Ask Nick: Derailleur hangers, used carbon bikes, Campy compatibility

Also: Chinese frames, Carbon polish and 11-speed chainrings.

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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.

I wonder, could you tell me what polish is safe to use on carbon bikes? I have a Felt AR4 carbon road bike. I normally use Muc-Off products to wash it, but I find this doesn’t give a lovely shine finish. A friend suggested 3M Performance Finish (synthetic wax). Would this do the job? Or can you recommend a different polish?

– Tom

I haven’t used the Performance Finish, so I’m not sure how it will work. I really like Pedro’s Bike Lust. It smells nice (to my nose, which also likes the scent of Phil Wood grease) and works a treat. Motorex Bike Clean and Polish is good too, but it’s a foaming spray and can go places you don’t want it to if you aren’t careful.

For the most part, you don’t have to worry about your carbon frame when it comes to polish. You can also look around the house. Pledge furniture polish works well for giving a shine and I like Windex and 409 for quick wipe downs.

I really want to upgrade to a Campy carbon crankset but don’t want to pay full boat for a full Campy 11 drivetrain upgrade. I currently ride a Campy 10 setup.  Will the 11-speed chainrings work with the 10-speed chain?  Or do other options exist allowing me to keep the rest of the 10-speed drivetrain and shifters, but get that carbon crankset?

– Bob Dickson

Campagnolo doesn’t recommend using its 11-speed chainrings with anything but 11-speed chains. But that doesn’t mean it won’t work. In fact, it’ll work very well if you have your bike properly set up. So get yourself that new crank!

The latest chainrings from the Italian firm shift exceptionally well. The machined 11-speed chainrings are 0.4mm narrower than your current 10-speed rings and have better upshift and downshift ramps.

I would recommend putting on a new chain when you get the new crank. Those rings are expensive and there’s no need to shorten their life with an old chain.

As I am sure you are aware there is a wealth of cheap Chinese carbon bikes available to purchase online. As bicycles are expensive, and I am poor, I have been considering my options regarding these. I know that a bad carbon bike is worse than a good aluminum bike. Do you have any experience with these bikes? Do they ride all right? Are they stiff enough for racing etc.?

– Jordan

There are many open-mold carbon frames produced in China and elsewhere in Asia that are great values. Plenty of them are stiff enough for racing and ride just fine. The problem is that you won’t be able to test ride one before you buy, so you won’t know until you’ve laid down cash whether you like the bike or not.

I haven’t ridden many of them, but I have assembled a number of them. The builds are usually a bit more labor intensive because finish work isn’t always the best.

We’re both speaking in very general terms though and that isn’t particularly helpful. Here’s my advice. Seek out others who have the bikes you’re referring to. Do they like the bike? Was the company who sold the bike reputable? How long have they been in business?

Do a bit of forum research too. If you regularly hear good things about a brand, it’s probably worth an exploratory email to them.

Another option would be to buy a used carbon bike from a friend. You can often get a good deal on a major brand bike that’s been ridden for a year. Knowing the seller is a good thing, as you’ll know the bike’s history. And while you probably won’t have a warranty because you aren’t the original owner, you know the brand is reputable. Best of luck!

In a recent edition of his “Boulder Report,” Joe Lindsey stated that the prevalence of lightweight carbon frames has led manufacturers to use softer derailleur hangers in order to avoid damage to the frame from a crash or other impact on the rear derailleur that would put pressure on the frame. His claim is that the hangers that bike frame manufacturers are using are so soft that they can affect the integrity of the shifting system by bending under the pressure of shifting. I would be very interested in your take on this matter. I would think that if this were as serious an issue as Mr. Lindsey says it is, pro teams would swap out stock hangers for more robust ones as a matter of routine.

Also, I know that there is an alignment tool to check that the hanger is properly aligned, but is the problem of the derailleur hanger being out of alignment a common issue?

– Joe H.

Lindsey hit the nail on the head with his article. Derailleur hangers are becoming more flexible. The irony is that the industry is also adding more rear cogs and narrower chains that require extremely precise shifting, compounding the problem of flexible hangers.

As Lindsey suggests, higher quality aftermarket hangers are a step in the right direction. And to answer your question, many teams do bolt on stiffer hangers or in some cases do away with replaceable hangers entirely. Specialized did this for at least one season on the bikes that Tom Boonen and his Quick Step teammates rode.

There are several good derailleur hanger alignment tools on the market and they are all worth the investment. It’s extremely common for brand new frames to arrive with brand new hangers that are NOT aligned properly.

I always take off hangers when building a new bike, for two reasons. The first is that I Loctite the bolts to keep them from falling out. The second is to make sure that no extra paint, clear coat or frame material is keeping the hanger from pairing well with the frame’s dropout. Once the hanger sits squarely where it should and it’s held there tightly, then I check its alignment.

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