Ride reports and other ramblings from a San Francisco cyclist.
Time: 11:00am-3:30pm (including lunch at cafe)
Someone on a mailing list recently asked about what to look for
regarding frame-tubing quality when shopping for used bikes. This is
what I wrote, and figured it might help someone else as well. Further
info and/or corrections are welcome!
Basically, for old steel (used) bikes...
There's 2 types of steel tubes used in bike frames: "hi-tensile" and
"chrome-moly". These are sometimes also called "hitens" and "4130".
Hitens is sometimes commonly called "gaspipe".
Chrome-moly tubing is better, stronger, lighter stuff than hitens,
resulting in a lighter bike frame. That's not to say that bikes made
with the cheaper hitens don't ride well, but they're bound to be
heavier (a pound or two) than a 4130 bike.
Bike makers sometimes mix and match these two steels in budget
frames...my 1988 Nishiki Sport has 4130 main tubes
(seat/top/down/head) while the seat- and chain-stays plus the fork are
hitens. It's still a nice-riding bike!
Chrome-moly tubing can be _butted_ meaning that the inner diameter of
the tube changes over the length of the tube -- typically the tubing
near the ends is thicker-walled than in the center -- the ends where
the lugs or welded joints are is where the strength is needed.
Typical wall thicknesses of butted bike tubing are .9mm/.7mm/.9mm --
though it depends on the particular BRAND of tubing.
Some bike frames like my early 1990's Specialized Rockhopper MTB use
"generic" 4130 tubing. It's butted tubing, but there's no brand
associated with it -- doesn't make it bad stuff or anything.
Higher-zoot steel bikes (especially from Europe/Italy/USA) typically
use either Reynolds (English), Columbus (Italian), or Tange (Japanese)
tubing -- these are the most popular brands used for older road bikes.
True Temper is another brand you might see on some later MTBs.
Reynolds has made their "531" tubing for nearly forever, literarlly
dating back to the 1920s or 1930s. It's not actually chrome-moly
tubing, but the material properties are similar. 531 can be either
butted or non-butted (aka "straight gauge"). Another later type of
their tubing is 501 which IS chromoly and has similar properties
(though I don't think it's butted)...often found on lower-end bikes
but still good stuff. There's also 525 (I think) which is their
modern chrome-moly tubing that has replaced 531. 631/731/831 are
later models of higher-zoot, thinner-walled, heat-treated tubing used
in better frames. See http://www.reynoldsusa.com/english.html and
Columbus is also a long-time maker of tubing. SL was very popular in
the 80s and is similar in characteristics to Reynolds 531. SP is a
heavier-duty version of SL used for larger riders, touring or track
bikes. SLX is like SL but has internal spiral ribbing supposedly to
make it stronger. See http://www.columbustubi.com/eng/1.htm and
Tange is a Japanese brand of tubing, and early types were rated by
number. Tange Champion #1 was the best/thinnest/lightest, Tange #2
was identical to Columbus SL, #3, #4, #5 --5 is straight-gauge hitens
tubing. See http://www.equusbicycle.com/bike/tange/tange.htm and
Bridgestone used Ishiwata tubing from Japan on lots of their bikes,
this is a less popular brand of steel tubing.
For more info, use Google or Wikipedia as starting points. Also
search the archives at http://search.bikelist.org (especially the
A friend recently asked about bike-tool recommendations, and I wrote a
fairly lengthy response, so I figured I'd post it here as well to
Repair Stands: I have the older version of the folding Performance
work stand (made by Minoura, not sure who makes their current stands).
Generally I like it, but a couple of things about it bug me: First,
the clamp that holds the legs open sometimes slips over time, causing
the bike to get slowly lower and lower. Second, if I had it to do
over again, I'd get a 3-legged tripod stand instead of the 2-legged
V-stand like mine -- I think they're more stable. Mine sometimes gets
a little off balance if, for example, one of the wheels is taken off
the bike and the bike is in a certain position in the stand. Third, I
also really like the tool/parts tray on my stand, although if it was
mounted to the TOP of the stand vs. the back side it'd be better.
I LOVE the fact that my stand folds up fairly compactly -- though I
think all of the current crop of work stands will do that. Also,
height-adjustment is your friend...I'd recommend getting the TALLEST
stand you can, which minimizes bending over to work on the lower areas
of the bike (REMEMER to always
clamp your bike into the stand BY THE SEAT POST, NOT THE FRAME! This
of course mounts the bike lower in the stand, which is why extra
height helps). Of course, you could sit down on a rolling chair, so a
low stand might be a plus to some. ;)
Took Kits: Generally I'd recommend against buying a turnkey tool kit, especially
if you already have a good set of hand tools (and a tool box) -- and
it sounds like you do. The main concern with these kits IMHO isn't so
much what may/may not be included in the box, but rather the quality
of the tools themselves. I've bought cheap tire levers, cone/pedal
wrenches, BB & lockring tools, etc. over the years, only to use them
once or twice and then the metal deforms, rendering the tool junk. I
don't know who makes the Spin Doctor tools, but I'd be wary. Park
Tool tools are generally excellent, pro quality, though in the past
several years they've begun making "consumer grade" tools which
sometimes are pretty crappy.
Also stay away from compact "multi-tools" at least for shop use,
they're too small to allow you to generate any real torque and IMHO
are just frustrating to use.
I'll go over what I've got in my box...
If you don't already have them, go to Sears and get a set of metric
open/box-end combo wrenches in sizes from 7 or 8mm up to 17mm. You
will use the 8/9/10mm sizes the most often, and you can use the
15mm/17mm size along with a single 13mm/15mm cone wrench on axle
locknuts (front/rear respectively, I think).
That said, nearly everything on a bike these days uses allen-head
bolts, so also pick up a set of folding allen wrenches (I got a nice
one at Fry's for $6 several years ago, you can also find these at
Sears/Craftsman). You'll want a more complete set, in sizes from 2mm
up to 8mm.
It's also handy, though not absolutely necessary, to have a set of
loose, L-shaped allen keys around for use in tight spots (e.g.,
installing water bottle cages). Stay away from "Bondhus" ball-end hex
wrenches though -- in my experience these round off/strip out very
easily, especially with cheap tools.
THIS 3-way 4/5/6mm allen key
http://www.parktool.com/products/detail.asp?cat=7&item=AWS%2D1 is one
of my favorite tools, and is essential for its convenience and
You'll need a pair of 13/14 mm cone wrenches for working on front
hubs, and you can get by with a single 15/16mm cone wrench for rear
hubs (use another wrench from your full-size set for the locknuts).
Get at least two METAL tire levers (plastic levers flex and slip).
These are actually somewhat hard to find these days -- I think I've
seen these more frequently at Target or random hardware stores than I
have through bike-specific sources.
Another useful (though not essential for general maintenance) tool is
a Shimano-compatible cartridge BB tool, like the Park BBT-2
though again, cranks are changing these days and this won't fit on all
newer BB units (notably Shimano Hollowtech BBs).
You need a chain tool, the compact one you have is probably fine
(especially if it's a Park). I've managed just fine with a couple of
$5 Cyclo-Rivoli tools.
A spoke wrench is necessary, the best (at their price point) are the
round plastic "Spokey" tools -- these grip a spoke nipple on all 4
sides and greatly reduce the chance of rounding off the edges. Get
both the red and yellow models since they cover the 2 most popular
sizes. The next best are the Park U-shaped wrenches. See
A single chainwhip is handy for removing the freehub cassette on the
rear wheel -- but you can get by with a length of old chain clamped in
a large ViceGrips (or a bench vice). You'll also need a Hyperglide
cassette lockring removal tool.
I have a set of 3/8" drive sockets in SAE and Metric sizes (I never
use the SAE sizes). I don't often use this for bikes, but a thinwall
14 or 15mm socket is handy for crank bolts. I also bought a set of
hex-key sockets, and the 8mm and 10mm sizes are very handy for
allen-key crank bolts and freehub fixing bolts, respectively. Sockets
are also useful to have for those times when you need to use a torque
wrench (BBs and cranks, mostly, and also on suspension fork/swingarm
Also make sure you have a good Philips-head screwdriver in a
small-to-medium size (#0/#1, I think), as well as a good flat-head
screwdriver -- mainly used for adjusting derailleur limit screws. A
6-foot tape measure marked in inches AND centimeters is useful for
measuring frames, checking chain wear (24 links should measure 12
inches) and adjusting your saddle, etc.
Random old magnets are VERY useful for capturing and containing ball
bearings and other tiny ferrous parts that like to roll off behind
your workbench. I think my current few came were cut out from the
bottom of an old shower curtain.
A long-handled multi-sized pedal wrench (at least 14/15mm) is
essential for changing pedals.
A crank extractor is pretty essential, IMHO. I've managed to get by
with my original Park
though it looks like they've changed the design -- mine has two
different sizes of threads at each end, this one doesn't) for quite
awhile, but cranks are changing, and now it's recommended to have
different tools for square-taper cranks vs. splined or Octalink(TM)
cranks (see CCP-4,
buy whichever you need.
I'd also recommend getting a larger adjustable/crescent/monkey wrench,
which can be used to adjust threaded headsets, if you have any bikes
still using those. ;) That way you only need to buy one thin
headset-specific wrench vs. two.
You need cable cutters! Not a tool to skimp on -- Get either the Park
the Shimano tool, or similar. I also REALLY like having a
cable-stretcher tool like the Park BT-2:
not an essential tool but once you've used one there's no going back.
I also keep a flat file in my toolbox which I use to dress the ends of
cut cable housings -- hold the end of the housing in a pair of curved
pliers about 1/4-inch from the cut end, and then hold the nose of the
pliers against a bench or similar, and file until the cut edge is
smooth. You can also use a Dremel tool for this if you have one.
There's obviously more but those are my "essentials" that I can think
of right now.
I really want to get a shop apron, too. I've dripped chain lube on
myself one too many times now...