3.2.2 – For Want of a Nail, The Shoe Was Lost

For Want Of A Nail

_
Read about our 2013 Adventures
_
_
Ask a cyclist what little things most irritate them during a ride.  Set aside dangers like cars,  honking, or brush-backs, and several answers will surface.  For some, it might be bugs flitting in their face on long hills.  For others, it might be an endless stream of stinging sweat, blurring their vision, and giving the ride a dream like quality.  For me, it is a bike noise, especially one which repeats with each turn of the wheel or pedal stroke.
_
Recently, I ran into one of those noises.  Marian and I, along with our daughter and boyfriend, rode our mountain bikes from a Mountain View parking lot to the NASA campus at Moffett.  Red, my mountain bike, had a squeak I had forgotten.  The rear suspension creaked each time I hit a bump, shifted my weight, or pedaled vigorously.
 _
1Red is a 2002 GT I-Drive, my first serious bike.  Our partnership began in 2003.  We learned Joe Friel’s training methods together, rode on pavement and dirt, flat ground and mountain sides.  He was with me when I took my most long-lasting bike injury,  A red Mustang, ahead of me on Mount Hamilton Road, did a U-turn.  Red broke a chain.  I still have hip problems.  After that, I flirted with another bike, a skinny tire, in 2008.  But, Red was patient, and forgave me when I returned.
_
But, our relationship changed, permanently , when I retired in early 2012.  The most healthy, and sustainable retirement is one in which the person retires to something, and not from the job.  We picked bicycle touring, with the desire to tour the Pacific Coast, and a dream of a European ride.  Red, with his aluminum frame, and rear suspension, was unsuitable for touring.  I continued to train with him until I found my Surly on Craig’s List.  After that, Red sat, safe, in the garage, waiting for me.  In the off-season last year, Marian and I rode our mountain bikes several times.
_
In 2013, we had bigger plans.  Among other rides, we wanted to explore the old OC & E Rails-To-Trails ride in Klamath Falls, Oregon.  During a preview in May, we decided to use  mountain bikes, instead of the Surly’s.  I prepared to bring Red back into service.  But, first, I needed to get rid of that squeak.  That noise would ruin the trip.
_
Other matters drew me away, and I did not turn, immediately, to Red.  We began planning the OC&E ride.  I needed to either ride a different bike, or solve the rear rack problem.  Standard racks were unsuitable.  Instead, I ordered a rack designed for rear suspension bikes from Thule.  When I installed the rack, I rediscovered the squeak.
_
Inspecting Red, I confirmed the rear suspension was the culprit.  My usual fix was to lubricate the piston.  That failed to silence the noise.  I disconnected the piston, isolating it from the bike.  I narrowed the problem to something in the elliptical.
_
1aThe elliptical is a unique, complicated design.  Newer full suspension bikes have nothing like it.   Picture a full suspension bike as two triangles.  When the bike flexes, the front and rear triangles rotate, or fold toward each other, around a single point.  A piston, often wrapped in a spring, dampens the motion, smoothing it out.  The elliptical design, since abandoned by GT, sets just under the pivot point of the two triangles.  When the front and rear triangles fold toward each other, the chain is suddenly too long, whipping the rear derailleur, especially if the rider is in the lowest gear, best climbing mode.  The chain may drop off.  The elliptical houses the crank, which sets at the three-o’clock position.  When the triangles fold toward each other, the elliptical slides down to the six-o’clock position, taking up chain slack.  When the bike unfolds, the elliptical rotates back to the three-o’clock position, maintaining even tension on the chain.  The rider never notices.
_
4After reviewing everything I could find about the elliptical, I summoned my courage.  My bravery was for nothing.  I successfully removed the bolt from the elliptical, but could not budge the one in the front triangle.  More importantly, moving the dog-bone back and forth produced the squeak.  Something was happening with the dog-bone, but I could not get it out.
_
6Rather than strip out the head, I turned to the pros at the Local Bike Shop (LBS).  I trusted them to inspect the problem, and recommend a cost-effective solution.  After all, they had saved me large amounts of money when Marian and I outfitted our used Surly’s.  I took Red in, explained the problem to Tahn, the lead mechanic, who promised to call me in a day or two.
_
Busy with other affairs, I did not worry when I got no call back.  Finally, after five days,  I returned.  Tahn put his tools down and slowly walked over to me.  Instead of an excited smile, filled with energy, he was grave.  “I’ve got bad news.  I can’t get the bolt out.  There’s galvanic corrosion. I think it’s time to find a new frame on Craig’s List.”  He was afraid to try, for fear of breaking the bolt.  He had soaked it for days in penetrating oil, but nothing worked.  He had lubricated everything he could find, but the squeak was still there.  He further worried that, the bolt or the dog-bone would fail, soon.
_
I tried to absorb the words.  Grief swept through me.  I still loved Red.  He was in pieces, and not ready to go home.  I had to wait until the following day.  Using that time, I reflected on what he meant to me, and what my options were.  My wife, half in jest, asked me if I was going to cry.  I gruffly told her there would be time to grieve later, if I needed to.  After all, Tahn had been wrong one or two times, but right more times than I could count.  As a sign of his honesty, he never pointed me to a new mountain bike.  He thought I could get a used frame on Craig’s list, and remount my old components.
_
The internet is a wonderful domain, with vast amounts of information.  Finding specifications on 12-year-old bikes was difficult.  I also realized the internet had evolved.  I needed specific, hard, actionable information.  But that real data has become harder and harder to find.  For whatever reason, knowledge sources had taken to holding back more and more specifics on everything from bikes to clothes dryers.
_
Getting a steel nut / bolt out of an aluminum frame was the true issue.  A constrict place denied direct access to the bolt.  Other than the bolt head and the nut, was impossible was impossible to get at.  The LBS tried every penetrating fluid they could think of.  Given time fluids can penetrate even the most rusty steel joints because steel is porous.  Aluminum is not, and is physically immune to penetrating oil.
_
The words spoken by King Richard, For want of a nail, the shoe was lost,” echoed in my mind.  I railed at the thought that a rusty $5.00 bolt signaled the death of Red.  Intellectually, I knew that something would, eventually, cause the bike the break, and it would probably be just as innocuous.  I hoped physics or chemistry would loosen that bolt.
_
In other DIY projects, my wife used  molasses / water solutions to remove rust from iron and steel.  Other than eating away the rust, sulfur did not harm ferris metals.  However, the effect on aluminum was less clear.  The sulfur might leach the aluminum, weakening it.  I theorized that, if I could remove some of the corrosion binding the bolt to the nut, I might be able to put penetrating oil in, and unscrew the bolt.  With luck, the front triangle would be undamaged.
_
Seeking other options, I turned to crazyguyonabike, a wonderful source for all things touring.  I read and read, then posed my question.  The first recommendation remained to get another bike.  Aluminum frames are brittle, and often fail after five years of hard use.  More suggested I go to a machine shop, pay $100, and drill the bolt out.  Some pointed out the different coefficients of heat between iron and aluminum.  Aluminum both heats and cools more quickly than steel.  A sudden thermal shock might create enough of a gap in the threads for penetrating oil to work its way in.  Then, the nut and bolt would separate.  Most thought a cold bath safer, since aluminum will deform at a relatively low temperature.
_
7I rescued Red from the LBS, bringing the patient home.  Reassembled, well lubricated, his creak was hardly noticeable.  I almost allowed him to seduce me into believing there was no problem.  Still, with the prospect of a near term failure, I chose to set aside our Klamath Falls and Moab, mountain biking plans until I had a reliable bike.  My first attempt was with a molasses bath.  I disassembled Red, taking his wheels off, disconnecting the piston, and separating the dog-bone from the elliptical.  I immersed the tip of the front triangle, and the entire dog-bone in the bath.  I also put a separate piece of aluminum in the bath, to serve as a canary in the mine-shaft.  I let the frame set, for three days.  I inspected the frame and the free aluminum once a day.  I saw no deterioration in either.
_
After three days, I cleaned Red off, determined that he not become an ant farm.  My Allen Wrench could not budge the bolt.  Either the steel had not rusted, or the space was too tight for the molasses.  Disappointed, I turned to other options.
_
8My second attempt tried to take advantage of the difference in thermal coefficients between iron and aluminum.  Other reading suggested working in a walk in freezer, something I had no access to.  Dry ice seemed too risky, as the metal might become brittle, and shatter.  I elected to go with an ice bath.  Filling a tub with ice and water, I cooled the joints for two hours.  My hope was that the cold, while not extreme, might break physical bonding between the aluminum triangle and the bolt.  The bolt still refused to budge.  I was beginning to run out of options.
_
9From the internet, I knew that automotive mechanics often faced this issue.  Sometimes, with liquid cooling, they could free a stuck bolt.  This approach sounded like the ice approach, only colder at the point of application.  I raced over to a local auto parts store and picked up a recommended product.  Following the instructions, including wearing gloves, I chilled down the nut.  The bolt still refused to budge.
_
Physics and chemistry had failed me.  The last resort was the brute force approach, a destructive approach, that I waited to try.  I called a frame builder.  He had fixed a Surly problem at a ridiculously low price.  While he seldom worked with anything but steel, he agreed, as a favor to me, to look at Red.  Hoping he could get the bolt out, I dropped Red off.  My frame guy was even more interested in the suspension design than he was in my problem.  From there, we talked about the complete collapse of the San Francisco Giants, a new idea he had for bike frames for smaller riders, and other topics.
_
10Two days later, he called, saying he had the bolt out.  Elated, I raced across town to pick it up.  The problem originated during bike assembly.  Someone had filled the opening the bolt hole with Loc-Tite.  He had solved the problem by drilling the entire bolt, using a hand drill.  First, he drilled the nut away.  He was very surprised when no amount of hammering would drive the bolt out.  Using great precision, he skillfully drilled the bolt out, going in some fifteen millimeters before the bolt finally gave way.  The drilling cost him three bits.  Only then could he confirm that Loc-Tite was the issue, that there was no corrosion.
_
11He had no replacement bolts, but offered suggestions on places we could get a shoulder bolt from  I had never heard of a shoulder bolt.  I learned it was commonly used for axles, and other mechanical assemblies that rotate, like a dog-bone.  I tried the GT web-site.  It was useless, focused on new bike sales, with no interest in classics”.  We found the bolts we needed at the second place, Mr Metric, where the staff was very helpful and friendly.
_
12Now, Red is intact again, complete with the Thule rack that triggered this traumatic crises.  Real time events have kept me from riding Red.  I hope to test out the fix before the end of e year.  With luck, Marian and I will return to the trails.  While I trust my Surly, and would ride to the ends of the earth with it, Red is special.  My romance with secluded mountain trails, shaded by trees, with daunting drop just beyond my right shoulder is hopelessly intertwined with Red.
_
_
Read about our 2013 Adventures
Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Cycle Touring, Travel

Let us know what you thought, we'd love to know. Thanks - Pat and Marian

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s