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The Wagon: Bikewagon Community College & Blog

  • How to remove and install a bike tube and tire

    Bikewagon - BWCC

    Once you learn this skill, flat tires won't be such a daunting task. It is very simple as long as you have the right tools and the proper technique.

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  • Bike Brakes 101

    Bikewagon - BWCC

    Your bicycle's brakes are its main safety feature. They help control your speed and stop when you are ready to stop. There are many types of bike brakes for different applications. They all have advantages and disadvantages depending on use. There are brakes designed best for road bikes and some that work best on a mountain bike. There are different styles of rim brakes that apply stopping power to the rim and different types of hub brakes that apply stopping power to the hub area of your wheel. We'll break all of this down for you in a way that is as easy as possible to understand.

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  • Bicycle Headsets 101

    Bikewagon - BWCC

    Without it, you won't be going anywhere. Yes, a bike headset is an often-overlooked but, oh, so important bike part. Of course, there are several types of bicycle headsets available, so in order to assist you in making the best purchase possible, we've put together this headset buying guide with some detailed, helpful information.

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  • Bike Frame Materials: The basics

    Bikewagon - BWCC

    The material of your bicycle frame has a large effect on ride quality and ride feel. The type and quality of material also make up a large portion of the bicycle's price. The most common frame materials today are aluminum alloys and carbon fiber. Steel and titanium frames are highly popular, as well, but they enjoy more of a cult status with extremely dedicated followers. All frame materials have different levels of quality, and each material has its advantages and disadvantages.

    Before we get into each material, it will help to go over some basic terms:

    • Fatigue \fa*tigue"\, n: The weakening of a material when subjected to repeated stress or cyclic loading.
    • Fatigue life \ fa*tigue laif"\, n: The number of load cycles required for a material fail.

    Aluminum frames

    Most of the larger companies use proprietary alloys (mixture of aluminum and other metals) to build their bike frames, and each manufacturer touts their specific brand and the way they use it. Aluminum frames can be more affordable than their counterparts because high quality alloys are easier to procure and manipulate into a quality bike frame.

    The main advantage of Aluminum as a frame material is density, meaning for the same volume of material, aluminum weighs less than steel or titanium. This allows bike frame manufacturers to build fatter and, therefore, stiffer tubes that weigh the same or less than their steel counterparts. Another big advantage of aluminum over steel is corrosion resistance. You can ride aluminum in rain and snow and forget about it when you get home, while steel bikes take a bit more nurturing. The disadvantage? Fatigue life. As aluminum flexes and shifts, it fatigues and eventually hits its limit.

    Steel frames

    "Steel is real" is the mantra of every boutique bike builder and hardcore vintage and classic bike enthusiast in America. While some incredible racing bikes are still built out of steel today, it has lost a lot of popularity in that mainstream venue since the surge of aluminum and, more recently, carbon fiber. Steel has been used in the manufacturing of bicycles longer than any other material. From the early days of solid steel handlebars and Rene Herse to boutique builders today like Vanilla, Seven, and Serotta Cycles to name a few, the history is long and beautiful. Steel was originally used in bike frames, no doubt, because of its widespread availability and its long history of use in industry.

    The big advantage of steel today is its strength and comfort. The disadvantage in the racing world that goes along with the comfort of steel is its lack of stiffness. Being denser than aluminum, steel frame tubes are generally smaller in diameter than aluminum. Using steel tubes that are as fat as many aluminum tubes used on bicycles would be too heavy for practical use. The thinner tubes flex more and are more comfortable to ride, but they are less responsive in race situations. Fatigue life of a steel tube is nearly twice that of aluminum, so steel bikes can last much longer under heavy use. As with aluminum, steel comes in varied qualities, from heavy core steel that has no place in the bike world (but is used in many big box store brands) to high-quality steel tubing designed for high-end bicycles. Price tags vary greatly throughout the range.

    Titanium frames

    Titanium frames have enjoyed an even smaller cult following than steel. Titanium offers big advantages over steel in many ways, but it also has its disadvantages. Titanium is twice as dense as aluminum but nearly half as dense as steel. Fatigue life and tensile strength are Ti's big strong points.

    Titanium can be extruded into long, thin tubes that are lighter, more comfortable and stronger than steel. Butted and swaged tubes offer a lot of customization in ride quality and responsiveness, making Ti an optimal choice for a custom-built bicycle frame. Cost is the main disadvantage of titanium. The process of extracting the metal is costly and energy intensive. Ti as a bicycle material is also more labor intensive. It requires more care and more time to cut and weld Ti tubing in a safe, lasting manor. There is virtually no way to build a budget Ti bike. You won't see these on the floor of your local department store.

    Carbon frames

    Carbon fiber has become the frame material of choice for bike racers and many recreational riders alike. Carbon fiber is composite laminate made up of tiny fibers suspended into a resin. Carbon bike frames have many advantages and two real disadvantages.

    Carbon fiber is extremely customizable. When carbon tubing is made there are many plies, or layers, of fibers that are placed in different orientations that offer different characteristics. Stiffness and flexibility can be manipulated on different planes of the same tube to offer huge advantages over all other materials. Carbon fiber is nearly half as dense as aluminum and much stronger for the weight. So a well-made carbon bike can be built stiffer, stronger and lighter than an aluminum, steel or titanium counterpart.

    The biggest disadvantage with carbon fiber is flexible strength and fatigue life. The resin holding together the fibers of the laminate is a very rigid material that doesn't like to be flexed and bent. Too much flexing causes cracks and fissures in the structure and exposes the individual fibers which aren't so strong by themselves. This failure of the base structure can cause sudden, catastrophic failure of the bicycle frame. For these same reasons, carbon's fatigue life is rather low, giving a much shorter lifespan to a carbon fiber bicycle.

    The other disadvantage to carbon is price. Carbon is the newest addition to the bicycle industry and is the subject of much research and development. While this RD spits out shiny new products and features, it also comes with the price tag needed to recoup those expenses.

    by Nathan Moulton

    Nathan is the content manager at Bikewagon. He has written or edited product descriptions for thousands (probably tens of thousands!) of bike parts and accessories. Nathan joined the BWCC faculty in 2008.

  • Bikes 101

    Bikewagon - BWCC

    Familiarize yourself with today's bike types

    A bike isn't just a bike anymore. You may have noticed that fact while shopping for a new bike or looking for parts for your old bike. Sure, they still have two wheels, but bikes have come a long way in the last 20 years. They can't be defined by just "road," "mountain" or "BMX" anymore. Those categories still exist, but they've spawned offspring.

    So to help you get to know your bikes and be able to digest the alphabet soup (MTB, TT, FR: it's not quite a government bureaucracy yet, but it's getting there), here's a brief overview of what differentiates the main types.

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  • Bike Stems 101

    Bikewagon - BWCC

    Your bike's stem will affect the way your bicycle handles and the way your upper body feels the road. While being one of the most important bike parts for comfort and handling, it is also very customizable and upgradeable.

    When purchasing a stem, you should consider several factors. First you must look at the steerer type (threaded or not). Then you must match it to a steerer tube diameter and a handlebar diameter. Finally, you must decide what length and how much rise or drop you want your stem to give you. Once you have decided on those characteristics, you must decide on the material you'd like and consider its price.

    Stem type

    The two main types of bike stems are "threadless" and "quill." The type of stem required is determined by the headset and fork installed on your bicycle--either threaded or threadless (the vast majority of today's forks use a threadless steerer tube). Once you have determined which headset style your bicycle requires, you must determine the different compatibility factors: steerer tube diameter and handlebar diameter.

    Steerer tube diameter

    Stems attach to the bike via the steerer tube. Threadless stems clamp around the steerer, while quill stems use compression to attach to the inside of the steerer.


    Threadless steerer tubes come in four standard diameters: 1-inch, 1-1/8-inch and 1-1/2-inch. These sizes correspond to matching stem sizes. 1-1/8-inch headsets are currently the most common. However, with new trends always surfacing and old trends always resurging, this could change in the future.


    Threaded steerers typically come in 1-inch and 1-1/8-inch diameters with corresponding quill stems sized down for the internal diameter of the tube. 1-inch threaded steerers were the industry standard for decades and remain very popular in the vintage and retro bike world. They remain the most widely used and readily available.

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  • Bicycle Drivetrains 101

    Bikewagon - BWCC

    Your bicycle's drivetrain is comprised of all of the parts that power the bicycle and make it go. Bike pedals move the cranks, which turn the bottom bracket and the chainrings, which drive the chain that spins the rear sprockets, turning the rear hub, which moves the wheel and propels the bicycle forward. The crisp movement of these parts and the ability to minimize effort while maximizing speed is the heart of cycling. It is essential that your drivetrain be clean, true and well-maintained in order to more fully enjoy riding your bike. When one of these parts gets out of whack, the rest soon follow.

    Bicycle drivetrain

    It is also important to get individual components that are compatible within the system (e.g. typically Campagnolo and Shimano parts are not inter-compatible). Many times the difference between 9- and 10-speed parts is enough to make them incompatible as well. The collective term for a complete bike drivetrain kit is "group" or "gruppo." Multi-speed drivetrains are classified by the number of cogs in the rear cassette. A modern day 10-speed bicycle can have as many as 30 "possible gears," with 10 in the rear and three in the front, but still have a 10-speed drivetrain.


    Clipless pedal for mountain bike

    Your pedals are the power transfer points between you and your bike. As you pump your legs and turn your feet, you cause the cranks to turn. Proper pedal choice is important for comfort, control and safety on the bike. Many recreational and enthusiast cyclists prefer the adaptability that platform pedals offer. They allow you to ride in any type of shoe and give a sense of security to a novice rider who is cautious of locking the feet into clipless pedals. Many platform pedals can be adapted with a toe cage to give more control and power while retaining the sense of security associated with platforms.

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