Ask Nick: Carbon brake surface repair, grease on carbon, team mergers and more

Carbon brake surface repair, team mergers and more

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Editor’s Note: VeloNews tech editor Nick Legan is a former ProTour 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.

In response to a reader’s question from two weeks ago about carbon rim repair, I received this email from Hugh Givens with some possible good news:


Regarding the brake surface of carbon wheels:

My team has a number of EC90 Aero wheelsets that were used at CX Nats in Bend last year. The gritty mud pretty much destroyed the brake scrim of some of the wheels within just a few races.

As the team’s equipment manager, I had some of the wheels repaired by Ruckus Components. They machine down the old brake scrim to even it out, then apply a layer of super-hard “special sauce” epoxy that is machined smooth after it cures to create a new brake surface.

It’s not a “like new” solution and Ruckus is still perfecting their process. But we’re very comfortable using the repaired wheels for cyclocross. Additionally, the new scrim surface can be applied repeatedly as necessary. The Ruckus solution is an inexpensive way to get more life out of a carbon rim that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

Ruckus acts as a repair center for a number of big name frame manufacturers. They are innovative and know what they are doing.
— Hugh Givens
Presto Velo/ Cycling Team

Q. Nick,

You never give answers to questions. You dance around but never say what to do to correct a problem. Why?
— Art McWhirter

A. Art,
I’m glad you asked that.

Q. Nick,
I’m a shop mechanic and am often concerned about applying grease near carbon components — whenever the subject comes up the guys all get into vociferous debate. We use standard Phil Waterproof grease for most applications, sometimes Park Polylube, and other times Rock n Roll’s Super Web or Slick Honey depending on the situation. With seatposts we aptly use some form of carbon paste but this isn’t something you’d want with a bearing application.

When the frame is carbon with carbon cups in an integrated headset, what is recommended for lubrication? Will the Phil damage the carbon? Do petroleum based lubrications “delaminate” carbon, as I’ve heard suggested?
— Michael Webber

A. Michael,
Grease will not delaminate carbon. I’ve asked several manufacturers if there were any special requirements in building and maintaining carbon frames. Never was there any mention of grease degrading carbon. Not sure where this myth started, but it may be the stickers on some seatposts warning of its use. This has more to do with the seatpost slipping than it does with it delaminating.

Trek officials coached me on proper installation of bottom bracket bearings in Trek’s latest Madone frames with carbon bearing cups and we used liberal amounts of grease, of almost any sort. I’ve always done the same thing in carbon headset cups.

Keep using that carbon paste on seatposts and handlebars and keep greasing bearings before installation.

Q. Nick,
I am wondering how important spoke tension is to truing a wheel. If you pluck the spokes you can hear the difference in tone and therefore difference in tension.  How do the pro mechanics get even spoke tension or do they actually worry about that?  Is this the domain of the wheel company?
— Ron Skinner

A. Ron,
Spoke tension is extremely important when truing a wheel. It’s always important, for that matter. While you can hear tension differences when plucking spokes, a tensiometer is the best way of measuring it and assuring even tension across a wheel.

Pro mechanics certainly do their fair share of wheel truing, but it’s usually a small touch-up. Small adjustments don’t have a huge impact on spoke tension. Carbon rims also make things a little simpler. They don’t bend, they break. So, a mechanic is never put in a position where he needs to straighten a severely warped rim with spoke tension (like you might with a bent aluminum rim).

So we don’t often have to spend much time worrying about tension. I always do a quick check to make sure that there aren’t any spokes that are loose or overtight. But pros tend to break a rim before wheel tension becomes a big problem.

That doesn’t mean that a race mechanic shouldn’t know how to build, rebuild or tension a wheel though. Wheelbuilding is an important skill for any mechanic. Understanding how a wheel stands makes repairing them and communicating with riders and engineers much easier.

Q. Nick,
With the recent and very sad demise of my favorite pro team, HTC-Highroad, I got to thinking about cycling and the money involved. I was wondering if there is actually any revenue to be made by teams and sponsors or is it an all out invest, like an elaborate branding exercise? I know other sports can make money back on tickets sales or selling jerseys. Is there anything comparable in cycling?

I worry that without a legitimate way to bring in some money we’ll keep seeing great teams fold as sponsors don’t feel it’s worth the investment over the long term.
— Dirk Metzger

A. Dirk,
You have noticed something that is fundamentally flawed in the professional cycling business model. It is, as you say, a big branding/marketing exercise. For many companies, it is a successful marketing campaign. But that doesn’t mean that the sport is improving its financial stability.

As we’ve seen in recent days with the “merger” of RadioShack and Leopard-Trek, times are tough. Because spectators aren’t charged for a ticket, this is a dead-end for increasing revenues. The real money is in television. And no one wants to give up a piece of the pie.

Until the team owners and riders’ union become more organized, I feel that we won’t see any big improvement in the sport’s financial landscape. Jonathan Vaughters is one of the few team leaders who is highly vocal in this area. Whether you agree with his take on the situation or not, it is clear that change is necessary.

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