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Someone, anyone, tell me about stems and shims and headsets

Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

Someone, anyone, tell me about stems and shims and headsets

Old 08-24-11, 09:59 AM
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Mrs. Merckx
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Someone, anyone, tell me about stems and shims and headsets

I've been having that certain irrational envy of carbon bikes for quite some time now. So I bought a Colnago C40 on eBay. I haven't ridden it yet. It spent more than a week at the border in customs. Turns out this was for no reason other than a miscommunication (curse you, UPS).

The bike arrived when I was out of town. My housesitter signed for it. I unpacked it immediately when I got home and found that it was packed like absolute crap. There is an ugly gash in the chainstay. I considered packing it back up and returning it. But I've subscribed to all kinds of eBay notifications for bikes in my size, and they don't come up for sale every day. So I thought I'd ask the seller for some compensation for the ugly scratch. I put the bike together and something was definitely funky with the headset and stem. I took it to my local shop.

This is where I start asking actual questions:

First of all, the mechanic said the headset is missing a piece. How does a piece of a headset go missing?

Second, they said the stem is too large for the 1" steertube, that the shim provided is wrong, and that no shim will work. He said he tried a bunch of different shims. Why won't any shim work?

As far as asking the eBay seller what is going on with the bike, it's no use. He's a twit.
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Old 08-24-11, 10:09 AM
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Could the stem be a 1 1/8th" one? A 1" stem should work fine. If the headset is intact, could the mechanic be talking about the cover missing?
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Old 08-24-11, 10:11 AM
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what year is the bike?
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Old 08-24-11, 10:15 AM
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You just did the equivalent of walking into a doctors office and saying, "Doc - It hurts. What's wrong?"



Need a helluva lot more details and probably pictures if you want an actual solution.

How does a headset piece go missing? Easy. You ever taken a headset apart? I am guessing no.

Why do you have a 1" steerer? On a carbon bike? What year is this? 1998?

What stem? The stem should be a 1 1/8" and shims between 1" and 1 1/8" are common. If the LBS said that no shim would work then it seems like you have a messed up standard or a cluster sitting in front of you. Do the simple stuff....take pictures, post and measure things so you know what you're dealing with instead of just saying, "how can this not work??!"
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Old 08-24-11, 10:19 AM
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Are you sure it wasn't a Fauxnago?
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Old 08-24-11, 10:31 AM
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can you get a new stem? how bad is the gash?
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Old 08-24-11, 10:56 AM
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Yea the nasty gash is the thing that would have me worried with a carbon frame...
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Old 08-24-11, 10:57 AM
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Amongst all the bike people I know, I'm the only one with a 1 inch threadless stem. They're getting hard to find. I used a shim from Performance bike for my bike when I used 1 1/8" stems
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Old 08-24-11, 10:57 AM
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Originally Posted by himespau View Post
can you get a new stem? how bad is the gash?
Yeah, definitely. I'm planning to get a new stem. I was just confused about why a shim wouldn't work. The scratch on the chainstay is just in the clear coat. It's a bit ugly, but not the end of the world. And I did manage to get a discount for it, which I guess made me feel slightly better. Totally preventable -- the chain wasn't wrapped.


I'll post pictures in a bit. I didn't mean to offend Psimet2001 with my vague questions. I do hope he'll forgive me in time.
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Old 08-24-11, 11:29 AM
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Originally Posted by Mrs. Merckx View Post
I'll post pictures in a bit. I didn't mean to offend Psimet2001 with my vague questions. I do hope he'll forgive me in time.
All will be foregiven with the purchase of a set of Psimet Wheels.
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Old 08-24-11, 11:43 AM
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Also, I thought that Colnagos stayed with 1" steertubes until the C50 came into mass production. Or am I thinking of Fauxnagos? I keep getting them confused.
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Old 08-24-11, 12:15 PM
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Sorry....in a bad mood today. Has nothing to do with this place, but keep getting the overwhelming feeling of wanting to help but not being provided enough information....imagine that....actually happening at work....nah.....

Again - my apologies for the tone.
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Old 08-25-11, 08:37 AM
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Haha, it's ok. I understand your frustration. I just have no experience with stem or headset issues, so I was hoping to be directed to what sort of information I should be providing.

I didn't post again yesterday because I decided to try one more bike shop in the Miami area. I took the bike to Bikes To Go, and they were great. The guy worked on it for about 45 minutes and had everything working. The stem is a Syntace 1.25" with a shim to make it work for a 1.125" steer tube. There was an additional shim there to make it fit the 1" steer tube. This wasn't working, no matter how much it was tightened, the stem still slipped. As for the headset feeling like utter crap, it wasn't that a part was missing, it was that some of the bearings were the wrong size.

What I don't understand is how the eBay guy that sold me this bike had no idea any of this was wrong. I mean, did he let his wife ride this bike around like this?

Anyway, that shop was great. I didn't walk in there demanding they work on it immediately, but they did. And they didn't charge me for the repair. Super nice guys. Looks like I found a new shop in Miami!
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