The early adopter dilemma, part 4: Riding impressions of the “Spinal Tap” setup

Hyro, my 2014 Giant TCX, now sports Shimano 11-speed drivetrain hardware and hydraulic disc brakes. Sickness got in the way of me judging the new setup, but that got addressed after a couple of Sunday mornings. So, what do I think of the bike now? There’s quite a lot to digest.


After upgrading from the TRP Spyre calipers to Shimano’s BR-RS785s, and swapping in new RT86 IceTech rotors, I’ve noticed the new calipers are a little more sensitive to alignment. I can set them up to work fine without rubbing on the rotor in between rides, at home.

Fascinatingly though, on my maiden ride, I found leaning the bike over in a turn will result in some rotor rub, particularly at the front. It’s transient, and it goes away after a few moments of straight-up riding, but the sound is pretty distinctive: like a knife being sharpened against a whetstone. This didn’t happen on the TRP Spyres.

On the second ride, I made sure to tighten the front quick-release skewer a bit more, and have the axle as square on the dropouts as possible. That seems to have done the trick. Rotor rub still happens, but it’s much rarer, much quieter, and much less dependent on cornering loads going through the front wheel and fork.


There is definitely a difference in how Hyro fits me, purely because of the ST-RS685 levers and their longer brackets compared to the outgoing 105 ST-5700 levers.

Reach of the ST-RS685 STI levers, from center of clamp band to base of brake hoods.
Just under 8 cm.
Reach of the 105 ST-5700 STI levers, from clamp band to base of brake hoods. About 6 cm.

At the 50 km mark of the maiden ride, I was starting to get a twinge in my lower back. Even with some minor corrections to my old bike fit, there’s still a lingering phenomenon of being too stretched out.

Swapping STI levers can actually be a bike fit conundrum, and that was definitely the case here. There’s a whole 20 mm of reach difference here alone.

Profile shot of the ST-RS685 lever.
Profile shot of the ST-RS685 with the ST-5700 lever superimposed.
Note how much lower and closer the pivot is on the ST-5700s.

The lever shape and pivot location is also quite different on these two lever sets. On the ST-RS685s this is good for about 5 mm or so of extra reach.

I still have some adjustment available to me without swapping any parts: 5 mm of headset spacers, and perhaps 10 or 20 mm less saddle layback. The worse case scenario would be to swap to a drop handlebar with shorter reach.

Ultimately, I brought the Power saddle forward about 20 mm, which got all my angles right and solved my long-ride comfort issues. I also tweaked the reach adjustment on the ST-RS685 levers, which I am glad is done by a screw here instead of swapping shims. I still get reminded of how long the hoods are, though, especially at the beginning of rides.


One concern I had going into the new drivetrain was the larger steps on the cassette.

Hyro’s outgoing 2×10-speed drivetrain has 14 unique gears covering a spread of 29.9″ to 109.8″. Back then, this was already pretty generous. Accessing the 27T and 30T cogs was problematic in the big chainring though, as these combinations were quite cross-chained and chain retention would be a gamble. It gets much worse when your big chainring’s shift ramps and pins are worn.

The 11-speed gearing introduces a wider range at both ends, but larger gaps overall. Interestingly, it’s in the middle of the cassette where the gaps are kept small.

Initially, the bigger gear steps meant finding an ideal cadence was a little harder. I’m most efficient turning my legs at 80-90 rpm, shifting gears to compensate and stay in that Goldilocks zone, despite upcoming climbs or headwinds. Coupled with visually inspecting where the chain currently sits on the cassette, doing this with the 11-34T cluster threw me off.

It wasn’t until I climbed some hills that the new gears made much more sense. Because each shift has more cog teeth behind it, I could use the shifters less. It’s also easier to stay in the big 50T chainring while negotiating the climbs on my usual loop in southern Metro Manila, because the low cogs are still accessible while the chain is still relatively centered and efficient. It must have all worked out: I was able to set two new personal bests on that loop. After a few hours of saddle time and some more on the turbo trainer, I no longer have any concerns with gappy gearing – my legs just got used to it.

A table of road speeds at a given cadence, broken down by gear combination.
This is for the old 2×10 setup.
Road speeds at a given cadence, broken down by gear combination.
This is for the new “Spinal Tap” 2×11 setup.


I mentioned the new gearing makes me less reliant on the shifting. Which is a shame, because this is the best shifting I’ve had, by far. And I thought Tiagra 4700 was good!

As complex and slightly frustrating as it was to set up, the front derailleur is the star of Hyro’s new drivetrain. Zero chain rub to report, and a satisfying action without requiring a hard twist of the left wrist to push the lever, which itself has less sweep. The new cam-action front derailleur makes front shifts a more viable option on long rides where you’d otherwise be too tired to jump the chain between chainrings.

The ST-RS685 STI levers initially had a fascinatingly muted rear shift feel. Going into harder cogs was very soft and stealthy compared to the old 105 ST-5700 levers, and certainly quieter than any SRAM or Campagnolo control lever. I imagine this may be good for overtaking tactics against other riders, although the softness went away when I stripped away the CN-HG600 chain’s thick factory storage grease and re-lubricated it with the much thinner Boeshield T-9, so there’s that.


Finally we come to the brakes themselves…and they are stellar.

Shimano’s hydraulics have addressed my one major criticism of TRP’s Spyres: high lever effort. Even with compressionless brake cable housing, braking was a three-finger affair most of the time. Worse, it got compromised on very long rides simply by fatigued hands from road buzz, and how they had to overcome the Spyres’ stiff return springs and any resistance within the brake cables themselves.

On the Shimano brakes, the lever effort is kept low, which means modulation is easier – and it remains that way even on longer rides. Deceleration itself is linear and very consistent, especially after having bedded in the pads. I do have to retrain myself to avoid strong pulses of the brake lever, lest I get wheel lockup, as braking becomes more progressive at the end of the lever travel. While the new lever shape and pivot locations are a bugbear for bike fit, they also meant my fingers could get more purchase and leverage on the already powerful hydraulic brake system – and this is on the brake hoods. Add to that the reach adjust on the lever travel, and this means one-finger braking is entirely possible, although most times I use two from the hoods.

Overall, I feel I achieved what I set out to do with Hyro, which is an “obsolete” bike if you dance to the same ridiculous technological tune as the bicycle industry does. There are a few more marginal gains to be had, but with the “Spinal Tap” setup, this five-year-old TCX feels better than ever.

Are the brake hoses on your road bike too long?

Because I opted for Shimano’s J-kit hydraulic brake caliper and STI lever bundle, on mine, they definitely were.

All that brake hose flapping about…not very clean looking.

That’s the price I paid for a convenient install, which is invaluable for the bike assembling factory folks the J-kit bundle is meant for. Assembly time saved means more bikes out the door available for sale.

As Hyro is my bike, however, I decided to do something about the excess hose length. You’ll need the following to proceed.

A bag of brass brake olives and BH59 end fittings for Shimano hydraulic brake lines. The BH59 fittings have a groove around the lip.
  • A set of relevant brake hose end fittings and olives. These are specific to your brake system. Most Shimano road bike hydraulic brakes use BH59 hoses, and those require BH59 end fittings.
  • A brake hose clamping block. Shimano calls theirs the TL-BH61, looking like two halves of a small pencil sharpener. It’s meant to hold brake hose in a vise or clamp without crushing it. It should come with the parts bag for your braking system; alternatively, some brake bleed kits will have an equivalent.
  • A bench vise. Alternatively you can use locking pliers such as Vise-Grips, like what I’ll be doing here, but a free, mobile vise is definitely the best tool for the job.
  • A small or medium hammer, or equivalent. One of the few bicycle mechanic jobs where a hammer is actually needed.
  • An 8 mm open wrench or adjustable wrench.
  • A sharp knife. I used an X-Acto hobby knife with a #11 blade.
  • A plastic bag and rubber band you can use to wrap your front brake caliper with, to avoid mineral oil spillage.
  • A rag or paper towel.

This method will shorten the hose at the STI lever. Start by undoing the bar tape, cutting any sticky tape holding the brake hose in place, and peeling back the brake hood on the back end to expose the hose nut.

Take your 8 mm wrench and undo the hose nut. Once loose, slide it down the brake hose. We will need it again later.

Note how different this olive looks from a fresh unused one. It looks like a tiny beer keg.

At this point there is no longer anything holding the brake hose in place except for the friction in its present olive. Pull on the brake hose to break the olive free from the STI lever body. Watch out for leaks.

The brake hose is now free. As with brake cable housing, you can now measure to size it down accordingly. As this is a front brake hose, the only real sizing consideration is it should be long enough to reach the STI lever with not too much slack. One of the best practices is to take into account the movement of the handlebar into resizing the brake hose, though, making sure it can be turned all the way to both sides without binding.

In Hyro’s case, everything past my thumb is slack brake hose. That’s a lot of slack. Be very sure about the sizing: “measure twice, cut once” as some people say.

Once committed to a hose length, break out your knife and cut the hose as perpendicular as you can get it. I have a rag underneath to catch the mineral oil that will leak out.

After cutting, sandwich the hose into the brake hose clamping block, and clamp the whole thing in a vise.

Take one of the brake hose end fittings and push it into the inner lining of the brake hose to get it started. Hammer it down all the way in afterward.

You want the brake hose end fitting’s lip to be as flush with the brake hose’s inner lining as possible. Once done, you can release the hose from the clamping block.

Thread a new brass olive onto the brake hose, then push it into the STI lever body. Keep inserting pressure on the brake hose as you move the olive and hose nut into position for reattachment.

Once the threads on the hose nut catch onto the STI lever body, tighten it down with the 8 mm wrench. This will effectively crush the new brass olive, deforming it into a shape that will seal the brake hose end. Tighten the hose nut to 7-8 Nm of torque, which is quite a bit of hand force, but nothing too crazy.

That’s job done; the nice thing about this is you’re likely going to do it just once per bike, unless the hoses themselves get damaged. Return the brake hoods into place. You’ll want to check the brake lever action; pull on the lever and see if it feels spongy or has too much travel before biting. If all went well, the brake lever should feel exactly the same as before; if not, you may have lost too much mineral oil while the hose was disconnected. That will call for a bleed job – the main periodic maintenance job for hydraulic disc brakes – which I’ll cover next time.

And just in case you wanted to see how Hyro’s brake hoses looked post-surgery, here they are.

The early adopter dilemma, part 3: “This one goes to 11”

Previously I wrote about the history of disc brakes on road bikes, and how Hyro was a technological dead end born from their introduction. Given all that, I went ahead and turned Hyro into the most versatile bike he could be.

All these parts will go onto Hyro.
A last look at my Shimano FD-5700-F front mech. This was the last 105 unit that didn’t have the groupset logo engraved into the cage; it was on a sticker that had come off a long time ago.
These TRP Spyres have served me well.
Hyro shorn of his drivetrain and braking hardware.

Doing that involves stripping almost everything out: the TRP Spyre mechanical disc brake calipers, the Shimano 105 5700 drivetrain parts, the STI levers, and the Jagwire compressionless brake cable housings. The only things left were the Shimano 105 FC-5750 crank and the bottom bracket it spun in. Despite the deep gouges and scars, it had fresh chainrings.

The Shimano CS-HG700-11 cassette broken down into component pieces. All but the largest three cogs are individual.

I previously remarked that Shimano’s CS-HG700-11 cassette was the only way to preserve my current wheels, and that turned out to be true. It fit onto my 10-speed freehub with no drama at all. Off to a good start, then.

Next, the ST-RS685 STI levers and BR-RS785 brake calipers went on. I did the front one first, since it was a more straightforward external routing job for the front brake hose. Giant gave this TCX frame a cable guide that bolts onto the underside of the fork crown to hold brake housing or brake hose in place. In the end, it worked, although I’m convinced the brake hose is about 5 cm too long.

This bolt-on front brake cable/hose guide lives underneath Hyro’s fork crown.
The hydraulic brake J-kit’s pre-installed front brake hose is a little too long. Ideally that lower run should hew closer to the left fork leg.
Photo taken from the other side. All that excess brake hose will flap in the wind. As this is an external run, this should be easy enough to shorten.

Hooking up the 105 FD-5801 front derailleur was my next job…and this was pretty confounding. Because the FD-5801 now sports onboard cable tension adjustment, I could dispose of the inline barrel adjuster, but the way you cable these new cam-actuated front derailleurs is just so strange. The shift cable is pinched by a plate that is held on by a bolt, as before. However, the pinch plate itself is pushed by the cable tension adjuster grub screw as you turn it in to adjust. All this time, the end of the gear cable is supposed to go around the top of the derailleur. A lot of head-scratching occurred here, and it doesn’t help that peeling the ST-RS685 brake hoods to expose the cable exit port also blocks the action of the shift levers, leading you to think that there’s something wrong with them.

Despite the older model name and groupset logos, this Shimano 105 FD-5801-F front derailleur is identical to the newer FD-R7000-F unit.
Mounting this thing and setting its cable tension is a very different ball game from Shimano’s older front derailleurs. Follow the instructions!

Next was the rear brake caliper. This is where the split nature of Shimano’s J-kit OEM brake package was very helpful, especially since the TCX frame has pretty fancy/irritating internal cable routing. Since the rear caliper wasn’t yet hooked up to a brake lever, it was much easier to route the hydraulic brake hose through the holes of the frame. As before, Park Tool’s IR-1 internal routing tool was a godsend, literally pulling the brake line through the frame with the guide cables and guide magnet. Shimano BH59 brake hose is also much more flexible than Jagwire KEB-SL compressionless brake cable housing.

Unlike in this photo, I had to route the brake hose in the opposite direction: from the chainstay, through the frame, and up to the STI lever. In both cases, Park Tool’s IR-1/IR-1.2 cable routing tool makes the job much easier.

Making the right ST-RS685 STI lever talk to the 105 RD-R7000-GS rear derailleur was the next major challenge. As with the front derailleur, cabling this thing was also pretty strange, mainly because of how the shift cable exits the TCX’s rear chainstay and where the cable entry port now sits on the RD-R7000. This required a rather tightly bent section of shift cable housing: generally not recommended, but here it’s almost a requirement. When you do cable it up, the excess cable run is hidden underneath the RD-R7000’s linkages, so it ends up hitting your spokes as you do your indexing and test shifts…until you finally cut the excess cable and bend it out of the way. Older derailleurs also had a more finger-friendly barrel adjuster for cable tension adjustment, too.

Left uncut, as usually done on installation and cable replacement, the RD-R7000’s shift cable is guaranteed to run foul of the rear wheel’s spokes. Very strange decision by Shimano here.
This barrel adjuster is quite a step backward vs. older rear derailleurs. It’s much harder to turn, as your fingers have less purchase on what little knurling it has.
This tight twisted loop was the best way I could think of to run the shift cable between the RD-R7000 and the TCX’s chainstay-mounted shift cable port. Fortunately, it works.

Finally we have the J-kit connection of the rear brake caliper to the right STI lever. At the caliper end, you take off the rounded black cap, which exposes a cleanly cut brake hose with a seal on it. At the STI lever end, you twist and pull off the yellow plug…and this reveals a hose nut socket at the end. Plug the two together and tighten the hose nut against the J-kit connector with wrenches, while dealing with the slow trickle of mineral oil. If all goes well, you should get a good connection with no leaks and no need for bleeding…which was what I got. Hurrah!

The round black cap on the foreground is part of the brake hose, as routed from the brake caliper through the frame. The yellow cap on the background is from the STI lever.
Removing the black cap reveals this white seal. Removing the hexagonal yellow plug reveals a modified Shimano 8 mm brake hose nut, where the end with the white seal seats into.
Here’s the finished J-kit “easy hose joint” rear brake connection. Note the wrench flats which I’ve conveniently scuffed up.
Even with some exposed threads on the hose nut, this worked out very well and I have had zero leaks after installation.

That should have been the end of it, but I found terrible brake rotor rub at both ends while centering the calipers. I ended up having to take out the wheels and brake pads, and pushing back the pistons on the BR-RS785s with tire levers to reset them to their starting positions. Pads and wheels reinstalled, I repeated the caliper centering and it now worked well.

You could imagine my excitement to ride Hyro after this lengthy upgrade job. Unfortunately I succumbed to sickness shortly afterward. Riding impressions will have to wait until next time.