Category: Tools

We Need To Torque About Bolts

(from left to right) US 1/4″, large-head 6mm, regular (hollow) 6mm, and a crank bolt for comparison…

Read: A Rough Guide To Making Your Bolts Last Years Rather Than Months.  Excuse the appalling pun I chose for the main title… it makes more sense if you say it in an Estuary English accent.

Rusty, rounded-out allen heads, dirty, greasy, snapped bolts and stripped threads; when most people think of working on their bike in any form they tend to cognitively leap to these nightmare scenarios before thinking twice about the whole affair and kicking their tool box back into the dark, spider-infested abyss.  Being the ragtag bunch we are, a lot of riders don’t really think about bolts much further than a. getting a new component and b. tightly bolting it as quickly as possible to your bike so you can get out and ride but hold up there, slugger, your bolts are the only things holding the lumps of metal you call a bike together.  Furthermore they’re the only thing stopping you landing on your teeth.  Bolts deserve our uninhibited love and respect.  So how can you bolt parts onto your bike in a fashion that prevents the bolts from turning terracotta in 6 months time and binding with the strength of a thousand pickle jars?

The answers to all bolt related problems are simple enough, I’ll try and keep it snappy as I’m very aware of the fact I’m trying to make an article about fucking bolts interesting.

So before we start, what tools are you using? And how are you using them?  Rusty tools are something you should avoid like the plague, because rust spreads like such.  Rust will transfer from your tools to any exposed metal on your bolts so always keep your tool clean, dry and rust-free.  A bit of WD-40 and some wire wool is good for getting rid of superficial amounts of rust if it does build up however.  Next up, it’s always good practice to have a good amount of leverage in your tools for the job at hand.  Sure, trying to undo your rusty-ass cranks with a tiny 3 inch long allen wrench by stamping on it might indeed work… but it could easily enough put you in hospital.  A shorter allen key will almost certainly be a cheaper allen key with sharper edges- stick with something either a little longer or use something with a proper handle ie. a multitool.  Lastly, is that allen key seated properly before you turn it?  You sure?  Wiggle it a little, push it down and repeat until you’re absolutely certain.  Rounded bolt heads are literally the worst.  While we’re on the subject of rounding things off, are you still doing up your wheels with a spanner head when there’s a socket or ring spanner to hand?  Stop dat.  A spanner head only has 2 points of contact where a ring spanner or socket have 6, spreading the load more efficiently.  Your wheel nuts will last much longer.

A US Imperial 1/4″ stem bolt (left) and a ‘large-head’ 6mm stem bolt (shown right) look very similar side-by-side but use two different sized allen wrenches and two different thread pitches. They do not fit the same stem.

90% of bike mechanics is cleaning shit no one thought to clean; and this is no different.  Let’s focus on the stem for now as it’s the component with highest concentration of bolts and it’s the easiest to fuck up.  First step is to take a 6mm allen key (or a 1/4″ if your stem is American- there is a difference) and unbolt your bars.  If you’re installing new bars then it’s never a bad idea to use some glass/sand paper to sand any paint off the knurling if it hasn’t been masked off during powdercoating.  If it’s an old stem, it’s probably absolutely filthy under the stem plate, body, and bar clamping area so grab a whole load of loo roll/ paper towels and clean all that stuff away.  Do the same with the steerer tube/clamping area.  Spray some WD-40 or some degreaser to help clean stubborn dirt away if need be.  Just like your Mum told you when using the toilet for the first time, ‘Keep wiping until there’s nothing left on the paper.’  Repeat this process with the bolts and threads until everything is dry and clean.  You can just use a parts washer if you’re a flash cunt.  It’s very important to clean any dirt away, any debris left in between two parts acts as a lubricant allowing your bars and/or steerer to slip.

Now everything is dirt free you can inspect the parts for wear and damage.  If your stem plate and body have significant scratches gorged into the clamp area from slipping, this could prematurely damage any new bars you put on them and may have reduced clamping power due to having uneven clamping surfaces.  By all means, use damaged parts at your own risk if you have no other option but if they continue to slip, I highly recommend replacing.  The same goes for your bars, if they’ve been slipping about to the point the knurling on the clamp area has been ground smooth, it might just be time for some new ones.  It’s always worth checking the holes in your stem face plate for burrs caused by over-tightening (more on that later)  These burrs will make putting the bolts through them and installing your bars an extra hassle as the bolt threads will ‘catch’ on the faceplate.  This can be remedied slightly by filing them with a round file.  Prolonged over-tightening of those bolts will warp the faceplate creating further burrs and warping until it eventually fails and takes your face with it…

Lets say everything is gravy with your bars and stem, before you go and bolt them back on, pop a little of that thin ‘3-in-1’ type oil onto your bolt threads to keep them from oxidising over long periods of time and making it a pain to undo them again.  Grease of varying kinds works well too but takes longer to clean when it becomes dirty.

This paragraph will seem to many like I’m stating the obvious, but you don’t know until you know… and plenty don’t.  Most stems will have four stem plate bolts and they’ll have one of a few ways of fastening them.  The most common and traditional way is to tighten the four bolts incrementally and evenly in an ‘X’ pattern, another is occasionally used on top load stems and involves tightening two shorter front bolts fully against the stem so the plate and body are touching before tightening the two rear bolts to tighten everything in place.  Sometimes the plate will be on a hinge, sometimes in two pieces, this changes stem-to-stem so it’s always best to check with the shop from where you bought it or the manufacturer website if completely unsure.

Over-tightening is something we’ve all been guilty of at one point or another, particularly when it comes to stems, and yet is probably the easiest way to kill a part.  I understand the reasoning behind it, it’s the logical thing to do in most people’s heads; if your stem’s slipping wrench the shit out of the bolts with a long ass allen key to clamp it tighter! The only thing you’ll find is it puts totally unnecessary amounts of stress on your parts (sometimes to the point the pinch bolts at the back cause the two sides of the stem to touch, or the bars and steerer get crushed out of shape) and still your stem will slip about like a greased up pig in a Vaseline factory.

Example of a large torque wrench- 12-60Nm

 

In MTB and road cycling, manufacturers often print torque settings onto their parts so you know exactly how tight to do up each bolt.  Contrasted against BMX, most people couldn’t tell you what a torque wrench even was…  mainly because they cost a small fortune and are far from essential.  Even I don’t own one of my own.  A torque wrench is essentially a standard ratchet wrench with a built in mechanism that clicks when you reach a desired tightness in a nut or bolt to indicate when to stop.  Getting your hands on a torque wrench and working with one for a while can teach you to gauge what kind force to put into bolts just by feeling them.  In this section I’ll approximate and describe to the best of my ability what each kind of bolt requires in the way of force, as well as the rest of the bolts on your bike as a comparison.

  • Wheel bolt/nut- 55 N m+ (Pretty much as hard as you can tighten it without shitting/ hurting yourself, you don’t want a saggy chain every time you do an ice pick do you?)
  • Crank bolt- 40-50 N m (Pretty damn tight, not putting your entire weight into it, but most of it- stopping when you feel a lot of resistance)
  • Pedal spindle- 30-35 N m (You don’t want to be using a ton of force- stop when you begin to feel increasing resistance in the pedal spanner)
  • Pivotal seat- 25-30 N m (Pretty much the same as above- just with an allen key, so there’s less leverage involved)
  • 1/4″ and large-head 6mm stem bolts– 20-27 N m (Tighten until you feel the threads slow you down, then tighten by an extra 1/8th of a turn or so.  You should feel like you’d be able push the bolt round a fair bit more if you put some elbow grease into it… don’t though.)
  • Standard 6mm stem bolt– 15- 19 N m (Simply tighten until you start feeling resistance, then stop.  It’s best to stick to the lower end of the Nm scale if your bolts are also hollow)
  • Seat clamp- 7-15 N m (lightly tighten until you feel the bolt becoming a little harder to turn but not fully resisting- you can test by trying to turn the seatpost)
  • Brake hardware- 3-6 N m (brake hardware uses smaller bolts and needs less in the way of torque, just enough to stop the bolt moving when the calipers are pivoting)

The overwhelming voice in some people’s heads will scream, ‘It’s not tight enough! Tighten it more! Tighter is safer!’ but it’s hardly ever the case.  Your first port-of-call should always be to clean the affected component before you try torquing your bolts any tighter than you already have.  Bike mechanics often work under the cautionary mantra of ‘try the least dramatic fix first’ even if that fix is simply to break out some clean toilet roll and give everything a good ol’ scrub.

*EDIT* A very good point was made in the fb comments section about what happens to bolts once you over-tighten them;

“One thing (worth) mentioning is that if you over-torque a bolt chances are that not only did you overload it – essentially weakening the bolt and/or part, but you can also end up with LESS clamping (power) since the bolt will have stretched past its yield limit and the more you turn the bolt the more it will stretch until it snaps.” -Jimmy Röstlund

The Quintessential BMX Wheelbuilding Guide

I’ve laced up a fair few wheels in my time and always felt tutorial videos always fell a little short in the way that there’s just so much more to our wheels than meets the eye.  So without making too much of a song and dance I’m going to pass on to you, O’ faithful The Merged reader, pretty much everything rattling around my cranial cavity on the subject of building BMX wheels.  Stick the kettle on…

Yep… (pic nicked from Google)

Safety First.

Building wheels is potentially extremely dangerous and life threatening if done without caution.  The amount of tension stored within a single spoke can often exceed 150 kgf- effectively turning every spoke in your wheel into a makeshift crossbow bolt.  If one of those spokes gives way suddenly at the j-bend and there’s nothing to stop it, it will fire out of the rim and through anything in it’s path.  A fired spoke can very easily impale your hand so it can and will do the same to your brain if a spoke fires toward your eyes.  When working on your wheels, you must always have a decent rim strip on at the bare minimum, a tyre left on the rim isn’t a bad thing either.  If you have neither of these or can’t use them because you need to use a nipple driver, wear eye protection (your granddad’s angle grinder googles will do) and never look directly into the rim cavity while tightening spokes.  Now that I’ve scared the living shit out of you, let’s build! Continue reading

90East H.N.I.C Bars and Skatestopper Kit

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The guys at 90East have been mighty busy of recent, coming in from the streets into the shops with these fine offerings of their H.N.I.C (use your imagination…) V2 4 piece bars and a set of the most popular skatestopper tools.  The bars are post weld heat treated, multi butted 4130 chromoly and come in at 8.75″ rise, 28″ width, 10 degrees of backsweep and 4 degrees of upsweep; a modestly yet functionally sized bar for the streets.
The 90East Skatestopper tools come with a 3/8″ socket adapter for ease of use with your normal 3/8″ socket wrench.
Both of these can be found at any of 90East’s worldwide dealers now.

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Exclusive: Saltplus Mini Foldable Pump

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Last week in our Tooling Up article we briefly touched upon the subject of how very little there is in the way of BMX specific/marketed pumps, then Dave at WeMakeThings hit us up to prove us wrong and show off Saltplus‘ new addition to their expanding tool line, the Mini foldable track pump;

“Flats suck. What sucks even more is having a flat and not having a pump with you to fix it. Well now you wont have an excuse not to have a pump with you next time you head out riding. The Saltplus Mini Pump is a micro sized version of a traditional track pump, but folds up to almost 1/4 of the size and will fit in your backpack with ease. Despite its small size, the Mini Pump packs a punch and will inflate your tires up to 110psi much quicker than you would think. With durable internals and designed to work with both Shrader and Presta Valves, this little guy will save your bacon next time you’re in a tight spot. Available October at Saltplus dealers worldwide.”

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Material: high strength nylon and alloy internals
Color: black
Features: super small foldable design, can work with Shrader or Presta valves
Inflates up to 110 psi

Go follow Saltplus on Instagram, there’s a good lad.

Tooling Up- A BMX Survival Guide

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Its been said before and I’ll say it again, bikes are getting easier and easier to maintain, repair, dis-and re-assemble at a moments notice.  Most bikes can be chucked into a golf flight bag in ten minutes with little more than a six millimetre allen key and a 17 mm socket if pegs are your bag.  Bikes are nigh on perfect now but what about the tools you use to work on them? Are you still riding around with several pounds of ring spanners, a rubber mallet and your granddad’s old cross wrench in a military grade canvas rucksack or are you carrying something a little more subtle in your back pocket?

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In my mind there are two types or riding; sessioning and cruising.  With sessioning you find something good to ride (whatever that is in your mind, in mine it’s a wall ride…) put down your bag and jacket and you tend to stay in one area.  With cruising you’re just rolling down the street, hopping curbs and generally not stopping too much; a bag isn’t really something you want here. Both of these situations influence your decision on what tools you carry on your person but unfortunately your bike usually has other plans…
Being caught short can rue the day and there’s nothing worse than slipping your bars and having to ride home with your chin on your stem.  Or walking.  Especially if all you need is a spoke key.

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So what is the least you can get away with carrying? While I personally carry a yellow spokey, a six millimetre allen key and a puncture kit and pray I can find a shop or petrol station with a pump if the worst happens, this is probably not the most sensible option.
Lets start with the obvious; the ‘multitool-with-everything-you-could-ever-want-on-it’, namely the Shadow Conspiracy multitool, DK Random Wrench, Animal Kotulak, Eclat E-Tools and Salt Plus Tool Tube. While they vary from the all-bells-and-whistles of the Animal and Shadow tools with built-in chain splitters, and imperial allen keys to simpler offerings like from Eclat which could definitely tuck away in a winter coat.  The main drawback is that you need something to carry it in as you generally wont fit it into your jeans pocket without looking like the bassist from This Is Spinal Tap.

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The next kind of tool to consider is a pocket tool, Alfaro or Stolen’s Piece tool is a good start if you’re pegless, with a five (or 1/4″ in Alfaro’s case) and a six millimetre, tyre lever and a spoke key it’s got the bare bones of what you need to get going again and you never notice it in our pocket.  Salt Plus’s Flip tool is another good example, with a chain splitter and multiple allen keys you could strip a pegless bike to the bare bones.  If you ride pegs, Merritt’s Trifecta tool is a handy little telescopic 17mm socket with a 6 and an 8mm allen key attachment, it folds away to a mere 5 inches and even comes with hook and loop straps to carry it on your frame.  The cons of such tools is that there’s always a chance you wont have the particular tool you need on you at the time.

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That’s most people catered for but there are still some people out there who just can’t deal with a pocket full of stuff ruining the cut of their jeans or wearing the same backpack they used at school to carry tools you MIGHT need to fix your bike later.  I know, it’s hard.  Thankfully BMX has your back, companies like Kis and Wethepeople are turning the very same seatposts we sit above into 17mm sockets, so all you need to carry is a six to get that sucker out…. And you don’t even need to carry THAT if you have a Wethepeople Smuggler seat, well, if you can fit an allen key in beside all the weed you probably keep in there.  If aesthetics are your thing then you should watch out that your post doesn’t get too scratched up by reinserting the post into the frame.

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Other than the subject of pumps (of which this offering from Vocal was the only thing I could find worth half-mentioning) that’s about the long and short of it, there are plenty of BMX tool solutions out there to suit everyone so get tooled up, get out there and ride untill the wheels fall off.  Then screw them back on again.

Stolen Piece Multi-Tool Review

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The BMX multi-tool is a product that hasn’t been around for a great deal of time and unlike the skateboard equivalent, it hasn’t yet found a ‘perfect’ archetypal design.  DK’s first incarnation of the Random Wrench was a great first go despite it being a tad large and rather cumbersome; like a car’s cross wrench.  Fast forward a few years and there are now a plethora of various multi-tools designed to aide with quick fixes like Merrit’s Trifecta tool or a full strip-down with Shadow, Eclat or Animal’s offerings.  While attractive, I personally never bought any of these tools because they simply don’t just fit in your jeans, they still require a backpack and if that’s the case, the tools I already have are sufficient…  difficult to find amongst the loose chilli peanuts and ominous black fluff at the bottom of my bag, but still… sufficient.

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One day in my old workshop I sat down and put some thought into a small pocket multi-tool that you could pop in your 501’s and forget about until you needed it.  I came up with a first draft.  It included a 6mm allen key, a spoke key, a tyre lever and for no good reason, a 10mm spanner (who uses a 10mm for anything other than holding a cable pinch bolt in place?) It looked good.  A few days later I found an almost identical, albeit slicker, design on Zodiac Engineering’s Instagram account.  Dumbstruck that someone had already beaten me to it, and that I would probably never own one due to them being out of stock, I retreated to lick my proverbial wounds.

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Last week while researching various BMX retailers (read; procrastinating on Dan’s Comp) I stumbled across the Stolen Piece multi-tool, of which until that moment, had eluded me completely.  Bar a couple of finishing touches and a 5mm hex bit end instead of a 1/4″ one, it’s almost exactly the same tool as Zodiac made, and all for 20 bucks.
While you’d have a hard time getting your wheels off with it if you have pegs, it’s absolutely amazing for pegless riders like myself as most wheels, stems, cranks, seats and clamps all typically run off of 5 or 6mm bolts these days.  The tyre lever and spoke key are also welcome features, trashing your rims or tubes without either can be a total nightmare and result in a very long and wholly miserable walk home, but even if you are stuck walking home, at least you have a bottle opener to help drown your sorrows.  The spoke key is where this tool excels though, the typical ‘slot’ type 3-sided key adopted by many has been ditched in favour of a 4-sided one (like the yellow Spokey ones) which has a greater surface contact area to prevent the rounding-off of nipples.  It’s solid, steel construction makes it practically bombproof and what’s more is that the Piece tool has been in my back pocket since I started typing this review and I’m still yet to get a numb left buttock. ‘Nuff said.

Fits: 3.45mm (.136″) nipples
Width: 18mm
Length: 90mm
Colors: ED Black
Weight: 2.7 oz

THE D KEY – Kickstarter Project

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The D Key is essentially an regular allen key, but features a flat “key-like” end which not only lets you to clip it to your car keys, but also allows you to put double the force than you would with a regular box standard allen key. We featured the D-Key last month and a lot of you got really stoked on the idea.

If you are wanting to get behind this project and own your own D-Key, the Kickstarter account is now live! Head HERE to find out more!

The D Key

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This got sent to me by a friend and to be honest it’s a really simple but clever solution to carrying tools around with you. The D Key is essentially an regular allen key, but features a flat “key-like” end which not only lets you to clip it to your car keys, but also allows you to put double the force than you would with a regular box standard allen key.

Find out more about the D-Key HERE…

Continue reading

Eclat E-Tool

The guys at Eclat have released their own do-it-all tooll called the E-Tool, which features pretty much everything you could need to fix your bike, all in one small package.

The E-Tool is the Swiss-Army knife for your BMX. All the functions of the tool are hidden inside the anodised tube. Throw it in your bag and make sure you don’t lend it to anyone, as you’ll never get it back!