New Bike for a New Season, Part 1

Since I have set some very-ambitious plans on my bike for the riding season of 2014, I thought perhaps this is the year to upgrade my bike frame. As was the case the first time I built up a bike back in the summer of 2009, there are plenty of Chinese-made options to choose from online, and the quality of those frames have only improved—at least so I thought. In January, I looked at all the options that were available online—especially on eBay where I bought my last frame—and decided on the "FR-315" frameset. (The pictures came from one of the eBay listings.)

The listing included the frame, fork, seatpost, seatpost clamp and the headset for under $500USD. Another nice feature on the bike is that it has a front derailleur braze-on, so I don't have to get my own clamp. Unlike my previous bike though, I elected to get the "matte 3k" finish rather than the "glossy 12k" finish. I even did the required check on all the cycling forums to see if there are any complaints about the quality of the design. There were none. Everyone who had bought the frame praised that it was light and fast and responsive. Satisfied, made a few clicks and bought the frame from a vendor on eBay. A month later, it arrived at my office by mail in a gigantic cardboard box. As a side story, the day after I made the purchase, I promptly forgot about it altogether, until when the package arrived and the building manager carried it to my desk. Luckily the box was very light. The story how I can possibly forget something as big (literally) as this will be explained in due time. I also bought some carbon spacers on eBay for $3USD.

The next obvious step then is to put the bike together, and the first step is to install the headset crown race onto the fork. I didn't have the tools, so I went to the excellent bike shops at Mountain Equipment Co-op, and then to Bike Depot and Silent Sports. They all told me that the steerer tube was too big! So I borrowed a digital caliper from the machine shop at the Institute. Lo and behold, they were right. The diameter was 1.599" instead of 1.5", a difference of 0.1" = 2.54mm!

2014-02-28 16.45.272014-02-28 16.46.00

I contacted the seller on eBay and she contacted the factory. Their response was this, verbatim:

i have reported the pic to factory, 
reply:" it is normal.  the fork dia, 38mm ~39.85mm, it  is normal
from the pic, you need push the head spacer,  press it into the fork . then it is tight.
or you can take to your local bike install.

By the way, my measured diameter was 1.599" = 40.62mm. Even the upper range of this ridiculously generous tolerance was still almost an entire millimeter smaller than my tube. Luckily I have a lot of experience working  with carbon composites during my solar car days. The part where the steerer tube joins the fork itself is a solid piece of carbon. I can just sand it down carefully, by hand, and with a lot of patience. A lot of people gasp ast the idea of sanding the tube, but if you know what you are doing like me, you're okay. But we did something even smarter. After some back-and-forth e-mail with the vendor, it was decided instead that I'd send the fork back and they'd send me a new one. Fingers crossed.

Not wanting to wait to resolve the issues with the fork, I started working on the rest of the bike. It was easy: install the rear brake caliper (2 minutes), install the front and rear derailleurs (10 minutes), install the saddle onto the seatpost (15 minutes) and the seatpost onto the frame (2 minutes), and most of the work is done! I also installed a new Raceface crankset (20 minutes), and new SPD pedals on the crank arm (<10 minutes). Installing the left crank arm involved 4 taps with a rubber mallet, but that was the only “difficult” part. Here's the result of that work. The picture on the left is the (still incomplete) new bike, and on the right is the old bike, the way it was set up in 2012. And yes, that is my name on the new frame:

2014-03-06 17.54.15carbon_bike2

The picture is taken with the fork more or less in the right position (but the headset bearings on the bottom side of the head tube was not installed because it didn't fit). The nice thing about having two pictures taken at the same spot against a brick background is that you can do some preliminary height comparisons. The handlebar height (left) was almost identical the 2012 position (right), but last year, I changed the stem and the handlebar ended up a bit lower—it was more comfortable. When I get the new fork, I'll remove at least one spacer during the fitting process. After that, I'll cut down the steerer tube (10 minutes), install the compression bolt on top (2 minutes), install a new chain (5 minutes), route the brake and shifter cables and everything will be done! I guess I should tell you that at the moment I have absolutely no clue how to route the cables and housing.

Brake padsWhile everything about the fork is still getting sorted out, I also bought two pairs of brake pads (on eBay) to replace the worn-out pads from two years ago. The inconvenient thing about carbon rims is that they required special brake pads. They are more expensive than the rubber pads used for alloy wheels, but at $15 USD for the two pairs, at least the cost is still manageable.  Putting thethe old pads side by side with the new ones, I was surprised to see the very-uneven wear on them. But I suppose they never affected my riding, so I am not going to worry about the same thing happening to my new pads.

During the bike building process, I got help from my friend Duncan (who help my build my last bike) and my colleague Maciej, who is at least as passionate about cycling as I am. Maciej and I will be teaming up along with Duncan and a possibly a few members from Hart House Orchetra to do the Ride for Heart. Duncan (and possibly Maciej too). I'll write about my "adventures" on this new bike as soon as the bike is ready...