Every season, I like to do a few modifications or upgrades to my bike. It is sort of my new season ritual: researching products and tinkering with my bike helps me transition from winter to summer and gets me excited to ride again. The changes are various in nature. Sometimes it is to incrementally improve the build, sometimes it is for aesthetics, and sometimes it is just to try something new. In the case of my bottom bracket, this upgrade is definitely performance based.
When I built my frame up a couple of years ago, there were very few options for adapting a BB386 EVO shell to fit the 24mm spindle of a Shimano crank. Wheels Manufacturing had their adapters out at the time, but I didn't think a Delrin ID reducer was the solution I was looking for. Plus, I would still have to buy a 'regular' BB386 EVO BB to install the reducers in. It wasn't that I had heard bad things about them specifically, it is just that I felt that there had to be a better way. The less creak inducing interfaces, the better.
On the hunt for a more native solution, I came across an adapter made by BH (or at least branded BH) that consisted of two metal cups with 24mm ID diameter bearings installed for use with a Shimano crank. Perfect! I ordered one up.
When the BB arrived, it seemed nice enough. Smooth like a new bottom bracket but nothing extraordinary. Install was another issue. The interface between the metal BB shell of the frame and the machined metal cups was extremely tight, making for a very stressful install. It did go in and I was very happy to put the press away. So far so good. However, once the crank was installed, there was very little free spin to speak of: maybe 2.5 rotations. Terrible.
I removed the crank and checked the bearings by hand. The non-drive side was stiff, meaning either something is out of alignment or pressing on it in some way. It is possible that the bearing got damaged during install (I would like to think that this wasn't the case, but anything is possible, grin). I used the correct bushings and procedure for the press. Alternatively, the cups deformed slightly due to the tight interface between the shell and cups. Whatever the reason, I was going to live with it because spring was approaching and I wanted my bike to ride.
So that is how it stayed for two seasons. I could never 'feel' a difference in my legs when pedaling, but I always knew that it was there. My shameful bottom bracket that can hardly spin freely. It was at least good enough not to draw attention to itself: not a creak in those two years. This off-season, however, I intended to right a couple little wrongs on my bike, and this meant it was time for a new bottom bracket.
In looking for a BB solution, I wanted a robust system. The internet is littered with stories of creaking press fit bottom brackets, so I wanted to avoid that if I could. We are big fans of the Praxis Works BB solutions, so that design was my starting point. Unfortunately, Praxis stated that the market for BB386 EVO was too small for them to invest time developing a model (at this time). So they were out.
Next, I came across a Kickstarter campaign for a pressfit BB solution that used a one piece design where the entire unit pressed in from one side: BBInfinite. The idea is to keep the the bearings perfectly in line for best performance. Sounds great! I backed them with expected delivery in September, perfect for off season tinkering. September came and went, and so did October without a word from them. It took more than a few emails to find out that the BB386 EVO to Shimano model was delayed indefinitely, so no BB for me.
Alright, stuff happens, send me a refund and I will look somewhere else. If only it were so simple. They did eventually come through with a refund, in December, three months after I was supposed to get my BB, so I guess it worked out (though they did stiff me the international shipping fee that I had paid earlier).
Eventually, I came across the Wishbone BB. They are based in Taiwan, so it was a little difficult getting information initially, but I was able to get a BB ordered along with a set of tools for install. Shipping was very quick and reasonably priced.
Under a visual inspection, the whole system felt very nice, precisely machined with smooth bearings. Install is pretty straight forward, press in one side and thread in the other.
Again, the fit was very tight, making the treading in procedure quite frustrating. Given of the geometry of the BB standard, the BB has to be near flush with the side of the frame in order to not interfere with the crank, so the teeth on the side are very small. This meant the tool would slip off of the BB unless the force was perfectly aligned. This was a challenge because I was required to use a lot of force in order to spin the BB inside the shell. It did go in which is all I wanted. However, the tools did mark up the BB pretty good. Not an issue for me but I know that it would bother some people.
Crank install was as it would be with any other BB. Then for the moment of truth: spin test! I am happy to say that I now have a decent BB on my bike. I was able to get a good 10 to 12 rotations. Good enough for me!
It seems that most other companies use a carbon BB shell in their frames, while mine is alloy. So the alloy on alloy interface is quite tight (which is far better than too loose), but it makes working on the bike a bit more difficult. That is not a knock on the BB or the frame, just an observation. I am really looking forward to putting this BB through its paces, and I will post updates throughout the season. Now if we could only get it to stop snowing!