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Tales from the workshop: shark fins and surfers

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Photographs: Jon Denham

One Direction
Don’t panic – this post has nothing to do with the ubiquitous boy band, and I suspect Niall, Zayn, Liam, Harry and Louis neither know, or for that matter care, about the correct orientation of bicycle parts. I do, however, realise that with the meteoric rise in popularity that cycling is enjoying, they may well be keen riders and I may be doing one or all of them a great disservice, in which case I apologise…
Many bicycle components rely on correct orientation. The competent mechanic will pay attention to the manufacturer’s instructions. pic: 256
I am, I should clarify, referring to the fact that brake pads/shoes, chains and tyres in many cases have directional mounting requirements that should always be adhered to. In less critical applications, directionality can merely fall into the category of an aesthetic faux pas, but in some cases it can be a matter of rider safety.
I run my own cycle servicing business – www.doctord.co.uk – and it never ceases to amaze me how many bikes arrive at my door with parts that have been incorrectly fitted despite the items in question all being shipped with instructions, or even having the relevant information printed on the component itself. Instruction manuals, it would appear, are often left unread in our haste to fit that new component and consigned to the cylindrical filing cabinet better known as the waste bin, but we really should take more notice of the manufacturer’s fitting information before ‘steaming in’.
Road tyre direction is a contentious subject, as several manufacturers go to the trouble of moulding a directional arrow on the tread band or side-wall, yet they make it almost impossible to spot even if you know it’s there. Vittoria have a tiny arrow tucked away on their superb Open Corsa CX clincher, but you have to look very closely for it. Likewise, Continental have a small arrow together with directional info moulded into the side wall of many of the tyres in their range, including the legendary GP4000s II. You can find yourself hunting for these instructional markers every time you fit a new tyre or suffer a puncture but it’s far easier to note the particular tread pattern and make a mental note to save time in the future.
Chains, brake pads, tyres… following a manufacturer’s recommended orientation makes sense. pic: 256
Once you have spotted the “shark’s fin being followed by a windsurfer” on a GP4000s, it’s a revelation, meaning only seconds need to be taken to get it right every time. I have quizzed a few industry types, but no one I have spoken to really cites a definite reason for getting tyre direction right. I thought it might be to do with carcass construction, but it appears not, and accept that the sipes on a road bike tyre, if present at all, do nothing to shift water and improve wet weather performance like a car or motorcycle tyre does.
However, it makes sense to fit your chosen tyre as your manufacturer intended. Conti’s approach is consistent with their automobile and motorbike tyre production (where orientation is critical) so it makes sense to follow their suggestion. Let’s not forget your bike also looks that bit nicer if you’ve taken note of small details like this too.
Chains have been known to need to run specifically in one direction in the past but this is less commonplace than it was few years ago. Joining the chain following the manufacturer’s instruction is, however, very important but perhaps something for another time. Having said that, I have discovered that in some cases, a chain with a fair few kilometres on it that you may have removed for cleaning, will run better if you re-fit it in the same orientation as it’s already been used. I use a zip-tie as a marker so I can always put chains back as I found them… but cleaner, of course.
One direction is a maxim that applies to many bicycle components, as well as to pop bands. pic: 256
Brake shoes with open ends to allow pad replacement must always be fitted in mind of the direction of wheel rotation and almost all brake pads have grooves on their faces to clear water from the rim that only really work correctly one way. Most modern brake pads also have slight curvature to follow your rim’s brake track more accurately: get this wrong and you can often end up with an overlap that’ll wreak havoc with your graphics and anodised finish, so pay attention. In almost all cases, brake blocks have Left, Right and Forward information clearly printed when you unpack them, but this information will be obscured when they are fitted, so take note.
There are other components on your bike that have been specifically designed to work in one direction only, including chainrings, jockey wheels and more. I had a partially assembled bike arrive in my workshop last week with the seatpost in backwards and seem to recall having seen at least one advertising campaign from a well-known supermarket chain trying to muscle into the bicycle retail sector using an image of a bike with the forks fitted the wrong way around…
All of the above might sound bloomin obvious to some, but from experience, not everybody’s heard of one direction…

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