Just hours before the Black Label Bike Club’s Worst Friends Ever bicycle race on the 26th, I decided that it would be a good time to overhaul my bottom bracket. Actually, I knew that the good time had passed and that now I was entering the bad time territory. I kept putting it off because it’s just too darn cold to work in the garage and I was hoping for a nice warm day to tackle the task. The thing is, it suddenly went from “I should probably do that soon” to “this is really bad! I need to take care of this!” I did plan far enough ahead to make sure that the local bike shop would be open if I needed to run over for parts. The way the thing felt, replacement parts would most assuredly be necessary. The question was whether or not I would be able to find the parts in my stockpiles or have to run to the shop.
The race started at 6pm so I guess I figured 2pm would be a good time to get started. To be fair, I’d brought the kids to 3rd Lair Skatepark for the first time that morning and didn’t get home until almost 1pm and had some lunch. I head out to the garage, unbury my workstand from behind the pile of instrument building supplies, and find a clean rag for my parts.
I started out with the adjustable side of the bottom bracket which did not want to budge. That’s a bad sign. Usually if one side is going to get stuck it’s the non-adjustable side which is easy to work around because that side is usually in pretty good shape. If that happens I just clean it up while it’s still in the frame before putting everything back together. The adjustable side (being on the side with the gear and getting more brute force applied to it) is the side that’s going to be bad if one is. This was a bad start, but it had to be done so I removed the other side. That side looked fine, but of course when I pulled out the spindle the other side was just a pile of parts.
At 2:26PM I sent this picture from my phone to facebook with the caption “What’s left of my bottom bracket.”
I got out the PB Blaster and started to work on getting that other cup out. I got out my biggest wrench but still couldn’t get enough leverage to get it to turn. I let the oil sit on there for a while, and then tried it again with the big wrench. And then with a large channel locks on the protruding threads. Still no movement at all!
I got what I thought was a pretty brilliant idea. I’d run down to the bike shop and buy a bottom bracket cartridge. Those screw in from the non-adjustable side, and then just have a little plastic insert on the other side. I figured I’d be able to screw in the cartridge and the adjustable cup would just take the place of the plastic insert.
So my daughter Esther & I hopped in the car and headed to the bike shop. Being the nice warm day that it was, somewhere in the 30’s, the bike shop was busier than I had ever seen it. I had to wait around a bit until someone could help with my question. The first guy that came over to help put together a spindle and set of cups and bearings for me. Then I explained again that I was looking for a cartridge because my adjustable cup wouldn’t come out. Another guy walked up about this time and told me that it wouldn’t work. He said the cartridge wouldn’t screw all the way in unless I got that cup out.
“So how do I remove a seized cup?” I asked.
He went on to tell me a couple different methods. The first was using a vice grips on the protruding threads. I’d already given that a shot with the channel locks, because my large vice grips had gone missing. The second was trying to use heat. I’d thought about that one, but didn’t try it because I didn’t want to screw up the paint. I’d also tried one other method which is using a hammer.
This may sound like a bad idea, but I learned it when I used to work on motorcycles which frequently have seized nuts, bolts and screws. You can either put the wrench on and tap the wrench, or you can just tap the end of the bolt or screw with the hammer. The idea is to break up the corrosion or whatever it is that’s keeping the bolt from turning. Using brute force to try to turn a bolt or screw is a good way to just twist the end right off of it. Getting things loosened up with a hammer can sometimes prevent that from happening. Well, that didn’t work either.
I stopped by Menards to pick up a vice grips and some other items we needed and went home to try to finish up that bike. By this time it was getting quite late; after 4PM I think. I tried the vice grip on the threads. No luck. I tried heat. No luck. That left the last suggestion that he gave me which was to cut the cup out.
“Get a hacksaw blade in there, and start cutting. Don’t cut all the way through. Just cut until you reach the threads. Sometimes one cut will do it, and you’ll be able to turn it out. Other times you’ll have to make two cuts and then hopefully it will just fall apart.”
I grabbed a hacksaw blade, stuck it through the bottom bracket and with a hand on either side started sawing the cup. It didn’t take long for me to realize this was going to be a painfully long process. Perhaps if I’d put the blade through and then fastened it in a hacksaw it would have been easier and faster. I grabbed an angle grinder with a cutting blade and cut into the face of the cup until I nearly hit the bike frame. I figured that would give me less metal to cut through. I also did it in 3 other places, just in case I’d have to make more than one cut. I started in with the hacksaw blade again but it was still painfully slow. There’s no way I was going to make the race at this pace. I didn’t want to screw up my bike, but I wanted to get this thing done. I decided to try a reciprocating saw (commonly referred to as a Sawzall®). Mine is kind of screwed up and the blade won’t stay straight, but I gave it shot anyway.
Even that wasn’t having much effect until I put a new blade in there. Then I got the blade a little cockeyed and cut a little slot in the threads on the opposite side of the bottom frame. Dang! Ok, more careful from here on out! I cut almost all the way through the cup and then hit it a few times with the hacksaw blade. Then I flipped the frame over and did the other side of the cup with the reciprocating saw. I tried knocking the pieces free with a cold chisel, but that didn’t work. So I took the wrench to it. Now the cup turned right out! Awesome!
I didn’t take any pictures while I was working on this because I was in such a hurry, but here’s what that cup looked like when I finally got it removed.
I got the threads all cleaned up, and liberally applied some grease. Grabbed my bottom bracket tool and turned that new cartridge in. Unfortunately the spindle was just a little bit longer than the old one, and the chain line was no longer perfect. It was close enough though. I got the bike together and got ready to leave.
As for the race? I ended up getting a last minute call requesting help at one of the stops and I never ended up racing.