For weeks I’ve been trying to remember which mechanic taught me the back door to proper brake set-up. By proper, what I mean is the way that I’ve come to appreciate as superior to all other variations on the task. As much as I want to say it was Wayne Culpepper, one of the national team mechanics who taught me loads when I got my license, I recently remembered the knowledge goes back further, to Bill Farrell, the inventor of the Fit Kit and proprietor (and faculty) of the New England Cycling Academy (NECA).
In the early ’90s I took Bill’s course for mechanics. The curriculum taught you the purpose and how to use each tool in the full Campy tool kit. You learned how to use a frame alignment table and, the biggest single part of the course, you learned how to fit someone with the Fit Kit and to correctly adjust cleat position with the R.A.D. (Rotational Adjustment Device).
Barely mentioned in the curriculum, and not the primary thing any wrench talked about after finishing the course, was his instruction in how to assemble a bicycle as efficiently as possible. From chasing and facing down to wrapping the bars, Bill, a guy who I don’t think ever worked in a shop, had a method for assembling a bike that allowed me to assemble a bare frame into a ready to go bike in two hours. Boxed bikes from big manufacturers? I could get some of them together in 45 minutes. (These days, a partial overhaul can take me three hours, embarrassing, especially given that I don’t own a single loose ball BB or hub any more.)
One of my favorite tricks he taught me, and one I still use without fail, is to dial a brake’s barrel adjuster half way up its threads before running the cable through. The purpose for this is three-fold. First, and most important, it ensures that after securing the brake cable and seating the housing (cables don’t actually stretch, but housing does seat some) if there isn’t sufficient lever throw, I can dial it in with the barrel adjuster rather than loosening the cable. Next, once I have lever throw in the ball park, I can choose to either tighten or loosen a barrel adjuster to make sure the levers have exactly the same throw. If there’s one thing that will drive me nutty it is if the levers have unequal throw. Finally, this step allows a rider to change wheels and not have to use the brake’s quick release to adjust the lever throw.
This last point is more important than most mechanics consider. I’ve seen riders get a bike tuned up with a set of clinchers on and then swap to a set of tubulars. The wider box section rim will require the quick release to be opened all the way just to allow some lever throw and getting a big tire like a Vittoria CG through the brake blocks could be an iffy proposition.
No one cares that I do it on my bikes, but it gives me a certain reassurance that I’ve been careful, deliberate in my work. What’s better is when I see a friend’s new bike and I notice that the adjusters are dialed in some. That one touch, more than almost anything else I might see on the bike, will cause me to ask who assembled the bike. To me, it’s the sign of a real veteran.