Saturday, October 4, 2008

I got a bad case of the CLAMP

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds-Emerson

Oh, man. Chuck is going all literary on us(Don't fret I left in some grammatical errors)
Anyway. Let that little phrase marinate til the close of my screed.
So I was down at BikeForums earlier and a young squire wanted to know if it was OK to clamp his carbon Cervelo by the top tube to do minor tasks like clean the bike or swap a wheel.
Having done this hundreds of times I could only tell him that if he was smart about it and only clamped the bike tight enough to keep it from falling to the floor it would be fine.
Of course, I was immediately beset by the hoard for my blasphemy. So was laid the foundation for this column.

I fix bikes for a living, as my three steady readers well know. I have worked on bikes, trikes, tandems, triples, high wheelers, unicycles, hand cycles, and wheel chairs. Part of that is getting the damn thing off the ground so you can get at all the bits and spin them around. But,...but you have to do it with out damaging the item of the moment. This is where NOT BEING STUPID comes in to play. You have to ask yourself a hard question, "Am I an idiot"? Be honest. You can even narrow it down, "Am I an idiot when it comes to all things mechanical"? If you are, that is OK, you are probably a great painter or maybe your Mom likes you. But if you answered "yes" to this question then you need to leave things like working on your bike, fixing a toaster, or hooking up a DVD player to the Pros(Or more competent amateurs)

For today, this revolves around the ability to clamp a bike with out crushing, breaking, or causing a possible severed limb. So we will focus on the humble repair stand clamp. Back in the early days when bikes only had two wheels, the repair stand was a pipe with a large washer welded about half way down its length and you removed the seat post, flipped the bike upside down and set it down on this post. It got the bike at point you could work on it standing up and it was in a position familiar to every kid that has every lubed a chain.
Then came the clamping stands. Most of these used a coarse screw to operate the clamp and the bike was held by the top tube. The clamps even had a groove for the rear brake cable to run thru(Park still has this on their clamps)
Then Park came out with their "Pro" clamp. This was like sliced bread(And if you don't think that stuff is great, make sandwiches for a week using a french loaf), In an instant the bike was in the stand ready to earn you a couple of bucks. Way better than the screw clamp, that had to be unscrewed far enough to get the tube in then screwed back down enough to hold the bike tight. And it would hold the bike good and tight. This was back in the day of steel frames and they were all pretty much the same size so you rarely needed to make much adjustment and the tubing was pretty thick so you had to be a real idiot to hurt the bike(Plus you were clamping the seat tube, the thickest tube, and you were usually clamping in an area that also had the beef of the seat post behind it. About the only thing you had to be careful of were decals, one twist of the frame and those dry transfer decals were toast.
But then came aluminum. Still not a big deal because most early aluminum frames were pretty burly,...til Cannondale. After Cannondale it became a VERY big deal to only clamp a bike by the seat post. As a Cannondale would often crack just from the force of gravity(I have owned a bunch of them) risking it to the curse of the CLAMP was begging for failure. However, if you were not stupid you could clamp a Cannondale by the seat tube or top tube with no ill effects.
There have also been some super thin, very easily damaged, steel tube sets out there but they never suffered from the hysteria of potential clamping failures. Maybe because a guy wanting an Aeromet frame was careful of his baby(Or he could afford to have an actual person hold it up while he worked on it)
Then we were visited by the gods of carbon(They already visited in the mid nineties, but nobody was ready for them then, Cadex anyone?)
These bikes came with huge stickers warning of the dire consequences of clamping the frames tubes with a repair clamp. Frame failure, hair loss, hammer toe. It was enough to make you think twice about even keeping the damn bike in the house. The cat might scratch it and it would explode, taking the breakfast nook with it.
The reality is you can clamp a carbon frame, as long as you are not an idiot. Don't clamp it tight, just use the repair stand to hold the bike at working height. The stand IS NOT a force receptacle for any of the tweaking and torqueing you might be doing to the bike. For that you need to hold onto the frame, or cranks, or whatever you are applying force to.
Be gentle. Be smart. Don't be an idiot.
And don't be a fool. There are "rules" to repair, set out to keep the inexperienced from doing something stupid or dangerous. If we followed all of these "rules" our bikes would never do anything but collect dust and dirty clothes as they cluttered the corner of the den.

Final quiz:
Clamp a soda can in your repair stand.

If it looks like this:

Proceed with bike repair

If it looks like this:

Start knitting career