Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The Winter Bike: Up Cane Creek Without a Paddle

As the late UK Summer suddenly turns into Autumn it is time to start thinking about the winter bike.

My winter bike is an old fixie that I had built by Deeside Cycles. The shop appears to still be in business under the name Graham Weigh cycles. My fixie was a Graham Weigh alloy track bike with a road fork and no decals, for that minimalist look. The idea was minimum maintenance, maximum visibility for commuting. I had it painted bright yellow. Ten years on and the frame is looking seriously the worse for wear and the mirage bottom bracket is shot to pieces. Time for an upgrade.

Riding fixed is much more fashionable now and so there's a bit more choice. You don't have to ride a track frame anymore. That said, I'm still surprised how little choice there is if you want to get more generous clearance for mud-guards. I actually had my Graham Weigh frame drilled for mud-guards originally but the clearance is never going to be very good on a pure track frame and I ditched them in favour of a rear splatter guard later.

The whole thing about a winter bike is trying to keep costs down so I couldn't resist going back to steel and the special offers on the Pompino from On-One (aka, Planet-X). I've seen a few of these around Cambridge and someone I used to work with commuted on his and seemed pretty happy with it. On-One will fit headsets for you but when you get an end-of-season discount on a frame it seems like a good excuse to add to the tool collection. The headset press from Cyclus seems like a perfectly good tool for a DIY-er and will pay for itself fairly quickly.

Sticking with the 'cheap and cheerful' theme I bought a Cane Creek S2 headset. As the inventor of the AHead design, what could possibly go wrong? The supplier will remain nameless (I didn't buy it from On-One themselves) at this point as I haven't given them a chance to comment on the problems I had!

Although lots of online stores offer the S2 for sale the S-type headsets don't seem to be documented on Cane Creek's website. It looks a bit like they've had a make-over as the legacy product area is a bit thin. Fortunately, the old site is accessible through The S2 page contains a useful diagram of the headset and the manual is still available too.

See the full size image on

It is lucky that these sources are still around because when the headset arrived it was just a collection of bits in a poly bag. No instructions or diagram to check the bits off against. It looked like everything was there, the supplier had even packed an extra compression ring for some reason.

When I fitted the cups to the frame I must confess I thought it was odd that the two cups where identical and that, as a result, the logo on the top cup would be upside down. Manufacturers are normally rather vain about this sort of thing. But, the design of the S2 includes a top cap that fits over the upper head-tube cup completely. So the upside down logo is obscured when the headset is assembled. Having the two cups the same would certainly reduce the chances of people installing the cups the wrong way round. That must be it. I installed them.

Except, the cups are not supposed to be the same. If I'd looked more closely at the diagram I would have seen that the lower cup is supposed to be a bit deeper than the upper cup so that it comes down over the rubber seal on the crown. I didn't notice this and proceeded to build the bike. When I came to pre-load the headset by tightening the top-cap I just couldn't get the bearings to load properly. Either it was stiff and noisy or it was too loose.

It was only then that I started poking around on the web and realised from a few image search results that the upper cup should not have a printed logo at all. I'd been shipped two lower cups. I'm not sure if the diagram on the old Cane Creek site is really to scale but a bit of image editing shows the problem area. The longer cup comes too close to the top cap. Sure enough, before the bearings are properly loaded the top cap was starting to rub on the cup. This was confirmed by tightening the top-cap until the headset felt stable and then turning the handle bars. The top cap was sticking to the cup, instead of turning with the steerer and the spacers which are pressed against it.

I've edited and exploded a detail from the diagram to show how it should be (on the left) and how it turned out (on the right).

A Stroke of Luck

The next day my son took delivery of a freewheel and in the packet were a couple of 0.3mm spacers. As luck would have it they were exactly the right size to fit on a 1 1/8" steerer. I guess a proper 1mm spacer would have done the trick too but I didn't have a spare and it was a Sunday, not a great day for buying such a specialist part.

I fitted the two spacers just below the top-cap so that they sit on top of the compression ring. They provide just enough extra stack-height on the bearings to keep the top-cap away from the cup. The whole thing now works perfectly.

I do intend to take this up with the supplier but the hassle of removing the cups to send them back would have just meant delays. Also, I don't yet have a proper tool to remove headset cups and I'm not sure what I could improvise with. I know, I could just take it to my LBS and admit defeat but half the fun of buying cheap stuff online is getting yourself into, and out of, scrapes like this.

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