as crisply as the bike settles in. Most shops give a free one month checkup to readjust things after they settle.

I’ve never taken a bike in for its one month. I can’t last that long knowing I’ve got something that needs correcting. I’d guess that the electric groupsets are a little less problematic, but I really wouldn’t know, it’d just be a guess. Mechanical groupsets, however, I do know something about and they require some tinkering. I’ve been working on our tandem, little changes here and there, for the better part of a month.

Today will be our first ride on the tandem where I’m totally pleased with the mechanics of the bike. The front brake was a quarter turn on the left pad too tight, the derailleurs were a half-turn (or so) off on the set screws, the rotors are trued, the calipers are set where I want them… and there are no mysterious “clicks” in the rear derailleur and the front only needs to be trimmed on the last two (smallest) cogs on the back and doesn’t rub in any other gear but the small/small combination (as it should, it doesn’t rub on the derailleur, it rubs the big chainring from being cross-chained).

The real question is, would our tandem have sufficed as it was when we rode it the first time? Well, it was really nice that first ride, but the adjustments needed to happen to really make the bike ride how we wanted it.

It’s been like this for every bike I’ve owned. Every bike my wife has owned except one (her Assenmacher is the lone exception – that bike was perfect right out of the back of my wife’s SUV) but that bike is a 2004 and was kept after quite well)… every other bike we’ve ever brought home has required a little tinkering.

The key is knowing this is coming and enjoying the process of sorting it out!

UPDATE: On a crazy fluke, the front crank fell apart on our ride today. Check the crank bolts are tight. Often.

The Finer Points of Accessorizing a Road Bike (Or Tandem In Our Case)

I’ve come a long way in terms of understanding how to make a road bike look amazing without going too far. Oh, I started out on the crazier side, as many do, but I came to see going too far as a bit of a clown show.

Put simply, I don’t feel a need to participate in a clown show.

Thus, we have the art of going far enough without getting silly.

With a black and red scheme on my mountain, gravel, and both road bikes, I was glad when we chose silver for the tandem. Silver goes with anything, so the sky’s the limit as far as kit goes. The rest is a matter of “do we have any white in this or do we just go black and silver”?

We went with black everything and silver paint.

This isn’t to say we couldn’t throw a splash of color in there, but for the moment, a little bit of carbon fiber will do just fine:

We had the cages when I took the photo of the bike against the car, but the new stem cap and spacers just showed up yesterday… and they are outstanding.

I love accessorizing… as long as it’s not all rainbows, unicorns and gaudy.

Of course, this also could simply be due to my… erm… age. Perish the thought!

What Happens When One of Those Big, Nasty Bike Manufacturers, Like Trek, Buys Your Local Shop?

So, what happens when Trek offers to buy your local shop and turn it into a Trek store? It just so happens our local shop was sold to Trek and I was ready, for once in my life, to get all bitchy about big corporations, corporate takeovers and… well, blah, blah, blah.

My daughter worked at that shop. My other daughter’s boyfriend works there right now. And I was distraught. I was certain this was going to be some kind of corporate “you’re only going to get Treks now, you greedy consumerist pigs” kinda vibe.

Then Trek offered the owner a fair deal and gave him the opportunity to sell off all of the stock they wouldn’t be able to sell. They gave him an even better deal in the non-compete clause of the agreement. Fair, right down to the letter and the owner, my friend, is exceedingly happy. They interviewed all of the mechanics that I care about and offered them a great benefit package and an excellent wage. My daughter’s boyfriend is so happy and excited, he’s actually thinking about making a career with Trek. I’m sure my repairs will cost a little more, but that’ll be money going to people I really care about, so it’ll be worth it.

Check your prejudice, folks. I had to check mine. Trek might be a bunch of silly do-gooder hippies, but from what I’ve heard, they take care of everyone involved in a “takeover”.

Honestly, I can’t believe I’m writing this, but I’m glad Trek bought out the local shop.

Thank God I have a Trek!

My First Ride Outside in 2023…

It was crispy out at 8 in the morning yesterday, but the sun was on the rise. Mike had called at around 7 to say he’d be riding soon. I hemmed and hawed for a minute looking at the frost on my wife’s windshield.

In the end, she convinced and added she’d ride with us.

I was dressed perfectly except for my tights… I wore the 35°+ tights instead of the 20-34° tights, and I paid for it.

I could feel my leg muscles tighten as the crisp air worked right through my tights and leg warmers. I almost thought about turning around but that would be really bad for my wife and Mike, so I didn’t say much and marched on.

We were on pavement, on the gravel bikes, and I other than my legs being cold, it was freaking awesome.

We rolled on at an easy pace for a little more than an hour, commuting up to the high school to drop off something my daughter had forgotten. Then we headed home in the brilliant sunshine and mild breeze.

My legs also warmed up with the sunshine against the black Lycra.

Oh, how I can’t wait for spring!

Later in the afternoon, while she was working, I took Jessica’s new road bike in to straighten out the derailleur hanger at the shop. It was a simple and quick process and her bike went from shifting great to perfect. Better than I knew possible out of a mechanical drivetrain.

With that carbon Campagnolo Record drivetrain, I won’t lie, I’m a little more than jealous. Cripes, even the jockey wheel cage is carbon fiber, for God’s sake!

When it’s all said and done, though, I’m glad for my wife. She deserves that bike… and it provides me excellent cover. Heh.

Clipless or… Erm… Pedals Without Clips… Erm Flat/Platform Pedals?

I believe I’ve seen all of the videos GCN has put out on flat/platform pedals vs. clipless. For the uninitiated, “clipless” refers to a lack of toe clips and straps… you still, ironically, clip into clipless pedals.

What they rarely cover in the whole discussion is foot position, though they did for a second or two in the imbedded clip.

First, clipping into clipless pedals, to spoil the clip and add my two cents, is only slightly more efficient than using platform pedals with little screw-in flat spikes and mountain specific shoes without cleats, until you get out of the saddle and sprint. At that point, a person who has used clipless pedals will feel vastly safer to hit the gas harder because their feet are connected and secured to the pedals.

Having ridden a 30-mile loop with the Elite A-Group on Tuesday night on a set of platform pedals (though, admittedly, the pedals I used were the cheap, stock plastic platforms without spikes). At a decent pace and cadence, it’s simply too hard to keep your feet in what I approximated was the proper position.

And that word, “approximated”, was the important part of that sentence, folks. You have to guess… and at 90-rpm, guessing where your feet should be gets old in a hurry. Especially bad is when you’re a little off and you can’t move your foot in little increments while moving at that rate of speed. What I ended up experiencing was a lot of pain from having my feet in the wrong place on the pedals to work the crank efficiently for my ankle, knee and hip joints. For that reason, I’ve never bothered with trying platforms again. Perhaps cycling at a less aggressive pace wouldn’t prove so difficult.

Next is the mountain bike issue (and this applies to potholes on the road as well – especially bunny-hopping an unexpected pothole). When descending, you can experience everything from roots to rocks making the descent tricky. If your feet are clipped in, you don’t have to worry about your feet bouncing off the pedals. The spiked platforms wouldn’t be as bad as straight up plastic, but I’ve always felt better being connected to the bike in clipless pedals.

In the end, the choice to go clipless or platform will come down to choice. This commentary is included to help those new to the choice to make a reasoned choice. It’s always an interesting topic.

UPDATE: Be sure to check out the comments. What a great topic for well-reasoned discussion based on experience. Great stuff.

At What Price Point Does a Road Bike Become Unattainable?

I watched an interesting video on YouTube yesterday where a very British announcer posed the very question in the Title. The announcer stated there was a 40% 14% tariff* on any bike made outside of the UK – apparently the UK went all Donald Trump on evening up China’s trade imbalance… so if you add 40% on top of a normal bike price I don’t know if that would make them unattainable, but it’d piss me off covering a 40% tariff, though. And, should that have been the case in the US, I’d have thanked God both our old and new tandem are manufactured, made, built, painted, partially assembled, shipped and will arrive at my door step after the final assembly, entirely in the United States (it’s made in Oregon, Eugene, I believe). If you think a single bike expensive, get into the world of top-end tandems! WOW!

Anyway, it’s hard to believe, but now that I think of it, between my wife and I the three main bikes in our stable will all be hand-built in the USA. My Trek 5200, Jess’s Assenmacher, and our tandem.

The question is, though, at what point does a road bike become unattainable? How much is too much?

I don’t think we’re quite there yet. Bikes have gotten a little heavier, so if you want a 16-pound bike, it’ll cost you. They prices haven’t outlandishly for what we get, though. At least, in my personal opinion. I looked at a nice Trek Emonda the other day that was fantastically well appointed for $5,000 with the new Shimano 105 Di2 drivetrain and decent carbon wheels. At 18-pounds, it’s heavier than I’d expect but the price looked quite fair to me… and with the worldwide economic downturn (caused by the way in which Covid was handled by politicians, not just Covid), manufacturers are going to have to start cutting prices to move bikes sooner or later.

One thing is for sure, I’m sure glad I have a full stable. This is a great time for a gravel bike that’ll pull double duty as a road rig with a different set of wheels and tires.

UPDATE: The OMIL pointed out in the comments that he thought the duty on foreign-born bikes was 14%, not 40%. I had to go back to the video and sure enough, the announcer had a bit of a lazy tongue and I misheard 40%… it’s only 14%. Still, that’s an extra $140 per thousand that goes right out the window. That’s a lot better than $400, though!

In Bike Frames, Steel May Be Real, But Can It Compete With Carbon Fiber?

Six months ago, I’d have answered “not a chance” if you’d asked “can a steel bike frame compete with a carbon fiber frame?” That abruptly ended when we bought my wife a 2004 54 cm steel Assenmacher with a 10-speed Campagnolo record drivetrain and I set the thing up with a new stem and handlebar to suit her.

Her reports of how the thing launches when she puts the power to the pedals, when contrasted against her carbon fiber Specialized Alias, had me perplexed. The smile on her face had me convinced I’d been fed some bad information.

My wife’s 18-pound steel Assenmacher next to my 18-1/2-pound carbon fiber Trek 5200 (my Trek is five years older):

Now, there’s no amount of money (that I’m aware of) you can spend that wouldn’t end up with a carbon fiber a pound or more lighter than the steel option in terms of modern bicycles. In fact, I have no doubt my Trek would be a touch lighter than my wife’s Assenmacher if we had the same wheels and components on the different frames. However, I now believe the notion that the steel bike wouldn’t be as responsive has to be tempered for we weekend warriors… and a steel bike can obviously be made exceedingly light with the right groupset.

There’s no question my wife’s bike is lighter than my carbon fiber Trek 5200.

Road Bike Weight Obsession and Owning A Bike Made In the Right 2K Decade…

My buddy Mike and I have a regular laugh at the weights of today’s road bikes. Want a sub-16 pound (7.2 kg) bike? Yeah, you’re going to spend north of $8,000 to $10,000. The key, if you’re on a budget and really want to get yourself a great, light, aero road bike might not be to head over to the local shop to clunk down a wad of cash for a down payment on a brand new, fancy rig. It’s going to be heading over there and taking a look at the pre-owned stock or checking out the other avenues to picking up a used road bike from the 2010s. My 2013 Venge weighs in at just over 16 pounds and I’ve got $6,000 into it, but it’s six grand if you count some of the things that aren’t on the bike anymore, like a $500 wheelset that’s now hanging on the wall.

In fact, while we’re at it, my 1999 Trek that came with Shimano Ultegra components and weighed around 21 pounds can be purchased used for as little as $700 and upgraded to 18-1/2 pound, svelte cruiser for a few Thousand Dollars. Total.

Now, the question becomes, does weight really matter that much?

No, but yes, is my official answer. No, it doesn’t matter enough to think about blowing $10,000 on a bicycle (Unless it’s a tandem, ahem. A silver tandem. That’ll be here in the next month or so.). Aero is also vastly more important that a pound or two. I can attest to this reality.

If, however, I compare the 16 pound Venge above with my 18-1/2 pound Trek 5200, I can tell the difference on the way up a hill but not enough that I’d choose the Venge over the Trek if the forecast called for more than a 15% chance of rain. I can do everything on the Trek I can on the Venge.

That also begs the question, if an 18-1/2-pound bike is just as good as a 16-pound, why not just get a new bike? Will that be hydraulic disc brakes, then?

How Much Should You Spend for Carbon Fiber Wheels (and How Good Are the Cheap Wheels)?

A couple of Specialized Venges on Ican wheels…

I’ve been a big fan of Ican wheels. My wife did get a bum rear wheel from them, that’s since been replaced, but other than one bad rim, we’ve got thousands of miles on Ican wheels with only a broken spoke or two – no more than we’d expect from any other name brand expensive wheel (I’ve had similar problems with a number of name brands such as Rolf, DT Swiss & Velocity).

My wife and I have three sets of Ican wheels; two sets of base price 38s and I have a set of Fast & Light 50s on my Venge. We have less of an investment in three sets of wheels than some spend on one wheelset (a little north of $1,600 for three wheelsets). We’ve put those wheels through the ringer, too. Multiple 23+ mph average rides, a few 20+mph centuries, countless 50+ mile rides… and when I ride an alloy set of wheels after my carbons on the same bike, there’s an unquestionable difference related to speed and effort.

So, when I saw this video on my feed, I was drawn to click on it like a moth to a porch light:

Without ruining the surprise ending, the cheap wheels weren’t the slowest, but they were close to the slowest, and a cheap set was among the fastest. In fact, two sets closer to the affordable end did quite well. The testers also didn’t test Ican wheels, so I have no idea where they’d come out, anyway.

The point is, if you can afford those $4,000 wheels, by all means, have at it. They’re awesome. If you can’t, don’t feel like you’re missing out, because you’re not. If you’ve got a decent set of 40s or 50s on a reasonably equipped road bike that’s mechanically sound, at that point it’s simply a matter of working on the engine if you can’t (or don’t want to) keep up.