Thursday, July 10, 2008


Here's just a little update. I'm getting ready to sag a bunch of my riders on RAIN (Ride Across INdiana) on Saturday. We'll leave town about noon tomorrow with two sag vehicles and 8 (I think) riders. Tonight I've been pulling together my pit gear. I won't be able to replace shifters, bottom brackets, headsets, or anything but 10 speed Shimano compatible cassettes, but should be set to tackle anything else. Either the variety of standards, or size of tools required, were my two criteria for what not to bring. It's not that I expect problems, but being prepared is the best defense against having to fix anything.

Moving on, my new Ti parts arrived this week. So sexy. Between the BB and head tube I expect to remove about 200 grams from my typical carbon frame with these parts. They're also beautifully made.

My current build is coming along nicely. If you're a long time reader, you know that I'm a keel builder. That is, focus on the head tube, down tube, & chainstays, to ensure a straight keel between the wheels. Then fill in the rest. The reality is, however, that I usually connect the seat tube to the BB first - and then let it just wave in the wind until the keel is done.

With a bagged carbon frame, there are a number of ways to do things, and I chose a sequence slightly different from how I build steel. I begin by mitering the chain stays (which have a mono-yoke) to the BB, then glue them together in a jig with aerospace epoxy adhesive. Once this sets up, 8 layers (more will be added latter in the process) of uni-carbon are wrapped around this joint - five run straight and form a 'U' when viewed from the side, the remaining layers are angled about plus/minus 25 degrees. Each angled layer includes both plus and minus angles - as I'm using narrower strips of carbon - so the layer has a crossing of the two angles, but nets about the same amount of fabric as one of the straight layers. As a final step, three layers are wrapped around the yoke of the chain stays (90 degrees to the main reinforcement). After fiddling to make sure that all is flat and smooth, the yoke portion gets wrapped with heat shrink tape. This serves to flatten this area nicely, indicate if there are problems in the wrap around the BB shell, and helps hold the rest of the layers in place until the vacuum is applied. Note, there is a concave space where the top and bottom of the chain stay butt up to the BB shell. If the main wraps are too tight, they will lift out of this area - making a bubble and potential stress riser. So with gloved hand, I check to make sure that the tension on the wraps is correct.

This then gets put into a vacuum bag, and as the air is evacuated, I work the bag to lay as flat as possible all the way around the BB/chain stay joint. The uni-carbon comes with something (it varies) on the back to hold the threads together and in parallel. With a good vacuum job, its possible to see this backing through the carbon when the joint is later unwrapped.

The finished assembly is inspected, and then sanded with 180 grit to prepare to bond tubes and more CF. Note, I could use a peel-ply that leaves a thicker layer on epoxy on the surface, with the pattern of the fabric embossed in the epoxy. This makes a good surface for bonding other bits too. However, I find this fabric a bit stiff and unwieldy for working around this sort of joint. Hence the sanding of the finished surface.

Next (reverting to my old habits), I miter and bond the seat tube into place. With steel, I'd just use a pattern from Bike Cad to mark the miter. This works here, as well, but only up to a point. At the rear, the yoke of the chain stay interferes with the fit of the seat tube, and the seat tube therefore needs to be trimmed down carefully. Once the proper fit is established, all surfaces are cleaned up with rubbing alcohol and allowed to dry. The fit over everything is checked one more time in the jig. Then a layer of aerospace epoxy adhesive is applied around the base of the seat tube, and the tube is put into place, and the jig is closed down on the seat tube to hold it in place. Supposedly the parts can be worked within two hours of bonding, but I generally give them overnight.

Meanwhile, I've been preparing the head tube. This one gets my traditional aluminum head tube with a CF wrap. Actually, a fine layer of fiberglass goes down first, then the CF. In this case, I used some 5.7 oz plain weave CF. Over the CF goes a plastic peel layer in which I've punched a lot of small holes (pin pricks actually). Over this goes a layer of synthetic cotton batting - which serves to suck up any epoxy squeezed out of the CF. Finally, I give it a tight wrap of heat-shrink tape. Once its all stabilized (tape on the ends or whatever), I use an electric heat gun (like some folks use to remove paint) to quickly shrink the tape. With a head tube set up for cure, I usually put it in the oven at about 175 degrees for 30 minutes. This speeds up the cure, but also helps to bleed off excess epoxy.

This process seems to work because the whole piece is evenly coated in epoxy (which shows as a glossy sheen), but very little of the texture of the CF cloth is lost. On the final layer (once joints are done), we'll want a thicker top coat of epoxy to provide a smooth base layer for the painter - but until then, we want to use the least epoxy possible to do the job - and this method seems to work very well at meeting the goal.

Now its time to do some measurements to mount the head tube in the jig, and position it correctly relative to the BB. Key issues are, of course, the head tube angle, effective top tube length, height of the bottom of the head tube. The later are designed around the fork and headset which will be employed, to ensure that the prescribed head tube angle is realized in practice. After a bit of fiddling, a satisfactory positioning is achieved.

Then, its time to begin mitering and fitting the down tube. On a lugged steel bike, its possible to make the down tube a half inch long, fit things up in the jig, then mark the excess from within the BB. That doesn't work here with a solid BB. So, I start by fitting the down tube to the head tube first - using a protractor to check that my angle is correct. Then the BB end is mitered, but it's left intentionally long. Now I fiddle to see that my down tube/seat tube angle appears correct. If not, there's something wrong with the head tube positioning. This is just a double check, but nonetheless an important step.

If positioning looks good, I carefully start to carve the BB miter back until I can fit the tube into place. If all has gone well, both ends have nice tight fits and I don't have to recycle an expensive piece of CF.

At this point, I once again check all fits on the jig, then clean the down tube, head tube, BB, and seat tube with alcohol. Again, adhesive gets applied, this time to both ends of the down tube. At the bottom it is fitted to the BB and to the seat tube. Once more, the jig and fits are double checked - before anything can set up.

OK, that's how far the current frame is. We'll next have to modify the BB joint to ease the process of draping layers of CF thereon. So stay tuned to learn more about finishing this important joint.


Post ride update... The only mechanical I had to deal with was.... a bottom bracket. At the first stop, one rider had a crunchy dragging BB. Fortunately it was a cup and cone style, as I hadn't brought any spares. The bike was borrowed, and both the axle and one cup had some damage in the races. Also the bearings were caged, which are easier to keep track of, but which I find to offer less good results than loose bearings.

Anyway, I was able to repack the BB and adjust it so that it would spin smoothly. Then I drove off to purchase a spare (just a basic 113mm Shimano cartridge square taper BB). Anyhow, the rider made it through the ride without further issues and I never had to install the spare.

Congratulations to all the riders who completed RAIN!

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