Heather used to have a road bike. Her first bike in Cambridge, in fact. It was a rather old knackered bit of kit, probably about 20 years or so, made by BSA. It was light as hell, the brakes were ropey and the gears didn't work reliably, but by gum did it go like the clappers. Plus, if you touched the gears at all, they started slipping like mad, so you really had to get it "just right" in one gear and leave it like that. Cambridge is flat, so this wasn't too much of a problem. Classic Cambridge student bike. She'd got it off another student for about £20 or so to use as a town runabout. After a couple of minor accidents, including at least one trip over the handlebars when someone pulled out a bit too quickly from a side road in front of her, the bike was deemed to be a bit too knackered for use. So we went out and got her a new "mountain bike" - a cheap-as-chips, heavy as a brick lump of steel, with gert big tyres on. Much safer in traffic. Also much slower (which partly accounted for the safety).
Build up so far:
Frame: Anonymous steel training/audax frame (ex Planet-X)
Fork: Anonymous steel
Headset: Ritchey Logic
Brakes: Shimano 105
Wheels: Shimano 5500
Shifters: Shimano 4400
Seatclamp: Salsa Lip-Lock
Stem: Planet-X 2-bolt road
Bars: anonymous MTB risers
Tyres: Specialized Armadillo 700cc
Front mech: Shimano 105
Rear mech: Shimano 105
A few years later, and we've got more into biking. Last year (2003) I'd built myself up a road bike and enjoyed it immensely. Heather started to express an interest in having a go. And then a few things came together, and one thing lead to another, and the next thing I know I'm building her up a road bike as a training aid (if you've got a nice new bike, you want to use it) for the 2005 London to Cambridge.
I have a couple of eBay notifications set up, so I get emailed if specific words come up in upcoming auctions. One of them notified me that a couple of interesting-looking frames from Planet X were coming up for auction. I had a look, and noticed that the same seller was flogging a number of "new in box" frames in various sizes. Including, interestingly, a frame touted as being "exactly the same as the Kaffenback, but without cantilever brake bosses, and unstickered". For very cheap (20% of the normal Kaffenback frame & fork price). Ah, I thought - that'd be perfect for Heather, except it's a bit big (size Medium, which I take, equivalent to approx 17.5" MTB frame - Heather rides a 14" MTB).
But I had a few bevvies in me, so I emailed the bloke and asked two questions:
The response came back in about twenty minutes.
So the next morning I rang them up, and they did me a deal. It was one of those long, rambling phone calls with Dave from Planet X where he kept looking around for something, and spotting something else that I might need, and saying things like "Double-butted 7005 aluminium, top quality, retail is £60, call it £20...", and you're in danger of ending up with a lot of stuff you weren't expecting to buy. In the end, he took my order without too much additional stuff (OK, a few wee bits), and there we go.
About an hour later, he rang back, saying that he couldn't actually find the small frame around the place, but they're on the stock list, so he'd have to wait until the bloke who normally runs the warehouse (Ray) to get back in on Monday before the order could ship.
So far, so good.
I don't hear anything on Monday. Or Tuesday. I'm assuming that it's shipped OK. Then on Wednesday, I get a call from Ray at the warehouse, saying that he's looked everywhere and they're definitely out of the red training frames in Small (stock lists notwithstanding). Arse. Looks like this project is going on the back burner, then. I cancel the order, and archive off the draft frame stickers I've been working on.
I'm a pretty regular reader of the Cycling Plus web site, which hosts some very good forums. On the Wednesday night, I spend a fair bit of time discussing the Kaffenback frame with some other owners and people who want to buy. The fact that Planet X are flogging off their overstock on eBay comes up. I bemoan the fact that I'd tried to order a small frame for Heather and had been thwarted. And so the long evening wears on.
The next night, I get home and found that someone from the Cycling Plus forum has emailed me, saying that they had one of the Small frames sitting around in their garage, unbuilt, slight cosmetic ding in the top tube due to storage - am I interested? A quick email later, and we're back in business. God bless the internet, is all I can say. A quick call to Planet X, and my order is happily resurrected sans frame. I start pricing out cheap wheels and groupsets.
A few days later, the frame turns up at work. Oooh. It's a very nice deep burgundy. It looks the biz. It's now sitting under my desk at work, ready to get stickered up and have a headset fitted. Slight mark on the top tube due to storage, but otherwise in good nick.
The frame itself is very nice - and certainly good value for money. Lovely and light, lots of braze-ons, good depth of colour. It's 4130 steel - a title which covers a lot of metallurgical possibilities. It's pretty light - F&F feels to be sub 2kg (to be confirmed a bit later - I'll wander it past the postal scales at work). It feels pretty solid, though, and the welds look to be of good quality.
Down tube: 'velo elder' logo, approx 3cm x 15cm (one each side)
Seat tube: 'Tough Girl 4130 Steel Tubing' logo
Top tube: 'un velo pour Heather'
Seatstays: URL sticker (http://www.tallpoppy.org)
Tough Girl 4130 Steel Tubing logo sticker (final) - about twice actual size
Next step is to get a headset fitted. I pop around the corner to Townsends, who are handily about 300 metres from work. They quote me a price for the headset installation, assuming that I'm supplying the headset. I'd thought that it'd be a bit cheeky for me to supply my own headset, but they're quite happy about it. Righto, so we need to get a headset.
I also look up getting some custom stickers made up. The easiest and best way seems to be to go to the local car enthusiasts shop (i.e. building full of aspirational boy-racers pricing out alloy wheels) with a CD full of EPS files and get them laser-cut from vinyl. These can then be applied to the frame, and spray lacquer used to weatherproof 'em. Righto.
At this stage, the bike is still a surprise for Heather. Shhh! She doesn't know about it yet! So I'm having to be mondo clandestine in getting this stuff done. The frame is under my desk at work, the parts are being mail-ordered in and arriving at work, I'm going to run the bike around the corner to Townsends to get the headset fitted, that sort of thing. The idea is to get the frame nicely stickered up, and then present her with it and see what she does.
This means that I have to use a certain degree of guile when performing bike-related errands. For example, to get the stickers cut, I took Rebecca to the supermarket. Instead of (as Heather thought) taking her to the supermarket in Milton, I took her to the one in Newmarket Road - right by Carnoisseur, the local boy-racer aspirational shop. They do custom lasercut vinyl stickers - usually of some witty slogan such as "fast as fcuk", but that's another thing. So with Rebecca strapped to me, wearing sandals and carrying a CD full of EPS files, I pop in. The bloke behind the counter seemed slightly surprised that I was bringing a CD, which in turn surprised me - a reasonable resolution EPS tends to get pretty large, and who uses floppies these days? His kit turned out to be unable to read a standard EPS file. This was annoying, as that's what he'd told me to bring in. Still, he was able to knock something quite appropriate up with little fanfare, and in a short matter of approx 45 minutes (due to various delays, printing time, and then fiddling with the printed labels to get them to work correctly) we had some nice vinyl stickers. It's an odd experience standing in a boy-racer haven as a sandal-wearing, baby-totin' hippie. All the 18-year-old proto-chavs come in and try and impress their mates or the counter staff with their knowledge of "performance" car parts (such as alloy wheels). The counter staff seemed to find it all amusing - for instance, one encounter involved the shop owner politely explaining three times to a bemused looking FAS victim that he'd need the chassis type number from the car, and that this was a different thing to the chassis number itself. It was a potent mixture of cluelessness and testosterone, with occasional bursts of actual technical knowledge. Not, in fact, dissimilar to the atmosphere in a number of computer shops - down the slightly superior attitude of the counter staff, tending to evesdrop on an entire conversation about a particular part before politely correcting the know-it-all bloke showing off to his mates. At one point, there was a ten minute conversation on how quickly the assorted staff members could remove engines from various cars they'd owned. And I was quietly standing off to one side, with a gently giggling baby strapped to my chest.
So after a wee while I had a nice set of vinyl stickers cut, and instructions on their use, while Heather was still none the wiser. Unfortunately, the lack of EPS files meant that my cunningly fleshed out seat tube sticker wasn't a goer, as it included a picture. Fortunately, I had something to get around this. A few days earlier, I'd found a place floging inkjet decal paper. You run it through your inkjet printer, print out your decal design on the paper, then cut it out and attach it to your item as normal. It's just like being a 12-year old again, obsessively making plastic models and trying to get the decals to stick right. I gin up my design, tweaking it into a wide variety of sizes, and print out about 40 possible decals (variations on color and size, plus a couple of trial runs on the printer to get the settings right). I now have a huge set of potential decals - which is good, because the application process is apparently a bit tricky. The ink isn't colorfast in water (it's just standard inkjet ink), so you have to put a coat or two of spray lacquer on the top of the decal to hold the ink on when you soak the back of the pattern off. But not too much lacquer! Too much lacquer and the design will be too inflexible to actually apply. It's clearly a subtle black art; I may have to pop into a model shop and see if they've got any special tips and tricks.
Of course, the injunction not to tell Heather is a bit OTT, since this page hasn't gone live yet. Or rather, it has gone live, but I've not linked to it anywhere, and I've not told anyone where it is. So there we go. By the time you're reading this, she'll know. Funny how that works, eh?
Things start to come together. Heather's off to a belly dancing workshop in Bedfordshire on Saturday (21st), for most of the day. I'm looking after Rebecca for the whole day. Righto. One of my coworkers very kindly agrees to let me stash the frame in his car on Friday night, then to truck it around on Saturday so I can get it ready for Heather. The headset arrives from Wiggle. I ring Townsends and book the frame in to have the headset fitted on Friday (earliest time). So that gives me Saturday to fit the stickers - could be a mite tight, but I'm sure it'll all come together. I resolve to do a couple of dry runs with my home-made decals. I don't want to fit the decals until after the headset, as the decals could get scratched during the fitting. It's all going well.
I do a trial run with the decals. I now have several empty coke cans with decals on. Cautious thumbs-up, although the process is quite tricky. Still, I've got a few more to practice with prior to going live on the actual frame. The decals are definitely going to need a coat of lacquer once they're on the frame, though.
The slightly denuded package from Planet X arrives, containing stem, bar tape, and headset spacers. I note with interest that the bar tape (unbranded, £2, ta) is precisely identical in every respect with the cork bar tape I bought when I was building up my Kaffenback (Profile bar tape, £5.95) - except it doesn't come in a nice box, and the bar end plugs are sans logo. Otherwise it is, very obviously, precisely the same thing. The headset spacers are very nice indeed, and I promptly resolve to swap them with the spacers on my bike. Look, that sort of thing is the reason we do these builds, OK? It also means that I can justify not including them on the "running costs" spreadsheet - out of curiousity, I'm seeing how cheaply I can do this. I figure if I haunt ebay and the For Sale forum on Cycling Plus as much as possible, I might be able to keep it under £300 total. If I buy the groupset in new, I'm looking at about £375 or so. Still a pretty respectable price, mind. This is where having a largish spares box comes in handy: I reckon that major components such as pedals, seatpost, saddle, and a few other odds and sods can just come directly from the spares box. That's a few quid saved right there.
The day dawns. Heather heads out as specified, followed an hour or so later by the arrival of the frame (courtesy of, and many thanks to, coworker Tim). We do the swap (we're giving Tim Heather's old MTB), I have a wee chat to Tim, Mrs Tim and the Timlets, and they bow out to go and try out the new bike. Amusingly, I receive a text message an hour later, informing me that Tim had forgotten to reattach the brake cables after putting the wheels back on the bike. Whoops! Fortunately, it'll take more than a low-speed impact with a telephone pole to put a dent in that bike (or, indeed, Tim).
I've got the frame, I've got about another three hours, and I'm looking after a five-month old infant. Rock on.
First step is to get the frame cleaned off. It's been in storage for a bit, and needs to be cleaned/dusted prior to putting the stickers on. A bit of Spray & Wipe Kitchen Cleaner sorts that. Frame is now clean and ready to be stickered. I prop the frame up on a large piece of cardboard, and get the lasercut vinyl stickers ready.
Rebecca is meanwhile sitting up in her bouncer chair and watching this activity with some interest.
The frame doesn't want to sit level, because of the gear hanger on the back right chainstay. This tilts it to the left very slightly - just enough to make it easy to tip over. I just have to be a bit careful with it.
The lasercut vinyl stickers go on very easily. They're mounted on masking tape, so you just press the masking tape into place and leave it for a while. After a short time, you can remove the tape, revealing the lettering. This works precisely as advertised, and takes about five minutes. Result.
Next step is the seattube decal. This is a different kettle of fish, being homemade. I have printed out about a dozen possible stickers, as I'm expecting a pretty high attrition rate. The application process involves soaking the decal precisely for long enough to loosen it from the backing paper, but not long enough to cause the ink to start floating off. This is aided by spray-lacquering the decal. However, the instructions say "less is more" when it comes to the lacquer (at least until the decal's on), so I gingerly put a wee bit on, wait ten minutes for it to dry, and start put the decal into the water for its 30 second soak.
At this point, Rebecca decides she's bored and starts screaming.
As I reach out to pat her stomach and soothe her, I knock the frame slightly with my elbow. This causes it to fall on me.
So I've got a wet decal soaking, a fretful baby needing attention, and a bicycle frame falling onto me. This is, of course, the moment that Heather rings to check that everything's OK and I've not managed to, e.g., ignite the baby. The conversation is short and unmemorable. I reassure while emphasising "Yes, everything's fine, but I'm pretty busy..." Since this is pretty much tautological with the state of looking after a 5-month old, she buys it without a murmur.
Peace restored (through judicious baby jiggling and the offering of a teething ring), I have another crack at the decals. In the end, it takes four attempts (each time putting slightly more lacquer on the next decal) before I get a good transfer. The result is worth it, however, as the decal looks excellent. The overall effect of the decal and lasercut vinyl is very good, although a certain "homemade" quality can be determined by the fact that some of the stickers aren't perfectly even (notably, the 'velo elder' on each side of the downtube doesn't mate up perfectly). Still, you can't tell unless you're right up against the bike.
I prop the bike up on the bed and wait for Heather's return so I can show off. Lo, she returneth about half four, and there is much rejoicing. Thankfully, I had indeed managed to keep the whole thing a secret - she'd suspected nothing and was slightly overwhelmed. Heh heh.
So next step is to spec out control surfaces and drivechain, and see about getting that sorted.
Bloody hell, it's spring already and absolutely nothing's happened with the frame. Whoops! I wake up with a guilty start, realise that the frame is still sitting in a corner of the bedroom, and resolve to finish the build before the end of May. That gives me just over two months - I should be able to pull that in.
I sit down for a chat with Heather about what kind of bars she's like. She's definitely not on for drop bars, which eliminates a few options. Flat or riser bars would seem to be the order of the day. I suggest flat bars with bar ends; this seems to be accepted as a good combination of upright position and speed, with the option of moving hands around for better grip. So now we need gear shifters and brake levers. The frame doesn't have canti bosses, so we can't get away with just using V-brakes - a pity, as high quality V-brakes come up really frequently on eBay. So we're tied into using road-style brakes, which means a road-compatible lever. In practice, this means that we're looking at using both shifters and brake levers from either Campagnolo or Shimano's flat bar-specific range. So that's the constraints within which we are working.
Unfortunately, there's been quite a delay in shipping on Campagnolo flat bar kit. A few emails around gives some prices for the kit - slightly higher than I'd hoped, but doable. The main problem seems to be availability. Everywhere I talk to comes up with some variant on "we have one set of Mirage/Veloce shifters, so get in quick...". I do the math and realise that it wouldn't actually be spectacularly more cost-effective to go the Shimano route (maybe a total of £30 difference all up) - and I still want to keep as much of the kit in common between our road bikes as possible. A brief spate of worry leads me to check that Campag kit is actually available in NZ (it is), so we can still get spares once we get home. Handy that. So I'm now looking at a set of Mirage combined shifters/brake levers. Where was Parker International web site again?
I hurriedly start watching eBay again, and acquire a set of Stronglight touring cranks and rings (28/38/48). Combined with a 13-26 casette, that should give us a good gear range - enough high gears for the downhill (max of around 98"), while retaining enough low gears to enable Heather to spin up hills (low gear of 29", i.e. not quite 1:1 in lowest gearing).
Next step is of course to cash the penny jar in the kitchen, to work out how much of a wheel budget we've got to play with. I sense a few minutes over Easter weekend spent counting out the pennies.
As it turns out, I actually spend my Easter weekend fettling-time spray lacquring the decals and attaching the parts as they currently stand. The spray lacquering is slightly worrying - I mask up the relevant tubes using standard masking tape, and then put three coats of lacquer on. The lacquer takes quite nicely, except on the downtube. This is the largest area of the decals, so gets a fair bit of lacquer. While on the other areas (top tube, one seatstay, and the seat tube) the lacquer comes up clear immediately, the downtube coating comes up slightly grey at first. On a burgundy frame, this is incredibly obvious. By the next morning it's all dried fully clear, but in the short term it's a bit hair-raising, leading to such wonderful plans as "I could spray-paint the whole downtube black to cover this up, then carefully paint the decals white or something." Fortunately, this is not required.
For a laugh, once the lacquer is dry (which takes about 5 minutes per coat - it's good stuff) I polish up the frame and bung on what we've already got. At present, that's the seatpost, saddle, forks, and handlebars.
The seatpost, saddle, and handlebars are from the spare parts box in the shed. The seatpost is an old Post Moderne suspension seatpost that we had knocking around - 26mm shimmed up to 27.2 for a nice perfect fit into the seat tube. Clamping is taken care of courtesy of a beautiful Salsa Lip-Lock clamp - yes, a five quid generic clamp would have done the same, but it's a mild indulgence. The saddle is a women-specific Bontrager model that came on Heather's MTB (swapped out for her faithful Trek women's specific saddle, bought for her as a Christmas present a couple of years ago). The suspension seatpost is dialled up to a reasonable preload so she won't be bouncing up and down, but is still springy enough to take the sting out of the road. The handlebars are "draft" versions - they're generic aluminium bars with a slight rise, originally on my MTB (swapped out for flats and bar ends so I can get nice and aero on my way to work). OK, so technically they shouldn't quite work with a road stem (MTB bars have a 25.4mm clamp diameter, road bars have 26mm, so the stem should be 0.6mm too big) but it's near enough for rock and roll and we can probably get away with it. I pop the forks into the frame, bung the stem on, and tighten the stem to hold the forks in place. Of course, I'll need to re-do this when we actually install the forks in anger, but in the meantime it's a good start.
So we've got something that's starting to look like a bike. The seatpost is traditionally the first thing to put in on a new bike build. This is because it gives you a handy surface to clamp into a workstand, to hold the bike steady while you work on it. Frame thus duly clamped, I get Heather to have a look at the progress so far. Both she and Rebecca are most impressed, which is gratifying.
Next stop: wheels!
For a bike that's intended to be built up cheaply, a certain amount of bling is quietly creeping in. First we had a Salsa seat clamp, now we've got X-lite enduro bar ends in matching anodised red. Retro, tastless, bling, or just screamingly inappropriate for a road bike? Especially since we're combining them with riser bars - the end result should make any snooty bike purists a bit sweaty, but will do the job. After all, bar ends are used on MTBs to duplicate the parallel hands position provided by riding on the tops on a road bike, so there's no particular reason not to use them on a road bike without drop bars.
Of course, the only reason we've got the X-lite bar ends is that they came up on eBay for a couple of quid. So bling, but on a budget - think of a CoE vicar with gold teeth.
But that's all just icing. At the moment, we've got a frame with a few extraneous bits hanging off. We need to get wheels and drivechain sorted. So what kind of budget are we working with, again?
For the last six to eight months, I've had a 2ltr milk container sitting on the kitchen windowsill with "Daddy Needs Disk Brakes" written on it in marker pen. I've been putting my spare (and some not so spare) change in it whenever possible. It was originally intended as an upgrade fund for my MTB (I rather fancied a pair of Magura Julies), but it's now been allocated as Heather's bike fund. It's slowly filled up; I reckon that it's about the right time to cash it in and see what kind of bike budget we're working with. I empty the jar out onto the living room floor and spend a noisy evening cashing up. I'm slightly surprised to find that the total value of the jar is just over £240 (including 99 separate £1 coins). That should cover most of the rest of the build quite nicely, thank you.
So it's off on the drivechain, ho. I ring up Parker International and enquire as to availability of the new Campag flat bar kit. The bloke at the other end of the phone does that thing where they suck air in and then say, "Well....". It turns out that there's not been a heck of a lot of demand for it, so they're only ordering it in specially - and at that, they've had an order outstanding for two months now with no joy from the importer. So absolutely nothing going on, then? No. The bloke is most apologetic and asks if I'm doing a conversion or building up a new bike. I say I'm building a new bike, and he points out that the Campag flat bar stuff is, quite literally, twice the price of Shimano and that, personally, he'd just say stuff it and turn Japanese. At this stage (I've been informally chasing the Campag stuff around for nearly two months), I agree. Shimano drivechain it is, then. I hit Wiggle and order drivechain and brakes.
The drivechain and brakes end up being mainly Shimano 105. OK, so it's hardly the cheap end of the spectrum, but you find yourself looking at prices online and you start thinking "Sora's only 8-speed, and I want to use that spare 9-speed chain I've got, so that's Tiagra or higher... and Tiagra's about £25, but 105 is discounted so it's only another £4... It's not much difference, really... and it'll get more respect with 105 on it... and can we really put a price on respect and street cred? And anyway, if I buy the slightly more expensive kit, it'll take the total cost over the threshold to get a 10% discount, so it really works out cheaper in the long run." and you end up with a slightly higher spec than you'd bargained for. Plus, 105 is available in sexy black. It's the little things that matter.
Of course, since this is the start of the year, it's the little things that are largely unavailable. There's a fair bit of demand for parts as the good weather kicks in, and Wiggle are out of a few bits and pieces. The main stumbling block is the front mech - the frame requires a braze-on mech, and the flat bars mean that we need a single particular Shimano front mech. Unfortunately, Wiggle's out of the braze on version of this mech. I think we've found the critical path for the build.
In the meantime, I keep busy by spending a happy morning wandering the local bike shops for some other parts. In keeping with the early days of the build, I take Rebecca with me. Rebecca distinguishes herself at Ben Haywards by spending a happy ten minutes repeatedly throwing her rattle under the display bikes, and having the shop's saturday boy retrieve it. At the end of the morning, we have a set of Shimano R500 wheels and Specialized Armadillo tyres. For the next couple of nights, I cook dinner, and cook variations on that well-known dish "something nourishing that has a ten minute pause in the middle of it during which I can try and wrestle a brand new kevlar-belted tyre onto a wheel". I'd forgotten quite how recalcitrant a new tyre can be.
Oh, and if you've got a new set of wheels knocking around, there's something you've got to do. Pick the wheel up and hold it, one hand on either side of the quick release. With your thumb, gently spin the wheel - get it moving. Now try and move it around. For value added fun, try to turn the moving wheel sideways. See? That's a practical demonstration of the gyroscopic effect, right there. Building bikes can be educational as well as fun.
Having the wheels handily means that I can move the frame out from the corner of the bedroom and into the shed. Our bke storage is good, but consists of a number of hooks in a 2x4 by the door of the shed - hence, we can't just put a plain frame in it. With the wheels in, though, it's all kosher.
So now we've got something that's starting to look a lot more like a bicycle. Next step is to start bolting on the bulky stuff. First off, the chainset. My initial plan to bang in a Campagnolo bottom bracket has been dashed, as I'm told that the taper used on Campag kit is different from that used for Shimano - and Stronglight use the Shimano taper. Damn. Campag bottom brackets are competitively priced and excellent quality. Ah well, everything else is Shimano, it won't make much of a difference. I order a nice 113mm bottom bracket from Wiggle, which arrives in short order. A sunny evening presents itself, and I merrily grease up the bottom bracket threads (oh the joys of anti-seize grease) and carefully screw it into the frame. The absolute classic problem with installing a bottom bracket is stripping the threads, so I'm very careful. Basically, the BB is the main load-bearing bearing set (eh?), so you want it in nice and tight - but there's very little room in the BB shell, so the threads are quite shallow. Hence, giving it a bit too much wellie on the spanner when screwing a BB into place can lead to very undesirable results. Stripping the thread means that you've got to get one of the few bottom brackets designed specifically for frames without threaded bottom brackets, and that's just a pain in the neck. I mean, I've got a nice bottom bracket here; why would I want to swap it for another one?
Because it's too bloody short, of course. Installing the cranks onto the driveside spindle, I notice that the inner ring is fouling on the chainstay. A couple of practice spins threaten to remove paint; whoops, better not do any more of that. A few words on the Cycling Plus web site and a pointer to Spa Cycles, and I've had it confirmed that I actually need a 122mm wide bottom bracket. Spa Cycles also helpfully point out that I paid full retail price for the chainset, too. Damn. At this point, the great eBay bargain I got is starting to look less like a good deal. I pop into Ben Hayward Cycles and pick up a bottom bracket of the correct length.
Actually installing the bottom bracket and chainset is incredibly simple. The bottom bracket shell on the frame is threaded; so is the outside of the bracket. You put a bit of antiseize grease on the threads (so you'll be able to remove it eventually), then carefully screw the drive-side end of the bottom bracket in. There's a specific tool to fit these - basically, there's a spline pattern machined into the outside edge of the bottom bracket, and the tool fits into the splines and lets you lock stuff in place. I'm using the Park Tool bottom bracket tool, which handily fits onto a 3/8" ratchet driver. Screw it carefully into place - bearing in mind all that stuff above about not stripping the threads - and then screw the plastic cap in on the other end of the bottom bracket shell. Once the bottom bracket is on, it's just a matter of putting the cranks and chainset on. This, again, is very simple - you put the cranks on the ends of the bottom bracket axle, then bolt them in place. Simple as that, and we've ready to put the pedals onto the cranks. This is also easy: the only vaguely tricky bit about putting on pedals is remembering that the non-drive side crank uses a reversed thread (so you don't unscrew the pedal while you're riding).
With the pedals on, we can check the whole setup for general sizing. I get Heather out the back, drop the saddle, and get her to give it a sit to see how it feels. The verdict is: reach is good, bars need to be a bit higher, and the seat needs to be half an inch lower. Unfortunately, the seatpost is already at the lowest point it can reach. It's a suspension seatpost we had knocking around spare, and the suspension mechanism means that the lowest the saddle can go is about 3" above the top tube. This is just a smidgeon high. Arrrr-se.
So it's back onto eBay to get a cheap seatpost. Handily, the recent trend for compact frames means that short (250mm) seatposts aren't in as much demand, so there's a few coming up cheap. I pick one up for about three quid, which I reckon is doing OK. At this point, I also get incredibly hacked off with how long it's taking Wiggle to source the front mech, and pop into Ben Hayward Cycles to get one. They don't have quite the right model, but they flog me a 105 one with the assurance that it'll all work fine.
With the new seatpost here, I wait for a sunny Saturday afternoon. Rebecca obligingly goes off for a nap just after lunch, and I get Heather out in the back garden for a quick fitting session. This basically consists of putting Heather on the bike, and then playing with the saddle and handlebar height until she's got a riding position that she's happy with. The frame uses the standard 1 1/8" fork steerer diameter (some old school road bikes use 1"), so we're using an aheadset-style headset. This means that the steerer tube of the fork goes through the frame's headtube, and then the handlebar stem is clamped to it at an appropriate height. The vertical distance between the top of the headset and the actual stem is taken up with spacers: basically, metal rings just slightly larger than the fork steerer. The fork comes with a deliberately long steerer tube: the idea being that you work out how long you want it to be, and then cut it down to an appropriate length.
The new seatpost means that the saddle goes low enough to be OK. Heather wants quite an upright position to start off with, so I add quite a few headset spacers to the steerer tube to bring the handlebars up a bit. We end up with a total of 6cm worth of spacers - this takes the bars up a fair bit, so Heather's bent forward more than on her MTB but not too much. Sort of a touring position rather than racing. I carefully mark the selected position on the steerer tube, get Heather off the bike, and bung most of the frame into the workstand to keep it out of trouble while I get jiggy with the hacksaw. Now comes the fun bit! I carefully remove the fork from the frame, keeping all the bits of the headset together: the drawback to doing this in the garden is that it's really easy to lose something small but vital. I do not particularly fancy spending twenty minutes searching the long grass for the crown race seal. So all the bits of the headset go in a bowl to one side (it's getting like a cooking program), and I've got the fork ready to cut.
This bit's pretty easy, actually. There's no fiddling and no faff - the fork steerer is basically a metal tube. All I have to do is cut it to size. A new blade in the hacksaw and we're good to go. We have a potting table out the back, so I just brace the forks with my hand on the table, with the steerer tube protruding over the side, and get going with the hacksaw. OK, it's a bit tedious, but it's straightforward. Five minutes of sawing later, the steerer tube is cut to the right length. I clean up the edges of the cut with a half-round file. Now we can fit the forks to the bike properly.
The first step to actually fitting the forks is to insert the star-fangled nut into the steerer. This stage is a bit of a bugger. The star-fangled nut is a nut with stiff-but-bendable "wings" emanating from it on five sides - hence the name. You wedge it in place in the steerer tube of the bike, then run a bolt down from it to the top of the headset (which sits on the top of the steerer tube). Tightening the bolt forces the stem down slightly, eliminating any slack in the headset. Overtightening the bolt can actually lock your steering solid, so you want to tread a bit of a fine line. The problem with this is that in order to work as an effective counterpull, the nut has to be wedged really firmly in place - which means that that, basically, you've got to hammer the damn thing in. Last time I did this I just put the forks onto the lawn, threaded the bolt into the nut, and then rested a piece of wood on the top of the bolt (to damp the impact) and thumped the wood with a hammer. It worked, but it wasn't elegant. But then - why change a winning formula? So out came the hammer and wood for a repeat performance. This is of course not the smartest way to do it in the universe - too much lateral pressure and the bolt could snap, plus you're basically transmitting a series of shocks straight through the threads on the nut/bolt interface. Still, it's a short sharp shock - two minutes of careful thumping and the star-fangled nut was nicely seated in place.
From there, it's just back to the workstand, and the frame. I put the lower elements of the headset onto the fork, and slide it in place through the headtube of the frame. Once it's through, I put the top elements of the headset in place, top it up with the headset spacers, then put the stem in place on the top. Adjust the tension in the headset bolt, clamp the stem in place, and voila - the forks are in place and ready to go. We put the kettle on, and wait for Rebecca to wake up.
Next stop: gears and drivechain! For various reasons, we've got full 105 drivechain with both front and rear mechs. The chain itself is a SRAM 9 speed I had knocking around in the spares box. I bought a job lot cheap off Chain Reaction a year or two ago - 9 speed is 9 speed, and it's common to all our bikes. Yay for spare part compatibility.
Fixing the shifters onto the bars is straightforward: slide them on, bolt loosely in place. Whoops, I guess I'd actually better put the brake levers on first. Or should I? Ten minutes of "does this look OK?" and checking our other bikes later (STI is remarkably unhelpful as a reference for this sort of check), I figure out that the brake lever should go on first, then the gears. OK. We're using Shimano R440 road gear shifters, which are basically exactly the same as standard Deore offroad shifters, but the front mech pulls a different amount of cable. Thoughtfully, Shimano even sell the shifters with the cables preinstalled, so I don't have to faff with getting the cable threaded through the shifter - handy, as it's a bit of a stuff-around. Last time I stripped the shifters for my MTB down, I absentmindedly shifted the gear mechanism while I was threading the cable through my left shifter, and had to spend half an hour with a set of pliers trying to fix it after wedging the cable-end nipple in place inside the plastic section of the mechanism. No such worries here!
The first step when fitting new cables is to cut the outers to size. Usually you'd just use the old cable outers as a template, but since we're fitting entirely from new here I just have to come up with a cable length that looks about right. This means that it should be, roughly, as short as possible while avoiding sharp angles on the cable run and having enough slack to cope if the handlebars get turned all the way around the other way. This isn't too hard to judge by eye.
Once I've cut the outers to size, I need to mount the actual cabling. This consists of threading the outers onto the inners, and then threading them through the various cable stops on the frame. Cable runs differ between frames - typically, the rear brake cable will run along the top tube, the front mech cable down the left side of the downtube, and the rear mech cable down the right side of the downtube. However, some frames use different cable runs - notably, some mountain bikes run all three cables along the top tube to prevent the cables from being affected by any mud caked onto the lower half of the bike. Since this is a road bike, it's got very traditional cable runs - for the gears, cable outer runs from the control down to the cable stops (one on each side of the headtube), then the bare cable runs along each side of the downtube to the bottom bracket, where it goes through a cable guide. From there, the rear gear cable goes straight along the underside of the drive-side chainstay to another cable stop, where a final section of outer guides the cable through the turn and into the rear mech. The front cable goes through the cable guide at the bottom bracket, and then goes straight up behind the bottom bracket and is clamped into the front mech (so no additional cable outer is required). OK, that's the theory: let's do it.
First things first: the head tube cable stops look to have an internal thread. You can quite happily just thread the cable through the stop and seat the outer in place; but there's also the option to install a cable adjuster. Handily, I have a pair of cable adjusters spare (came with the Campagnolo gears when I got them for my Kaffenback), so I quickly screw them into place and thread the cables through. This gives an additional adjustment point for the gears - by screwing the cable adjusters in or out, I can play with the tension in the final cable, allowing for fine adjustments to the gears.
The bottom bracket cable guide is a simple piece of plastic that attaches to the bottom bracket and has slots to guide the cable through. It's held in place at the bottom bracket via a little plastic plug, which fits into the small hole in the bottom bracket. I bung the bike into the workstand, and rotate it so the bottom bracket is facing me. OK, so I just need to push this so the little plug fits into the hole... nope, that ain't working. Let's give it a bit more effort... nope. Taking a closer look, I realise that the little plastic plug is clearly far too big for the hole in question. This could be a problem. The bottom bracket cable guide is one of those silly small pieces of kit that's also absolutely vital - the gears simply will not work properly without it. And this one just isn't going to fit into the frame. Popping out for another one is an option, but is a huge faff, and would effectively put the tin hat on my doing any more actual work on the build today. OK then. I take a closer look at the hole in the bottom bracket, and have a bit of a root around in my spares box. Aha! The bottom bracket hole is threaded, and I've got a small bolt that'll fit. So the next step is to convert the cable guide into something with a hole in the appropriate place. Ten minutes work with a stanley knife, and I've cut off the fitting plug and whittled a hole through the bracket. A few minutes with an allan key, and the guide is bolted into place. The cables thread through fine, and we're away.
So we've got the cabling approximately in place. Now comes the fun part: getting the gears on and working. Actually attaching the gears is simple. The rear mech just bolts onto the frame; ditto the front mech, actually, as it's a braze-on model. This means that the frame has a tab attached at about the right height for the front mech, and the mech just bolts directly to the tab. This is as opposed to the mech including a band, by which it is clamped onto the seat tube. With both mechs bolted on the frame, I take a best guess as to the appropriate size of the chain. This is another one of those "it's really easy if you're overhauling an existing bike" jobs; you just use the old chain as a guide for how long the new one needs to be. Since we're putting this bike together from scratch, I have to work out how long the chain needs to be. Too long and the shifting will suffer, too short and some gear ratios may not ork. I use the old method of wrapping the chain around the largest cog and biggest ring, and then adding two links to provide a little slack in the system. Using my handy chain tool, I split the chain at the appropriate point, and then thread it through the mechs and onto the rings and sprockets. A bit of faff with the connecting pins and the chain is joined and on. The drivechain's in place - we now have a bike that can be pedalled. Provided that, you know, you don't want to do anything like change gear or stop or anything.
The second of those will come a bit later, but for now we're after the gear changing. I clamp the cabling in place on the derailleurs, without putting too much effort into the clamping. We're just trying to get stuff adjusted - once it's all in place, I'll tighten everything to the recommended torque (or rather, until it feels about right), but in the meantime I'm going to need to fiddle with stuff, so really clamping down on stuff is a bad idea. The thing is, it's a bit of a chicken and egg situation; to get the rear mech indexing correctly, you need to be able to shift the chain around on the front - and vice-versa. Handily, the shifting just has to be "good enough" rather than perfect. Out of the box, the rear mech (Shimano 105 long-cage) went on fine, and only took a minimal amount of fiddling to get indexing perfectly. Clearly I'm getting better at this! It's the amount of times I've had to set the rear mech up on my MTB, you know. Ha!
And so, on to the front mech... and here's where it gets frustrating. I spend an hour trying to get the damn thing to work. I'm using a 105 front mech, which isn't the one specified as "absolute best" for the shifters but should work nonetheless. It doesn't. Or rather, it kinda does. The front lever has three "official" positions, and a couple of intermediate "trim" clicks between the granny and middle ring positions. This is intended to help you fine-tune the mech position on the ring - one of the issues with indexed front mechs is that they've only got one position, so you can get slight chainrub if you're at an extreme gear. Which is just one reason why I prefer my essentially non-indexed Campagnolo front shifter on my road bike... but that's a digression. I set the limit screws on the mech OK - these control how far back and forth the mech can move, so it doesn't end up dumping your chain off on either side. I re-clamp the cable and have a go at getting the indexing to work. Now, as mentioned, this shifter has three basic positions - call them 1, 2 and 3. 1 is lowest, 3 is highest. There's a couple of "trim" positions - call them 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3. Now, with the shifter set to 1, she runs smooth in low gear. The problem is, clicking the shifter to 2 shifts the chain straight onto the big ring (=top gear) - this should be set to 3. Clicking the chain onto about 1.2 shifts from the smallest ring to the middle ring; however, the only way to downshift from 1.1 through 2 is by a single trigger click, which dumps the chain right down to position 1 (=bottom gear). So there's no clean way to shift from the big ring down to the middle ring - you'd have to shift all the way down to the small ring and then shift back up. This is terribly, terribly annoying. It's almost as though the shifter is pulling too much cable for the mech - this is absolutely not supposed to be happening. After an hour of fiddling with the bloody thing, I give up and put it down to having the wrong front mech. Righto, onto Wiggle to get the correct one. So we've got shifters that more or less work - or rather, that work fine on the rear, and work OK on the front, but mean that front downshifts are distinguished by their ferocity. Still, it'll move when you pedal it, and once we've got the correct bit I'm sure it'll all work OK.
Frame's in good nick, drivechain's on - it must be time to get the brakes installed. Hang on, what brakes? By this time it's getting early in the season, and all the good deals on decent brakes from the various online retailers have gone walkies - no bloody stock left. After a week of chasing ghosts, I give up, pop out to Howes Cycles, park Rebecca up by the stand of Camelbaks, and buy a pair of Shimano 105 brakes. Pausing only to remove a patented HydroLock&tm; valve from Rebecca's gob, I rush home and spend the afternoon pushing Rebecca on the swings at various playgrounds. 7:30pm rolls around, Rebecca goes down, and I've got about 80 minutes of daylight left. Let's roll. Workstand up (1'30"), bike into workstand (20"), wheels out (30") and we're good. Now, I've never actually played with road brakes before. I'm relieved to find that they're relatively straightforward to set up: bolt on easily, simple to adjust. I cut a couple of lengths of cable and use some spare cable outer from the spares box. This actually causes a serious problem later, as it turns out that I have absentmindedly used a gear cable outer for the front brake rather than a brake cable outer - the difference is that the gear cable outer is more able to be compressed under serious pressure (as it is reinforced with a set of parallel wires, rather than a single spiral wire as for the brake cable). This causes the front brake to run very mushy until I eventually (quite a while later) realise what's happened and fix it.
Even with the "correct" front mech, the front shifting is still buggered. I eventually give up and take it into Townsends (my LBS) to get the damn thing fixed. The mechanic manages to get it working, but tells me that it was a right pain to do and that I might want to consider swapping the chainset out for an actual 105 one. Blimey.
So the end result is a nice wee red bike that is exactly sized for Heather and set up the way she likes. Result. On it, she knocks the London to Cambridge off in a personal best time, which is quite gratifying.
It's a present for Heather, you know.
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