Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Blame It On The Bottom Bracket

The lowly bottom bracket. This one is a thread together PF replacement by Wheels Manufacturing
Many of you know that I have been a bicycle mechanic for a long time. Just about 20 years now, and I also was a car mechanic for 5 1/2 years as well. I really like working with my hands for a living.

That said, in all my bicycle mechanic years, I would have to say that the lowly bottom bracket gets blamed for everything. Especially noises. Those always seem to come from the bottom bracket! 

Okay, before I go on let me say that I know not all noises come from the bottom bracket, and so do many of you. I speak as one who works retail. In that world, bottom brackets do get blamed for an awful lot of things that they shouldn't be blamed for. It's kind of like the proverbial saying where someone has a little bit of knowledge and then is "dangerous" with it.

Besides being blamed for all sorts of creaks and groans, some of which bottom brackets are to blame for, these components get blamed all the time for not conforming to "standards". I think what many folks get bent out of shape about is the seemingly never ending parade of different, competing bottom bracket styles. You have your Press Fit 30, Press Fit 41, Outboard Bearing cup, BB 30, fat bike, Press Fit 121, GXP, Shimano 24mm, BBright, and who knows what else. That seems absurd, but you really have no idea what absurd was concerning bottom brackets unless you go back about 30 years.

Remember these clunkers? This was actually pitched as a "standard" everyone should use!
I laugh at the complainers today when I think about the machinists cabinet we used to have to look through to match up spindles. There were about seven rows eight drawers across filled with different ones. Then you had to match up the cup threading. It could be English, French, Swiss, or Italian. Then you had a different taper for Campagnolo compatible square taper bottom brackets too. Then you either had bearings in a cage, or you packed in loose ball bearings in a few different grade choices. Oh yeah......and you had to choose your grease. Then you had to have the correct tools to install the cups, but wait! Did you chase the threads and face the shell first?

Yeah....bottom bracket standards. Those were the days, right?

I also remember a time when "The Industry" was trying to standardize the bottom bracket without Shimano. There was a bottom bracket which was an alternative to Shimano's "Octalink" cartridge bottom brackets that was going to sweep the industry and everybody would be using them. It was the ISIS style bottom bracket, developed as an "open standard" so there were no patents to observe or licensing fees to pay to utilize the design. There were only going to be three spindle lengths in three bottom bracket shell sizes. Simplified bliss! We would all cheer for joy because bottom brackets had finally been standardized!

Except that one niggling detail- they sucked at actually working for very long. 

Yeah....that's a problem. So then we all forgot about trying to unify the competing bottom bracket factions under one style to rule them all, and now we have all these wonderful choices.

Choices are good.......right?


Phillip Cowan said...

Some of the new designs are quite good but they will probably die on the vine because no one wants to be caught out with an orphan standard. You'd have to be talking faster than an auctioneer to get me to buy anything other than a 68mm BSC frame. It's not that I feel it's the best necessarily but I know it won't end up in the closet with the Beta-Max VCR.

Allen said...

On standards...

Guitar Ted said...

@Allen- Ha! That's funny.....and true all to often!

dwd said...

I wonder what everyone considers the gold standard of bottom bracket specs? I question my own memory about what has worked well and not so well over the years since I wasn't really tracking miles ridden or time installed. However, I do know that I had a couple of Shimano Octalinks that seemed to last forever and ever. And I know that I had a couple of ISIS bottom brackets that didn't seem to last too long and wallowed the crank arms. More recently, external bottom bracket cups seem to be hit or miss. I've had a GXP last several years, and I've had a GXP die in three months. I've had similar experience with Shimano's external bottom bracket cups, as well. Taking all of this into account (and perhaps I'm just being nostalgic), I find myself really drawn to the White Industries square taper bottom brackets and cranks.

Smithhammer said...

For all the moaning about PF BBs, two of my bikes have them;

- one is a Salsa Blackborow, still running the stock BB it came with. I've ridden that bike extensively through two winters in the Rockies, multiple trips to sand dunes, bikepacking in the high desert, etc. I have never once heard a peep out of the BB, and it is still running as smooth as the day I bought the bike

- the other is a Chris King PF 24 which is nothing short of glorious. Previously, I figured the best thing I could hope for in a BB was if simply did it's job and I didn't have think about it. But this one made me realize how noticeably smooth a really, really well-made BB can actually be. For the first time, I DO think about this BB, in a good way.

Guitar Ted said...

@Smithhammer- I agree on the bottom bracket of the Blackborow. Mine has also been trouble free.

Unknown said...

Quiet bikes are weird.