Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Home Mechanic: Magic Juice May Outlast Patience

"Magic Juice" Should Be On Every Bike Workbench
Riddle me this.  You have a good sized credit card limit, a new brake cable, a u-shaped thingy, a brake spring, a 3-month gym membership including unlimited spin classes, and a bottle of penetrating oil that the mechanic at your local bike shop refers to affectionately as magic juice.  In what order do you use these tools to fix a 2004 Campagnolo Record front brake two weeks before Christmas when the high temperature is in the single digits?

Answer: Not in the order I did it.

Two weeks ago Blue Legs and her gorgeous, intelligent, super fit teammate, who looks like she’s in her mid 20’s set out for a Saturday ride.  It was a quick but hilly loop on a Northern Kentucky rolling favorite, Amsterdam Road.  Prior to bombing Amsterdam’s descent back down to the Ohio River, non-Blue Leg's front brake broke. 

Blue Legs
They pulled over.  The lever was in need of Viagra, limp and lifeless.  A broken cable, she reasoned.  Being the super velo-genius that she is, she opened the brakes so the pads wouldn’t rub the rim and continued the ride sans front brake.  She deftly navigated the tight dropping curves of the Amsterdam descent scrubbing just enough speed to keep her safe but fast enough to stay with her teammate.  When my wife arrived home, she gave me the news.

See That Spring Behind The Brake?
I checked it out.  The lever felt dead, but still moved the brake a bit.  Maybe there’s a thread hanging on, but I agreed with her diagnosis.  She asked what she needed from the shop and the next day picked up a new front brake cable, a new front derailleur cable, and enough housing to complete the job.  My reasoning, always replace the housing with the cable.  Since you have to pull back the bar tape to replace housing, you may as well replace both cables and housing.  It’s a cheap fix.  Both she and I were bursting with pride about her mechanical prowess. 

What was my mistake?  Yes!  I did not pull the old cable out to see if in fact it was broken till after we spent $20 on new cables and housing.  To my amazement, when I pulled the old cable, it was in perfect shape, not even corroded or frayed in any way.  Son of a…

So, why doesn’t the brake work?  Squeezing the lever and watching the brake, I discovered the horror.  Oh.  Oh no.  The tension spring broke!  In fact it was missing all together, ‘cept for the little piece still pressed into the brake itself.  The little “u” shaped thing that holds the spring against the tension adjustment screw was gone as well.  Being the best husband in the world and reasoning that I could still ride my cross or mountain bike, I put the Sram Red brake from my road bike on hers and went to work on a permanent fix that didn’t involve our credit limit.

I pulled up diagrams of 2004 Record Brakes on the Campy website, found the part numbers and ordered a new spring and “u” shaped thingy from BioWheels in Madeira via email.  She bowed to my superior mechanical prowess, made me a fantastic Indian dinner and fetched my slippers. 

In 2-3 days she picked the new parts up at the shop.  I installed them, but the spring still wasn’t functioning correctly.  I spun around in circles and screamed like a frustrated George Costanza on Seinfeld.  The pads would close, but not spring back open.  Something was seized in there. 

What was mistake #2?  I never stopped to think of why a tension spring would break.  As strong as she is I doubt she grabbed a mitt full of front brake and snapped the spring.  Things on bikes usually break for one of the following reasons: a crash, neglect, misuse, neglect, they are the weakest link in larger problem, neglect, fatigue over time or neglect.  But seriously, who takes their road brakes apart and relubes the moving parts?  Crazy Italian mechanics far superior than I, that’s who.  I got down on my knees, told her I was sorry for neglecting her bike, made her a fabulous salad dinner and fetched her slippers.

MISTAKES #3, 4 and 5
By now, nearly two weeks had passed since the incident with Blue Legs.  We had a few errands to run, so we stopped in to see our favorite Campy mechanic, John Wood at Reser Bikes in Newport.  Surely he could help.  He’s like a Campagnolo savant.

John wasn’t in, but the mechanic on duty confirmed my thought.  The brake was seized and wouldn’t move on the main pivot.  He suggested hitting the pivot points with penetrating oil that Mr. Wood called magic juice over a day or two and see if it breaks free.

With Dexter serial killer-like determination to put this beast to death, I bought a bottle of the magic juice and bathed the brake Saturday night, Sunday morning, Sunday night, Monday morning, Monday night.  Each time I tried to turn the allen screw, nothing.  However, on Tuesday morning, now two days past two weeks into the ordeal, it broke free.  Harps played.  Animated blue Disney birdies flew and whistled over my head.  An evil laugh echoed throughout the man-cave.

Finally Fixed
While excited, I realized my third, fourth and fifth mistakes. 

3) I inadvertently left three little parts on the counter at the bike shop.  So I have another trip to make before I can say for sure that the brake is fixed.

4) The day prior, Monday afternoon, after reasoning that the six year old components were going to start nickel and diming us, I pulled the trigger on the Howitzer and ordered Record 11 Levers, brakes, derailleurs, a chain, a cassette and chainrings.  I used the credit limit to fix what the new parts and magic juice accomplished for $26.50. 

5) I should’ve read the label on the Magic Juice.  I’m sure it says, “Warning: Magic Juice may take longer to work than your patience will allow.”

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