Ask Nick: Bottom bracket replacement and wheel change gearing

Tech editor Nick Legan answers questions on technical innovation in the WorldTour, bottom bracket replacement, gearing for wheel changes

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Editor’s Note: VeloNews tech editor Nick Legan is a former WorldTour mechanic who most recently wrenched for Team RadioShack at the 2010 Tour de France and elsewhere. His column appears here every Thursday. You can submit questions to Nick at, and be sure to check out Nick’s previous columns.

Sorry if this has been answered before, but don’t UCI rules disallow teams from riding custom equipment that isn’t available to the public? The recent articles about hand-tweaked Cervélo R3 Mud frames, Cancellara’s Domane with a shorter head tube and other modified frames prompted my question.

On a related note, how does a new-fangled frame like the Domane get UCI approval (which is notorious for eschewing technological advancements) — yet it still has qualms with simple TT equipment like shoe covers?
— Drew Streip

A. Drew,
I emailed Julien Carron, UCI technical coordinator, about this very thing. Carron pointed out that many of the bikes that are modified for Roubaix were developed before 2011 and therefore don’t require approval.

In the case of Cancellara’s Domane, I reached out to Trek and they pointed out that there are several Domane models on the UCI list. Sure enough, “Domane 1, 2, 3” is listed and one of those “models” may refer to Cancellara’s steed.

The other new bikes unveiled for Roubaix, BMC’s GF01 and the new Specialized Roubaix are both UCI-approved, though the only Specialized entry on the list is from May of last year. The new model may appear when the list is updated next.

As to your second question, the Domane is a new take on the endurance bike, but it very clearly fits within the technical regulations for a road bicycle. No drama there.

My understanding on the shoe cover matter is that many modern fabrics are faster than bare skin. That’s why full body suits are against UCI rules and that’s why the UCI is discussing banning textured materials altogether for cycling use. The rule is meant to be proportional among different riders, but I feel that the UCI will soon find itself chasing its own tail on matters like this.

I was wondering if the Phill Wood BB is any better than Campagnolo. I have been riding on the same Campy Record group from 2007. I have already upgraded chainrings, cassette and chain but have never upgraded the bottom bracket. I have heard great things about Phil Wood and wanted to get your recommendation on it vs. the Campy BB. Since the Phil Wood is more expensive, is it really better? It seems more serviceable. Which would you pick?
— Mike

A. Mike,
Have you pulled your cranks to assess the condition of your bottom bracket? Before looking into upgrades or replacements, make sure that it’s money that needs to be spent. Campagnolo’s sealed bottom brackets have extremely long lifespans.

Now on to your question. It may be a bit sacrilegious to say it, but I’d go with the Campy bottom bracket. They last forever and for me the value of Phil Wood products is in their amazing finish. So, hiding that finish inside your frame’s bottom bracket seems like a shame to me. I would want to see my Phil Wood components if I spent the money. Phil Wood hubs, for instance, are so beautiful.

Serviceability is nice, but how often have you needed to service the Campy bottom bracket you have now? I’m guessing you haven’t touched it since you bought it in 2007.

Standard procedure when flatting is to remove the wheel and then shift to the smallest cog (11, 12) before inserting the new wheel. Obviously you don’t want to have to guess which cog to put the chain on when inserting the new wheel and shifting to the first cog removes the guesswork.

However, it’s incredibly hard to pedal from a standstill in that cog. There was a lot of that on display at Flanders last weekend. My question is, why not shift to the last cog (25, 26, whatever)? It removes the guesswork but starts you in an easier gear. I’ve done that for years, personally, but never had to change a wheel at speed. Any thoughts?
— Chris Mayhew

A. Chris,
I see what you’re saying, but I think you’re forgetting one very important component to a good pro wheel change: the push. After a new rear wheel is installed, the mechanic grabs the flatted or broken wheel and gives a running push to the rider to help get them back up to speed. Once rolling, the rider can easily shift into any gear they like.

Also remember that for many riders, adrenaline will give them a boost after narrowly staying on the road while riding a flat.

The other thing is that putting a wheel onto a bike shifted to the largest cog gives the least amount of chain slack possible (if in the big chainring). That means the mechanic is working against the spring in the rear derailleur more than he needs to.

And lastly, if a mechanic/rider did decide on this combo, the rider is now at the other end of the spectrum for his “take-off gear.” He’s probably in too easy a gear. It’s more important to get a functioning wheel into the bike quickly than it is to get a good initial gear selected. Shifting is easy, wheel changes under pressure aren’t.

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