The newly improved shifting on this built up Ridley X-Fire. Jeremy Chinn

The newly improved shifting on this built up Ridley X-Fire. © Jeremy Chinn

The season starts in less than a week — is your bike ready? Mechanical Mondays writer and mechanic Jeremy Chinn walks us through improving the shifting on one specific bike, but you can also look at his advice in a much broader spectrum of bike maintenance, upkeep and constant improvement.

Pre-Season Equipment Improvements: Improving The Shifting Of A Built-Up Ridley X-Fire

by Jeremy Chinn

This summer, as cyclocross season began to loom in front of us, my local racing buddies and I started thinking through what we’d do different this year. What different races would we attend, how would we change our preparation, and like any mechanic or gear junky, how could we improve our steeds?

My riding and training partner, Matt, built a beautiful new bike last year. He started with a Ridley X-Fire in his size, and built it up with Sram Force, 3T and Ridley’s own ‘Forza’ components. With his Williams Tubular wheels mounted, the bike weighs a respectable 17.5 lbs and gives a comfortable, efficient ride. Unfortunately, the first racing season proved that not everything was as perfect as Matt would have liked.

During our pre-season discussions, we talked primarily about shifting effectiveness and braking power. The Sram Force group is a great group for a cyclocross bike as it does not break the bank, is pretty precise and does not make the bike feel like shouldering a load of firewood over the barriers. Unfortunately, the shifting on Matt’s bike, especially the front shifting, left a little to be desired. We decided to attack the shifting and make it a top performer.

Typical of a modern cyclocross setup, the X-Fire uses a bottom pull road derailleur actuated by a cable looped over a pulley on the frame. Unfortunately, Matt’s X-Fire came with a nylon pulley which bolted directly to the frame. When under tension, the pulley was riding on threads of the securing bolt. There was also no good way to ensure that the bolt did not pinch the pulley through its middle. When the pulley got dirty during a race, things got worse. All these things combined to make some seriously sluggish front shifting.

A call to the guys at yielded a pulley with a bushing inside and a cover on the outside. The bushing in this pulley is great, as it allows the securing bolt to be tightened correctly and allows the pulley to rotate on a smooth surface. The cover keeps the muck out during all but the muddiest races.

The second phase of improving the shifting on the bike included going to the ubiquitous Gore sealed cable system. Well-known on the circuit, the Gore system is pretty doggone bulletproof. Installing it on the bike was another matter, however. Like many manufacturers, Ridley mounts the cable stops on their frames with rivets. In the case of Matt’s bike, the rivet heads stuck out so far that a standard cable ferrule would not fit. Here, many people would attack the rivet heads with a file and move on. However, doing that weakens the rivet.

My thoughts on modifications is that you should modify the part that is cheapest to replace. In this case, a ferrule is the part to modify. Filing the rivets would have weakened part of a pricey frame!

I used a rat-tail file to file away a portion of the ferrule so it would fit over the rivet heads. The file made quick work of it, and we were able to install the housings quickly after that. We were able to avoid filing a ferrule for the front derailleur by using a Jagwire in-line cable adjuster at the cable stop. This also gave some more adjustability on the front derailleur. Using the old housings as ‘patterns’ for the new Gore housings made the job go quickly and ensured a good setup.

Those two parts changes made all the difference in the bike. The X-Fire now shifts better than any cyclocross bike I’ve had the chance to ride. The improvement in the front derailleur was even more substantial than the rear. I know this season, Matt will not have any issue finding the right gear as he quickly drops me on the first lap.

Have questions about specific parts he mentioned? Check out the gallery below.

If you feel like your cyclocross bike could be improved upon, make sure you talk about it with a mechanic or other cyclocross expert before filing away yourself. That said, if you do have a problem with your bike, now is the time to address it, not after four races of getting dropped or dropping out with a mechanical.