Saturday, July 12, 2008

Q&A: Sticky pedals, dry lube, new brake hoods, clickie fixie

Q: Jim, I am a bit of an addict - doing spinning classes about 5 times a week. I love my clipless pedals and shoes but have a hard time clipping out - even broke a shoe trying to clip out. Someone suggested spraying Pam or WD-40 on the clips - any advice on this? Just in case you're picturing a large woman, I am about 5' 6" and 120 lbs, so not a big brute : ) Any advice would be greatly appreciated,

A: I can relate, Paula. I'm an addict, too, and never miss my rides. You didn't mention what type of pedal system you have. If you have plastic cleats and pedal parts, like used on Look clipless pedals, you can certainly try spritzing your pedals and cleats with a cooking spray like Pam or you might try a furniture wax like Lemon Pledge or a car spray polish like Armor All, I'd be a little worried about using WD-40, though, as it's more a penetrating lubricant than a slippery wax and it might gum things up over time where the slippery sprays shouldn't too much. On clipless pedal systems that are all, or mostly metal, like Shimano SPDs or Speedplay, the lubricants like WD-40, should work fine, not gum things up too much, and also last longer than the waxy sprays. Just don't walk into your house with your cycling shoes on or you'll transfer the lube from your cleats to your floors.

If you do have a Shimano SPD system, keep in mind that one of the most likely causes of difficulty getting out of your pedals is cleat wear. Over time the little metal cams on the cleats that open the pedal jaws when you twist your feet to exit wear down. And, when they wear down enough, you twist your feet and the cleats can't spread the pedal jaws enough for you to get your feet out. Replacing the cleats will make the system work like new again. It takes me a few years to wear out a set of metal cleats, though, so if yours are new, that's probably not the problem. Note that this can happen on plastic cleats, too, which wear out from walking, and a lot faster than metal ones, if you walk a lot in your cycling shoes. You can look at plastic cleats and see the wear pretty easily. Look for too-thin edges at the front and rear and rough or chipped edges, all signs it's probably time for new cleats.

Keep in mind that most modern clipless pedals have adjustable release tension, too. Look for a small Allen screw on the backs of the pedals (photo). Turn these in 1/2-turn increments counterclockwise and you should feel a significant difference in how hard it is to get out of your pedals. You can hold your shoe in your hand and click it in and out of the pedal to feel how much easier you can make it. On Shimano pedals there's a lot of adjustment and you can make it much easier if it's at the hardest setting when you start. Also, on two-sided clipless pedals like Shimanos, you can also set one side loose and one side tighter if you wanted a choice, say for riding for fitness when you don't get off the bike much, versus riding off road where you get off a lot.

If you have plastic cleats (like Looks) and they're mounted on a small shoe, it's also possible that the cleats bent slightly when the cleat bolts were tightened down (to conform to the curved shoe soles). This can happen on a small size shoe and if it does, the curve placed in the cleats when you tighten them fully makes it harder to get out of the pedals. The solution is to loosen the cleats and place shims beneath them until the cleats can be fully tightened without changing shape (the bottoms should remain flat when the cleats are fully tightened on the shoes; the cleats shouldn't be curved at all).

Hope these tips help you solve the problem,

Q: Hi Jim, I'm wondering about "Sosmetal Slik & Kleen." It's a dry lube and I'm wondering if you can tell me is it any good for the bicycle chain? I've tried it and it seems to do well and without any dirt or dust getting stuck as when using a regular type oil. I appreciate in advance your answer.
Thank you,

A: Sorry, Bob, I've never heard of that lube. Is it made specifically for bicycles? There is a bicycle lube called White Lightning that's wax-based and pretty good for dry climates/areas. I've used that a lot and thought it worked nicely, though you do get a waxy build-up on your chain and cassette over time. But, it does lube okay and keeps your drivetrain relatively grime-free.

Q: Hi Jim,
I have a bicycle that I built in the late seventies with components from all sorts of places. The brakes are Zeus 2000 center pull and the gum rubber brake hoods are in need of replacement. I have not found Zeus replacement parts but have heard that the campy replacement hoods will fit. I am wondering what the best way to replace these hoods would be. I really don’t want to remove the levers from the handlebars since I have leather handlebar covers that are sewn onto the bar. Is it possible to replace these hoods by removing the brake cable and going at them from the front?

Thanks for your advice,

A: Hi Rick,
I can't remember Zeus brake levers as they were pretty rare and I didn't work on many over the years. But, in most cases, you can slip the rubber hoods off the levers once the cables have been released from the levers. Old hoods will probably tear off, too and you probably won't mind ruining them if it's time to replace them. Be sure to remove all the rubber if some pieces are left stuck to the brake lever hoods. Lighter fluid or rubbing alcohol will free rubber pieces really stuck to the lever.

To get the new hoods on, soak them in warm soapy water for awhile. This will make them softer and slippery and they should slip right over the brake levers with a little care. Be sure to protect your leather tape so the water doesn't stain it. You could wrap plastic around it until the hoods are on and dry.

If you run into tight, or older rubber hoods that simply won't go on without risk of ruining them, you should be able to remove the brake lever handles, too. On high-quality levers, like Campy, there's usually a set screw inside to loosen and then you can push out the main pivot pin that holds the lever handles in place. Once this pin is out, the handles will come out (the lever hoods stay attached to the handlebars) and you can simply slide the rubber hood onto the brake lever hood without having to stretch the rubber much at all. It's a little tricky putting the lever handles back in place but not too hard. You just need to hold the rubber hood out of the way to slide the pivot pin back in place. Don't forget to tighten the set screw.

If you can't get the lever handles out of the lever, you can also remove the levers from the bars without unwrapping the tape, but this is trickier. It's easy enough to remove the levers by unscrewing the main screw inside the levers. This will let you remove the levers from the bars (just pull). BUT, when you remove them, the clamp and pull-up nut remain behind on the handlebar. Also, the bar tape stays the way it was wrapped. Usually, the lever was installed BEFORE the tape was wrapped. This means that if you remove the lever this way, the tape stays in a position that makes it tricky to get the lever back in the little pocket it was in before (formed by the tape).

Also, getting the screw in the lever to find and tighten into the pull-up nut and clamp still on the bar is tricky. It can be done but it takes patience and a little luck. One trick is to put a cardboard shim behind the pull-up nut to "jam" it in place so it can't move as you try to find it with the main screw when you're trying to reattach the levers. You will also need to wiggle or pry the bar tap/leather back over the hood the way it was before slipping a screwdriver or something like that beneath to fit the lever and tape just right so everything is right again. I've done this, but it's easier, of course, if you can just slip the hood over, or remove the lever handles only and leave the brake hoods on the bars.

Actually, now that I explained all that, because you have leather, it's possible that your setup was designed for easier lever removal. You might loosen a lever and see if the leather is entirely beneath the lever body and the clamp and nut are easy to access. If so, it should be pretty easy to remove the levers, slip on the new hoods and reinstall the levers.

Hope these tips help you out. Let me know how it goes,

Q: Jim - Here is a photo of a bike I built from scratch. New steel frame, all new parts. I have several bikes. My multispeeds are solid and quiet, carbon and steel. My singlespeeds, both a Bianchi San Jose and this one, go tick, tick, tick as I pedal, especially under a load. I had the bottom brackets rebuilt three times, even used plumber's tape on the BB threads. New chains, adjusted both, found the tight spot and adjusted to compensate for it as told to do. Still that ticking sound. Lubed the pedals, checked the SPD cleats, tight and lubed. Tried different shoes. Tick, tick. The mechanic at the bike shop told me to "ignore it and get used to it." Why do singlespeeds tick?

A: That's a sweet looking bike, Bill. But, it's hard for me to tell whether or not I could help with the tick on your bike. In my experience fixies and track bikes do tend to have a little more drivetrain noise, but I don't think of it as a tick but more like a constant running noise from the chain links and sprockets. It's not anything I'd worry about. 10-speeds make noise, too.

But, if I heard a regular, tick, tick, tick like on one pedal stroke or something, I'd try to figure it out. Maybe it would be possible to get rid of it and have a quiet ride.

Have you tried loosening your chain so it seems too loose, to see if the noise goes away? Have you tried checking the alignment of the cog and chainring to make sure they're perfect? Have you looked at the cogs and chainring very carefully under a bright light, one tooth at a time, to make sure no teeth are slightly bent, or out of alignment? Has the chain got a nice coat of lube on it? Are the chainring bolts nice and greased up? Were the pedal threads greased when you put them in? Did you check your shoes to make sure nothing is loose on there. On my Sidi shoes for example, I only use 3 holes to mount my Look cleats. That leaves a couple of other holes for other cleat systems. Problem is, the metal inserts in these holes are loose in the shoe. It took me a while to figure out that they were rattling in there and on every pedal stroke I'd get a click, click. It drove me nuts. I fixed it by putting a screw in those holes to lock that part of the shoe down.
Another possibility is the chain. Sometimes people run basic coaster-brake-style chains on fixies. It's my experience that a derailleur chain, which is more flexible, will run more smoothly and quietly. You might try that if you're running the more basic, less expensive coaster-brake chain.

Maybe one of these suggestions will help you find the problem and have a nice quiet ride again. I hope so. Thanks again for the photo. I enjoyed seeing your masterpiece. Very nice! Oh, be sure to check my extensive article on finding and fixing bicycle noises if others crop up. It's here:



Brian S said...

Thanks for this blog post; it is timely for my situation. While riding this past weekend, I noticed a lot of squeaking on the left side of my bike while pedaling; in fact, the squeak occurred when my left pedal spun around 2:00 on the crank (I tried to determine if it was the headset, the bottom bracket, the chain, or anything else I could think of). I noticed that if I shifted my foot a little in a different direction, the squeak went away; that led me to think it could be a loose cleat bolt.

To play it safe, I had my local bike shop look at my bike; the tech did not find anything wrong. But then he realized that I was wearing SPD-SL cleats and suggested putting lube on them, such as bar soap or bike lube. However, the idea of using furniture polish intrigues me... would you suggest that in my case as well? Thank you again.

Bicycle Aficionado said...

You could definitely try a furniture wax like Lemon Pledge. Or, you might try ArmorAll. Even some wax from a candle might work. Lube will do the trick, too, but it does tend to gum up after awhile and there's the tracking it into the house issue if you forget to take your shoes off. With the waxes, that's less of a problem. Hope this helps!