Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Bottom Bracket Blues...

Right after the recent PBE, I gave my cranks a spin to line them up so I could rack my bike for the trip home. Well, I tried to give 'em a spin. They barely moved. Seems the RaceFace Evolve BB I installed a little over a year ago had crapped out. 14 months of average riding and the thing had seized up like it was packed with Gorilla Glue. The situation wouldn't be that bad if not for the fact that this was the second such BB I had installed in about two seasons. The first one was the cheaper (ostensibly poorer quality) SRX model.

Well, lo and behold, it turns out that crap is crap, and when you start with a poor basic design, there really isn't much room for improvement. Now, the fact that the ISIS design is substandard by any measure is no secret, so I didn't expect a whole lot out of this second model, especially after the first one died in puberty. I was stuck with the splined cranks (no complaint on them, per se), and $35 for a BB was cheaper than buying new ones. But a one-season life cycle is pretty pathetic, even given my aforementioned low expectations.

So today I set about removing what was now little more than a useless billet. The plan was to swap it out with an old RaceFace Taperlock BB that was sitting idly in the belly of a full suspension bike I haven't ridden in years (and that has since served me well as an organ donor for other bikes). The Taperlock model was the original RF BB that was replaced by the splined models a couple of years ago, abandoned for the unforgivable crime of working pretty much flawlessly for years. Or maybe for the sin of not being trendy or flashy enough to boost profits sufficiently.

Well, the frozen BB came out easy enough. As soon as I had it in my hand, I noticed a tiny silver speck stuck to the outside housing by a bit of grease. This burnished speck turned out to be an errant bearing that had escaped on its own by rolling out of a substantially large fissure in the ring that enclosed its brethren. The ring itself was wobbly, a sure indication that the bearings within also had been ground down significantly.

Looking at the crack in the ring and the shrunken bearings, I found it hard to believe that a company like RaceFace would let such an inferior product out the door and onto the market. Times, it appears, have changed. The old Taperlock driveside cup was much cleaner (almost supernaturally so) inside than the cup from the newer Evolve model—despite the fact that the older model had seen more use—a sign that the new seals were inferior.

So after the postmortem, I threw on the old Taperlock BB and Trans Am Orange cranks, and everything works fine. Of course, the Evolve BB had a one year warranty...missed it by two months. Now I'm left to contemplate installing a Shimano product on my SS for the first time ever. Shimano's an industry-busting giant, to be sure, but their products work; that, in part, is how they got to be so big. And given the bad press that's grown around RaceFace and their reluctance to fulfill warranty obligations, I don't want to take another chance on an unproven product. Even a great warranty isn't really an asset if you have to use it all the time. And if you never have to use it, it doesn't matter whether it's great.

I want to ride more and wrench less. End of rant.

POSTSCRIPT: While swapping cranks, I became aware of something I clearly didn't know, or had forgotten. I've been running a 34T ring up front for two years now (covered by a bash guard), thinking it was a 32T, with a 17T freewheel in the back. So, all that time—including during the SSWC2005—I've been riding 2:1, instead of the slightly easier 32:17. Stronger than I thought? Or maybe one tooth either way doesn't really make a difference after all. Still, I like to think it might explain the occasional lackluster climbing performances.

Needless to say, I threw on a 32T this time. Why take chances?


butch said...

Call me a luddite but I plan to stick to square taper BB's. Unfortunately, because of Shitmano's microsoft tactics, that's getting harder to do. Every year there's some new whiz bang crank/BB system. I can't keep them straight, X-type, WTF? I just went on a dead end search for a Raceface taperlock BB. Nothing. Get yourself a Phil Wood square taper. You'll be happy.

gwadzilla said...

how do you feel with the 32?
too easy for ya?

iconoclasst said...

Butch, Phil is a good idea; hadn't thought about that.

Gwadzy, haven't had it out yet. Maybe tonight.

rickyd said...

You are strong like bull. Probably why you didn't notice the extra teeth. I used to run 32x17 on my 26er, but when I did that on my Chester, it sucked. I'm running the equivalent of 32x18 on it now. I just have to spin my legs faster.

As for Shitmano, I like and trust their BBs, although I've already fried a UN-73 after four months (the fastest one I've destroyed). I replaced it with another UN-73, but I have a new Phil Wood waiting in the wings when that one goes.