(Re)building my bike

Since I was young I have always been interested in how stuff works. I have taken apart many a toy, and building Lego Technic sets was one of my favourite things to do when growing up. This curiosity remains to this day. As a bioscientist, I am fascinated with how life works, and as a lecturer, when new technology is introduced I am always looking for explanations of how things operate and where data comes from.

This need to understand also extends to my bikes. From the start of my commuting-by-bike journey I wanted to be able to do my own maintenance. Not just because it saves some cash (my bikes still get an annual service done by a professional mechanic), but because I think that if you know how things work, you can also appreciate using them more, and in most cases repair stuff when it inevitably breaks.

My road bike in particular receives a lot of abuse. It is used year round in all weathers for commuting 45 km daily. The cleaning, maintenance and service intervals are therefore short, and parts wear out quicker. I noticed a month ago that the bottom bracket was making a grinding noise on the left side, and a quick inspection revealed that the bearing was rough. Although I could have just replaced the bottom bracket, I decided the time was right to make the upgrade to 11 speed, something which I had been thinking about for a while but couldn’t really justify.

The old bottom bracket was making a grinding noise, and looked really grubby

I decided an upgrade to Shimano 105 R7000 would be ideal, as it is robust, relatively affordable, replacement parts are not too expensive and it is reliable, all the things you need for a bike that is used mainly for commuting. I asked my bike mechanic to order a full groupset minus the brakes (these had already been upgraded to 105 a few weeks before because I had to replace the rear brake caliper) and ordered some new bar tape.

Whilst waiting for the parts to arrive, I spent a lot of time reading up and watching YouTube videos on how to install groupsets. I had never done this before, so I had quite a bit to learn. Taking stuff apart is easy, putting it back together again is harder. I found a few YouTube channels particularly helpful, and by the time the part arrived I was somewhat confident that I would manage without major dramas.

The strip down, frame deep clean and installation went relatively smooth. The hardest part really was installing the heatshrink tube around the brake outers at the handlebars (idea from here) and the bar tape. All the rest was a matter of think twice, don’t forget to grease, and take your time. Part by part the bike came together, and after the best part of a day the bike went from Sora to full disassembly to 105.

Some fine tuning of the derailleurs and brakes later it was time for a shakedown ride. I went for the roughest tarmac I could find and spend half an hour trying to get parts to fall off. Luckily all that needed doing was torqueing up the seat post clamp as I forgot to before I left. The difference between old and new groupset was noticeable not just because of the extra two gears, but because of the difference in feel: post-upgrade everything feels more refined and sharper than before.

I am very happy with the process and the result, and am now confident that I can repeat the trick whenever it is needed, and replace every part myself should it break. Additionally, working on the bike was very therapeutic, and seeing it all come together was really satisfying.

Next on the list is replacing the lower headset bearing. Ideally I would have done this during the rebuild, but unfortunately the order didn’t arrive in time. I have the part on the shelf, just need to find some time to install it. In a year’s time I will be looking to respray the bike, so I am looking around for ideas and good frame painters. If you have suggestions, please leave them in a comment!