I’ve been working on bikes for a lot of years. Not quite as many as I’ve been riding them, but only because there are child labor laws for that kind of thing. Still, I’m positive I’ve spent more cumulative hours in my lifetime turning wrenches with my hands than cranks with my feet. I suppose that when you’ve spent more time looking at bikes on repair stands than between your legs, you look at them differently. You see the little things, up close and personal, and you wind up getting pretty picky about stuff. Or at least I did. Then I got older, grumpier, and more opinionated. Opinionated mostly, about innocuous details that nobody else on earth cares about.
And then someone gave my crazy ass a job at a magazine where I can now share with you some of the things that make my blood boil.
Welcome to the first installment of Palmer’s Peeves.
Cut it Out
Let’s start off with one of my all time peeves: Leaving excess cable after the crimp. Why? What for? Why on earth would you need to leave a bunch of extra cable hanging out there, just to inevitably get snagged on stuff and get bent straight out at a 90 degree angle? I do not understand why mechanics do this, and somehow keep passing it on to other mechanics. I’ve never needed to use that extra length, and neither will you. Tidy that thing up and give it a a nice close cut.
You just dropped six grand on a badass new bike. The thing is gorgeous. It’s a tool for escape, a toy to play with, but also a work of art. Don’t disrespect it by lashing junk all over it. The only time this sort of behavior is acceptable is while bikepacking, otherwise just figure out how to carry your spare tube. All the ‘cool kids’ are going pack-less these days, but since when was it cool to be completely unprepared when your bike breaks in the woods? To actually be prepared while you’re out there you need to carry more than this anyway, so you might as well sack-up and and pack-up.
Shimano brake levers conveniently swing open, but only after you find a pokey tool and push this tiny pin. It’s a safety device, I suppose, but when you work on bikes all day, it becomes rather annoying. It’s not a big deal, but its one of those nitpicky things that I wish Shimano would get rid of.
More than the locking clamp, though, what annoys me most about Shimano brake lever clamps is their refusal to play nice with Sram shifters and many dropper levers. Why on earth would Shimano design its parts to work around other parts made by competitors? Because they wind up together all the time, despite what Shimano wants, so it’s something they should consider when designing components. I’d be more inclined to recommend Shimano brakes if they didn’t interfere so much with shifters and dropper levers.
When you spend enough time using tools, you start to build a sort of relationship with them. You’ve got your favorite screwdriver, because it fits perfectly in your hand, it’s just the right length or maybe it just seems to fit everything. And when that screwdriver is missing from your bench, you lose your shit. Because having good tools by your side is important. Which brings me to my next peeve: tools that don’t work. When a tool cannot perform its only purpose, it’s frustrating, wastes time and makes it more difficult for a mechanic to do quality work. There are many tools that have been banned from my box over the years, such as Pedro’s spoke wrenches, Shimano cable cutters and Snap-On’s T/L combination-style wrenches, to name a few. Disc rotor truing tools aren’t necessarily ineffective, they’re just completely unnecessary. Not because rotors don’t need to be trued. They do, but you don’t need a tool to do it.
High on my list of frustrating tools to use is Park Tool’s threadless steerer tube cutting guide, because it’s nearly impossible to make a straight cut with it, plus, it’s in practically every shop in the country. Its omnipresence increases the annoyance. Don’t get me wrong, Park makes some excellent tools that keep shops all over the world running, but the SG-6 is in serious need of a redesign. It’ll produce a straighter cut than you can do freehand, but rarely a perfect one. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thrown one of these tools into the trash bin after it’s produced a crooked cut. And then had to sulk over and dig it back out because it was the only tool I had for the job. For what should be a simple tool, it’s not just Park that’s getting it wrong. Many brands make steerer cutting guides, but I know of only two companies that do one that will produce a straight cut every time: Unior and Cyclus
Whip it Good
The chain whip is a simple tool, used in conjunction with a cassette lockring tool to remove cassettes. Its job is to keep the whole freehub body from spinning, so that you can back the lockring out. Actually, the tool was originally used before there were gears, to remove fixed-gear cogs from hubs. At its core, the chain whip is a bar with a couple pieces of chain attached to it. This design is dead simple to operate, can be made easily, takes up little room in the toolbox, and will last forever. In the photo above, you’ll see an old Suntour chain whip from the ’60s or ’70s that’s still in service. My father used it when he was a bike mechanic.
So, why, if it’s already perfect, do people keep trying to re-invent the thing? Feedback Sports has done arguably the best job of unnecessarily redesigning the chain whip, with its cassette pliers. It’s actually quite a nice tool, but it’s not a better mouse trap. The trusty chain whip is easier to use, it’s simpler and it takes up far less room in the tool box. Don’t fall for the hype. Turn off the infomercial, and get yourself a good old-fashioned chain whip. You won’t regret it.
Want to know what else pisses me off? Oh, you don’t care? Too bad, there’s more coming soon.