Friday, May 28, 2010

Origami, Part 2: Assembly Line

 (It's starting to look like... a funny-looking little bike.)

I do not read instructions. Never have. Funny, since I write instructions in my quasi-professional life. It's a male ego thing. (Huh, a blogger with an ego, go figure.)

So when I unearthed the assembly instructions for the new Swift, I gave them a quick flip-through to see if there was anything unusual, found nothing of the sort, tossed them aside, and set upon the packing-wrapped bike like a vulture on fresh roadkill. And -- save for two big gotcha moments I'll explain later -- it came together like a bike oughta.

This was my first mail-ordered complete bike ever, so I admit to being a little curious how it would assemble. The "company line" in my shop-wrench days was that it took the careful hand of a trained mechanic (okay, pimply high school kid) to lovingly shape the pile of unrecognizable parts in a bike box into a harmonious wheeled whole. The thought that the average schmoe off the street could just pull a bike out of the box, slap it together with the three tools listed on the top flap (I believe they were "hammer, screwdriver/cold chisel, bigger hammer") and ride off was ludicrous.

Assembling the Swift both proved and disproved those old beliefs. For the most part, it was just fine. Brakes were pretty darn close. Derailleur, not so bad. Front wheel: Dead-on true and round. The front hub was a little snug and the headset was a little loose, but both were well within a reasonable person's tolerances. Let's call it a B minus.

THEN there was that back wheel. Oh boy. Grabbing the rim and giving a shake revealed the clunk of a slightly-loose hub. Weird. If a hub's going to be wrong from the factory, it's going to be tight 99 out of 100 times. So I loosened the quick release and gave a tug to drop the wheel out of the frame. Huh. Didn't want to come out. Okay, so that's just how it goes with the combination of track ends and a derailleur hanger, I figure. Kind of an awkward removal combination. I gently lifted the chain over the right dropout to eliminate that variable, no luck. Finally, I gave the tire a bit of gentle persuasion (read: "a serious whack") and the wheel popped out like a champagne cork.

Count this as Gotcha #1: The rear triangle uses 132.5mm spacing, between the road-hub standard of 130mm and the mountain-hub standard of 135mm. I know I read that on the Xootr website, but I'd forgotten. This "neither fish nor fowl" spacing (which -- in Xootr's defense -- is used by a few others too, including the usually-smarter-than-that Grant Peterson at Rivendell) needs to die a quick, painful death. I understand the well-intentioned theory: You can put a 130 hub in there with a little squeeze or a 135 with a little stretch, and heck, it's only a 1.25mm difference per side, so what's the big whoop? But in practice, the 130 makes it a nuisance to use the quick release and the 135 requires Charles Atlas forearms to spring the rear triangle -- especially when it's big, beefy and aluminum like the Swift's. Never mind the fact that you aren't supposed to cold-set aluminum, and mis-spaced/misaligned dropouts can eventually lead to axle or frame failure. So, thanks for the well-meaning attempt, Xootr folks, but you lose points on that decision. The next time I wrestle that hub out, I'm looking to see if there are any spacers I can remove to make the hub actually fit the frame.

Okay, Mr. Gripes-a-lot, you've got the wheel out, so what's Gotcha #2? As I'd guessed, the hub was loose. Hmm. The locknut wasn't snug against the cone on the drive side, so it had backed out. And the hub designer had thoughtfully buried the cone's wrench flats deep in the bowels of the cassette. So, happy day, I had to back the non-drive cone/locknut WAY off just to access the cone on the drive side (almost losing a couple ball bearings in the process) before I could snug it up. Minor annoyance, but an annoyance, and certainly not something the (long ago aforementioned) average schmoe off the street could deal with. So there goes Average Schmoe, who has popped his bike out of the box and ridden off, blissfully unaware that his rear hub is eating itself alive. Not good. (Aside: That loose locknut on the drive side also seemed to have prevented the cassette lockring from tightening sufficiently -- since those are probably driven on quick and dirty with an air tool -- but since I had to pop the cassette to access the hub anyway, that got fixed by default.)

I know this little installment of my (headed toward epic, copyright Rapha) tale is coming off pretty negative. Stay tuned for Chapter 3, when I promise to say plenty of nice things about the details on the bike (many of them quite thoughtful -- the details, not what I say about them) and -- gasp -- I might actually even ride the thing!

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