Sunday, 25 April 2010

My gormless battle against the forces of evil...

Like the Buzzcocks said:

"Turn up early in time for our date
But then you turn up late
Something goes wrong again.
Need a drink go to the pub
But the bugger's shut
Something goes wrong again
Something goes wrong again
And again and again and again again and...
Something goes wrong again.
Ah something goes wrong again
Something goes wrong again
Something goes wrong again..."

You get the idea. But the question is, where do you cut your losses. Where do you say, that's enough and look for help. Talking bike maintenance, not life, though they have their similarities. Funny how simple faults in both escalate into WWIII. So, just for the sake of argument and illustration, it starts with a worn bottom bracket in a Cotic Road Rat, maybe a cheap Isis one that's been thrashed senseless for, oh I dunno, 18 months or so.

And the grease that it slicked through its threads has long since gone. With the result that the bottom bracket and the frame have built up a touchingly intimate relationship. You know the stuff, they are so close that they don't know where one starts and the other ends. Sweet.


So it begins. With moderate persuasion. And nothing moves. So it's out with the Plus Gas, the world's most elusive fluid, and an overnight soaking. But still nothing budges. Maybe this is the point where a sensible person says, enough and resorts to, 'professional help'. But not this idiot. Bolt the extractor in place and use a lever, a very long lever, the upright from a bike stand, erm, maybe. Not that I'd know of course.

And that sick feeling when what ought to be the bottom bracket succumbing to ungentle persuasion actually turns out to be the steel tool stripping the alloy splines from the bottom bracket. Ooops. And then you notice that the insert on the other side, that you thought was slightly truncated, has in fact sheered and two thirds of it is still screwed into the frame.

At which point anyone with half a brain would seek professional help. But, I'm quite stupid and stubborn and somehow the external bit of the bottom bracket ends up getting sawn off and chiselled. Ooops. Not a good idea. Not even sure where it came from.

And this is the defining moment, where it is, of course, too embarassing to slink off, tail between legs, to a professional mechanic and explain, haltingly,  just how it is that your frame is clinging stubbornly to the stunted, battered remnants of a bottom bracket, with no obvious way of getting it out.

But of course, that's the nub of it. Going past the point where your mistake is redeemable. Jumping off the edge. The moment familiar to anyone who's ever dismantled a transistor radio. Or a toaster. Or a VCR player. Or an STI shifter. Or an iBook for that matter. When you know, at a gut level, that if you undo those screws, it will never go back together again. But you can't stop. You have to break it. To see how it works. Or just because.

Step away from the seized bottom bracket. And think. Hard. Furrowing your brow will concentrate thought waves more thoroughly.

Anything is preferable to the humiliation of turning up at your local bike shop with a frame in which the bottom bracket is not just seized solid, but all means of turning it have been perversely removed by an idiot. You could like and say your mum / mate / the dog did it, but that's not going to cut it. They will know instinctively you are solely responsible and, as soon as the door closes behind you, the workshop will reverberate to howls of scornful laughter.

So... competing solutions. Hacksawing through a hardened steel axle - exactly how much holiday do I have left again? Then the revelation that if caustic soda can remove stuck alloy seatposts from steel frames, then maybe it can do the same - ah, good God, Keanu Reeves is a flat-faced wooden excuse for an actor, sorry, random channel hopping - to an alloy-cupped bottom bracket in a steel frame.

Nasty stuff. Chemical gloves and goggles, plasticene cups and seals to hold it all in place. The careful pouring and re-pouring for three days, watching bubbles rising and the solution turning a filthy grey. And refresh. Then one morning, the liquid's gone. Enough aluminium dissolved to let it through. Disebelief. Rinse, chisel, hammer, bang, and it's out, mostly. Paper-thin, alkali-ravaged aluminium and the mangled remnants of something that used to be and now isn't quite.

 Something that used to be...

A thorough rinse to remove the residue, which amazingly didn't kill the paintwork, then in with a new bottom bracket complete with copious amounts of copperslip. And a deep sigh of relief, because now no-one need ever know just how stupid I really am. And really, I am quite, quite stupid. But there you go. I guess most of us have done something similarly dim and maybe even got away with it sometimes.

 Caustic soda'd...

Next time, I'll know when to stop. Er, right...


  1. As a Bike Shop mechanic I can hand on heart say... I've seen worse...

    But that still be classed as a nightmare job ;)


  2. Ha, it kept me amused for a few days anyway. I'm very impressed with caustic soda, everyone should have some in their cupboard for those rare days when you just have to dissolve aluminium components.

    The good news is I also have an SKF Isis BB in a ti frame where the outer flange on the drive side has simply fallen off. Fortunately the BB is fine at the moment, but I'm not looking forward to replacing it.