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Tour Tech Talk: 10-speed chains and a few follow-up answers

Keeping ten-speed chains intactAll of the teams contesting the Tour de France this year are, of course,are using 10-speed chains on their 10-speed Shimano or Campagnolo groups. While you rarely see a broken chain in the professional peloton, youcertainly do see it among everyday enthusiasts nowadays with 10-speed chainsfar more frequently than you used to with 9-speed chains, and especiallymore so than in the old days when riders used 5-, 6-, 7-, and 8-speed chains.Back then breakage on a road bike was practically unheard of. You knowthat if there is any time you would not want to break a

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By Lennard Zinn

Alan Buttlar installs a new chain

Alan Buttlar installs a new chain

Photo:

Keeping ten-speed chains intact
All of the teams contesting the Tour de France this year are, of course,are using 10-speed chains on their 10-speed Shimano or Campagnolo groups.

While you rarely see a broken chain in the professional peloton, youcertainly do see it among everyday enthusiasts nowadays with 10-speed chainsfar more frequently than you used to with 9-speed chains, and especiallymore so than in the old days when riders used 5-, 6-, 7-, and 8-speed chains.Back then breakage on a road bike was practically unheard of. You knowthat if there is any time you would not want to break a chain, it wouldbe on the final, beyond-category climbs of one of these mountaintop-finishdays in the Tour.

Do you remember in the 2001 Giro d’Italia when Panaria’s Mexican climberJulio Perez Cuapio seemed to clearly be on his way to winning the stageto the mountaintop finish at the Montevergine de Mercogliano, only to havea broken chain stop him dead in his tracks? That was a nine-speed Shimanochain, which we rarely saw break in pro racing. Presumably it broke atthe connecting pin, but I still don’t know. I was there that day and triedto retrieve the chain from the Panaria mechanics that night, but they saidthat they had not been able to find it, attributing its disappearance toa spectator likely snatching it off of the road.

A chain breaks when a link plate gets pried off of the end of a chainrivet. On a road bike, this is most likely to happen when the rider isshifting under load, particularly in the rear. With the cutaway shift gatesbetween modern cogs, the chain is encouraged to engage two cogs simultaneously.When the chain is flexed at a sharp angle laterally like this, and whenthe rider is stomping the pedals at the same time, there is a lot of forceworking to pry the chain open. If the connector pin, which everyone wouldagree is the weakest point in the chain, happens to be on the link thatis simultaneously engaging two cogs, you are asking for trouble if yourconnector pin was installed improperly.

Holding 10-speed chains together is a subject near and dear to my heart.I hear about problems with these new necessarily narrow chains from readers.I write maintenance books in which I write instructions about how to properlyassemble chains, and, when I was over in Italy this May for the Giro d’ItaliaBike Camp that I put on every year with Connie Carpenter and Davis Phinney,I was riding with Phinney when he had another in a series of chain breakagesthat had been plaguing him this spring, with both Shimano and Campagnolochains.

Now, if a super-experienced rider like Phinney can break a few chainswithin a period of weeks, it clearly shows the need for more informationout in the marketplace about how to properly connect 10-speed chains. Admittedly, all of Phinney’s broken chains happened when he was sprinting, and he is known for his powerful sprint, which is still fast despite age,reduced riding and an ongoing struggle Parkinson’s disease. Furthermore,when sprinting with STI or Ergo Power, everyone has the opportunity toshift during the sprint. That opens the door to the situation in whichtwo cogs engage simultaneously under high load.

I have not had the opportunity to watch any mechanics of Campagnolo-sponsoredteams assemble chains in this Tour, but I did watch Discovery and CSC mechanics assembling Shimano 10-speed chains in the days prior to the start. Discovery mechanic Alan Buttlar was using a Shimano CN-32 tool, Shimano’s professional, wooden-handled tool for 10-speed (as well as for 6-, 7-, and 8-speed) chains. Interestingly, the CSC mechanic was using a Campagnolo 10-speed chain tool, which he said he really preferred to use. The critical thing about tool choice with a 10-speed chain is to make sure that the tool is intended for these narrow chains. If it is not, the teeth of the chain are too far away from the back plate and will get bent or broken, as well as preventing the chain connector pin from seating properly.

If you look closely at the photos, you will see that both mechanicsare putting the connector pin through the leading end of the outer linkthey are connecting. In other words, when the connected outer link comesover the top of a cog and is simultaneously engaging two cogs during ashift, the connector pin will be the first one to move across the gap.The stress is higher on the rear pin of the link, as it is being releasedfrom the previous cog, so this choice ensures that the stronger, factory-installed pin is in that position. When connecting the chain at the bottom as in the photos, to make sure the connector pin leads over the cog, the connectorpin needs to be on the end of the outer link closer to the rear derailleur.

Now comes the critical step. This is a section from the chain chapterof the revised edition of Zinnand the Art of Road Bike Maintenance that I am working on now:Rather than having both ends of the connecting pins protruding a bit fromtheir plates (as they are for 7-, 8- and 9-speed chains), you want the10-speed connector pin slightly recessed, beyond flush. The key is to goby feel rather than sight, and to keep pressing where you would normallystop with a 9-speed chain, because it feels hard. It will then feeleasy, then very hard while continuing to push. At this point, stop to checkfor binding. You will know that you are done when there is no binding atthe connector pin link, without flexing it sideways to free it up. Backoff on the chain tool screw, check the link for freedom of movement, andre-tighten the tool if you feel any binding. If the link is still binding,Shimano says that there is a 99-percent chance that the pin isn’t pushedin far enough to be fully seated.

Most mechanics free up a tight link by flexing it back and forth laterallyby hand, and this is a hard habit to break, especially if you have beendoing it for decades.

Shimano’s Wayne Stetina says, “Never, never never (flex the linksideways to free it) especially 10-speed, but also for 9-speed chains.We need to get people away from this lazy bad habit when installing Shimanochains. If a Shimano chain does not move freely, the pin is not correctlyseated in the back plate. If it is correctly seated, it WILL automaticallybe correctly centered. Loosening it like this may cause the connector pinto pull out of the plate. It will definitely cause a 10-speed chainto fail.”

That said, I did notice that Buttlar couldn’t resist flexing the link back and forth just a bit.


Here are some more details on a couple of questions from mycolumn from a few days ago.

Question: It looks like the Discovery team is riding aluminumor some other kind of metal seat posts on their Madone’s – is this so andif so, why the “retro” switch away from carbon seatposts?
Answer from Trek’s Scott Daubert: I made a deal with Julien(DeVries, Discovery’s chief mechanic) for the team to ride Bontrager XXXposts, but he didn’t follow thru on his end. I don’t know why. The Bontragerpost has a better ride and it’s lighter…

Question: Are the saddles ridden by Discovery really Bontrageror just Bontrager covers – because no other Bontrager saddles made havea “B” logo on the nose.

Answer from Trek’s Scott Daubert: This year the seats are SelleSan Marco seats with a Bontrager cover. Selle San Marco is Bontrager’sseat manufacturer. For 2006, the team will be on Bontrager-designedseats made by Selle San Marco.

Question: And what is with the hole Ullrich has cut in the chestof his undershirt?

Answer from Greg, one of our readers: Jan is wearing anundershirt that is not made by adidas. Also, Vino is using DMT Flash shoeswith the logos removed or covered. Adidas has a long history of makingathletes wearing other brands (shoes, jerseys, etc.) either wear adidasor cover the logo(s) of the athlete’s preferred brand. This is why severalT-Mobile guys have worn shoe covers even during the hottest weather and,like Jan, have had to rip or cut out the logo of a competing brand. TheGerman national soccer team is having to deal with a similar situationas the coach is demanding all players to wear only adidas shoes or notplay in the team, regardless of the athlete’s current shoe contract.

Answer from CM, another of our readers: Concerning the personwho wrote you asking why Ullrich’s t-shirt so often has a hole in it, Ithink I know why. That is where DeFeet puts its logo. I think he must liketheir shirts, but cuts the logo out to avoid problems with adidas.