I recently took my 1980 Meral out for a spin, and found myself not enjoying the ride. At first I thought the problem was me – I’ve been getting back in shape after a long and unpleasant illness over the winter and spring. But as I climbed Mt. Tabor heading home, I realized that something must be going on with the bike. When I pulled into my garage I remembered that I hadn’t overhauled the bike since building it up back in 2013. Um, that’s 6 years! Whoops! So, I put it up into my stand and found that the rear wheel hub was rough, and the bottom bracket was REALLY rough.
I had purchased the frame and fork, which included the T.A. BB, in late 2012 from a French seller on eBay. In early 2013 I built it up, converting it to 650b in the process. One of the issues I encountered during that process was not being successful at removing the T.A. fixed cup from the bottom bracket, even after putting it in my vise and using the frame for leverage. I built it up and went about my business, using the original T.A. 374 spindle with its 122mm length. I remember that I had a lot of trouble getting the BB adjusted correctly, and at the time wondered if the lock ring had been cross threaded at some point.
When I removed the adjustable cup and lockring I found that it had indeed been cross threaded at some point. Fortunately, the threads on the cup were fine, so I located a suitable French threaded lockring replacement – this one from a 1953 BB that used a cottered crank spindle. It was in great shape and threaded on to the cup beautifully. So, that problem was solved, and I proceeded to clean the cups, repack them with grease, and install new bearings. But, the same problem I had encountered initially did not go away. I could not get an adjustment that eliminated freeplay but also allowed for a smooth feel when turning the spindle.
I did a little research and even tried out Sheldon Brown’s lockring adjustment method which involves NOT holding the adjustable cup in place while tightening the lockring, and instead letting them move together for the final adjustment. This is not how I learned to adjust BB’s, but the method seems to have some merit: because of the design of the threaded cup, tightening the lockring while holding the cup with the spanner tool, could actually loosen the adjustment. Ultimately, neither method (mine or Sheldon’s) would give me a perfect adjustment. At that point I concluded that maybe I just wanted to replace the BB with something different. Let the torture begin!
The process for removing a French threaded fixed cup with Sheldon’s removal tool is different from a “normal” fixed cup because the threads are right hand instead of left hand so the cup is removed with a counter clockwise motion. After tightening the hell out of the nut on the outer side of the fixed cup so that it can’t be tightened any further, you then tighten the bolt on the inside, thus moving the washers in a counter clockwise motion. I tried out all of my tools at hand and even attached the Park took to my breaker bar for extra leverage, but had no luck in turning the BB shell. I also tried the reverse process, just in case this was one of those French BB’s that was threaded in a non French way, but to no avail.
So, to kick it up a notch, I soaked the BB with penetrating oil for a week. In order to keep the oil inside the cup, which I filled to the brim, I used a Belgian Ale cork, more dense than a regular wine cork, and shaved it to fit into the lower opening of the fixed cup, then held the frame horizontal in my stand. A few drops leaked out over the week (it IS penetrating oil after all), but the bulk of the oil stayed inside the cup, hopefully breaking through the frozen threads. Hope springs eternal!
But that did not work at all. Even after getting more leverage on my breaker bar by placing the bike upside down and using all my body weight to push down on the Park tool attached to the breaker bar, the fixed cup would still not turn. Foiled!
Now was the time to end my suffering by accepting reality. The fixed cup was here to stay. So, then I pondered whether the T.A. 374 spindle was slightly warped, thus making it impossible to achieve an adjustment. I searched my parts bin for a replacement and found a Stronglight 118 mm spindle that was in nice condition. The 4 mm shorter spindle would not cause any problems because I already had plenty of chainring clearance with the other spindle (using 2 rings on a T.A. crankset). I put the replacement spindle in, and achieved a perfect adjustment on the first try! So, while I was never able to removed the fixed cup, at least I’m going to be able to continuing enjoying my sweet little Meral 650b.