Step 1: gather your materials

Wait a minute….

Step 1: gather your materials
There we go. This is going to get messy…. For a work surface, you want a wide, open space covered with material that will keep the bearings from rolling off in every direction should they fall on it. It should be free of clutter, and far away from drainage holes, sewer gratings, subway gratings, rabbit, mole, or groundhog burrows, fault lines, wells, and any other kind of opening that errant ball and needle bearings might seek out as they flee your fumbling fingers. Although the ball and needle bearings in Dura-Ace Octalinkbottom brackets are “standard” and “readily available,” Murphy’s Law suggests that when you actually lose one, no bike shop within a 100-mile radius will have them in stock, and that they’ll take three weeks to arrive because QBP has them on backorder from Shimano.

Step 2: disassemble your bottom bracket
That looks about as ugly as it feels.... Like I said earlier, my intention is to offer tips on how to clean, lube, and maintain a Dura-Ace Octalinkbottom bracket, nothing more. So I’m going to use a bottom bracket that’s already been disassembled as my starting point, and I’m not going to try to provide instructions on how to remove it, disassemble it, reassemble it, or install it. For that, I’ll refer you to Shimano’s service instructions, which, kind chap that I am, I’ve included in the blog, along with an exploded view. “Exploded” indeed…. One word of caution: don’t be tempted to use a magnet to remove the bearings, at least not if you plan on ever using them again. It seems like a cool, bike-shop thing to do, but you’ll end up magnetizing the bearings, and ruining them in the process.

Step 3: separate parts that contain plastic and rubber from parts that do not.
The powers that be at Finish Line will disagree with me on this, but any way you cut it, Citrus is a stronger degreaser than Multi. The problem is that citrus degreasers in general will break down most kinds of rubber and plastic, which means that Citrus’ uncanny cleaning power can only be applied to metal parts without risking damage to essential components like seals. Multi can be used on any kind of material, and though it isn’t as powerful as Citus, it’s certainly powerful enough to strip any grime that isn’t actually embedded into the material in question. And it’s biodegradable, just like Citrus…. In the case of the Octalink bottom bracket, you can see that the only parts that don’t contain any rubber or plastic at all are the lockring and the spindle.

Step 4: put parts into different containers and pour in your degreasers
Yes, those are canning jars; they’re the only glass jars I could find. Now all I have to do is make sure they don’t get mixed in with the ones I put my strawberries in…. I wanted to use glass jars so that you could see what was going on inside, but really, any container will do. The shop standard is the coffee can. Consider this an opportunity to show your commitment to fair trade organic small-batch-roasted whatever…. In order to make sure that I don’t put the wrong parts in the wrong bath, I’ve labeled the jars, with an “E” for Multi (?!), and a “C” for “Citrus” (Multi used to be called Ecotech, and the top of the label still reads Ecotech2; hence the “E.” After calling it “Ecotech” for 10 years, it was force of habit that made me do it, and I used a Sharpie, so….) Both Multi and Citrus can be diluted with water, up to 20 parts for Multi, 5 for Citrus. But this is a bottom bracket, which means it sees dirtier conditions, higher forces, and less maintenance than almost any other part on a bike, so I’d recommend using the degreasers at their full strength.

Step 5: wait a while

Remember when I said that Multi was strong enough to strip away most kinds of grime? I’m not exaggerating when I say that the Multi bath went from clear to dirty in about three minutes. Still, it’ll be a while before you do this overhaul again, so it makes sense to wait a little longer than that, maybe ten minutes, and give the degreasers time to do their jobs. Have a beer, stare out the window, maybe close your eyes and pretend it’s a summer afternoon in the bike shop of your dreams…

Step 6: remove all parts from the Multi bath except for the bearing retainers
This includes the cups, C-clips, and seals.

Step 7: spray those parts with Speed Clean
The cynic, and there are plenty of them in cycling, will say, “Dude, if Multi is so strong, why do you need Speed Clean, too?” Two reasons. The first has to do with removing dirt from nooks and crannies that are hard to reach with a rag or brush. Many shops use an air compressor to do this. If you’re like me and don’t have one, Speed Clean is the next best thing, especially the latest version of the can that’s equipped with the Turbo Spray feature. The combination of a powerful degreaser and equally powerful spray will blow any remaining dirt right out of the parts you’re working on. The second has to do with drying. The last thing you want in any closed bearing assembly is used degreaser. It contains dirt particles, and will break new grease down faster than you can say “why does the bottom bracket I just overhauled feel like crap?” Speed Clean evaporates immediately, and will take with it any remaining solvent and water, sparing you time, effort, and risk.

Step 8: brush the parts out, and wipe them down with a rag
After using Speed Clean, it’s likely that the brush and rag will both come out dry and clean, but like I said earlier, you won’t be doing this overhaul again for a while, and it’s so important to the quality of your ride that it makes sense to be obsessive. Imagine yourself as a Faema mechanic getting Merckx’sbike ready for ParisRoubaix. Would you leave any cobble unturned as you prepared his machine for glory? I thought not…

Step 9: shake it

The only parts remaining in the jar should be the two needle bearing retainers, the two ball bearing retainers, and the bearings themselves. Now put a lid on the jar and shake it shake it good shake it real good…. Two things will happen. First, any needle and ball bearings that haven’t done so already will drop out of their respective retainers. Second, they will clean themselves.

Step 10: remove the bearing retainers, and spray out any remaining dirt with Speed Clean
The rationale used in Step 7 applies here as well. Before you actually spray the retainers clean, make sure that there are no bearings left in them. It’ll be practically impossible for there to be any, but you want to make sure, because if there are, Speed Clean will blow them clear across the room, and you’ll never find them again. They don’t call it “Turbo Spray” for nothin’….

Step 11: remove the bearings from the bath…
Now the only parts remaining in the jar should be needle and ball bearings, along with dirty degreaser, and dirt. What I like to do is carefully pour the dirty degreaser into another container, then pour water into the container with the bearings, swirl it around, and pour it out again, to get some of the excess dirt out. Always drain the dirty degreaser into another container, never into a drain. No matter how careful you are, one tiny, prodigal bearing will slip out and disappear down the drain, and that’s all it will take to ruin your day. Once you’re done rinsing and draining, gently dump the bearings into another, smaller container, where they’ll receive their final Speed Clean treatment. I find that the ideal container for this is actually the cap to the Speed Clean can….

Step 12: …and spray them down with Speed Clean
The cap to the Speed Clean can has a small well in it that’s perfect for containing the bearings while you treat them with Speed Clean. It’s small enough to keep the bearings from jumping out when you spray into it, and the ring around it seems to collect any dirty degreaser before it evaporates. I’m proud to have discovered it. Once you’ve sprayed the bearings down to your satisfaction, drain that outer ring, then spill the bearings out onto a rag, and gently wipe them dry, or spread them out and let them air dry while you move on to….

Step 13: the spindle and lockring
It wouldn’t be much of a bottom bracket without the spindle, now, would it? While we were working on the rest of the bottom bracket, the spindle and lockring were lying submerged in a bath of awfully powerful degreaser, which would lead one to imagine that there’s not much work left to be done, especially since the spindle doesn’t have any nooks and crannies to clean out, and the lockring isn’t a bearingcontaining part. And that happens to be the case, though the races on the spindle have dirt, grime, and grease ground into them with every turn of the crank. So, once again, keep it obsessive, and when you remove the spindle, spray it down with Speed Clean, then brush off the races.

Step 14: the races

As you’re cleaning the spindle, you might suddenly find yourself with the spindle in one hand, and a thin, gleaming ring in the other. Check it for pits, cuts, or grooves, and if there aren’t any, slide it back on. If there are, it’s time for a trip to the bike shop. Since they’re the parts the bearings turn on, the races need to be replaced if they’re damaged as described above. On most bottom brackets, the races are simply machined into the spindle, requiring a whole new spindle. However, in what I consider a brilliant courtesy to its customers, Shimano made the races on the the Dura-Ace Octalinkspindle removable, so you can replace them individually. And best of all, if you’re a traditionalist, you can use an old race as an engagement ring, though if you look at the diameter of that spindle, it would have to be an awfully big person you were getting engaged to, or a small person with awfully big fingers….

Step 15: grease the bearing retainers
Out of all of Finish Line’s products, I think their Teflon-fortified synthetic grease gets the most running improvements. I like the latest version best, because it’s slightly tackier so that it adheres better than ever, but doesn’t sacrifice the smoothness that built its reputation. And adhesion will come into play in these next couple of steps, because the easiest way to reinstall bearings into a retainer without having them fall right back out to the sound of cursing is to grease the retainer first. Using your finger, apply generous gobs of grease to the ball and needle retainers, then spread the grease around their circumferences.

Step 16: reinstall the bearings
Now that the retainers have a layer of grease on them, you can just seat the balls and needles in the spaces on their respective retainers one by one, then giggle with delight as you turn the retainers upside down and the bearings stay in. Although it may seem intuitive to spread another layer of grease on the retainers once the bearings are seated, don’t: the adhesive properties of the grease that are keeping the bearings in the retainer will pull them right back out again. Instead….

Step 17: grease the cups, races, spindle, and seals

Or, as Shimano says in the maintenance section of their service instructions, “GREASE,” with lines branching out to every part of the bottom bracket except for the C clips. And don’t worry about using too much grease. Because I dislike opinions that are passed off as facts, I try to be careful with my own, but in this case I’m going to go ahead and declare to the ten people reading this that I don’t believe you can ever use too much grease, especially not in a part like a bottom bracket that’s exposed to that much contamination and stress. If you do use too much, the excess will get pressed out through the slight gaps in the seals that are necessary for the spindle to rotate. In other words, the bottom bracket, or for that matter the hub or headset, will self-adjust the amount of grease in it, and the worst that will happen is that you’ll have to wipe the excess off with a rag.

Step 19: reinstall the bearings in the cups
Again, I won’t try to provide direction beyond that contained in the Shimano service instructions, other than to say be careful. Try to hold the bearing retainers as delicately as possible by their outer edges, and try not to touch the inner surfaces of the cups with the bearings, since they’ll be sticky with grease and might pull the bearings out of the retainers. Think of it as a game: if you lose, you have to go back to the previous level and start over again from there. If you win….

Step 20: you’re done

Isn’t that beautiful? Well, alright, maybe it looks more or less the same. But in a saying that may be truer of bottom brackets than anything else, it’s what’s inside that matters….

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