Getting my maximum worth out of a cassette

When I got Hyro back in 2014, he came equipped with a Shimano Tiagra CS-4600 cassette with a 12-30T gear range. Since then, I’ve put him through his paces, replacing chains as they wear out, but never really changing out the cassette.

Now, 14,700 kilometers later, that changed.

The telltale sign was my Shimano CN-HG54 chain exhibiting 0.5% wear, as indicated by my Park Tool CC-3.2 chain checker. With chains, I err on the conservative side and replace them at the 0.5% mark with fresh ones. It’s vastly cheaper to replace chains, which are the first point of wear, than it is to replace worn drivetrain components.

It just so happened that this is already the cassette’s fourth chain.

It’s not that the CS-4600 cassette is particularly expensive, either, at around PhP900 apiece. Such is the benefit of using steel cogs simply riveted to a center carrier, and avoiding the bragging-rights vanity of lightweight cassettes. At a rated 320 g, this Tiagra unit isn’t going to win any weight weenie awards.

So first, I had to break the old chain…

Not Hyro’s back wheel, but the same thing applies for removing almost any cassette.

…then remove the rear wheel and undo the cassette lock ring…

…and finally pull the old cassette from the freehub body.

Fourteen thousand kilometers, eh? I certainly got my money’s worth out of this little mound of sprockets.

Now to slide the new cassette on. It’s also a Tiagra CS-4600 12-30T unit.

On the 12-30T Tiagra cassette, the seven largest cogs (15T, 17T, 19T, 21T, 24T, 27T, and 30T) are all pinned together on a carrier, so they slide onto the freehub body as one unit.

Next goes the only spacer in the entire cassette.

After the spacer comes the 14T cog.

Then the 13T cog goes on. This sprocket has a spacer built in.

Finally the 12T top cog goes on. It also has an integrated spacer, and its face has the teeth that the cassette lockring will bite into.

Grease up the threads on the lockring, spin it on to the freehub body, and tighten to 40 Nm.

Finally it’s time to break out that new chain, resize if necessary, and install it on the bike.

Shimano coats its new chains in a light, sticky grease as corrosion preventive while in storage, and it’s generally okay to use the chain in this condition for the first 100 kilometers or so. With that in mind, I logged a 70-km ride after installing the new cassette and chain, and stripped it of its grease when I got home. That’s a story for another time.

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Hobbled hubs?

As a bike ridden in all weather conditions, Hyro, my pet Giant TCX, has generally done himself proud. The cyclocross lineage means the bike just laps it up and asks for more, despite my previous reservations surrounding its press-fit BB86 bottom bracket shell.

One problem has crept up with increasingly worrying regularity though: the stock S-X2 wheelset’s hubs have weather sealing that’s gone south pretty quickly this past year.

The weather seals on the rear hub are still in relatively good shape.

The S-X2 hubs are relatively simple items, relying on a cup-and-cone system of loose bearings that allow for easy adjustment. The design is such that Shimano employs it on pretty much all of its hubs.

Around the ends of the hubs’ axles resides a pair of rubber cones that acts as the weather sealing for the bearings. This is where things go funky, and where it’s obvious that costs were cut. It is much too easy to make the edges of these seals sink into the innards of the bearing races, actually aiding water ingress instead of hindering it as they are meant to. In addition, the longevity of the rubber material used is itself a little questionable, as the seals’ edges now have cuts and divots along them.

The cone-shaped rubber weather seals get deformed and sink into the hubs like this from time to time. When this happens, the chances of water ingress increase greatly, washing out the inside grease and causing premature damage to the internals.

On the S-X2 hubs or any other design (Shimano’s included) that relies on loose ball bearings, the hubs themselves are wear items, as they contain the bearing races that the ball bearings run and spin in. Abandoning their maintenance leaves you with pitted races, making for rough-spinning and gritty-feeling wheels. Spending a little more on hubs usually gets you better bearing seals…or a move from loose bearings to cartridge bearings, which are easier to maintain because the hub shell and its parts are no longer subject to bearing-related wear.

Currently I don’t have the tools nor the knowledge to service these hubs; I have only one size of cone wrench, and it doesn’t really fit the locknuts so well. (There are four sizes that are most often used, and even then, the migration to cartridge bearings means these wrenches are slowly going out of fashion.) Now that I’ve highlighted the weaknesses of the S-X2 hubs, I figure I might as well replace them with something else, and have the wheelset subsequently rebuilt, before they terminally fail on me and paralyze Hyro.

A tale of two mudguards: Longboards vs Bluemels

Hyro, my TCX, is perhaps most famous on social media as one of the bikes that introduced full-length fenders into the consciousness of the Filipino riding public. Many of the questions I get revolve around the SKS P45 Longboards he runs and where I got them.

SKS P45 Longboards mounted on Hyro.

As great as they are, and as fantastic as their coverage is, they are not perfect. I’ve written about how their sheer size works against them and their plastic-with-aluminum construction in a number of ways. In my experience, they are very susceptible to skewing and twisting along their length, the stays combating the torsion by only a certain amount. Additionally, the vibrations from riding on our not-so-smooth roads have contributed to their cracking crosswise, which is why I’ve had two sets of these so far, and now run rubber washers on the mount points as a mitigating measure.

One of my custom mods was to add rubber washers on the central mount points of each fender, to dampen road vibrations and mitigate cracking. It’s helped.

Note that the fenders SKS makes as standard equipment on some Dahon and Tern bikes have the same construction; however, the much smaller 20″ (406 mm) wheel diameter they are made for means they can keep their shape and integrity better. I’ve never had issues with Bino’s fenders, much less needed to replace them.

Unfortunately, my second set of Longboards developed cracks earlier than before, the damage held at bay by duct tape. I was mulling over the cost of another set plus shipping fees…when I chanced across Bike-ary Bicycle Lifestyle on Facebook and their pre-order announcement of some SKS fenders, referred to by the article number “10434” and pegged at PhP2,000 a set. Bike-ary is a small-batch importer of more obscure bike accessories and other “contraband,” gaining popularity due to the growing bikepacking and bicycle touring movement.

As it turns out, “10434” is the article number for SKS’ 53 mm Bluemels fender set in matte finish – a full 8 mm wider than the 45 mm Longboards I run. I immediately had concerns about fitment on Hyro.

Above, without stays, are the Bluemels. Below, with stays, are the Longboards patched-up with some duct tape.

Front fenders. Bluemel on the left, Longboard on the right.

Fitment of the 45 mm Longboard front fender under the fork. Note that it skews to one side – I was never able to fix that.

Fitment of the 53 mm Bluemel front fender under the fork.

Fortunately for Hyro, his fork and frame fit the Bluemels snugly and nicely, which actually break 60 mm when measured across the top.

Test fit. Impressive that they keep their static shape even without the stays.

Examination of the Bluemels themselves reveals a much beefier construction. I actually tried bending these crosswise, thinking it might be needed to fit them into the TCX frame and fork. They feel solid and resistant to twisting in a way the Longboards could only dream of. The packaging seems to imply that this time around, SKS has used more aluminum – and slightly more weight.

This being my third SKS fender set on the same bike, I already knew the vagaries of installation and what to expect from the hardware…but met some pleasant surprises.

I hooked up the rear fender first. SKS replaced the metal sliding bridge with one made out of more snug-fitting plastic, very similar to Planet Bike’s design. The sliding bridge also has two small loops on the top that can be used to run zip-ties to, allowing bikes with no seat stay bridge to mount the rear fender directly to their seat stays. Up at the chain stay junction, I used zip ties to fasten the front edge of the rear fender as before.

SKS Secu-Clip for front fender.

SKS ASR-Plug for front fender.

Up front, SKS changed the previous Secu-Clip design with an ASR-Plug. Both devices are safety mechanisms, designed to release the front fender to prevent any large debris from getting stuck, locking up the front wheel and causing an accident. The Secu-Clip was a large plastic tab on the fork that served as a “clip” that the front fender stays plugged into. The ASR-Plug reverses this concept: what mounts onto the fork is the plug, and the stays themselves have the socket. The whole thing slims down in the process.

Bending of the stays and a 3 mm spacer needed to clear the TRP Spyre front disc brake caliper. If your bike has BB5s or BB7s, you will need to make more room.

The end caps are a new design, turning the nuts on the eye bolts into captive nuts. A bit more work on initial install, but better for security.

Install complete. The matte finish looks brilliant and there’s no visible gap between fenders and tires.

Full-length fenders can be tricky to deal with, but I was impressed with how smoothly the install went with the Bluemels. They have the same marvelously large rubber mudflaps the Longboards came with. One difference is the shorter forward projection and 20 cm shorter overall length on the front fender, perhaps indicating slightly less protection from a mouthful of dirty, muddy street water…but that’s still better than nothing.

Arguably, the best thing about this particular fender set is that it’s available locally without having to resort to the expense of private importing or a cargo forwarder. The Bluemels also come in other widths, all the way down to 25 mm, so if these 53 mm units are too much for your frame, you’ve still got options, although you may have to bring them in yourself.