Tech Talk Archives - Road Bike Action Road Bike Action Sun, 27 Nov 2022 15:00:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A SIMPLE ROAD TUBELESS BEGINNER’S GUIDE Sun, 27 Nov 2022 15:00:59 +0000

What's the deal with road tubeless?

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It was at the start of a recent group ride that we watched as a local fast guy held an informal sermon with a group of not-so-fast riders where he opined that after experimenting with tubeless tires, he was now going back to inner tubes. It reminded us of a similar encounter years ago where we witnessed another fast guy extol the benefits of rim brakes and how disc brakes would never make the show. How did that turn out? The good news for those unwilling to use tubeless is that, unlike disc brakes, tubeless tires will always be an option. 

Just as disc brakes was once cause for debate among road riders, we are now living through a similar scenario regarding road tubeless. Is it because so many roadies aren’t happy borrowing more technology from the mountain bikers? Is it a deep-seated love for butyl inner tubes? Whatever the reason, whether you believe in the benefits of tubeless technology or not, road tubeless has arrived. 


To be clear, tubeless is no guarantee against flat tires, but the self-sealing technology does go far in providing flat prevention. Running tubeless also lets you run lower tire pressure, which provides more traction and comfort. In order to run tubeless, you must have tubeless-compatible rims and tires. Although the majority of new bikes (especially gravel bikes) sitting on your dealer’s floor are now built with tubeless-ready wheels, you can still run inner tubes. But, if you decide to make the leap, the rims will be happy to accommodate you!   

At this stage in bike production, any bike brand that doesn’t offer tubeless wheels on their bikes, especially if they produce tubeless wheels or tires, are really off the back. While everyone has their own opinion on puncture protection, to best ensure more understanding of how tubeless works, here is everything we know about modern flat-tire prevention.  

A plug kit like the Dynaplug Air makes fixing a tubeless puncture quick, clean and effortless.

Q: Okay, what’s the deal with road tubeless? Why is there so much competing information about using a hooked or hookless rim?

A: This might not be the answer you are looking for, but many brands are letting their lawyers and the presumption that the majority of consumers will use the equipment correctly contribute to the mixed messages. Right now companies are playing things safe, owing to the fact that there has yet to be an industry-wide standard on tubeless. In turn, this has given rise to a virtual salad-bar combo of different tire/rim designs on the market, and not all are compatible with each other. The result is that the vast majority of consumers don’t understand that air volume is the driving factor of tubeless failures, not the tubeless tire itself.


For the last year tubeless-compatibility issues have been a hot topic, and wheel maker Boyd Johnson is one who has consistently voiced safety concerns about what consumers are told when it comes to using tubeless tires: “You know, the bike industry allows people to install their own tires, which is something that we don’t do when it comes to changing tires on our cars. If you bought the wrong tire for the wrong wheel on your car and asked a mechanic to install them, they likely wouldn’t do the job. But, that’s what concerns me about the variety of tubeless product out there. Some tires work with hooked beads and some don’t. My concern is that there’s not a good-enough effort at educating the public about what works and what doesn’t. 

Tubeless sealant is offered by almost everyone these days. It will auto seal most punctures in seconds letting you simply enjoy the ride.

“Although this can impact gravel riders, for the most part it’s less of an issue there because no one should be running more than 65 psi. But, with road tubeless, it’s different because so many people still think, as with inner tubes, that running higher air pressure is the norm. I know a new ‘standard’ is in the works that calls for no more than 72. 5psi in a tubeless tire, but there are still other things to consider. I think every consumer should think about four things regarding proper compatibility when switching to tubeless: 1. What tire size are you choosing? 2. What air pressure are you running? 3. What condition is the tire bead (don’t forget that tires can stretch)? And, 4. Tire choice. I’ve been on the receiving end of tubeless tires (from tire brands) that were completely wrong for what I needed, meaning even they were  confused!

“Over the last few years, we’ve introduced some cutting-edge wheel designs, and as much as we like to be at the forefront of wheel technology, you still won’t find a hookless road rim in our catalog.”


The key to road tubeless is that it allows you to run lower air pressure than what’s possible with inner tubes. To achieve this, all that has been added is tire volume, but that isn’t only true with tubeless. If you add tire volume to a tube system, the pressure should also drop. Tire volume can be added with either a larger tire or wider internal rim width.

Topping off your sealant every 3-4 months through the valve stem is easy. You do need a valve core remover tool, but many new wheels come with one.

Remember that if you have a tube system and hooked bead with a large-volume tire, there is a mechanical bond holding the tire’s bead against the hook and still allows for higher pressures (over 75 psi). The higher pressure can impact ride quality and performance on a large-volume tire, but it is possible. With that same rim-and-tire combo (assuming it was tubeless-ready), as the name implies, tubeless has no tube holding the bead of the tire to the hook of the rim. This means the chances of failure (the bead blowing off the rim) can increase if the pressure runs too high.

The biggest difference to consider is what type of tire you plan on using and if you are willing to adopt the modern tire-pressure recommendations. If you have a hookless rim, you have to use a tubeless tire and should not exceed 75 psi even if you plan on using a tube. If your rim has a hook, you can use a non-tubeless tire if you use a tube. For both systems, a tubeless tire has to be used for a tubeless setup. Speaking to Boyd’s number-four point, remember, too, that older tires can stretch, thus making it easier to blowing off the rim.

Most tubeless systems require a special rim tape to seal the spoke holes. This is an important step and, if incorrectly installed, will leave you with an air leak that is hard to diagnose.

Back to your original question, hooks or no hooks? Personally, I would choose a hookless rim, but it’s not a hard line in the sand. If a company is offering a wheel that still has a hook but I like everything else about the rim, I’d consider it. At the end of the day, I run 28–30mm road tubeless tires and never inflate them over 60 psi. I check the sealant every two to three months with a quick top-off through the valve stem. There are obviously more key points to each system, but overall, those are the biggest determining factors. 

In the last two years I’ve had one flat that didn’t seal, and it would have had I refreshed my sealant. I still made it home 25 miles without any added aid other than airing it up with about six miles to go. Normally, on a tube-type tire, I have at least one flat per month, but realistically it’s once a week. For me and the debris-ridden roads I ride, tubeless is without a doubt worth the price and hassle.

As Boyd reminded me as we ended our conversation, “I do believe that the more people get educated about tubeless, the safer it will eventually get.” Let’s hope!


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IS IT NORMAL FOR NEW CABLES TO STRETCH? Tue, 22 Nov 2022 17:00:57 +0000

Tuesday Tech Talk

The post IS IT NORMAL FOR NEW CABLES TO STRETCH? appeared first on Road Bike Action.


Q: I recently had my bike serviced, and my shifting and brakes feel so much different, both mechanical. Not sure what could be causing it, but I feel like I am over-shifting and keep hitting the brakes too much. Do you think they used a different configuration or did something wrong?

 A: When it comes to cables and housing, probably not. Most likely, what has happened is over time, you had worn the material that makes cables move with less friction, and since it is progressively changing over a very long time, you didn’t notice. Now that you have replaced the old parts, the effort to make a shift or apply the brakes is much lower. In turn, you just need a bit of time to adapt to the new feel. The same goes for the brakes, as they most likely adjusted them tight in anticipation of the cables stretching. Most cables are labeled pre-stretched but will still have a bit of change. This is amplified as the housing ends, and fittings all settle in. Give it time, and you won’t even notice.


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HOW TO FIX COMMON NEW BIKE NOISES Sun, 20 Nov 2022 20:00:03 +0000

New bike noises

The post HOW TO FIX COMMON NEW BIKE NOISES appeared first on Road Bike Action.


Q: I recently got a new “modern” bike with disc brakes and all the fancy electronic shifting. My problem is that I feel like it is finicky, and the bike always seems to be making some noise. Maybe a rotor pinging the brake pad or some other noise that comes and goes. My local mechanic has told me that much of what I am hearing is not fixable. Is he correct, and am I expecting too much to have a quiet ride?

A: Congratulations on getting a new bike. With that said, it sounds like the experience has been less than ideal. I’m not sure what bike you are coming from, but many modern bikes do have some level of hard-to-remedy noises. This, in my opinion, is for two different reasons. 

The first is mass production. Most modern bikes are mass-produced, and there is always an “acceptable” tolerance when molding or welding a frame. This can lead to brake mounts that are not perfectly parallel to the axle or round openings that are not perfectly round. The worst is when things are slightly out of alignment, like the left and right bottom bracket openings. If those are not perfectly aligned or one is slightly oblong, then there is almost no long-term fix a mechanic can make to correct it.

This is changing as manufacturers are going back to threaded bottom brackets, or at least a single shell to minimize the chances of misalignment. This might add a bit of weight, but companies are realizing it is worth it for the end user.

The next issue is that tolerances are getting smaller, and precision is key. If we look back, we once had five to eight cogs in the same amount of space we now have 12 and 13. The space between each gear on the cassette is getting so close that if things flex a bit too much or the alignment of the derailleur is off just slightly, the entire system is affected. The performance and speed of our systems are prioritized above durability. That doesn’t mean a modern system can’t last; it just means that if something gets bent or misused, it will be evident immediately. There is no longer as much room for variance. 

Disc brakes are the same thing. On modern hydraulic systems, there is no way to alter the distance between the pad and the rotor. If there is anything in the system that is not perfect, then you will hear it. Sometimes everything will be perfectly aligned but the piston is slow to return, or the pad doesn’t always return and you will get a bit of noise. This happens most after very heavy braking and there is heat buildup. 

Recently, I was helping a friend work on their bike, and they had SRAM rotors with a Shimano braking system. The rear seemed to work fine, but the front rubbed all the time. There was no level of adjustment we could do to get it to work. I measured the thickness of the SRAM rotor compared to the thickness of a new Shimano rotor, and it was 0.18mm thicker. We put the Shimano rotor on, and all the issues went away. It’s hard even to imagine how small that difference is, but when the new rotor was on the bike and between the pads, it left us with room to spare on each side.

I don’t think you are asking too much for a quiet bike. At the same time, there are so many factors at play that your specific combination might be as good as it gets. It’s not always more money and better parts, sometimes it’s just the luck of the draw. I had a bike that seemed to be unfixable, then I simply swapped a few parts out, and it never happened again. A good shop should be able to target the specific area that is leading to the noise and offer at least a few options. From my experience, lack of maintenance, dry chain or completely worn parts are the number-one issue. 

Number two is over-maintaining your bike. Yes, I see it too often that people clean their bike so much and use so much cleaning product all the time that it removes the grease from key areas that are normally low maintenance. 

At the end of the day, I would take your bike to a few other mechanics and get a few more opinions. At the same time, don’t be surprised if the root cause is in the variance between frame and component. Press-fit bottom brackets with no internal shell are notoriously bad with improperly faced brake mounts being another noise making culprit. Good luck.


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Since everyone knows that disc brakes are here to stay, let’s all move on with a one-stop shop for everything you need to know about the binders that still divide

The post 11 BEST TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR DISC BRAKE EXPERIENCE appeared first on Road Bike Action.



In the pantheon of stupid things said about the bike industry, some of the more stupid have been the response to disc brakes becoming standard equipment on road bikes. The silliest has been the conspiracy theory that disc brakes have only became a thing because the bike industry wanted to sell more bikes. Selling more bikes—um, is there a problem with that?!

Even though RBA has been accused of being in on the nefarious plot (because we can sell more magazines), we’re still not sure what exactly is wrong with the bike industry trying to sell more bikes. Curious, too, is how the comeuppance of disc brakes is any more an insidious sales ploy than the arrival of carbon fiber or electronic drivetrains?! 

The difference in a worn pad and new pad is only 1.4mm of material.

No doubt some of the road world’s reluctance to embrace disc brakes evolved from the UCI’s early ban on their use in competition, as well as many Euro road teams’ continued reliance on caliper brakes. What many roadies among us forget is that whether or not a Grand Tour is won with disc brakes, it has no practical bearing on what brakes are best for the rest of us to use. Remember, it’s not that the rim brakes don’t work; it’s just under all conditions and for all riders, disc brakes simply work better.


When it comes to dealing with disc brakes, the road world seems to have ongoing difficulties and misperceptions understanding how they work and how they are maintained. But remember, disc technology is over 100 years old and, in bicycle-specific applications, has been continually refined ever since Robert Reisinger unveiled his cable-pull Pro Stop disc brake (as a necessary complement to his upside-down suspension fork) in 1990. 

Thanks to the mountain bikers’ embrace (and need) for improved braking, in the years that followed the Pro Stop, bicycle disc brakes would continue to evolve with Wayne Lumpkin’s Avid BB5 mechanical version, assuming the greatest level of pre-hydraulic success. 

Thankfully, after SRAM purchased Avid and rebranded the BB5, they knew that not only were mechanical (cable-pull) brakes not the ultimate stopping solution, but that proficient braking for road bikes could, and would, be just as important as a step forward. 

And despite suffering a serious technical glitch when they launched their first hydraulic road disc brake in 2013, SRAM can nonetheless be credited with finally moving the road world forward with the same level of confident and efficient braking that mountain bikers had been enjoying for years. 


Since the major manufacturers have made the choice of running disc brakes easy by simply discontinuing frames designed for caliper brakes, we thought it was the perfect time to break it all down to help ensure everyone that disc brakes really aren’t that complicated.

Unlike mountain bikes that have separate braking and shifting assemblies, road bikes use integrated brake/shift units, which for roadies there are three major brands of disc-brake systems to consider: Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo. This can make it harder for brake-specific brands like TRP, Magura, Hope and Formula to compete like they do in the mountain bike market. 

Important to note is that in terms of the actual mechanical function, the Shimano, Campy and SRAM systems are more alike than they are different. They all rely on a hydraulic system to actuate the pistons in the caliper. This in turn moves the pads a few millimeters against the rotor. In short, it’s not rocket science. 


Here’s a handy how-to guide to best ensure that your disc brakes brake well

For sure, disc brakes are more complicated to work on than caliper brakes, but that doesn’t mean you need to be a master mechanic to ensure that they are set up and functioning properly. And helping you understand the basics is what we’ve dedicated the following pages to. For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to cover hydraulic brake systems here, but many of the techniques and tips would apply to mechanical brake versions, too. 

When looking to resolve disc-brake issues, slow down and start simple. Before you mess with replacing brake pads, truing rotors, stacking shims or bleeding the system, make sure your wheels are properly installed in the fork and frame. A paint chip, dirt or loose thru-axle will wreak havoc on braking performance. 

Pull the wheel out, inspect the dropout, replace the wheel and snug things up. This will resolve a lot more issues than people realize, as there is very little room for misalignment. Also, remember that all of these are open-system hydraulic brakes and will self-adjust for wear. 


The biggest worry for many that are new to disc are brake pads. The material on the pads is so much thinner than those from rim brakes that it can be hard to tell how much life is left. On average, each disc brake pad will have about 2mm of material when new. 

Don’t be this person and wear your pads down past the back plate resulting in damaged brake pistons.


The pads will also have a return spring that helps assist in centering and the return movement of the pad. This is about 0.5mm thick and a good indicator of pad wear. This means you don’t want to wear the pads past about 0.6mm or about 70 percent. You can normally shine a light into the brake caliper and visually see how much pad is left, but removing the wheel can make it easier. 

Another thing to check is that pad wear is even on each side and front to back. Many times, a caliper or its mounting points might not be perfectly aligned, and this can cause uneven and accelerated wear.

In most cases, the hydraulic system is only made to operate correctly with as little as 0.4mm of pad material left per side. Then the lever and caliper pistons will no longer be able to actuate the pad the appropriate distance. This will result in a lever that will hit the bar before the pads are able to completely contact the rotor. 

Another common issue with pads is that they get contaminated and lose their ability to create friction. This will feel like the brakes are moving correctly, but no matter how much pressure you apply to the brake lever, it is not enough to stop. Sometimes this can be from road grime (and can be sanded off with sandpaper), and the most likely culprit can be from using incorrect cleaners when washing a bike. It is very difficult to recover a contaminated pad, and the usual result is them needing to be replaced. 

When shopping for new pads, remember that there could be multiple part numbers for the same item.


Choosing the correct pad for your system could be the hardest part of the whole job. Each brand’s calipers have a specific shape, which means there are a lot of pads on the market. Additionally, there are usually a few options in the type of brake-pad material as well as backplate. 

Shimano offers two brake-material compounds—resin and metallic. Resin is the most common for road applications and is quieter, while also resulting in less brake dust. Metallic is more common in off-road applications and is more abrasive, which can lead to more noise. Metallic pads are also not compatible with all rotors, so check the specifications of the rotor you are using.

Shimano offers backing plates in alloy and stainless steel, as well as with or without cooling fins for dissipating heat. Like Shimano, SRAM also offers two braking materials—organic and sintered. They also come in alloy or steel backing. Organic pads are quieter with better initial bite and modulation, while sintered are more consistent under heavy braking or wet conditions.

Campagnolo currently only offers one style of pad that is an organic compound with steel backing. They have a built-in wear indicator, and instead of a return spring, the brake-pad return is accomplished by a magnetic system in the caliper piston. Also unique to Campagnolo is a special metal plate positioned between the pad and the caliper piston that is said to cushion the vibrations during braking.

There are lots of aftermarket brands—Galfer, Swissstop, Kool-Stop, Jagwire, Alligator and more—offering pads that fit all the systems. Some claim better stopping in specific conditions, or lighter weight, while others just offer an economic price point.


1. Changing pads is fairly easy and starts with removing the wheel from the bicycle. Be sure that when the wheels are removed that you do not actuate the brakes. If it does happen, this could result in the extension of a caliper piston past its designed functioning limit and can cause damage to piston seals.

2. Next, you need to manually retract the caliper pistons, as they have most likely auto-adjusted over time to compensate for the wear on the pad. You can do this with the old pads in or out and would be determined by the tool you are using. 

If all I have is a flathead screwdriver I leave the pads in and leverage the screwdriver against the worn pad material and backing plate for each side. This can damage the remaining pad material, so make sure you have
a replacement.

The preferred method is to use a plastic tire lever against the piston after you remove the pads. When doing either method, ensure the caliper is at the lowest point in the braking system.

3. Remove the brake pads from the caliper. This will start with the security pin that will vary in design on each system. These normally go through the backing plate of each pad and either thread to the caliper or have some sort of locking clip that secures the pads from falling out of the caliper body. Then simply pull the pads out of the caliper.

Remember, if you didn’t already push the caliper pistons back into the caliper manually, this is the time to do it with something less abrasive like a plastic tire lever. You don’t want to damage the caliper piston or seal.

4. Clean the caliper and surrounding area so it is free of dirt, debris and brake dust. Isopropyl alcohol works here, but soapy water works too. 

5. Now it is time to install new pads. It is important that you do not touch the pad compound, as this could contaminate them. For Shimano and SRAM pads, place the retraction spring between the pads, then with two fingers pinch the outside of each backing plate and slide them into the caliper as one complete unit. Do not try to insert them one at a time. For Campy, there is no spring, so place the pads together, compound against compound, and slide it in. The magnetic system will latch to the pad when it is in place. 

For all the systems, check the backing plate for markings to ensure you have the correct pad on the correct side of the caliper. Most pads will not fit correctly if installed backwards. Reinstall the security pin, and if your new pads came with new hardware, use it as long as it matches what you removed. 

Some Shimano pads come with a split pin instead of the circlip. I prefer the circlip, but if you must use the split pin, make sure to bend the slightly longer tail so it doesn’t slide out.

6. Now you need to reinstall the wheel and ensure the caliper with the new pads is centered with an even gap on each side. Now pump the lever a few times. This will reset the pads to the correct distance from the rotor.

7. The last step is the most important and most overlooked. Before you go out and test your new pads, you need to perform a bed-in procedure to gain optimal performance. Accelerate the bike to a moderate speed, and then firmly apply the brakes until you are at walking speed. Try and remain seated while applying the brakes. Repeat this process about 20 times. 

Then accelerate the bike to a faster speed and apply the brakes until you are at walking speed. Repeat this process about 10 times. It’s important that during this process you never come to a complete stop or lock up the wheels at any point. Coming to a complete stop causes a build-up of pad material in one spot that can lead to pulsing and noisy brakes.


This might sound funny, but the rotor of a disc brake needs to be perfectly true. There is very little space on either side of the rotor before it contacts the brake pad. If the rotor is even a tiny bit off, it can be a real ride killer, as the rotor scuffs the pad repeatedly. Most wheel-truing stands have an attachment that can be used to true a rotor. The process can be done on a bike, but using the correct tools will lead to better results. When bending the rotor using a rotor truing tool, don’t overdo it. Make small adjustments as you move around the rotor.

This is the result of sheer neglect, but by some miracle the rotor was still “working”.


Since all of these brakes utilize an open-system hydraulic setup, bleeding them and ensuring proper fluid level are important. In an open system, piston slippage/pad advancement manages the gap between the pads and the rotor as mentioned earlier. Surplus fluid in the reservoir moves into the system, ensuring that there is always an adequate volume of fluid between the lever pistons (master) and caliper pistons (slave pistons). This allows the system to operate consistently as parts wear. 

If the system is not bled correctly or air is introduced into the system, then problems will definitely arise. A few key signs you might need to bleed your brakes include the following: 

1. The pads still have plenty of braking material, but the lever hits the bar. This can be caused by a lack of fluid in the reservoir, and as the pad gap is automatically adjusted, there is not enough fluid for the system to operate.

2. The pads start to rub after a long braking period that builds heat. This is likely a sign that there is air in the system, and as the heat rises, the gas expands and doesn’t let the caliper piston retract all the way. Another sign that there is air in the system is a mushy feel at the lever. That is because the air is compressing and not letting pressure build in the system. 

3. Another sign that it’s time to bleed the brakes is, when you pull the lever, it is slow to return or you have to pull it back to its stationary position. This is likely caused from dirty fluid that has been heat cycled too many times. The brakes usually still work, but the fluid is not moving as it normally should and needs to be flushed. This is normal, and I recommend a full flush at least once a year.


It should also be noted that the type of fluid in a brake system is defined by the brake manufacturer. Both Shimano and Campagnolo use mineral oil in their systems, while SRAM uses DOT fluid. The biggest difference in mineral oil is that it’s hydrophobic and does not absorb moisture, while DOT fluid does. This means that mineral oil is slightly easier to bleed, but if there is air or moisture introduced to the system, it will likely show signs of malfunction immediately. 

Sometimes you just wish you had made the switch to disc brakes earlier. Photo: Bettini

DOT fluid will absorb moisture and air, making it a longer process to separate and bleed the fluid. It is controlled by standards set out by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and is widely used in the automotive industry. There are two main glycol-based brake fluids—DOT 4 and DOT 5.1—that are used. The main difference between these two brake fluids is in their boiling points. 

These standards are the minimum temperatures that the brake fluid must perform before the brake fluid starts to boil, which can lead to complete brake failure. Also worth nothing with DOT 5, which is silicone-based, is that it should never be mistaken for 5.1, as they are not interchangeable.

Photo: Bettini


To be honest, adjusting the position of the caliper is lower on my list, because it should be something that is done less often. Once set, this should not need to be adjusted or modified unless there is a change in the system, like new rotors or wheels that could change the spacing and alignment. 

Too often it is the first thing that people jump to when their brakes make noise or perform below par. The easiest way to adjust and center a caliper is to set the mounting bolts just loose enough to move the caliper, but tight enough that it will only take minimal rotation to secure the position.

Then pump the brake lever with one hand and add a slight bit of tension to each mounting bolt on the caliper. In some cases, this doesn’t exactly get it spot-on, and after the first addition of tension to the bolts, a slight manual adjustment and alignment by eyeing the gap on both sides are needed.

It is important to not wrench down on the bolts, but instead just switch back and forth, incrementally adding more tension each time. This will minimize the likelihood that the caliper shifts and pulls itself out of alignment. 


Like all hydraulic systems, disc brakes rely on a small amount of fluid in plastic hoses that are repeatedly put under pressure and heat-cycled. Sometimes a hose will get a soft spot or a fitting will not fit perfectly. Over time these can lead to failures or reduced performance. When I am having issues with a brake and I have worked through the steps above, I just start fresh with new hoses, fittings, fluid and pads. That almost always fixes it, and if it doesn’t, then I likely am tired and have missed something simple.


In the early days of disc brakes, shims were mandatory since production tolerances for brake mounts were all over the place. In the modern age of disc we rarely need shims, and using them can cause more problems. The only thing that you may want to shim on a modern disc brake is the rotor spacing from the hub. 

If you have two sets of wheels that you want to swap between but the rotors do not align the same in the caliper, you can shim the one that is narrower out. It is important to remember that if you are utilizing a six-bolt-mounted rotor that all six bolts must have the same amount of shims so there is no warping.


When it comes to rotors, the industry is stacked full of options. There are different sizes, designs, materials and mounting styles. This can be a place of customization with anodized alloy spiders or slight performance gains with alloy fins and heat management. No matter what route you choose, there are a few key things to consider.

If you feel the need to spice up your bike’s aesthetics, Alligator rotors come in an array of colored and multi-shaped designs

1. Size is by far the most important. Many frames have a minimum and maximum rotor size. You cannot just switch rotor sizes without switching other components, specifically caliper adapters. I recommend to always try and match your front and rear rotor sizes. This is to minimize the likelihood that you install them wrong, and means you only need to have one as a spare since it could work for both front and rear. The 160mm has become the standard for road, but many prefer the look of the 140mm. For me, the bigger it is, the more material there is to shed heat and maximize performance.

2. The materials used in the construction of the rotor. As we mentioned above, some rotors require the use of specific pads. Most rotors are steel on the friction portion to maximize durability. To shed weight, this could be paired with an alloy spider or carrier. 

Shimano used their own Ice-Technology rotors, which have an aluminum and stainless-steel-layered brake track with alloy spiders to shed even more heat at the cost of accelerated wear.

3. Last thing to consider is the mounting style with two options—six-bolt or center lock. This is normally defined by the hubs and wheels you choose, but it should be noted that a six-bolt rotor can be adapted to center lock but not
vice versa. 

While there is a lot of info here, remember that disc brakes have been on the market for a long time. The systems have been refined, and the odds of having issues is very low. If you feel like resolving the issue is beyond your current abilities, then don’t worry, because your local bike shop has years of experience with these systems. In many cases they can have the issues remedied before you can pull your hand from your pocket and feed their tip jar.

Warning: Disc brakes work by converting the speed and energy of the bicycle into heat. When you have been on your brakes hard, they will generate a significant amount of heat—in the rotor, pads, caliper and even brake fluid. So, before touching any part of your brake system, make sure it has cooled down.


Photo: Bettini
While Hope Technology makes complete systems for mountain bikes, they use their machine skills to create jewel-like calipers compatible with the “Big Three’s” systems.
TRP has both mechanical and hydraulic options and they also offer an ingenious electronic shifter kit to be compatible with Shimano Di2 derailleurs.
Before hydraulic versions, the cable disc brake was the best there was. Mechanical disc brakes are spec’d on lower-end bikes and work only marginally better than old-style caliper brakes.
Between their road and gravel lines, Shimano has the largest variety of disc-brake options starting with the entry-level Tiagra all the way up to the high-end Dura-Ace.
SRAM has been a leader in the segment with both 1x- and 2x-specific options. Combine this with their wireless shifting and they have some of the cleanest build options on the market.
Although Campagnolo was the last of the Big Three to introduce a disc brake option. We continue to rate the Italian binders as the best performing on the market.
While each manufacturer has their own brake fluid, brands like Maxima also have a wide variety of options as alternatives.

The post 11 BEST TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR DISC BRAKE EXPERIENCE appeared first on Road Bike Action.

THE IMPORTANCE OF SEATPOST LENGTH Tue, 15 Nov 2022 17:00:13 +0000

Tuesday Tech Talk

The post THE IMPORTANCE OF SEATPOST LENGTH appeared first on Road Bike Action.


Q: How serious is the minimum insert line on my seatpost?

A: This is far more important than many people realize and can have catastrophic effects if not followed. The markings are to ensure there is enough seatpost in the frame to maintain structural integrity. If a post is pulled out too far, it can easily result in a broken frame and/or post. 

In the old days, road seatposts were 150–200mm in length, but now are closer to 350mm in length, which is more commonly used on mountain bikes. Why you ask? As frame designs have evolved in recent years, there has been a shift to using compact geometries with shorter seat tubes. This results in longer seatposts and higher risk. Choosing the correct frame size is important and, in most cases, if the bike is the correct size, this is not an issue. Another thing to note is if you shorten or cut a post down, that insertion line changes and needs to be accounted for. Some carbon seatposts have specific layups and are not meant to be cut, so check the owner’s manual before hacking a post.

If you find yourself in a situation where you exceed the post’s limit, there are a few options. First, look for a saddle that might have a slightly higher rise off the rails. This will result in the post being able to be lowered. Next, look for a post that has a longer total length, as this will, in most cases, give you more length above the line. If you have a frame-specific post, then contact the manufacturer; they will, in many cases, offer longer and shorter versions than the stock offering.


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INSIDE ABBEY BIKE TOOLS Sun, 13 Nov 2022 16:44:23 +0000

Handmade the American way

The post INSIDE ABBEY BIKE TOOLS appeared first on Road Bike Action.


By Zap

By his own admission, Abbey Tools founder Jason Quade has at times had to rely on YouTube videos to figure out how to work some of the machines he owns in his 6000-square-foot factory located in Bend, Oregon. This is from a guy who makes precision tools for a living. The takeaway, as Jason reminds us, is simply being, “The importance of knowing what you’re doing.”

When it comes to making tools for cyclists of every stripe, Jason has been at it since he made a prototype tool for a friend then ended up catching on—in a big way. “I had just come out from attending a race mechanic school a decade ago when a friend asked me to make a cassette lock-ring removal tool. It was a simple design, and when I took a few down to the Cascade Cycling Classic a few months later, I sold one to every mechanic with money in their pockets! I guess that was when I started down this path in earnest.”

What Jason couldn’t have foreseen in the summer of 2012 was that by the next year four different teams in the Tour de France would be using the Crombie tool, among them being the winning Team Sky.

Jason figures if a three-way tool is good to have, a four-way would be just that much better.


Like so many other bike industry stalwarts, Jason grew up with a myriad of bike-shop jobs before deciding to up his capabilities from spinning wrenches to welding. “I went to welding school early on thinking that with all domestic frame manufacturing going on between brands like Trek and Cannondale that I’d always be able to find a job, but initially I was steered towards the aeronautic industry building helicopter parts and welding up nuclear pressure vessels.

“It was in early 2012 when I had been working for a bike shop that had gone out of business, and I decided to attend USA Cycling’s Bill Woodul race mechanic school. It was there that I met Jeff Crombie, and he asked if I could make a lock-ring removal tool with a hole in the end to fit over the quick-release skewer nut. It sounded simple enough where I went home and came up with a design that did just that, and I welded a handle onto it. Originally, I was just making tools for my mechanic friends and not thinking of it as a business until one day when I got a call from a stranger, a friend of a friend, who asked about buying the tool and that was like the a-ha moment when I realized there was a need out there beyond my friends.

“I think tools have memories, and along with the people who inspired them or just use them, it’s cool to have all these different legacies carrying on.” 

“When someone told me that they saw the tool being used in the Tour de France, I was blown away. But, as simple of a tool as it is for team mechanics in the Tour, the Crombie had a big impact. Between all the race bikes and backup bikes for each rider, plus all the spare wheels and range of cassettes they have on any given day, the mechanics are having to change cassettes all the time, and just considering the time it saved to not unwind the skewer on each wheel made the tool pay for itself in the time saved. It was the Crombie tool that turned a product into a company.”


As might be expected from a guy who started out making tools for friends in his garage to becoming a player in the Tour de France, there is a certain level of handiwork that goes into each tool made. Abbey tools are well-known as much for their signature green-anodized finish as they are their masterful level of precision welding and machine work to finish them off.

“I do think it’s the level of finish work that not only makes our tools stand out, but it’s also something that didn’t really exist previously. Most tools were known for being mass-produced with a less than noteworthy finish. My goal has always been to ensure a level of precision not found elsewhere and that mechanics like myself would appreciate. Originally when I was looking for a signature color, we made a specific Shimano tool in dark blue to match the Shimano colors, but that didn’t really work out. Since I’d always liked old British race cars, I went with that, but if I’d known at the time how difficult it is to anodize that color, I’m not so sure I would do that again.”

The Crombie tool that started it all.


One way that Jason is best able to ensure the level of quality and precision that his brand has become known for is that practically every tool is made in his Bend, Oregon, factory. “I’d say 60–75 percent of everything is made here in the Northwest, and what’s not made here comes out of Europe. Manufacturing obviously plays a big role in every country’s economy, and you can build stuff anywhere, but in the end, the level of quality comes down to who is making the product and what the customer’s expectation of it is. I know who our customers are, and I know if they are like me, precision is what counts most. The way I look at it is that if all these cyclists are willing to spend so much money on their bikes, then the tools they use to work on them shouldn’t cut any corners. Good tools protect the integrity and performance of your equipment.”


From disc brakes and thru-axles to electronic shifting and 1x drivetrains, there is of course no shortage of new cycling technology hitting the market of late. And while asking Jason one question after another, I couldn’t help but wonder how hard it would be for someone who makes tools to work on modern bikes to keep up with the fast-changing world of new component design.

“Yeah, I definitely have to keep tabs on what’s going on out there, and I’ll go to races and just peruse to see what tools people are using. Quite a few of our tools are derived from someone’s personal tools out of their own toolbox. But, we’ve also come up with certain tools based on the manufacturer coming to us first. Take our Saw Guide for instance. The idea for that came from Sam at Allied Bikes when they needed to cut steerer tubes with internal cable routing. So, instead of the old style that slipped over a steerer tube, this one has an open clamp that makes the job
much easier.”

For someone not well-versed with the world of bike tools beyond a three-way wrench and a tire iron, there are some tools in the Abbey catalog that are hard to comprehend. Take the $325 Team Issue titanium hanger alignment gauge, which was sold out the last time I checked. While most cyclists would wonder where or how the tool could be used on a bicycle (it secures the proper alignment of the rear derailleur), for Jason, it makes complete sense. “Are we sold out of those again? Yeah, it turns out we make a lot of those, and while it can baffle me that we need to make more, I totally get it. The rear derailleur—actually, the derailleur hanger—is both the foundation and the Achilles heel of every bike. I think Shimano’s specs call for up to a +/- 4mm of gap, but I think that number was set back in the ’80s when bikes used on seven cogs! Now we’ve got 12 gears in the same amount of space, so the margin for error has become considerably tighter. If it’s only a little bit out of alignment, even with a new derailleur, your bike will not shift
well. And trust me, it’s not a cable-tension issue!”


Clearly, Jason’s heart lies with the competition set and the demands that team mechanics have for doing their job. “There are a lot of perceptions and assumptions we make about what tools a race mechanic needs. I think they have special needs that even shop mechanics don’t have. I could make a tool out of cardboard and zip-ties that does the same job as our HAG (hanger alignment gauge), but how cool is that?! That doesn’t complement the needs of someone building a race-winning bike, and I figure if you’re going to buy an expensive tool, you might as well buy one that’s bitchen!

“I was at a ’cross race once when I ran into Stu Thorne who used to run the team, and he handed me a steel tool that he asked if I could improve, and that’s how the Stu Stick rotor truing tool was born. The Abbey version does the same thing as his, except it’s made from aluminum so it’s lighter (and also has a bottle opener), which makes carting it around all day at the races easier. That may not be an issue for the home mechanic, but it’s a real deal for on-site race mechanics.

“I admit that I don’t use all the tools that we make, and I like the fact that I keep many of them in my kit regardless. I love the stories behind all the tools. I think they have memories, and along with the people who inspired them or just use them, it’s cool to have all these different legacies carrying on.”

When I asked Jason if he had a favorite tool, he paused before saying there were two. “I like the titanium hammer mostly just because it’s fun to weld, and we miter the tubes so the fit-up is stinkin’ perfect. And, I like the Harbor dishing gauge, mostly because it takes so much material to build it from a piece of billet. When I walk into the machine enclosure after the job is done, there are aluminum chips everywhere and you can feel the heat and humidity. It’s like, whoa, that is so cool!”

After all the tool talk, I ended our conversation by asking, “What is it that makes all the green-anodized tools so worthwhile?”

Jason wasted no time: “Not everyone needs the quality, but we think it’s worth it. Keeping proper ISO tolerances is important to us. I remember when we first made a pedal wrench, and I went to a bunch of bike shops to measure pedal flats, and everybody (except the old Speedplay) was off the 15mm spec. I mean, sure, we’re talking about micro-sized gaps, but that’s a sizing issue, and the wiggle it produces can eventually lead to other issues. Of course, there’s also the problem with poor-quality materials used. There is definitely cheaper and more expensive hardware that product managers can spec, and it’s certainly within their purview to choose which they want or can afford. Our job is to make the tools that will minimize those shortcomings, which can impact a rider’s experience.”


The post INSIDE ABBEY BIKE TOOLS appeared first on Road Bike Action.


Ways to stay safe on the road

The post HOW TO PREVENT THE MOST COMMON CAUSES OF BROKEN FORKS appeared first on Road Bike Action.


Q: I broke the fork on my road bike and am not sure what to do. Do I need a new bike, or is it worth hunting for a replacement? The manufacturer has informed me that it is not covered by warranty. It seems that years of modifications, adjustments and general lack of maintenance finally caught up to me, and I didn’t have my bike as dialed as I thought. 

A: Breaking a fork or steerer is pretty much a nightmare scenario and rarely results in anything other than a trip to the ER. With that said, we do hear about it more often than anyone would like. In just the last two months I know of three local riders who’ve had broken steerer tubes. This is a too-close-to-home realization, and some recent recalls I’ve seen had me wondering if they were due to a wider manufacturing issue (two of the bikes were Specialized Tarmacs), customer neglect or just coincidence. My research and investigation have led me to believe that it might be a little bit of everything.

To answer your question, yes, it is worth finding a new fork since it sounds like nothing else on your bike was damaged. If you had crashed or maybe taken the bike off the roof in a drive-thru, you should also look closely at the frame to check for cracks. There are a handful of companies offering forks for both quick-release and thru-axle applications. Brands like Whiskey ($425), Enve ($625) and Ritchey (starting at $220) are among the more popular.

The main details you need to verify are the steerer size and whether it has a taper, the length (crown to axle), the rake/offset, and the brake and axle type. With all of that, you should be able to find plenty of options to get your bike back up and running safely, but a local shop can also be very helpful in a case like this.

The Root Cause

Outside of a direct impact, the number-one cause for steerer tubes breaking is neglect. Most fork failures are simply a case of the headset being too loose for too long. When a headset is loose, the headset components move on the steerer, and over time mar the surface in a fairly uniform fashion.

To compare, think of a pipe cutter that you rotate around the pipe to cut it rather than a blade. This could take years or as little as hours depending on the construction of the fork. I would also point out that a headset that is too tight can also cause this, but is less likely because normally this will also impair the bearing.

This brings me to manufacturing issues. As brands and engineers look to optimize weight and performance with forks specifically, the steerers and crown area are refined, leaving very little extra material. On top of that, the design of a carbon fork is fairly complex since carbon doesn’t like tight bends and is strongest in continuous fibers. If a carbon fork is sanded, ground or bonded, it can greatly reduce its structural integrity. Adding things like internal routing only makes the system more complex. 

The Solution

It’s actually quite simple. Understand and inspect your equipment. If you’re unsure of your own skills, find a trusted shop or mechanic and make sure that someone that truly understands your specific bike is taking the time to inspect it regularly. Things like internal routing can make it harder to tell when your headset is too loose or tight, so a fresh pair of eyes is always good.

When making changes or upgrades to your cockpit, make sure your stem doesn’t mark or damage the steerer and that you have the proper amount of headset spacers. Using a quality compression plug is also important. Ensure that it is seated all the way, and remember that they work best when at least 50 percent or more of the stem clamps around it, meaning don’t have too much steerer exposed above the stem.

The most important thing that I can’t stress enough is to use the correct tools. The most important is a torque wrench for tightening everything down, especially with anything that is carbon or alloy on carbon. I know this will get a lot of heat, but if your trusted mechanic says they don’t need a torque wrench, then I’m not sure I would trust them.


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HOW TO POSITION YOUR ROAD SHIFTERS Tue, 08 Nov 2022 17:00:38 +0000

Tuesday Tech Talk

The post HOW TO POSITION YOUR ROAD SHIFTERS appeared first on Road Bike Action.


Q: I built my first bike. Who knew it was so hard and easy at the same time? I had to purchase a lot of specialty tools to do it correctly, but I now feel much more comfortable working on my own bike. It was a great learning experience. My question is, it seems that my shifters/brake levers don’t match my bars, because they are really far away and hard to reach when in the drops. Is it possible to pick the wrong bar?

A: As silly as this seems, hood position on a bar is often wrong. For example, Diamondback sent us a bike with what might have been one of the worst positioning attempts I’ve seen to date, but most out-of-the-box builds put them too high on the curve of the bar. This results in the brake lever being too far from the bar. It will also result in an abrupt transition from bar to hood most of the time, too. 

This was the shifter position out of the box. Not only was it teribbly wrong but to fix it we had to redo the bar tape as well as correct the routing for the cables and hoses.

The trick I was taught is to use a ruler along the bottom of the drop and align the bottom of the brake lever with it. This will result in a uniform position left to right and works on about 95 percent of drop-bar shapes. Then you can fine-tune the position to your specific needs and preference. Another good rule of thumb on most bars is to look for markings printed on the bars. Normally, if you use the ruler trick, you will fall in the middle of these markings, but they can be a good starting point, too.

Last tip is for those that like the hoods tilted a bit higher. Instead of moving the hoods on the bars, rotate the whole bar. This maintains the reach if you are in the drops while still delivering the raised position. Better yet, try a zero-degree stem or raised stem instead of moving the hoods for an elevated position.


The post HOW TO POSITION YOUR ROAD SHIFTERS appeared first on Road Bike Action.

WHERE TO CLAMP YOUR BIKE IN A REPAIR STAND Tue, 01 Nov 2022 18:39:07 +0000

Tech talk

The post WHERE TO CLAMP YOUR BIKE IN A REPAIR STAND appeared first on Road Bike Action.


Q: Should I clamp my seat post or my frame in a repair stand? I noticed at a local race that it was about a 50/50 split and wanted to see if you had any insight.

A: Putting a bike in a repair stand seems simple enough, but it isn’t. If you’re riding a carbon frame you should definitely only clamp the bike on the seat post. The clamp on a repair stand might not fit all seat post shapes, but generally, a carbon seat post is designed to take loads in many directions, while the carbon top tube or seat tube isn’t. The frame tubes can also have a thinner wall thickness compared to a seat tube, which makes them more fragile. As such, clamping a frame could crush it and lead to complete frame failure, while crushing a seat post means that you just need to source a new post and doesn’t compromise the entire bike. Most frame warranties would not cover this sort of damage since it’s user caused.

Even high-end alloy and steel frames can be damaged from a clamp, so always clamp just the post. Some bikes have an integrated post, and in that case, I would still consider it to be the best place to clamp. Some products like the Silca Hirobel frame clamp are a good idea if you have a very lightweight bike or just want to err on the side of safety. This product is also great if your seatpost is too short since I wouldn’t recommend altering your saddle height.


The post WHERE TO CLAMP YOUR BIKE IN A REPAIR STAND appeared first on Road Bike Action.


Tuesday Tech Talk

The post CAN YOU CHARGE YOUR ELECTRONIC SHIFTING TOO MUCH? appeared first on Road Bike Action.


Q: Hello, I recently upgraded my bike with electronic shifting and—wow!—what a change. The shifting is perfect, but I worry that I will run out of battery. I have been charging it every ride. Is this bad to do, and what are your recommendations?

A: Glad to hear you love your new purchase and upgrade. Electronic shifting is excellent, but as you pointed out, there is a possibility of having a flat battery and being stranded in one gear. Just ask assistant editor David, who made this mistake at the 2018 DK200 (RBA, September 2018).

In reality, David suffered his battery fate because of a few mistakes. The most obvious is trust without verification. The process is pretty simple for the everyday rider who isn’t swapping parts around and making last-minute changes. Charge them when they tell you to or when there is about 25 percent left.

The batteries used in our cycling components suffer from the same limitations as most other rechargeable batteries. They have a total number of charge cycles before they lose total-use duration. The number of charge cycles doesn’t matter how full or empty the battery is. In short, If you charge them after every ride, the battery will not last as long as if you use the majority of the stored energy, then charge them.

Most modern cycling computers will wirelessly connect to your electronic shifting system and tell you the state of the battery. This is convenient because it offers a visual verification that you are okay, or an easy way to determine if another lap over the hill is possible. 

If you don’t have a head unit with this feature, both Shimano and SRAM have a convenient LED system that gives you a more general idea of how much charge is left. Since they both rely on color changes and flashing LEDs for status checks, it’s less accurate, but if you see red, charge them ASAP.

In general, Shimano uses a single battery and, from our testing, it does last longer than SRAM. We generally get between four to six months out of a charge, but the whole system goes down when it goes flat. 

SRAM utilizes a battery attached to each component, and while smaller in size they are interchangeable. We usually get 1.5 to 3 months of riding out of these batteries. However, if your rear derailleur battery dies, you can swap it out with your front one and finish a ride. You would have a limited gear range because your front would now not shift.

I would also note that the new Shimano semi-wireless shifters and all-SRAM wireless shifters use a coin-cell battery. These batteries are not rechargeable, but they are easy to replace, inexpensive and last nearly two years from our testing. If you are getting ready for a ride and see that your battery is low, charge it. Batteries charge very quickly to 75–85 percent, then trickle charge up to 100 percent. Putting the charger on for 15–20 minutes will give you more than enough charge to get through most rides. At the end of the day, if you charge too often, you will need to replace the battery sooner, but that’s probably three to five years down
the road.

In conclusion, charge your batteries when they need it, not all the time. The exception is if you are doing a huge adventure or long ride, then give them a charge before the big day, just don’t forget to start the ride with those SRAM batteries still on the charger!


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