Sunday, March 1, 2009

Q&A: Broken spokes on the road, 3-sp shifter, brake pads for wet weather

FiberFix emergency bicycle spoke
Q: Jim - good morning. I recently broke a non drive-side spoke on my Shimano Dura-Ace rear wheel on a ride. I was wondering if you had a source for replacement spokes and any advice on dealing with this when you're out on a ride. I had to call home for a ride since the wheel was too warped to straighten with the spoke missing.

Thank you

A: Hi Chris,
With all the low spoke-count wheels on the road today, broken spokes are more of a problem. When we had 32 spokes on most wheels you could break a spoke and still get home because there were enough other spokes to keep the wheel from coming too far out of true. As you discovered with your wheel, today's aero hoops go a lot more out of true when a spoke breaks and it can make the wheel wobble so badly it hits the frame rendering your bicycle unrideable, meaning you have to call for help.

I often ride with friends and we're all on modern low spoke-count wheels so I try to always carry a repair spoke called a FiberFix (photo). It's essentially a super-strong little aramid-fiber "cable" and end, that fits almost all wheels and takes the place of the broken spoke, allowing you to retension the wheel and keep riding. You can learn all about the FiberFix spoke and order one at Peter White's great site.

If you don't have something like this on a ride, you can sometimes temporarily fix a broken spoke if you're lucky. It depends on how/where the spoke broke, but if you can tie the ends of the spoke together by bending them and joining them with a piece of wire/string/zip tie (from your repair kit or found beside the road), or whatever you have handy, you might be able to get the wheel true enough to at least keep riding on it.

Now, on getting a replacement spoke, I'd recommend buying several so you have backups next time. You could try your local bike shop. Or, if they don't have them and your Shimano wheels are new, you might start by calling Shimano's tech line, telling them what happened and asking them if they could get you spokes 949.951.5003. The spokes aren't supposed to break and I think they'll be eager to get you setup with a replacements if you have new Dura-Ace wheels. You can tell them you already went to local bike shops and they didn't have the spokes.

Or, if your local bike shop has Shimano Dura-Ace wheels for sale, you could try asking them if they'd be willing to rob a spoke for you. If they're the shop where you bought the wheel that's not too much to ask and it's no big deal to remove and replace one spoke.

I don't know if they carry the DA spokes, but I've also had good luck with when I need specialty parts not available locally. You can call them at 800.627.6664.

Another workaround if you need it that might work is to see if a regular spoke can be put in for now. The first thing would be to unscrew the DA spoke at the rim and see if a basic DT spoke will thread into the DA nipple in the rim. If it does, you can try this: Find a shop with a Phil Wood spoke tool - a professional tool some shops have that puts perfect threads on spokes. If you can find one, they should be able to use it to make you a spoke that will work temporarily. The DA spokes are threaded on both ends. So they can take the tool and take a nice DT spoke and cut the head off and thread that end, too. This way you'll have a spoke threaded on both ends that should fit the nipples on your DA wheel. (Of course, this assumes that the nipples didn't break.)

One of these ideas should get you going. Good luck!

Q: My friend has a cool old Japanese 3-speed bicycle missing the trigger shifter. Will an old Sturmey-Archer trigger shifter work, or is the cable pull different?

Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hub and shifter from 1959A: The answer to your question depends on what type of 3-speed hub you have on that Japanese bike. The easiest way to tell is to look at the way the shift cable connects. If it's connected to a little threaded rod with small chain links on it (what Sturmey called the indicator - see photo), you should have a Japanese clone of a Sturmey-Archer hub and I believe a Sturmey trigger will work. The cable will have the correct end at the handlebar, too (long, cylindrical) to fit in the Sturmey trigger and the trigger should pull the right amount of cable with each click.

But, if you see what's referred to as a "toggle" mechanism attached to the rear axle, a small knuckle-like metal apparatus that the cable attaches to, the handlebar end of the cable will not work in the Sturmey shifter, so you'll need to search for a Shimano-type shifter.
Hope this helps,

Q: Hello Jim – I commute to work via bike several times a week. As you are aware on a road bike when it rains or on wet pavement the brakes will slow but not stop. Is it possible or advisable to use the longer mountain bike brake pads? I have Shimano 105 brakes, 9 speed drivetrain w/ triple, 700x25 tires, Mavic rims.


A: Hi David,
I wouldn't recommending going to longer/larger pads, as they usually won't fit very well with the tighter clearance on road bikes. Instead, I would try some brake pads made for wet weather as they are designed to grip better when it's rainy. You might try Kool Stop pads and see if they don't work a lot better than what you have.

A lot of bike shops carry these pads, so you might be able to find them locally with a few phone calls. And, they'll slip right into your brake pad holders. You want the pads that fit your Shimano 105 brakes and the models made for wet weather.

Be sure to clean your rims regularly when you ride in the rain a lot, too, as the crud and grime from the wet roads can leave a residue on the rims that reduces friction. Simple rubbing alcohol works great. Just wet a rag with it and wipe the rims completely on both sides and that'll keep the rims nice and grippy.

To better rainy-day braking,

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