Thursday, December 10, 2015

Nixon's Nuggets: Project Build It - Yes We Can!

A few weeks ago I was talking to Stewart Nixon (Colorado) about my bike upgrade for 2016. I asked him questions such as "should I go with a bike ready to ride or build up a frame myself?" and sought out his advice on components, new vs. used parts, etc, etc. After our conversation, Stewart gracefully offered to write up some of the things we discussed. Great information if you're looking to upgrade and/or build up a bike of your own for next season.

As we enter the offseason, one question we often ask ourselves is that of bike upgrades. Should I get a new bike? Should I upgrade components? For the purposes of this blog, let's assume that you have decid
ed on a new bike. Should you go with one of the offered build packages or just get the frame and piece the gruppo together yourself?

Stewart is always front & center when it comes to mechanical questions for our team

Buying all new is the simplest route to go. All decisions regarding components are generally made for you if you go with a gruppo offered by the shop or frame maker. The company slaps on the parts and away you go. But if you want to save a little money (who doesn't, especially in a sport as expensive as ours), you can buy just the frame and piece together a gruppo. And you don't need to have all matching parts, nor brand new, except for a couple of instances.

First, let's go over the brand new parts you should buy:

  • Chain. These are wear items which generally get changed each year depending on how much mileage/use you put it through. If you have a few bikes you ride, which many of us do, you can extend the change time. There are inexpensive tools available which check the stretch of the chain.
  • Cassette. Another wear item like the chain, although the change interval is not nearly as often. Replacing a cassette due to wear is generally because of neglect with the chain. But since cassettes are pretty cheap nowadays, starting with new is a good idea.
the foundation on which I will build: the Argon E117 frame
  • Headset. Headsets see a lot of corrosive elements during their service life - sweat, water, dirt, sports drinks. Properly taken care of, they will give you many years of trouble free operation. New headsets are relatively cheap, however, so buying new shouldn't put a significant dent in your build budget. And with today's integrated headsets, it's just bearings to replace anyway.
  • Bottom Bracket. If your build is using an older style crank with separate bottom bracket, I would opt for new on a build. BBs see the same corrosive gunk that headsets see but with the rise in newer style cranks, their prices have fallen. If your frame utilizes one of the newer style systems (BB30, etc.) you could just buy new bearings and have them pressed in by a shop or do it yourself if you're building your own bike.
  • Cables/Housing. I almost feel as though this shouldn't get special mention, but I'll say it anyway so there is no confusion. On a new build, use new cables and housing. Mechanical shifting and brakes stretch the cable and compress the housing. Over time, brakes become spongy and shifting is not a crisp as it once was. Cables and housing are cheap, even the compressionless housing.
  • Bar tape. Buy new. New looks fresh. It feels fresh. And it's cheap. 

Now on to the components which could be purchased second hand.

Generally, purchases of this type are made through classifieds, auction sites, swap meets, or shops specializing in used parts. As you peruse used parts, pay attention to cosmetic appearance as that can often give an indication of how it was treated by the previous owner. Also, ask the approximate mileage on parts. This will tell you when serviceable parts, like the pulleys on rear derailleurs, might need to be replaced. When buying used, caveat emptor applies - do your homework.

Stewart promised I'd be able to ride like Terenzo Bozzone once my build is complete.

  • Rear derailleur/Shifters. I put these together because you want to keep this part of the drivetrain in the same model line to ensure crisp, clean, accurate shifting. Pay attention to cosmetics as a heavily scuffed RD is often a sign of being involved in a crash. I would not worry about derailleur pulleys as these are inexpensive items to replace and even a shade tree mechanic could do the work themselves. Also look closely at the threads on the hanger bolt, although if cross threading has occurred, the bolt is replaceable. With regard to shifters, the same cosmetics apply, Heavily scuffed shifters would be an indication of a crash or crashes.
    Shimano Ultra Groupset or "Gruppo"
  • Front derailleur. Here is an area where you can save some money. FDs movement are not only mechanical but also friction; there is no click with shifts. If you want to stay with the same manufacturer, you can easily drop down two model lines without compromising performance. But you don't have to stay with the same manufacturer, mixing brands is perfectly fine. As with RDs and shifters, look at cosmetics of the FD you are considering.
  • Crank. Make sure the crank matches the BB of your frame, whether it's an older style or newer style. Look closely for any major scuff marks (often shoes will make contact with crank arms, leaving worn marks - nothing to worry about) and inspect the pedal threads. If there is evidence of cross threading, I would not buy it. Often you can chase the threads with a tap, but there is no guarantee that will solve the problem. You should be able to hand thread a pedal into a crank arm with little resistance.
  • Pedals. Often, new bike build options don't include pedals and would require a separate purchase. The main reason for this is personal preference - everyone has their favorite pedal system that would get swapped out for whatever is offered in the build. When buying second hand, look for scuff marks on the pedal body. The heavier the marks, the more likely they were involved in a crash. If buying in person, spin the spindle. If it is smooth, you should be fine. If gritty, question your purchase. While pedal bearings are serviceable/replaceable, it's kind of a pain. Also pay attention to the spindle threads; they should not be chewed up or worn flat.
    SRAM Red
  • Stem. Unless there are cracks in the stem, used us totally fine. Make sure to check the steerer bolts and stem plate bolts for signs of cross threading. Rusty looking bolts can be replaced and are cheap. Remember, this area of the bike does see a lot of corrosive elements as described earlier. This is also a place you could upgrade to used carbon if you so desire. Pay attention to the clearcoat if going that route.
  • Bars. Unless they have been involved in a crash or are part of a recall, used is perfectly fine. Look carefully for cracks and pay attention to the clearcoat if considering carbon. Incidental scuffs are fine and usually happen when leaning the bike against something.
  • Wheels. Many triathletes have a set of dedicated race wheels, so this could be an area for significant savings. And having a set of bombproof wheels for training won't drain your budget. Pay attention to hub spacing for your cassette. Unless you are looking specifically at vintage parts, the wheels you get will have a sealed bearing hub which means replacing the bearings is relatively easy and inexpensive.
  • Brakes and Levers. Matched sets (calipers and levers) take the guess work out of the equation but you can mix brands. (If you need brifters (brake/shifter combo), get the same model as the RD you are considering.) Just pay attention to actuation ratios as some levers won't work with some calipers. Keep in mind that Dura Ace is the stopping power standard often used when bike magazines test different brakes. With regard to levers, be sure to look for obvious signs of being involved in a crash. Pads are cheap, as you will probably install a fresh set on your build. And remember there are different compounds for carbon rims and aluminum rims.
  • Seatpost. Many newer frames utilize an integrated seatpost. If that is what you have, you can skip this section. If your build uses a separate seatpost, buying a used one is fine. If you are looking at a carbon piece, the same clearcoat guidelines for other carbon components apply here as well. One practice that happens often is cutting off some of the unused portion of the seatpost that resides inside the seat tube. This is totally fine as long as enough is left inside the frame for the binder section to clamp onto. Personally, I would steer away from a used post that has been cut; there may not be enough post left to guarantee your safety when installed and you can't be sure of the method used by the previous owner to cut it.
  • Saddle. This piece of equipment could go either way, new or used. If you like to ride a shell, with no padding, then used is just fine. Often, new bikes end up with the saddle they are sold with being swapped out for one the customer prefers. These end up being sold "like new" and a great deal can be had. Padding and covers can degrade over time and with years of regular use, so look closely at what you are considering if buying second hand.
  • Miscellaneous items. Things like water bottle cages, behind the saddle carriers, nutrition carriers can all be purchased used.
Good deals abound on the second hand market. It's best to be able to actually hold the parts you are considering so you can get a first hand look at their condition. For this, swap meets and shops specializing in used parts can be a gold mine. 

Unfortunately, these are few and far between these days. This leaves classified ads and auction sites for most of your buying with just pictures to gauge the condition of parts. So I will say again, ask questions and if there aren't enough pictures, ask for more. Most motivated sellers will accommodate this request. Don't forget to research what it costs new and what most are asking for it used. A simple search will accomplish this. And one final piece of advice (again), caveat emptor!

Nixon's Nuggets of Knowledge - Archives:

Nixon's Nuggets - Indoor Trainers... A Pain Cave Necessity

Nixon's Nuggets - Tubulars vs. Clinchers

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