Project Carbon

Viva la Carbonista

Our latest project was actually a customer bike, with virtually all the parts being supplied to XbikeX before assembly commenced. It was an interesting build, and well worthy of a place in our ‘Project’ section. Ben, the owner, has kindly given us permission to write this one up for the web.

‘Project Carbon’ is a stunning looking carbon-framed road/race bike, and it’s a little bit different from the day-to-day work that comes in. The unbranded frame and forks (including matching Neco H373 headset) were sourced from China, courtesy of eBay. I was a little bit dubious about that fact at first, but I needn’t have worried. It was really well made, with no major issues and with a very appealing stealth-style matt black finish. Tolerances were good, and it can be regarded as a bargain for the circa £350 asking price.

Dropping the forks and wheels in for a test-fit reduced any remaining anxiety.

Little niggles with the frameset were easily rectified. The bottom bracket threads needed cleaning up (‘chased’) with the appropriate specialist tap. They weren’t terrible, but they weren’t very crisp either. Better to get these things right before you start. The bottom bracket insert itself didn’t need facing. In fact it would be difficult to do, as the alloy is subsequently wrapped in carbon fibre and finished flush, unlike a traditional BB shell.

Sliding the crown race over the fork steerer caused some momentary concern, as it looked to be too tight. Forcing it could cause either the bottom of the steerer tube to crack, or the crown race itself to split. Running the vernier caliper over both race and steerer revealed that they were indeed the correct dimensions, and that the fouling was due simply to burring at the shoulder where the steerer diameter stepped up to the finished race seat diameter. A light wipe with some Wet and Dry saw that problem solved.

With the carbon steerer then cut to the length specified by the owner, it was time to hit the spanners proper.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 February 2013 20:00

Basket Case

The box of parts came without a seatpost clamp, which was unfortunate, as it meant that it wasn’t possible to mount the frame in our workstands optimally.

Normally, and especially with carbon fibre frames, bikes get clamped by the seatpost, so we had to be super-careful and just hang it on the lower clamp jaw, then just literally lower the upper jaw and apply minimal pressure. Once the seatpost clamp arrived (BBB Carbon Strangler, specifically for carbon seatposts) the frame’s seat tube was cleaned out and post inserted. Interesting to note at this point, is that you should NOT use grease here. This fact was specified in the instructions for the Deda RS02 post, and was confirmed by a lengthy Google trawl. Apparently, some lubricants (especially solvent-based lubes) contain chemicals that can actually attack the resin used to bond the carbon fibres together. That’s two hours I’ll never get back, but I learnt plenty about the subtleties of carbon fibre construction!

Seatposts designed to be locked off with a traditional compression collar when in use are pretty robust items, and let’s face it, the whole bike weighs naff-all, so only light pressure is required to hold it off the floor.

Next up is a good look at the box of delights that came with the frame. Lots of thought had clearly gone into selecting the groupset, wheelset and other components. Predominantly all-black, and predominantly Shimano’s excellent 105 kit, it made the prospect of assembly a pleasant one. Everything was meticulously cleaned and lightly lubricated with a combination of GT85 Teflon spray, light general purpose oil, specialist oils like Finish Line chain lube for all drivetrain parts and quality greases – Finish Line Teflon, silicon, copper etc. as required.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 July 2013 08:05

The Main Event

Crankset is the FC-R550 Hollowtech II with 68mm BB. It was missing it’s pre-tension plastic bolt, and whilst you can get away without using one (it only gets torqued to 1Nm) that’s not the way we roll… ordered! Not easy to find them though. Does nobody bother with them? If only to keep water/dirt/road salt/pedestrians from getting sucked into there?

BB bearing cups & sleeve fitted and torqued to 45Nm. Cranks added and left hand arm bolts torqued to 13Nm. I have to say at this point that the fiddly stopper plate business is ridiculous, but assembly notes duly observed.

Shimano 105 10-speed cassette fitted to freehub body and wheelset dropped in. These are the beautiful, but not silly-expensive Shimano RS30 jobs. Gloss black hubs, satin black rims. These particular wheels certainly haven’t been abused in the past. Very straight, smooth bearings and spoke tension so even you could play a tune on them. And I did, but it was pretty boring with only two notes available (drive side and non-drive side are tensioned differently.)

105 rear derailleur was fitted, but the front was a braze-on fitting, and the frame doesn’t have a mount, so I ordered the PowerPlay clamp adaptor. Good value, and looks right on the bike. This was the only bit that still bothered me. The seat tube is clearly designed to have a clamp fitted, but unlike the seatpost clamp, where there is a hefty carbon tube slipped inside it at the point of clamping, the front derailleur clamp must be tightened with extreme care, as that’s just flimsy carbon tubing down there! More on this later.

The drivetrain was completed by adding the used chain. Our chain-wear gauge indicated that the chain was part-worn, but not to the point where it needed replacing. Fortunately, it was the correct length, and came with an SRAM Powerlink connector. Easy.

The very pretty bars (Deda RHM02) and stem (Deda Zero-1) were added to the fork steerer and loosely clamped up between some gloss 3K carbon fibre spacers and the integrated headset using the supplied Neco expanding bolt assembly (specifically for carbon steerer tubes). I really didn’t like the Neco expanding fitting much. It was a little bit too short, didn’t bite easily and felt cheap. Hard to adjust too, but it’s not a critical part, so hey. Don’t be rushing out to buy one though.

Torque settings for the stem clamp and faceplate bolts must be adhered to precisely unless you want an expensive door stop. It’s very difficult to ‘feel’ 5 or 8Nm, which is why we have the proper low-range torque wrenches, and use them all the time. Shimano 105 double/10 speed STI levers take care of the bar controls, and they are great to work with. Much nicer than the lower-end items that Shimano produce. Easy to attach with positive clamping, effortless cable insertion and slick operation. We like them a lot.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 February 2013 17:14

Finishing up...

Onto the fiddly and time-consuming stuff - cabling and taping the bars. I was extremely pleased to find that the internal cable routing for the rear brake through the top tube was simplicity itself, with the lining sheath already in place and ready to go (Retrospective note: when the bike came back for its first service a few weeks later, the cable outer had started to pull through the front stop, and had to have an extra ferrule added.)

Top Tip: Brake cables must be connected, roughly adjusted and fully operational before taping to the bars. If the outers are not under compression when taped up, a horrible, mushy brake lever feel will result. So I did that. Obviously.

Sadly, I didn’t spot that the riveted gear cable lugs on the downtube were the threaded variety requiring adjusters to be fitted. Shame, as that held the build up for two days while Chain Reaction Cycles sent us some. Gear cables were then fitted and the gears duly adjusted and tested. For some reason, getting the front derailleur cable tension just right was proving tricky, and it appeared to keep going out of adjustment slightly during operation. After sitting down with a cup of tea and thinking about it some more, it became clear what was happening. The bottom-pull cable action (inner cable comes through a tiny hole in the frame section behind the seat tube BTW – nice!) was pulling the derailleur clamp down the seat tube very slightly. Not enough to see, but enough to frustrate for some considerable time! A little more clamping force required, but gently does it…

Final bits then, and the beautiful Selle Italia SL saddle (manganese rails), brand new PD-M505 SPD pedals and some A2 stainless steel bottle cage bolts were added. A little shakedown operation, re-check all adjustments and torques, and she’s done.

A real head-turner, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 February 2013 17:14

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