Warning: Don’t read this unless you are a complete and utter bike nerd, are/have recently/are about to become single or have way too much money for your own good.
Nuts, bolts, Polo Mints and sunblock
I was reminded by an eminent member of TriDubai over the weekend of Oman 70.3 that I promised to share with him one of my most closely guarded secrets: a step in turning a bog-standard race bike into a superbike. Mike Bermingham, here are the details for you about titanium fixings; just don’t share them with anyone else OK?
My passion for titanium began well before carbon fibre became mainstream. In the ‘80s and ‘90s titanium parts were all the rage, especially in the mountain biking scene in which I was involved. Ti frames were a rarity and well beyond my humble means but bars, seat posts and stems were more easily available, albeit at a higher cost than the alloy versions. The nuts and bolts which this article covers really caught my attention when I wanted to pimp up a new ti-frame Cove Hummer mountain bike in 2007 and needed fixings that wouldn’t rust, were lightweight, strong and would remain sharp-looking with no stripping of the threads or heads.
Titanium is a naturally-occurring element which is combined with aluminium in cycling applications to form an alloy resistant to corrosion by sweat and salt water, making it ideal for use in this part of the world. It’s expensive because of the difficulty machining it owing to its hardness. Additionally mining and production costs are higher than those of steel or aluminium.
Because it is brittle and therefore relatively easy to snap its use in load-bearing areas isn’t recommended- but to be fair there are not many of those and I have exchanged the steel bolts on all my bikes with titanium ones with only one failure, which I suspect was due to a poor quality product (It was a retro-fitted ti bolt on a Thomson seatpost. Have a look at their website page and you’ll see why it snapped- too much load on the bolt when I went over some bumpy ground and landed heavily on the saddle: https://www.bikethomson.com/product/masterpiece-seatpost/ )
Some high-end kit such as Zipp SL Sprint stems already have ti bolts fitted. However sourcing individual bolts, nuts and other components is a great time waster (if frustrating on occasions). Hopefully the following information will give you a head start if you decide to strip out all your existing steel kit and replace it with titanium. Be aware though that it can become a very addictive pastime.
Bolt/thread diameter. Most of our bolts are M4 or M5 (the diameter of the threaded part of the bolt- I always check the original with callipers to make sure I’ve got the right one because mistakes are gonna cost you time and money) but some might be M8 or M2 for example.
Bolt length. This is where things get frustrating. Measure the bolt you want to replace (from below the bolt head on a parallel or taper-headed bolt or the top of the head if it’s a countersunk bolt. More on bolt heads below) Sometimes you need an exact match but occasionally you can get away with using a slightly longer bolt plus titanium washers or cutting the bolt shorter. But always aim for the same length if possible. 2mm too short makes a world of difference if you’re fitting a stem and run the risk of the bolt not engaging sufficiently to hold it tight on the steerer tube or bars) Cutting ti bolts is hard going- I use a Dremel EZ Lock Metal Cutting Wheel- they don’t last long, the cut isn’t always perfect and the bolts get very hot. One day I’ll find someone who can do a professional job for me.
-Measurements for a dome head bolt (it’s the same way to measure for parallel or taper head bolts (picture attached)
-Measurements for a countersunk bolt (picture attached)
Don’t worry too much about the head diameter or thread pitch of any bolt. They’re all standard sizes for a given bolt diameter and I never found one of any type which didn’t fit.
Colour: Titanium bolts come in a variety of colours ranging from shiny ‘natural’ silver to black, blue, gold, green, red and violet. All the bolts on my Cervelo P5 6 are black and look awesome. Bear in mind that if a black bolt is too long and you have to cut it down then the cut end will no longer be black.
Head type. The 4 main types are parallel head socket caps, taper socket caps, dome head caps and countersunk bolts. They usually have a hex head to allow tightening but some have a Star/Torx head for which you’ll need the appropriate wrench. You can use taper head bolts in places where parallel head ones would go but they don’t look as good.
-Parallel Head socket cap (photo attached)
-Taper head socket cap (photo attached)
-Dome head cap (photo attached)
-Counter sunk (photo attached)
I always grease the threads of ti bolts before fitting but it’s worth bearing in mind that you might over tighten them in this case so go easy or invest in a torque wrench. Sometimes Threadlock is a good idea if you’re worried about bolts coming loose but the threads need to be thoroughly degreased for this to work properly. A major pitfall in the fitting of ti bolts is to screw the bolt into a steel fitting, be that a nut or a frame. For example, my 953 Reynolds steel frame bike has a seatpost collar also made of steel. Titanium will bind to this (as well as aluminium) making removal impossible. The solution is an application of Finish Line copper anti-seize assembly lubricant, easily obtained from your friendly LBS.
As an aside, aluminium bolts can be used in non load-bearing places. They’re even lighter than ti and considerably cheaper but are subject to the socket heads stripping and corrosion. The only practical application is bottle cage bolts (I actually use the bolts intended for brake rotors- they’re M4 and typically 10mm in length with a dome head but light as a gnat’s chuff)
So where do I start looking for these parts once I know the required information? First port of call is www.pro-bolt.com though they can be the most expensive. Other specific websites include www.raceti.com and www.raceboltuk.com but I frequently do a search on either eBay or Amazon to find the exact spec bolt I’m after. eBay is especially good, with parts coming from China, Hong Kong or Taiwan usually very quickly and with no shipping fee.
A typical eBay or Google search might be, for example, “black M5 titanium countersunk 22mm” followed by a careful look at the smallprint.
One of the more frustrating things about a titanium-replacement project is that there is never one supplier who can supply all the parts needed. I always end up buying from 3 or 4 sources, often in a piecemeal fashion which are sent to either a PO Box in Dubai or a UK address for someone to bring over when they visit. In addition I’ve never found anyone in Dubai who stocks ti parts. Suggestions??
Once you’re fully kitted up with titanium nuts, bolts and washers then it’s time to turn your attention to pedal spindles, skewers and bottle cages. Here’s a trick for you: Buy the cheapest Speedplay Zero Cromo pedals (around AED450 from Evans) then look for the titanium spindles (AED130 on eBay) It's a deal. A steal. Sale of the century. In fact it's so good I'll keep that one to myself.
And so to Polo Pints and sunblock: Polos are white because they contain titanium dioxide but I wouldn’t try using them as washers. Bit crumbly. On the other hand smearing your carbon fibre frame with a complete sunblock might protect it from the damaging effects of UV radiation. Let me know how you get on.
By Sam Westhead