Bicycle rear wheel problems.
May 17, 2006 5:40 PM   Subscribe

Bicycle rear wheel problems.

I've been having extensive problems with a rear wheel that is about two years old - freewheel hub, double wall rim. I'm looking for advice about fixing the current problems. Also, which problems may have been the result of interactions. Finally, what maintenance should I be performing in the future.
Sure, this could go to a bike forum, but I'm not a member at any bike forums..

Problems - hub/spokes
From the begining the spokes did not appear to be tensioned properly - I would constantly hear the spokes adjusting while riding. The original quick release axle broke after about one year, along with 3 spokes.

I replaced the spokes, and replaced the broken quick release with a solid axle, but I had a little trouble with the process. The spacers weren't quite right, and there was some rubbing between the freewheel retention ring and the frame. By the time I got this resolved, about two weeks, I believe the axle was already slightly bent. I rode on it anyway..

A couple of months ago I had to replace another three spokes. This week I had another broken spoke, and I also discovered that the axle has become severly bent (in fact a couple of the bearings have been completely pulverized!). However, to my unskilled eyes the raceways in the hub still seem to be nice and smooth.
Problems - freewheel
Along with those troubles, the freewheel cogs are quite warn, and the chain has been skipping terribly. These parts are original on the bike, about 4 years old. The chain runs fairly smoothly, no seased links.
Background (copied from my previous Bike question - No-hype bike site)
I commute, I exercise on road, and I occasionally ride medium distances for one reason or another. However, I am 260lbs, I carry a lot of heavy loads, and I ride pretty hard in all weather, so I do a lot of damage to my bike.
Back to the questions
  1. Should I replace the freewheel, axle, spoke, and soldier on with this wheel? How do I get a stronger axle for a freewheel hub? A cassette style rear wheel should have an improved bearing arrangement, should I switch? What else should I look out for to improve the durability of my rear wheel?
  2. Obviously my fat ass is loading the rear wheel a lot, but is there something else wrong too? Any interaction between broken spokes and a failing axle? Is it possible that the dropouts have become misaligned in some way?
  3. Presumably the warn freewheel (and chain too?) is the primary cause of my chain skip problem, but could the wheel problems contribute to chain skip at all? Could dropout misalignment contribute?
I'm very poor, but I need to get this problem resolved. Thanks for reading all that, and for whatever help you can offer.
posted by Chuckles to Travel & Transportation (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
1. Get a new wheel built up with thicker spokes, and put a cassette hub in it. My rear wheel has 13-gauge spokes and I doubt I'll ever break one.

2. The main connection between broken spokes and failing axles is that both are caused by overloading. My arse is also very fat, which is why I have nice thick spokes. I'm also religious about avoiding large shock loads; I never jump kerbs. A shock load can cause momentary stresses easily 10x normal.

3. Your chain skipping is almost certainly entirely due to wear. Get a new cluster; worn clusters will drive you nuts with skipping and bad shifts. Whenever you replace the cluster, you should also replace the chain (they stretch); vice-versa is good practice too. Front chainrings will probably last you several changes of chain, except maybe the small granny gear one.

Dropout misalignment may be contributing to your axle problems, and you should certainly get it fixed. Bike shops have big brutal frame stretchers for that, but if you want to do it on the cheap, get the longest bolt you can find that's the same diameter as your axle, cut off the head, and lock it into one of the dropouts by tightening nuts either side of the dropout against each other (use flat washers between the nut and dropout); then sight along the bolt to find out which way the dropout needs to be twisted; then "encourage" it in that direction by slipping a four foot length of pipe over the end of the bolt and leaning on it.

Meatball bike repair != rocket science :)
posted by flabdablet at 6:00 PM on May 17, 2006

It is not uncommon for spokes to ping or re-set when the wheel is loaded, especially with a factory built wheel. Your guess about dropout alignment is a good possibility. Park Tool may have info on how to check dropout alignment.

The problem also may be related to your weight w.r.t. the type of wheel. You are heavier than most cyclists, and the wheel may be built for a lighter load. How many spokes are on each side of the wheel? What are they made of- straight gauge or butted? If you have less than 32 total spokes on the rear wheel you may need to change to a stronger one.
posted by pgoes at 6:09 PM on May 17, 2006

OK, Flabdablet covered while I was previewing........
posted by pgoes at 6:11 PM on May 17, 2006

1. On first glance, yes: replace everything, then find a reputable bike shop with a reputable wheelsmith and ask him to build you a wheel with your riding habits in mind. On second thought: just lug your whole bike to the shop.

There's so much that goes into building a wheel. You seem pretty familiar with the components, but keep in mind that apart from the rim itself, whose construction can vary tremendously, there's a lot of variation in terms of spoke type, spoke patterning, number of spokes, and overall wheel building mojo. A seasoned wheelsmith will take your riding habits, your body habitus, and your bike into consideration. He should be able to build you a lasting wheel, and convince you that, like most things, wheels need upkeep and proper maintenance.

2. Yes, your dropouts can be affected by a wheel's load. And yes, broken spokes can be linked to a busted axle. The wheel is literally pulled together for strength. Apart from the obvious load from your body, there are numerous forces that exert themselves on the wheel: torsional, longitudinal, lateral, and uh... I can't think of any more. Bust a spoke, and the wheel (and whatever it's connected to) is in for a world of hurt.

3. Maybe. If your dropouts are borked, then yes, your chain might skip. I think. Doesn't seem likely. Maybe if you've got other problems/worn out parts.

Please keep in mind that this is all coming from someone who hasn't ridden a bike in 10 years, but used to work in a shop.
posted by herrdoktor at 6:12 PM on May 17, 2006

1. Whoever built your rear did a crap job. I'm not much lighter than you and do thousands of clicks every year on my wheels. I've never broken a spoke (anodized rims, yes, spokes never). Thicker spokes aren't always strongest. You want double-butted spokes.

Find a good local bike shop who can repair your rear wheel. Ask them about stress relieving. If they don't know what you're talking about, walk out the door. Look for a small, established shop, not the one at the back of Wally world.

Repair of your existing wheel should not cost much money. They should reuse your existing hub and rim and just replace the spokes.

2. The frame might be bent, but that's unlikely. Bike frames are quite strong. Alignment is easy to check. Get a string. Use it to measure the distance from the handlebar post to the dropout. Try both sides. If the string is the same length on both sides, your frame is in alignment.

Your axle might also be bent. When you get your rear wheel looked at this will be immediately obvious. Rear axes aren't very expensive either.

Your rear wheel is likely out of true. Put a finger between the rear brake pad between the rim. Spin the wheel. It's quite easy to feel deflections of less than 1/16th of an inch this way. Given your spoke problems, you're probably riding a tacoed wheel. This will be fixed when they replace your spokes.

3. Your chain is worn out. Chains do not stretch like an elastic, but the bearings do wear out and the links get loose. Under tension of the derailer, the chain length gets longer, causing skipping. Replace your chain. If, when you replace the chain, you still have problems, you rear cluster is also too worn and will need replacement. Chains go first, though. If you replace your chain early enough in the wear cycle, you never have to replace a rear cluster.
posted by bonehead at 6:23 PM on May 17, 2006

A properly stress-relieved wheel should not ping when you first ride it! That's symptomatic of a poorly-built wheel! The ping sound is caused by the spoke heads seating themselves in the hub. It means the mechanic DID NOT do a final stress-relieve of the spokes. It also means you'll be taking the bike back to him in a week because your new wheel has gone off true. Since you've now stress-relieved the wheel by riding it around, the second tune-up will do the trick, but if the mechanic had done his job right in the first place, the second visit would have been completely unnecessary.
posted by bonehead at 6:35 PM on May 17, 2006

Related thread.

I think bonehead is making the most sense. Whatever else you do, don't replace just the broken spokes; get a whole new set.

When I was doing motorcycle wheels, the strongest spokes were single-gauge stainless steel, with rolled threads. I have no idea if there's anything like that available in bicycle gauges.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:24 PM on May 17, 2006

Most bicycle spokes these days are rolled, very few are die-cut anymore.
posted by bonehead at 7:43 PM on May 17, 2006

When I was doing motorcycle wheels, the strongest spokes were single-gauge stainless steel, with rolled threads

Different loads -- there's a lot more mass on the rim on a motorcycle tire.

Double butted spokes last longer on bike wheels, because spokes break at the bend of the hub under tension. So, you have thicker steel there, but thinner steel with more give in the center of the spoke. Thus, under shock loads, the part of the spoke that deforms the most is in the center, not at the hub.

Freewheels bend axels, because they're a fundamentally bad design. The bearings supporting the axle should be at the ends, but they're not -- they are on the left, but on the right, it's behind the freewheel, with a large hunk of axle cantilevered out through the freewheel, like so....
  VV           |||  VV
This is just the axle. The :: are the fork ends, the B are bearings, the FFF is the freewheel, with cogs attached, and the | are the flanges where the spokes lace in. The VV represents where the load from is placed -- you sit on the seat, it transfers the load to the down tube and seat stays, which transfer to the forks there.

Note on the left, the bearing is close to the load. This is good. Note, on the right, the bearing is far away from the load. That's bad -- and that's why axles bend -- the right half of the axle has to carry half the load from the fork to the bearing.

Cassette hubs fix this, like so...
 VV         |||  VV
Here, instead of a thread to screw a freewheel assembly on, we have a spindle (S) that's a part of the hub, with the freewheeling mechanism installed inside, and the cassette of spockets slides onto it, meshing with splines on the "freehub". Since the spindle doesn't need to be removed, the bearing can be outboard of it.

Now, on both sides of the assembly, the loads are close to the bearings. The result -- a strong wheel that lasts longer, because the axles don't bend.

Everything bonehead here says is exactly correct. (Hmm. I know I've said that before...) The only quibble I'd have is if your chain is worn to the point that it won't ride correctly, your sprockets are almost certainly already trashed. This leads to the other advantage of freehubs -- since the freewheel is part of the hub, replacing cassettes is cheap, even for high quality ones.

As to being a big guy, as a big guy, I can offer advice. if you want a road bike to commute on, the word is "Touring." Touring bikes are tough, because they're built to handle a rider and lots of stuff -- racks, panniers, bags, lights, fenders, etc. They tend to have good brakes as well. If you're looking for a go-fast, the answer used to be "Touring, stripped" -- true go-fast bikes were too lightweight.

Thankfully, a new sport gives us decent go-fast possibilities that will last a season. That sport is "Cyclocross" -- basically, a combination of dirt track, road, and running with your bike over your shoulder. Thus, you need a light bike, that you can carry/ride fast on the pavement, but it has to be able to handle offroad abuse.

A cyclocross bike, with pavement tires, makes a dandy go-fast bike for us big guys. It certainly won't be as fast as a true race bike -- but the only place we'll ever be as fast as a true bike racer is on a very long downhill, and lord, it better be straight.
posted by eriko at 8:12 PM on May 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The wheel has 36 straight gauge spokes, 0.078" on the calipers (I guess that means 2mm/14 guage though)..

flabdablet: get the longest bolt you can find that's the same diameter as your axle, cut off the head, and lock it into one of the dropouts by tightening nuts either side of the dropout against each other ...

Sheldon Brown's site points to this park tool.

I like your improvisation, but I'll have to get some parts before I can try it out. Walking.. Ugh!

bonehead: Alignment is easy to check. Get a string. Use it to measure the distance from the handlebar post to the dropout. Try both sides. If the string is the same length on both sides, your frame is in alignment.

I measured from the screw in the centre of the handlebar post with tape measure and string. I measured to the weld that joins the dropouts to the chainstays and the weld that joins the dropouts to the seatstays. It seems to be aligned, but I'm sure that my measurement is subject to at least +/- 2mm error. What tolerance am I looking for?

I'm also going to try out Sheldon Brown's method (I keep noticing that site whenever bike questions come up here, and then promptly forgetting it). The method, tie a string around the headtube and through the dropouts. Measure from string to seat tube on either side.

Your axle might also be bent. ... Your rear wheel is likely out of true.

Axle is defiantly badly bent, you just missed that part in my essay above, which is understandable.

There is a little wobble at the moment, but it is fairly true. I have to adjust it every couple of weeks though.. Well, probably less, but I ride with it out of true more than I should, so..

eriko: Freewheels bend axels, because they're a fundamentally bad design.

Great ascii diagrams!

I keep looking at the bent axle and thinking about how much me and the bike and the groceries weigh, and thinking about how hard I hit potholes sometimes.. Looking at the ~1.5" overhang, I have a hard time believing the axle isn't going to bend within the first 10km.

I have had freewheel bikes that were not a huge problem in the past though. Reading Sheldon Brown's site, he suggests that freewheels normally only go up to a 7, I have an 8. I wish I knew for sure what hub/speed combinations previous bikes have had, but it has been too long to remember correctly - some details I probably never knew.

The only quibble I'd have is if your chain is worn to the point that it won't ride correctly, your sprockets are almost certainly already trashed.

I'm not exactly sure how to tell when the sprockets are worn, but that said, the sprockets on my freewheel are definitely worn! Many (all?) of the sprockets have rolled over burrs of metal, I don't think that is good :P

I know keeping the chain clean must extend life - less bits of metal to grind parts into dust - but maybe I'm getting a new appreciation for keeping the drive train serviced.

There is one more problem with the current wheel, I think. I'm pretty sure it doesn't have nearly enough dish! I'm not sure what problems that causes though (other than brake adjustment, which has been a pain).

I really appreciate the help, there is a ton of great information here. The remaining questions now are, how much is a new rear wheel with cassette going to cost me, and where am I going to find someone who knows what they are doing to build it (a much harder problem, I think, than it should be - see my previous question).
posted by Chuckles at 9:18 PM on May 17, 2006

If you want a nice, handbuilt rear, made with decent parts, I think that will start around us$100. One with double-butted spokes and the rest of the parts good to match will be more like us$200. The cassette will vary with how many speeds it has, but since you've been riding a freewheel, I'm guessing seven. Seven speed cassettes are cheap. If your freewheel has less than seven speeds and you have indexed shifting, the indexing will no longer work because you can't get a six speed cassette. A cheap seven speed cassette is about us$21 (I just ordered one from our wholesaler at work today for a bike we're working on).

As for where to get it, it may be quite easy. In the US, most bike shops have an account with Quality Bicycle Products - they sell very reasonable handbuilt wheels, and the quality is excellent - I put one on a truing stand once and I was impressed. I'm not sure if they sell to Canadian shops, though.

Otherwise, I'm sure someone will pipe in with a good wheelbuilder in Toronto. Pretty much any real, human wheelbuilder who does it regularly for money will do a great job - they have to, since they're competing against machine-built wheels that are decent and much cheaper.

If this is too much, you can get another freewheel rear for a lot less - it will still suffer from the axle problems of your old wheel, but it's not likely that it will be as poorly built. A decent freewheel wheel might be us$50 or so, and a freewheel could be us$20ish. Sorry for all the US dollars, but haven't they lost about enough value to be at par now? :)
posted by pinespree at 9:37 PM on May 17, 2006

Response by poster: I've checked the alignment by measuring string-to-seattube now, the right is out by 0.15" (+/- at least 0.03), which is about 4mm. That might not be too good..
posted by Chuckles at 9:56 PM on May 17, 2006

I'm pretty sure it doesn't have nearly enough dish!

Easy to tell, once the wheel is true. If the wheel doesn't spin in the center of the brakes, then the wheel isn't dished correctly.

Reading Sheldon Brown's site, he suggests that freewheels normally only go up to a 7, I have an 8

Same overhang, tighter spacing of the cogs. A trick with older bikes was to put 8 cogs of a 9 cog cassette onto a 7 speed freehub, and use a 9-speed chain and shifters, to get 8 speeds -- you adjust the stops to null out the last index.

If you stick with freewheels, one way to help the bent axle problem is to use a sold axle and nuts, rather than a quick release. The other is to use Shimano's new freewheels (esp. now that they make one without a 34 tooth low), which are better built than most.

However, tech has passed freewheels -- all the effort is going into freehubs, and thanks to the dirt pounders and cyclo-nuts, strength has become important.

If you get a new wheel, I've seen both Sheldon's and Peter White's work, and they're both very, very good. There's probably a good wheelbuilder where you live, but I don't know who they are (and with the collapsing US dollar, a US built wheel may be cheaper.)

More importantly, avoid the ace race builder. It's not that they can't build a great wheel. It's that they're building to the wrong specs. They'll make the fastest wheel they can, but fast wheels don't last (real racers train on 36 spoke wheels, race on 12-20 spokes. Fools try training on 12 spoke wheels, and often walk.)

Both Sheldon and Peter understand this, and will help you spec wheels that will last. Note that Peter White is an infamous bike curmudgeon (though he did build a 24 spoke Zipp CF wheel with a SON dyno generator hub -- it was for a guy racing RAAM.) but his work is top notch, and his wheels last.

If you can afford it, the Phil Wood hubs are legendary for reliability, and when the bearings fail (as all bearings will, eventually) a bike shop (or you, if you hae a small press) can easily replace the bearings. Peter White has a price for what is probably the ultimate touring wheel. Phil wood hub, Mavic A719 rims, 40 14-16ga spokes. This wheel may last longer than you will. It's also $700 US, alas.
posted by eriko at 4:41 AM on May 18, 2006

Eriko explains the difference between feehub and freewheel well. From the outside, it's a bit difficult to tell them apart easily. If you can get the lock ring off of the rear cluster, it's easy to tell.

Your alignment may be marginal. It's hard to tell from your results. It doesn't sound really serious to me, but again, this sort of thing is a less than five minute job to check when the bike is on a stand with the proper tools. If you have a steel frame, you're in luck, they can just bend it back in shape.

It does sound like your rear cluster is trashed. Time for a new one.

As I say above, unless the hub berring surfaces are shot or the rim is in rough shape, the only thing you need to replace on your wheel is the spokes. The rebuild is mostly going to be labour cost (hubs and rims are the higher cost items). I use 2.0/1.8/2.0 gauge double-butted DT spokes on my wheels. I've never broken one of those. I have a very similar riding profile to yours (big guy, rear panniers full of groceries and whatnot).

If you do buy a new rear wheel, try to buy a 36 spoke rear, rather than the more common 32. Never go below 32-spoked wheels with your weight.

One other thing to consider when you rebuild: your tire. You haven't mentioned what your tire size is, but bigger is better. Ride 35mm on 700c or 1.75" on 26" tires. It's easier on you and easier on the bike.

I don't know much about stores in TO, but I've bought from the Urbane Cyclist before. They are a courriers' favourite. If anybody in TO knows wheels, it's them.
posted by bonehead at 6:34 AM on May 18, 2006

Double butted spokes last longer on bike wheels, because spokes break at the bend of the hub under tension.

This is not a distinction from MC wheels; many motorcycles used double-gauge spokes (Harley [6/8 ga.], BMW [8/10], Triumph [8/10], etc.) They usually broke at the hub also, because of metal fatigue. The single-gauge (9 ga.) stainless spokes were stronger than any of them. They were strong enough that I had to be careful truing certain early Triumph and H-D Sportster wheels (which were originally built with massive 6/8 ga. spokes), so I didn't break the hub. Stainless is just a much stronger material in this application.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:42 AM on May 18, 2006

Another .02 for drive train maintenance. After you get things all fixed up, clean your drivetrain (chain, front chainrings and cluster) frequently - once a week is good if you're putting on lots of miles, once a month at minimum. Then consider replacing your chain every 1000 miles - chains are cheaper than chainrings or clusters, and new chains prevent wear on those more expensive parts.
posted by dbmcd at 8:26 AM on May 18, 2006

Keith, it's very rare to find non-SS spokes anymore on bicycles either. You only see chromed spokes on the cheapest of cheap bikes. I don't even think department store bikes use anything but rolled-thread SS spokes anymore (though some racers use CF-bladed non-spoked wheels).
posted by bonehead at 9:46 AM on May 18, 2006

To me, 36 spokes is the correct answer for anything that's not a race bike. Plus, you can lace them three-forward, three-back, which looks cool. ;)

Seriously. 36 is good, and if you're really working the bike, you can get 40 and 48 spokes -- ask at a shop that works with tandems. The stresses tandem wheels endure are extreme, and the components are built to take it.

Then consider replacing your chain every 1000 miles -

Nah. Don't replace it every 1000, check it every 500, or after any wet ride, and replace it when it falls out of spec. The check is easy, you need a ruler -- ideally, one that is one foot long.

Since one full link is one inch long, you simply measure twelve links. This sound hard, but it isn't. You put a tape along the chain, with the zero mark right on a rivet. Make sure a master link isn't this part of the run. Now, look at where the 12" mark lanks.

If the rivet at 12" is less than 1/16th of an inch off the mark, you're fine. Between 1/16th and 1/8th, you're chain is done, but the sprockets are probably fine. Anything more than an 1/8th past means you are looking at chain and sprocket replacment.

So, you check it frequently, and swap it when it's worn. A chain on a 6 speed never ridden in the wet can easily go 10,000 miles. A 10 speed chain in the mud may not last 1000.

Given how easy the check is, doing it even more frequent that 500 miles isn't that big a deal -- but just swapping at 1000 means that for most people, you will toss a bunch of perfectly serviceable chains.
posted by eriko at 9:53 AM on May 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: While attacking threaded rod to the dropouts to check the alignment I discovered a crack in the dropout on the right side.. ARGH!

Now what..
posted by Chuckles at 4:24 PM on May 18, 2006

If your fame is aluminum, it's fubarred.

If your fame is steel and you can find a decent welder (try a car exhaust or autobody shop), it may be fixable. Check your frame carefully for additional breaks. Check the chainstays and the welds near the bottom bracket, the hub with the pedal axle in it, particularly. If it's only the one crack, it's probably worth fixing.
posted by bonehead at 4:36 PM on May 18, 2006

...and by fame, I mean frame. Darn fingers.
posted by bonehead at 4:37 PM on May 18, 2006

bonehead, I'm sorry to say that non-stainless spokes are alive and kicking (and corroding). I see them on all department store bikes, and I know a guy who just bought a $100 pair of replacement wheels - chromed spokes. I've never checked my girlfriend's $400 bike shop bike, but I wouldn't be surprised to find them on it, too.

and Chuckles, unfortunately it seems you may be on your way to a new bike, now (if your frame crack is fatal, which is decently likely). Before I knew anything about bikes, I destroyed a frame by riding it with way too much weight on it (large me plus tons of cargo on a small, cheap road bike broke a chainstay), and my temporary (and effective) solution was to ride a cheap, heavy, but strong old department store mountain bike (pre-suspension) for a while until I could afford a permanent replacement. I got mine at Polly's Re-cycle in Toronto (on Queen East at the time) for c$100 and it worked well. He had just put a new, fairly decent rear wheel on it, and I commuted for over a year on it without doing any maintenence. Now that I know what I'm doing, I know he did a good job on it. I don't know if he's still in business.

If your bike is trashed, this might be a good temporary solution until you can save the money to buy a good long term bike. In general, if you like to ride medium distances and ride for exercise, and you also like to carry heavy loads sometimes, it might not hurt to have two bikes - the fun/exercise/fast-commute bike and the cheap-but-strong load-carrier. I do both with one, but I make a lot of compromises and bought an expensive frame, built my own strong wheels, etc etc for the privilege. This would reduce wear-and-tear on the good stuff.

Also, I recommend to all commuters that they learn how to take care of their bikes - there are probably a bunch of bike shops that teach courses in the winter on this, and you should take one. You'll get a lot out of it. (I teach similar classes in my job, though, so you might want a second opinion on that)
posted by pinespree at 7:41 PM on May 18, 2006

Response by poster: I was about to ask, why not stainless steel chain, but then I did a search - stainless steel chain.

Anyway, here is a picture of the crack, for what it's worth. You can see where paint is chipped around the axle's location. Right in front of that (below it, in the picture) you can see a line of chipped paint leading from the dropout to the punched out triangle in the steel plate. That's the crack.

posted by Chuckles at 1:33 PM on May 19, 2006

Response by poster: No other cracks that I can see. Steel frame, obviously..
posted by Chuckles at 1:35 PM on May 19, 2006

Response by poster: And I have a quote from a place recommended to me by The Bike Joint (where I got my new freewheel).

$80, and they will change out the entire dropout on both sides. Sounds okay to me, although between axle, chain, freewheel and welding, it is a hell of a lot of money for a $500 bike..
posted by Chuckles at 2:07 PM on May 19, 2006


If it weren't for the rust, I'd drill out the crack, switch to the freehub, and ride it. The problem is the rust -- I can't tell what other damage there might be.

The crack, as is, will run -- that's just the nature of the beast. The way to stop a crack is to drill out the tip of the crack with a small drill, to prevent the wedging force from expanding the crack. If there's enough strength in the dropout, this is a no risk fix.

The derailer idler's still smooth, that's a good sign.


1) Sand off the paint and rust to bright metal. This will have to happen if you replace the dropouts anyway. Do this on both sides. Wire wheels work well, but emery cloth is just as effective.

2) Drill out the tip of that crack with a 1/16" drill, so the crack ends in a hole.

3) Repaint what you sanded. Rustoleum, and don't buy generic.

4) For the next two months, pull the wheel after *every* ride, and check that crack. If it runs beyond the hole you drilled, the dropout's done.

It looks like the crack started from corrosion - but there's still lots of metal there. If the rust isn't too deep, you get it all off, and the hole stops the crack, it'll hold.

But this is like the guy who dinged a race frame -- you need to be religous about checking that crack to make sure it doesn't progress beyond the stopper hole.

You'll probably want to back out, grease, and reinstall your rack bolts, if you want to use the rack on another bike down the road. They'll probably still move now, but a little more corrosion, and getting them out may be a real problem.

Hmm. Looking carefully, there might be two more tiny cracks starting on the bottom side of the dropout. I'd file them out with a round file, but first get the rust off -- that just might be surface noise.
posted by eriko at 7:30 PM on May 19, 2006

Don't bother with an expensive SS chain. It's not rust that kills chains, it's abrasion from road dirt. Stainless doesn't help there at all. An investment in a chain washer and a bottle of oil (about $18 total at MEC) will solve all your chain wear problems.

Also, I agree with your comment about costs. A used bike might well be the same as your mounting repair bill. For a couple hundred bucks you should be able to find a quite servicable used bike.
posted by bonehead at 8:36 PM on May 19, 2006

Response by poster: Well, I wasn't going to go for the SS chain, I just thought all this talk about SS vs chrome spokes, what about the chain..

eriko, the break in the dropout goes right through to the stamped out triangular hole, so there is no possibility of it running any further. (I guess crack doesn't imply that it is broken all the way through..)

There are patches of rust all over.. It is an all-weather bike! But I take your point about joints seasing up; the seat post already has.. On the other hand, I guess I should strip the parts, attack the rust, and repaint (I hope that doesn't make it into a target..).

I'm probably going spend the money. Finding a good deal on a used bike in a hurry, and in this city, seems impractical..
posted by Chuckles at 12:30 AM on May 20, 2006

Response by poster: Huge thanks to everyone for the great responses - bonehead, eriko, flabdablet, pinespree, all awesome!


The shop that does the brazing described above is Biseagal (page is down - google biseagal).

When I brought in the bike I let them know that it was my only transportation, and they said they would get it done as soon as possible, but it would probably take two weeks. When I called a couple of days before two weeks were up they said it would be another week. When I called a couple of days before three weeks they said another week. The following week I called and said I would be in just before close the next day, and I would be taking the bike, done or not. I showed up about 1.5h early and they said "you're early, we're still working on it."
The gall.. Anyway, when I picked up the bike I got the impression that their customers are very serious cyclists with corresponding budgets, and that work is normally done while you wait.

They noticed that the wheel's dish was off, noted that it may have been the cause of the broken dropout, and did a quick dish adjustment for free (less than 5 minutes). However, I have since learned that the spoke tension was too high (way too high, maybe), and they didn't make note of that.

Great work (pictures here), and $80 is a bargain, but the cavalier attitude was infuriating.

Wheel's Rolling

I have been asking bike stores (and MetaFilter) about wheels, prices, and generally what I should do for months. I have asked in Le Carrera Cycles, The Bike Joint, Curbside Cycle, and Urbane Cyclist. Despite my asking about what makes a durable wheel, and what wheels they would recommend, only Le Carrera talked to me about technical aspects that I should pay attention to.

It was really quite ridiculous.. One day I was in Curbside for some replacement spokes, and the guy says "Oh, cheap wheel, that's your problem." Not two weeks later, in Urbane hoping they would sell me on a wheel - Urbane is supposed to be the store downtown - the guy points to a wheel with the exact rim I already have (Alexrim DM-18). Urbane suggested a $60 cassette and an $80 wheel, another store suggested a $40 cassette and a $100 wheel.

Nobody justified a price, nobody suggested choices at various price levels and nobody mentioned wheel building unless I brought it up first. So, what to do..

Wheel's End

After finally getting my bike back in late June, I was able to get riding again. I put over 1000 km on it through the end of August, lost 40lbs, and broke several more spokes. I think I eventually reduced the spoke breakage rate by carefully evening the tension using the "listen for the note it makes" method.

Sometime during that period I noticed that the axle was slightly bent. It was slight, I intended to replace the wheel soon anyway, so I ignored it.
I repacked the bearings a couple of times, and the raceways stayed healthy till the end.

On a trip to Hamilton at the end of August I destroyed the hub. I guess I bent the axle a little more, part way through the ride. I stopped for lunch and noticed the rear bearing cones were loose. After adjusting, I got going again, and within 10km I started noticing a very unusual click after bumps and turns.

Upon inspection at my destination, it became apparent that the bearings were skipping over a ledge that was ground into the raceway (picture link again) - wow! So, on the other end of my trip I needed a new wheel immediately.

Wheel's beginning

I visited a local bike shop on the other end, right at closing time. They had a wheel with Alexrim's DM-18, it was $80, the cassette was $35. I asked them about the build, and they said they had given it a once over when it was delivered. Only 32 spokes, but I wasn't in a mood to quibble.

The wheel felt great, if felt fast, but I didn't get 50km on it before the spokes started pinging like crazy. Being back home I wasn't going back to the store I bought it from, so I took the wheel to Le Carrera for truing.
I notice that the spoke tension is much looser on the new wheel.

Feels great again, no more pinging! We'll see how it goes..
Well, no pinging after the first 200m, I guess the Le Carrera guy skipped the final stress-relieving too..

Old Wheels Are New Again

I deconstructed the old wheel, and the rim is nice and straight. I'm thinking I could use it to learn wheel building myself. I'll need to improvise a truing stand and tension meter though, any ideas?
I'll probably make a new AskMe about this sometime soon..
posted by Chuckles at 1:05 AM on September 8, 2006

Wow, I just happened to be looking though favorites when I noticed this.

Check the spoke holes on your old rim. If there aren't any cracks, it is a great way to learn wheelbuilding.

Glad to hear your ride's still rolling.
posted by eriko at 7:44 AM on September 8, 2006

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