If it aint bust……….

The great thing about a custom bike is that you can get it built exactly as you want it. Or at least you can if the builder can get hold of all the bits that you want. My Roberts was always meant to be blue and silver but unfortunately T A cranks in the 165mm length that I needed were only available in black. So black it had to be. A blue and silver bike with black cranks, hardly worth losing sleep over but it still niggled me a little. A year or so later silver cranks were available but the central spider which comes seperately was still black. It wasn't worth the expense of new cranks if I was still going to have a black spider. Earlier this year I went to Bespoke Bristol, the handmade bicycle show, and there on the Robin Mather bike that won Best in Show, was the complete T A silver chainset that I had always wanted. I just had to have it!


I want that chainset – badly!

I didn't rush into things, in fact I tried to talk myself out of it. It was very expensive and there was absolutely nothing wrong with the cranks I already had, except they were black. It was no use, I wanted silver cranks and that was that! In early June I placed my order and then waited 5 weeks for them to arrive. I had considered getting Roberts to fit them for me the next time I took my bike in but somehow that felt like 'all the gear and no idea', surely it couldn't be too difficult to fit them myself. I studied everything I could find on the internet and asked a few questions on the CTC forum to make sure I had got it right. I ordered a pin spanner so that I could fit the dustcap, there seemed to be nothing on the subject of self extracting crank bolts that I hadn't read. All that was apparently required was a large allen key and a bit of brute force. My lovely shiny cranks finally arrived and on the next wet day I settled down to fit them.

Cranks 001

A thing of beauty and a joy forever!

I put my large 6mm allen key on to the bolt head and it turned about half a turn before tightening up. Puzzled, I retightened it and put the bike away again. Perhaps I should let Roberts do it after all? No, I wasn't giving up so easily. I asked on the CTC forum and was told that this was exactly what should happen, the bolt goes tight as it meets the top of the extractor cap, I just needed to apply some more brute force. I applied all the force I could muster. There was a loud snapping noise and the bolt spun easily. 'Thats got it' I thought. The crank however remained firmly attached while the allen key spun round unscrewing the dustcap. The horrible truth began to dawn – I had snapped the crank bolt! I put desperate pleas for help onto the CTC forum but it was obvious I wasn't going to be able to follow any of the advice offered. Even if I had the necessary tools I had completely lost my nerve, I wasn't touching anything else. If I could snap a crank bolt who knows what other damage I might do!

There was only one possible solution – phone Roberts and let them sort it out. I couldn't even do that immediately, they're closed on Mondays. I spent the rest of the day in a state of bewildered shock. First thing Tuesday I phoned Roberts and arranged to take the bike in the following Wednesday, the earliest they could manage. I would have to wait 8 days but at least there was light at the end of the tunnel. When I got there Brian, the mechanic, didn't believe I had broken the bolt. 'Impossible' he said, he thought I must mean that I had rounded the head off. He was absolutely gobsmacked when I showed him. He assured me that it was not in any way my fault, I had done everything right, this was just a freak occurrence, it should not be possible to snap a high quality 6mm stainless steel bolt. Brian said he had only ever seen a crank bolt snap once before and that was on a very cheap bike and said he would contact the distributor to see if anyone else had had problems.

Cranks 009

Snapped crank bolt!

Fortunately Brian was able to drill the bolt out. He swapped the rings from my previous cranks but discovered that T A have changed the design of the spider slightly so that he needed to use spacers to get the chain to run on the smallest ring. So even if I hadn't snapped the bolt I still wouldn't have been able to fit it properly. He also replaced my bottom bracket bearings and made a couple of small adjustments to things, all for a very modest labour charge. All's well that ends well. I now have the lovely shiny silver cranks that I always wanted but was it really worth the expense and stress? To be honest I'm not sure it was! In future my motto is going to be 'if it aint bust don't fix it!'

Cranks 002

Showing off her shiny new cranks

9 comments on “If it aint bust……….”

  1. Kern wrote:

    Breaking off a 6mm bolt is an impressive display of determination (and strength), Hilary. Roberts to the Rescue! It sounds like a new motto.

    there was absolutely nothing wrong with the cranks I already had, except they were black

    Vanity is no sin when it comes to a bike, and Roberta is a fine looking specimen. No doubt she deserves those shiny new cranks.

  2. Chris wrote:


    Hilary wrote: ... there was absolutely nothing wrong with the cranks I already had, except they were black.

    They may as well have been made of candy floss if they were the wrong colour, Hilary. Finally you can get a good night's rest. Money well spent, I reckon 🙂

  3. Patrick wrote:

    Nicer in silver, definitely. I don't subscribe to "if it aint bust" though. As I see it, you expunged a dodgy bolt that might have snapped when it really mattered. The more attention you pay to your bike, the better, as one thing leads to another...

  4. Hilary wrote:

    Patrick wrote

    I don't subscribe to "if it aint bust" though. As I see it, you expunged a dodgy bolt that might have snapped when it really mattered.

    That's a good way of looking at it, I hadn't thought of that! I was just starting to build up a little confidence with taking bikes to bits but this has put quite a big dent in it. It may not be rocket science but this has demonstrated how easy it can be to do something that is difficult and expensive to rectify (Roberts' labour charges were very reasonable but ferry fare and petrol to Croydon wasn't!) even without actually doing anything wrong.

    Kern wrote

    Breaking off a 6mm bolt is an impressive display of determination (and strength), Hilary.

    LOL. Yes, Dennis will think twice before arguing with me in future! 😀

  5. Keith Edwards wrote:

    Even on the worst family discussion there is no way Denis could blame you for shearing that type of bolt. Not even with your underthings on the outside of your leggings.

    As Patrick said the timing could have been worse, just before a big good ride.
    Things always go wrong the best people know how to get around stuff and more importantly know their limitations.
    The wise keep learning and trying.

  6. Hilary wrote:

    I think you misunderstood me a little there Keith. I was just joking that a woman who could snap bolts was not to be argued with. Dennis was actually very supportive and drove me and bike to Croydon.

    The wise keep learning and trying

    True, but the trouble is all I've learned is that there are even more things to go wrong than I thought there were! 🙂

  7. Daniel wrote:

    Wow Hilary! No, I agree, a decent-looking bike is well worth spending money on. Even if it ends up as the sort of monstrosity I ride 😮 And though I didn't have to go through any of your effort and waiting, I can confidently say that the result is worth it. For me, anyway! Incidentally, in prepping my bike for last year's adventures, I also managed to shear a self-extracting crank bolt in the same way.. I eventually got the bolt shank out of the axle by cutting a big enough slot in its end to allow a whopping screwdriver to fit in and unscrew it! THAT took some torque though.. I seem to remember a big ol' spanner round the end of the screwdriver.. lesson? Great things, self-extracting crank bolts, but ALWAYS lube them well with non-stick grease, and never overtighten them!

    Greetings from Yorkshire again – where I haven't done any real rides for several weeks now.. *ahem*.. 😮

  8. Mary wrote:

    Im with the others here. Your bike is important to you, she keeps you sane and I for one would always go for perfection when ever possible. When I re-built Hettie I had the exact same problem. Black, black, black everywhere – are they trying to copy carbon I wonder!!?

    I have spotted Campagnolo have now brought out a triple chainset again – something for next time, but again only in black, until they bring out a silver one, I wont be buying from them.

    I had to go down in spec, from Centaur to Athena, as I could only get the lower spec in silver and I would NOT be using black. I still have a stem in black as I have as yet to find a riser stem in silver.

    Glad you got her all sorted out via Roberts, the cranks looked a lot different to the type used on the Hetchins. Its a scary world out there when it comes to bike maintenance sometimes, Im lucky to have Shedman who is there to take over when the rocket science becomes too much for me!

    Your bike looks really splendid now, always did, but much better in silver.

  9. Derek wrote:

    Sunday morning browsing, waiting for the weather to improve, looking for info on chainsets and cassettes I came across your site with some decent discussions. Now, my bikes are firmly rooted in the 60's to 80's era, and I've never used a self-extracting crank bolt. But I've been in engineering for 40 years, so would like to throw in the following observations.
    A 6mm Allen key is a piddly little thing. Putting the crank on is ok...the bolt head sits nice and square on the crank, and when it gets to need a little bit of torque to tighten, there's only perhaps a couple of millimetres distance between the end of the axle and the bolt head surface of the crank, so minimal bolt bending as tightened.. All nicely controlled.
    Extracting is somewhat different. I'd be inclined to say that, if it allows it, the dustcap thing must be touching the bolt when staring to extract. No gap. It has to push evenly, and with minimal bending moment on the bolt as the Allen key is turned. The sideways force when using Allen keys isn't good, and if the extraction needs more effort than feels comfortable, it's time to stop. It's quite probable that you're also trying to stop the Allen key from slipping out, and being fearful of delightfully skinned knuckles on the chainset.
    So it's uncomfortably tight. I'd take the bolt out and clean the thread on the bolt and in the axle, and reassemble with oil. (I probably would have done this to start with, being a bit of a nerd). There's no point in a lot of the torque you're putting on the Allen key (and the bolt) being used to uselessly overcome friction in the threads. It's why all torque settings for nuts and bolts must specify dry or lubricated...torque up a bolt with the wrong state of lubrication and you'll end up with a completely different tightening force in the bolt. Car cylinder heads are very specific about this.
    Some oil between the bolt and the dustcap too.
    i reckon the second thing is to use a T shape Allen key (or socket set Allen key with T-bar) to avoid putting side load on. In the absence of this, hook a 10mm combination spanner over the Allen key to form a near-enough T, pushing equally on the spanner and the key. Or an adjustable to form a T.
    Having sent everyone to sleep I might risk it outdoors

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