BACKGROUND: The Problem
Back in June of last year I wrote something entitled “Wobbly Wheels on the Dean Castanza” when I was about 1/2 way through trying to resolve a stability problem that had slowly been emerging as I began to ride my 1998 titanium-framed Dean on a more regular basis back in 2018. It was no longer tracking well “just riding along” and when pressed hard into corners or on fast downhills it was, well… unnerving to the point where I pretty much parked the bike in December 2018.
It was in June when I decided it was time to address the issue and there were two places I’d looked for the root cause: it was either the equally old Mavic Cosmic Elite wheelset or the original 1″ threaded Profile BRC fork that came on the bike, which used very thin but deep aero-optimized composite fork legs bonded to an aluminum crown.
When I wrote the piece I had achieved some level of success by switching out the front wheel to a conventional 32h component wheelset with a Campy Record hub laced to Mavic Open Pro rim. The bike felt “better” on a short ride and my plan was to switch out the rear wheel and then try it again. But, I never did the follow-up because I jumped to the conclusion it was once again a shortcoming of “go fast wheels” that was the root of all evil, something I’d come to believe after less than positive experiences with Rolf, Topolino and other “go fast wheels” on our tandems back in the 2008-2010 time frame that has kept our tandem & triplet rolling on conventional component wheels ever since, with no regrets nor any wheel issues.
MAINTAINING OBJECTIVITY: Being Undermined By Prejudice
Well, I should have (and have since, as of today) amended my original 28 June article after I rode the Dean with both Mavic Cosmic Elite’s swapped out for the conventionally-spoked Campy Record/Mavic Open Pro wheelset: the Dean was as wobbly as it was with the Cosmic Elite’s, which meant it was NOT the wheelset.
No, my preconceived notion and prejudices about “go fast wheels” had likely given me something of a placebo effect on that first ride, which didn’t include the aforementioned unnerving fast downhill which my follow-up ride did. That meant it was most likely the Profile BRC fork and, sure enough, when I finally took the time to look more closely at the fork there were rub marks from the spokes on the insides of the fork legs: narrow + flex, don’t you know. After doing some additional homework I found I was not alone with my Profile BRC fork issue as heavier and stronger riders had all kinds of handling issues with the thin bladed fork and their lack of lateral stiffness. Moreover, for other riders, they too found that over time as miles and years were put on these forks they also seemed to lose their lateral stiffness. In fact, it was interesting to find the very same 1″ Profile BRC fork I had was only sold in the U.S. and not exported to Europe, and I have no idea why.
FAST FORWARD TO AUGUST: Time to Find a Fork
As you can see from my other recent updates, I sort of got on a “refresh the bike” kick, first with the Calfee tandem refresh, then with wheels for my Calfee single followed by the cosmetic refresh of both our Calfee single bikes. Being on a roll, I cast my eyes upon the Dean and decided it was just too nice a bike to not ride so I went on a search for a used 1″ threaded carbon fork to replace the Profile BRC fork.
What I found and purchased on 11 Aug was a used Kinesis EMS Pro carbon fork. I knew enough about the Kinesis forks to have confidence it was a very robust carbon fork with a steel crown core and head tube that always received good reviews. However, buying this one was a bit of a crap-shoot as the seller really didn’t have all of the specs for the fork, nor did he seem all that inspired to unpack it and check. I’m guessing he’s either running or working at a ‘bicycle business’ that buys large lots of used bicycle parts from other people who buy used bicycles and strip them for parts… sort of a cycling version of the auto dismantler business model. Anyway, the steerer looked to be 1″ with 1-24 threads and more than long enough to work on my 54cm dean so I rolled-the-dice and bought it.
The fork arrived on 14 Aug and it was in very good condition given it’s age and looked like it would fit, but might need to have another 1/2 of threads cut into the steerer which was much longer than the Profile BRC’s. But, only one way to find out: it was time to remove the Profile fork from the Dean… and that’s when the fun began.
IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN EASY: Is it ever easy?
- The day the fork arrived I’d hoped it would be a quick swap-out of the old Profile BRC fork for the Kinesis wasn’t happening: the Chris King ‘Gripnut’ lockring, collet and adjusting ring were seemingly fused together as a solid unit and would not separate. Well, that was inconvenient.
- While I was fully expecting to re-use the chi-chi Chris King headset, that was not to be since I had to use a cutting wheel to split the locknut and collet to get it off the old fork steerer. Time to go and order a new headset… which I obtained from Velo Orange. The Grand Cru looked to be “good enough” for the light-duty I’d put the bike through with my massive 140lb weight and fitness rides.
- The headset arrived on 20 Aug and it was actually a very nice piece. The bearings are not as “beefy” as the ones on the Chris King headset, but what they lacked in size, the made up for in number. It sat on the work bench 27 Aug while I took care of a few other bike and non-bike related projects and as Debbie with my support worked through what ultimately ended up being passing of an immediate family member. It was during some down time when I needed a distraction and it didn’t take much time to get the headset installed since I’ve got all of the right tools.
- Later on the 27th, After getting the headset installed, my next hurdle became the length of the threading on the steerer tube. As expected, after getting the headset installed I did a dry-fit of the fork and the threaded headset cap was about 3/8″ of from being seated when it ran out of threads. And, one of the tools I didn’t have was the coveted and nowadays rarely used Park Tool FTS-1 headtube cutting handle and #606 1-24 die.
- The work-around should have been simple: take the fork to the local bike shop that has the FTS-1 and #606 cutter have them chase the current threads and cut-in the extra 1/2″ of threads. Well, bike shop mechanics apparently aren’t what they used to be. After spending 30 minutes working on the fork — and I wasn’t encouraged by the “arm strong methods being used on what is a finesse process — all they really achieved was putting some deep scratches in the fork instead of useful threads. I proved this to myself and the shop techs when I attempted to thread the headset top cap on and it stalled-out at the point where the “new threads” had be scratched into the post.
- My guess is the shop’s die has been used by people who don’t know how to cut threads with a die, to include the folks at the local bike shop, who had damaged it. That, plus not knowing to use cutting oil and 1/2 turn cuts, then backing off to “cut the tails” of cut metal didn’t help matters.
- I followed up with the owner on 28 Aug, who I know, and on 31 Aug he let me know he’d make me whole on my out of pocket cost for the labor. He also acknowledged that as the technology has changed, most shop mechanics have never needed to learn how to do things like thread cutting or facing bottom brackets, etc., and he’s not sure why they tried on their own instead of calling him or one of the other shop principles who do have the skills and experience.
- As to what I ended up doing to get over the thread cutting hurdle, On 2 Sep I ended up buying a 1-24 tpi industrial thread cutting die for $29 + tax and shipping that arrived on 4 Sep. After finding on the porch Friday night I headed into the garage, put the fork in my Park work stand and — with cutting oil, the die and a very large wrench in hand — made short work of chasing the original threads and had no problem cutting in that extra half inch of threads into the steel steerer. Contrast that with what the fork looked like after the local shop used a worn-out die and no oil and the difference is dramatic. Needless to say, I was very happy.
- The following day, 5 Sep, I headed back out to the garage to finish my fork installation. Again, having the right tools makes these types of projects quick and easy. I’d already pressed the new headset cups into the frame, so all that was left to do was to do a dry installation of the fork to determine where it needed to be cut to fit the frame, be cut using my fork steerer cutting vice, then final installation of the headset and installation of the handebars. It probably took all of 30 minutes, even with me taking my time. A short spin down to culdesac confirmed a solid installation and also hinted that the handling issues were solved.
On Monday, 7 Sep, after doing some tire swapping — as the Schwalbe tires on the Dean were now 7 years old and having been allowed to sit deflated for the past 8 months in the non-climate controlled garage and looking very cracked and dried-out once they were inflated — I headed off for a shake down ride on the Dean.
It wasn’t a long ride, but the fork replacement definitely made the Dean far more stable than it had been with the Profile fork I’d had on the bike since acquiring it back in 2001. A longer, subsequent ride today, 12 Sep, that included several hard corners and fast downhills confirmed I finally had the Dean handling the way anyone would expect any properly equipped and sorted-out racing bike to perform: with unnerving you! No, it was a joy to ride again, especially since it’s still the only thing I’ve changed is the fork and head set. A cheap fix for a priceless classic… at least in my mind since a comparable replacement would cost at least $7,000 in today’s market.