March 2, 2009

Sometimes stuff breaks.

Glad I wasn't riding.  Sometimes things break, right in your hands.  This time, I was lucky:  it happened in the garage.  

All I wanted to do was swap out the brake cables' inner wires.  After, geez - I dunno, certainly two years worth of riding almost - It was time to just put some fresh inner wires onto the bike, and get it ready for spring.  The kids are in bed, I've got a tall glass of ... okay, water. ...time to wrench a little.  

You know that trick, where - just like piano wire or guitar strings or anything else made like a cable, there is a little stretch that occurs.  There is a quick trick to get the stretch out of most cables on a bike, simply by running them, installing them like normal, and then giving the brake levers a good, hard squeeze.  This stretches the cable, now, as opposed to out on the road, and you'll notice that the brakes are a little looser than they were a second ago.  Simply back off the binder bolt, pull a little more cable through, and re-tighten.  Viola!  Most, if not all, of the cable stretch is done - and you won't notice your brakes getting looser over the next couple of rides, like you would had you skipped this step.  For derailleurs, simply install as usual, and - well, it's a little more complicated - but not much.  Anyways, let's focus on brakes:  because this is as far as I got tonight. 

I install the front brake cable by running it thru the brake lever, thru the cable housing, and it pops out the other end, where I then run it thru the brake binder bolt.  I take my fingers, squeeze the brake caliper together against the rim, and tighten the bolt.  Then, squeeze the lever.... 

Hmmm... that felt weird... LOT of stretch in that cable!  Dang...  Okay... next step is to pull the excess through... which I do... time for another squeeze to get the distance from pad to rim dialed in.  Wait a second... more stretch?  Raising an eyebrow to something new like this, I grab a permanent marker and make a little hash-mark on the cable, right below the brake binder bolt.  It almost feels like the cable wire is slipping past the binding on the caliper.  Crud.... that's not good... I reset the cable, make the mark, and give it another squeeze... MORE movement, the lever isn't reseting, and the little black hash-mark I made on the cable is in the same place.  OKAY... the caliper's binder bolt is good... UGH.  My attention turns to the brake lever, which is not retracting.  Inside the lever housing, I see the spiral of exposed brake cable housing innards, which has pulled through the back of the brake lever assembly, seperating itself from the vinyl outer jacket, which is still on the backside of the brake lever assembly!  HOLY.... Grrrrrrrrr......  I stiffen my bottom lip, and huff, like I do.  Well, that's how do I fix this?  After some investigation, I realize that FIXING it is not possible.  The tiny hole in the brake lever assembly through-which the inner wire is supposed to pass is now a LOT bigger.  All the plastic that was once there to stop the brake housing from moving when the cable is pulled is gone.  

Okay:  Cane Creek SCR-5 brake levers.  There is seldom else I got nearly as excited about as an upgrade on this bike a few years back.  SUPER comfy, ergo-designed, and solid.  Apparently solid.  Okay - never an issue until this very moment, I remember initially having reservations about the fact the brake lever body is made entirely of resin/plastic.  Not terribly hard material - but it never gave me a reason to second guess it, until now.  I mean, my upper body strength isn't like my leg strength:  it's not like I STOOD on the thing to tension the cables, and the squeezing required to DO so isn't any more vigourous than braking to a stop after a big downhill.  It flashes me back to all the hard braking done on countless hills over the last months, years... dang.  If this had happened on a ride, well, it'd be a potential ride-ender.  If the brake cable had pulled thru like that at the wrong time... wow.  I can't imagine.  I honestly can't imagine.  
Should there be a recall on this?  Should I tell someone?  (I'm kinda doing that now, aren't I?) Could I have done something differently?  Could I, should I have, installed a ferrule on the cable housing before putting it up inside the brake lever housing?  Well, I tried to replicate that, and it wouldn't have worked:  the brake lever assembly's hole for the cable simply isn't big enough.  The cable housing is designed to plug right up in there, bare - so the only thing stopping the cable, by design, is the plastic it's made from.

 Thinking back over the last few months, the front brake has acted - well... fadey.  Like something was giving.  I figured it was the pads, natural wear, the longer caliper arms of my "mid-reach" brakes.  It was so subtle, I really paid it no mind - but now it all makes sense.  Slowly, surely, that plastic was compressing, weakening.  Well, it is what it is.  I'll write a nice, polite letter to Cane Creek about it, for sure.  Seriously: a polite letter - I was an early adopter of this new brake lever when it came out, so I'm not sure if anyone else has come across this issue, and yelling about it won't accomplish anything.  Never does.  We're talking about a $25 brake lever pair here, so it's not a big dollar item:  but it should be safe, right?  Safe until... how long?  How many cycles?  I have another pair of these installed on the Trek 450 - and they feel a lot more solid... so this is something that clearly takes a few years of use to occur.  If you have these levers, check em, will ya?  

So, what should have been a quick, ten-minute cable refresh in the garage this evening turned into a full front-end swapout of parts.  Well, not "full", just a cockpit swapout.  Thankfully, there are some parts that I just refuse to take to the swap meets.  Stuff you either can't get anymore, or things I simply like to keep around.  One of those parts are the Shimano BR-600L aero brake levers that I was rockin' for a few years before buying the Cane Creek's.  These levers have been on the old Trek 720, the Bianchi, and the Kogswell's initial build-up, the Trek 900 Fixxie mtn bike, the Surly Steamroller, the Surly CrossCheck I had, and actually on one of Badgerland's bikes for a while until they ended up back in my shack again a few months ago:  lucky timing!

Mixed feelings, really:  I went to the Cane Creeks' to solve a specific problem:  comfort.  Sure, I did 200s, 300s, and 400K's on the Shimano levers before - no HUGE problems... but those Cane's were sure cozy.  The Shimano levers - aside from being paid-for, in the garage, and ready to go - are still good levers and, more importantly after this discovery, have a lever body made entirely of aluminum.  Good, machined, thick aluminum.  Weight?  Not that I care... but about the same, really.  I've got them installed now, but this has turned into (since the front brake cable housing is trashed now) an opportunity to refresh the rest of the cable housing.  It was probably time for that anyways, since this is the same cable housing that I put on this bike when I first built it up in April of 2006!  (Hey, kids:  don't follow my cable maintenance plan.)  Cassettes, chains, lube, tires:  dude, I'm on the schedule, tracking miles, etc.  But cables?  Bah... I don't know, it's quite possible this very cable housing came over from the Bianchi for all I know!!!  Use it until it just falls apart... not the BEST advice I can give ya.  Oh well.  At least it's not like I cracked a carbon crankset.  Ten or fifteen bucks, and I'll be back in business.  

Just stinks, because I really wanted to ride tomorrow AM.  UGH!!!
Hopefully I'll be back rollin' on Wednesday, with new cable housing, new inner wires.  Just in time for the spring brevet series, actually.  A blessing in disguise, perhaps... because, again, at least this didn't happen out on the road.  

Whew.... here's to "timing"...  

1 comment:

O. T. said...

You cannot underestimate the comfort issue. I think back to Tejas...remember how I kept asking you to adjust my front DR because it refused to shift? I was to wasted to know that I have done some nerve damage to my hand because the only comfortable way to ride lean on the hoods was to have the "knob" of the shifter dig into the heal of my palm.

You got some good use out of it. From a cost per mile stand point. And you have full use of your hands. What a BONUS!!!! ;-)