Greasewipe #1: A Man With a Can

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Well, this is the first official Greasewipe.  It’s Saturday morning, it might be cold out, heads may hurt, legs may hurt more, but nothing hurts worse than trying to climb a beer-pyramid-steep hill in your big ring when the sum of your wattage is coming from a smoldering lump of beer calories and your wife’s last rice cake.  If you have a road bike with a gimpy front shifter, then this may be for you.  If not, it’s time for pancakes and Tumblr.


This morning’s letter is complements of Joe.  Joe has a problem with his bike, and I have too much to say.  Let’s do work.


Hi, snakehawk. I used to ride a lot, up to 20 hours per week.  I used to weigh 163 pounds. Now, I ride 8-10 hours per week and weigh 20 pounds more. I have a Scott CR1 Pro SL from 2010. It was a frame replacement so the components are Ultegra from the 2006 Scott CR1 Pro which died. The left shifter is getting wonky. Sometimes, it won’t go from the big ring to the small ring sometimes so I have to give it a whack. Then it goes back to work. The right shifter is fine. I love the bike aside from that. I’m not a “shine the components” kind of guy and I don’t care about snob appeal. I ride alone, for fun and for my sanity. Would you replace the left shifter, or would you wait for it to totally crap out? Would you replace both at the same time? Would you go with Ultegra? Would it be weird to switch to something else as the rest of the bike is Ultegra? I love Ultegra but it seems like SRAM is doing really well.  Even in peak form, I know I’m a middle of the line component guy. I like getting 80% of the performance at half the price. Since I’m 20 pounds heavier than I am in form, a couple of grams here and there is a joke.


Thanks for your counsel.


First of all, Joe, if you want to talk about battling the fork, write Jonny.  You and me — today we talk bikes.  Much love.  That said, your bike difficulty presents the perfect opportunity to talk about the DC way of mechanical maintenance.  I came up in a pre-recession school of repair that believes firmly in resuscitation and resurrection, and your shifter MAY have a chance.  When you say you’re not a “shine the components” kind of guy, you make me feel comfortable in letting you in on a trade standard:  Shining is for the area immediately surrounding the zip code of the part you just pulled from the warranty bin and installed on your bike so you can ride the fucking thing.  For example, you finally scored an aluminum non-driveside BB cup to replace your plastic one, so knock the cytobooger off your BB shell before you throw the cranks back on.  That is a pretty clean bike.  Now let’s talk shifters.  Giving your shifter a whack would have been my first pointer, had you not mentioned it yourself.  En Saddle bikewhacks are what keep me alive during my 4 mile Randonneur training rides.


There are a couple things you should try before reaching for the wallet:

  • Get some lube, not lithium or waxyish.   For what you need to do, spray lube is pref, but whatever.  Hit the pivots on your ft. derailleur, as they tend to corrode,  especially if your sweating as much as most dudes pushing 2 bills on the scale. In fact, deer probably break into your garage to lick your downtube while you’re sleeping.  Give the pivots a night to drink the love.  The next morning, kick the beer cans out of the way, take your chain off the rings and manually work the derailleur to make sure it’s moving along its trajectory freely and completely.  This probably won’t do a whole lot for you, but it’s old school, and a great way to pinch the church out of your fingernail, thereby upping this repair’s beer allowance.


  • Next we’re going to work the shifter over.  Flip up the brake release on the caliper, or just take the damned front wheel out so you can get a handful of ft brake lever – you need max access to the guts part of the lever.  The real VIP bits are housed in little plastic Mattel Toy panels, so hose it down like a job-killing Occupy Protester.  Think American Civil War military tactics – dig a hole under the whole city and try to blow the whole thing up.  It may fail, killing thousands of men, but you are the General, and this will look great to your superiors.  You should probably have a rag or two on the floor so you don’t jank up your girl’s Pier 1 slave labor rug.  It takes forever to pick one of those bastards out.  Now, go ride your other bike and hope that the lame shifter’s pawls and teeth and Malaysian fingernails all get kind of re-aligned and cleanish while you’re gone.  When you get back, shoo the deer away from your crankset, and if you have an air hose, try to half-throttle-compressor-hose the excess lube out of the shifter.  You may want to try the Tony Soprano approach, where you wrap the nozzle opening up in a rag which also wraps around the guts of the shifter.  That way when you crack the air lever, you don’t sneeze  lube all over your candles and brass elephants and crap.


That’s about all you can do, and if it works, it won’t last forever.  What I would suggest for a champion working man rider like you would be absolutely nothing more expensive than an Ultegra replacement.  I’d even go 105—it’s got longer road life, it’s cheaper, and it has a slightly more positive actuation.  Save the 50 bucks you’d spend on Ultegra and get your girl a new rug.  Any reputable shop has a vendor that can get you just one shifter.  Dude, even the RX100-whatevers are solid; they just feel and work a little bit differently.  The key may be to just get one quickly, since Shimano’s sensible and friction-free cable routing has gone the way of tech-tarded.  In other words, it may be hard to find one with the same shape and the same reliable design as 2006-era shifters.  You’ll end up riding with two different hoods on your handlepipes, which will feel weird like a motel pillow.  Gross.


As for other brands, SRAM’s new road sets are pretty hot, but that’s an all-at-once full group upgrade.  Part by part ain’t going to slide.  Basically, I’d say keep it in the Shimano family.  Don’t ever go higher than 2nd from the top, and if you do, you’d better not be paying for it.  Chi-Chi parts are for racers, shop employees whose wives have real jobs, or shop employees that only work when they’re not at their real jobs.


Joe, thanks for the good question.  If none of this shit works, I’m neither surprised nor responsible.  When in doubt, apathy is the best approach, and when I say that I mean that it’s really just kind of whatever.


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About Snake Hawk

good, bad, funny, sad, stupid, rad, has, had. non-joining funhaver from coast to coast(er brake). buster of the chops, drawer of the logos. North Carolina, USA

31 Replies to “Greasewipe #1: A Man With a Can”

  1. Good advice Snake Hawk. Done this many a time to brifters back in the bench days. I’d say the success rate is about 80%. It works most of the time, but there are the stubborn shifters that can be soaked for days and will never come back.

    If Joe does have to replace the shifters and wants to stay with 9speed, I think the best Shimano option is Tiagra (a good line of components for the money). Otherwise you’re looking at a drivetrain upgrade to 10speed. Even 105 is 10speed only now. That is unless you can find some new old-stock at a shop or on e-bay.

  2. i think some bar end shifters would be most appropriate in this situation. they’ll serve you through droughts and deluges and like a de-scented skunk, will always be at your side.

  3. I went through two Ultegra shift levers and one Dura Ace – same symptoms, totally unrepairable – luckily they were still under warranty when they failed. (Plus one broken one Ultegra crank). Funny thing is I moved from Campy to buy that build kit. You couldn’t pay me to own Shimano now.

  4. Yes, much sadness when Shimano went 10 speed and switched to the tortuous high-friction cable routing. My old DA 9 speed (eventually gifted on to a nephew as part of a franken-bike and still going strong) remains the best road groupset ever.

  5. Snake and Joe
    You may also want to check that shift cable. they are notorious for fraying in the body and jamming shit up. Undo the cable at the derailleur and push the cable out of the shifter and look for the fray. could be an easy $3 fix. If that’s not it then spray the bejeezus out of it with some lube.

    The hispanic mechanic

  6. Personally, Shimano 105 makes me grind my teeth. D-A is perfect every time (after you finish weeping, wailing, ululating and rending your clothing with grief over the price.

  7. What Wade said. On the rare occasion that I ride drops and shifty, I have always run barcons.

  8. What Wade and Joe said. As my various brifters fail I drift back in time to bar-cons: nine-speed Dura-Ace, eight-speed Ultegra, seven-speed 105. What’s not to like? They get fiddly, you switch to friction and try to remember how to shift by feel.

    I even have one bike wearing a set of non-indexed Silver bar-cons, though I think this may be overdoing the Wayback Machine a bit.

  9. personally, i cannot wait for the shit storm that electric is gonna bring.
    my professional answer, ” well, you were dumb enough once ,you wanna try twice? “.

  10. Patrick, I have to try really hard to miss a shift with those Silvers on a 7 speed freewheel. That shit’s like buttah.

  11. Meh. Whatever works for ya. Lately I been sidesteppin’ the whole shifter controversy. Unless I got like forty pound of grocderies to haul up the twelve percent grades in this Godforsaken Podunk shithole.*

    * In which case an old steel HooKoo fitted with SunRace friction thumbshifters gets the nod.**

    ** But mostly my bikes don’t shift.***

    ***Or coast, neither.****

    ****Because that’s the way***** I like it.

    *****(uh-huh, uh-huh)


  12. I loved those original 9speed DA levers. Super positive, not that light action nancypants stuff that had flight deck. I got lucky picked up used aluminum SRAM Rival and love it. Scared of the carbon levers after a couple of cold winter in MD with the original carbon Campy stuff coming to my bench busting levers.

  13. Yes, but Campy shifters can be rebuilt. In the words of my Shimano rep of many years ago: “Not meant to be worked on by the hands of man.”

    … And yes a semi regular drop of oil on the cable head will keep them from corroding in place, and they did occasionally fray the cable in the shifter which always sucked. I managed to drill a couple of them out, but that was only after it became a challenge. A more sensible person would throw them in the dustbin. Also never use Campy cables on Shimano shifters. The cable head is 0.1-0.2mm larger and increases the chance that you won’t be able to get it out of the shifter.

  14. My experience with 9 sp 105 and 9 sp Ultegra was that it wore to shit quickly and didn’t last as long as 9 sp DA. This was back when I was racing, and training, in all kinds of weather. Mind you, I’m about 140 lbs so you would think it all would last based on my weight. Hubs, cassettes, shifters that would blow apart in one season (and not from crashes) or less.

    Don’t know about the Campy stuff. Rode on some friction 7 sp years ago. The newer stuff I hear is about as durable as SRAM, shimano.

    I just got a new DA bike a few months ago. It works and rides great. The rear shifting adjustment hasn’t been a problem.

  15. @joe.

    If you ever get to Northern Jersey, go visit Breakneck Road in Vernon. 25% if I remember right. Then again it might have been 30%.

    Look up or down.

    Then pray.

    That slice of road will make you a believer.

  16. …does this make sparky joe a shiftless bastard & me a shifty motherfucker ???…

    …just askin’…

  17. …or maybe I just don’t give a shift???…*

    *Ellipses added for effect. Nothing more to follow.**

    **Or maybe not.

  18. Thanks for the advice. I took it to heart and the bike is running better. I believe the shifter is living on borrowed time, but it’s working for now and that’s good. Per Snake Hawk, I’ll replace it with Ultegra when it dies.

  19. What the Hispanic Mechanic says sounds good to me also. I hate when people dont change out their cables for like, years and you got to go fising it out after it brakes off inside. Check that cable end 4sho.

  20. I can change a tube. That’s pretty much it.

    All this mechanic talk goes way over.

    Can we get back to booze and porn ??

  21. jeez is it wrong to mention that the lube you want isn’t a lube it’s WD 40! That shit displaces with it’s watery goodness the gunk that gets in them shiftyerz, anyway my DA 8SPD! is solid like a fckn rock. as is my da 9’s on the cross that happen to be mated to a ultegra that works fine but is lesser. . anyway they’re all out of the bin WD40!! and cable housing lube and of course, make sure that front deraileur isn’t getting hung up on a big ring tooth, if for instance the rings were changed to a tooth larger and the position of the deraileur didn’t change accordingly

    and putting bar con’s on yer scott is not appropriate get some lugged steel for the bar cons and while yer at it why not just keep ’em on the downtube anyhow? or at least the front shifter down there. . bar con on the right, oooooor the sweet stem mount friction shifters you can shift with yer pecker out of the saddle!

  22. Had my Ultegra for 9 years and it was still working great, with lots and lots of miles on it, a slow-speed crash a couple years ago and many many upside-down-on-the-hoods flat fixes. New bike on the way and I had to go with less expensive 105, we’ll see how it fares.

    Oh and lovin the style, Greasewipe.

  23. Hmm, yes, slappy, you do have a point. Most who value function over fashion would not be caught dead on some crabon fibre repli-racer. The difference between tools and toys, I suppose.

  24. @slappy #26: word, brother.

    @Vegas #27: hate to be debbie downer here, but 10-sp 105 may be a letdown from Ultegra 9-sp, which ran bomber for me.

    @Joe #28: don’t be a dork. Crabon makes a vastly superior frame to steel set in every regard: efficiency, comfort, weight, corrosion resistance. Choosing steel over crabon is style, not function.

  25. Last I checked there ain’t no plastic bikes geared to people that actually ride the fucking things for transportation. And mosp of us ain’t got ten grand lyin’ around to blow on the latest toy.

    Tell ya what-When Grant Peterson sells ’em, I might look at a plastic bike. But don’t hold your breath.

    “Dork”? If reliable, practical bikes that can be ridden anywhere in all conditions makes me a dork, dork me up. And if you wave at me from your Escalade with the plastic bikes on the roff rack as you’re driving to the trailhead or the crit or whatever, I might even wave back.