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Pedals

It's pretty obvious that one of the two pedals needs be tightened counterclockwise, but which one?

A brief reflection on the right pedal's sense of rotation (while pedaling forward) with respect to the crank would suggest that it is the pedal that needs to be tightened counterclockwise (so that it continues to be tightened further while pedaling).

It turns out that that's exactly wrong. Due to precession, it is the left pedal that needs to be tightened counterclockwise.

Barrel Adjusters

Likewise, with little thought and knowledge, a novice dabbling with bike mechanics, especially to fine tune derailleurs while riding, might be tempted to tighten a (brake or derailleur) cable by turning its barrel adjuster(s) clockwise.

Again, that's exactly wrong. Bowden cables are formed by a cable sheathed in a cable housing. The barrel adjusters neither tighten nor release the cable housing. They increase or decrease its length, and they affect the cable only indirectly—tightening the cable when the cable housing's length increases.

Hence to tighten, say, a derailleur cable to get it to a larger sprocket or chainring, it is necessary to release the barrel adjuster, which increases the length of the cable housing.

What are the counter-intuitive surprises an amateur bike mechanic encounters, after pedals and cables?

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    Actually I find barrel adjusters quite intuitive. Of course you have to realize that you are changing housing length, not cable length (and in which direction the derailleurs move in accordance to cable pull).
    – Michael
    Dec 4 '21 at 16:59
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    I also don't find the barrel adjusters counter-intuitive: It's just a screw, and you need to screw it out of its housing to tighten the cable. Also, when you turn it, you feel that you are tightening the cable when you unscrew it. Of course, that's someone speaking who's never been afraid of screwing stuff (pun intended) and has accumulated some experience by consequence. I guess that people with only superficial knowledge of screws may find it counter-intuitive all right. Dec 4 '21 at 20:36
  • 1
    I've converted this question to a Community Wiki. It's really too broad to be a good fit for the site but, like our Terminology Index, probably provides a good amount of value. The community may still elect to close it.
    – jimchristie
    Dec 8 '21 at 14:21
  • @Michael Re: ".. Of course you have to realize that you are changing housing length, not cable length .." Did you read the question before adding the comment? I have the impression that you haven't. I had written from the get-go: "[The barrel adjusters tighten] the cable when the cable housing's length increases.". If you want to tell me something I didn't already mention, even if some intuition or some insight not already mentioned, please add it as an answer. Otherwise you are just being redundant, or perhaps merely eagerly boastful.
    – Sam
    Dec 9 '21 at 15:17
  • @Sam: No need to feel offended. It was just a comment. My point is that it is intuitive once you understand what you are actually changing when you turn the screw. I mean … that’s true for a lot of things. The beauty of bicycles is that it’s usually quite obvious how components are attached and working together. You can get quite far simply by looking at them and tinkering with them.
    – Michael
    Dec 9 '21 at 15:48
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  • More grease is not always better. Attracts excessive dirt and stuff.
  • Well-greased bearings don’t spin smoothly by hand. Lots of amateur mechanics under-lubricate or use too thin of a lubricant because their bearings don’t spin as well as one would expect.
  • The bearing adjustment on Shimano SPD pedals, as detailed in this question: Which Shimano pedals have reverse threaded bearing adjustments?
  • The bearing sleeve on SPD pedals. The right pedal's is reverse threaded.
  • Adjusting spoke nipples can be counterintuitive depending on which angle one is observing the nipple from.
  • Torque requirements can be surprisingly low. Bike bolts often are used to tighten a clamp of some sort and therefore feel mushy when tightening, lacking the “hard stop” felt when tightening traditional joint layouts with solid components.
  • Dimensional tolerances are much tighter than intuition would suggest. Mechanics are often tempted to do things like hammer components into place or grind things to fit. Please don’t, unless you really, really know what you are doing.
  • Clamps such as stems, seat clamps, brake levers, etc. can be counterintuitive. One might reason that the clamp is only tight when the gap disappears. Of course, the gap is the only reason why the clamp can actually tighten, so overtightening may occur.
  • Tighter is not always better for handlebar-mounted controls such as brakes and shifters. You want their clamps to be loose enough to rotate in a crash so you don’t damage them.
  • Carbon fiber composites are not as fragile as cycling rhetoric would have one believe.
  • The fastening method of Shimano Hollowtech 2 cranks (bar the latest M9100 ones) can be counterintuitive. Overtightening of the preload bolt is common because of people thinking it helps hold the crank arm on.
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    I'd much rather buy a new brake lever after a crash than risk that the brake lever is not exactly where my fingers expect it... Dec 4 '21 at 20:25
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    @cmaster-reinstatemonica You're going to be buying a lot of brake levers then (and have rides cut short by broken levers). 3Nm will hold MTB levers in place, and 4-5Nm will do for road levers. There's no need to do them up to 8-10Nm. Heck, I've seen people leave their levers so loose that their angle can be freely adjusted with a good yank. On steep trails, levers parallel with the ground are more ergonomic, while levers closer to vertical are better for mellower trails.
    – MaplePanda
    Dec 4 '21 at 21:44
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    @WeiwenNg Oh, I mean dimensional tolerances like on crank spindles, seatposts, handlebars, stems, etc. Regardless of the time, it's not a great idea to use a 30.9mm seatpost in a 31.6mm seat tube "even though it's only a 0.7mm difference" for example. Lots of people underestimate what even 0.1mm difference can mean (press fits for example).
    – MaplePanda
    Dec 4 '21 at 21:47
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    @MaplePanda I once ignored a loose brake lever. It didn't feel too bad. Then it fell off, jammed in the front wheel, and I went over the handlebars at full speed. (Which was an interesting experience, because my perception of time slowed down during the process, in the kind of way John McEnroe and others describe when they're making shots.) So I disagree with any concept of these being moveable. Once they're loose, you have no control over exactly how loose they are, and they're free to loosen more during the ride. I don't care who does it, it's fundamentally unsafe, so just don't.
    – Graham
    Dec 5 '21 at 10:47
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    Tighter is not always better for handlebar-mounted controls such as brakes and shifters. You want their clamps to be loose enough to rotate in a crash so you don’t damage them. I'll disagree with that one. If you're riding with your hands on the tops of your shifters and hit a decent bump with your front wheel, the weight of your hands can be enough to either rotate your bars or move your shifters on the bars if they're not tight. And if you actually have significant weight on your hands, the bump doesn't have to be all that big. Dec 7 '21 at 22:29
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Anyone tinkering with bikes needs to be aware of the perverse variety of standards (how many bottom bracket standards are there now?); that multiple actual sizes can be indicated by the same nominal size (26" tires can refer to an unreasonable number of actual sizes); that the same actual size can be indicated by more than one nominal size (rims measuring 622 mm at the bead seat diameter are variously referred to as 700C, 29", or 28", depending on whether you're talking about a road bike, mountain bike, or Dutch bike); or that the nominal size doesn't equal the actual size (a 1" quill stem is called that because it fits in a steerer tube with a 1" outer diameter; the stem itself does not have a 1" diameter).

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  • Rim width came to mind also, internal vs external 🤪 Dec 5 '21 at 2:46
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    Good points. However, tires don't have a single size, they have two: rim diameter and width. As such, it's a bit unfair to say that 26'' tires can refer to an unreasonable number of actual sizes because it does not specify either value. I totally agree that the different naming standards (inch with decimal/fractional width, french, ISO) are totally insane (sheldonbrown.com/tire-sizing.html). I agree with Sheldon Brown that it's best to simply ignore anything other than the well standardized ISO size. Dec 5 '21 at 5:37
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    I wouldn't call tire sizing counterintuitive so much as pure insanity 🤣 Dec 5 '21 at 19:33
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In my experience, BSA and T47 cups are counterintuitive, and it is the right side cups that are left threaded, I.e. opposite to the case for pedals.

Note that the original question was more broad, and was later edited to focus on left hand threads. Cleat rotation (for those riders who need it) doesn’t involve this, but it can appear to operate counterintuitively. For clarity, if isn’t enough float to accommodate your natural foot position (usually to point slightly away from the cranks), you need to rotate your road cleats. This can be counterintuitive at first because you are looking at there cleat from what’s normally the bottom. I initially found that I was rotating the cleat opposite the direction I wanted. It has helped me to just imagine the crankarms being there when I adjust my cleat rotation.

That said, these two situations tend to be more limited in applicability. For most cyclists, the float available in your pedal system is usually enough, so most people may not need to rotate cleats. BB work is not something everyone does, in part because of the infrequent need to actually remove the BB. In my case, not all my bikes are BSA or T47 either, and I also decided to use two different BB manufacturers with different tools.

The late Jobst Brandt confirmed these two cases with an explanation of what causes precession of the right hand BB cups. I don't understand the explanation. He also adds that freewheel cones are another example where left hand threads are used.

On barrel adjusters, I somewhat agree with Michael’s comment on the main answer. I find the system intuitive. However, it took some time before I knew what the system was actually doing. I think people with average mechanical aptitude probably will be in the same boat. The same was true for me with rear derailleur adjustment, as there are several moving parts there.

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  • The rear derailleur is completely fine, when dialing on the RD itself. I need the arm to move to the left, I turn to the left. It gets confusing once one has to think about the tightness of the cables. The adjuster on the brake cables at V-brake levers (even if ancient now) is also fine as it is the only direction that makes sense, but for derailleurs one can reasonably turn both directions and the cables are in various orientations - horizontal on flat handlebars, sideways on older brifters and vertical with internal routing.
    – Vladimir F
    Dec 7 '21 at 10:04
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In some Campagnolo chainsets, the central screw for tightening the hirth joint that connects the two halves of the crank spindle is left-handed, quoting the manual:

Warning: the titanium central screw FC-SR008 mounted exclusively on the Ultra-Torque Super Record 12v crankset, with titanium semiaxles, has a left-hand thread (to tighten, turn anti-clockwise, to loosen, turn clockwise).

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  • “Some” means Super Record only, which is interesting. The Record and Chorus cranksets use steel spindles, bolt on left, and right hand thread. One wonders if there was a substantive reason to reverse the thread on the SR cranks.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Dec 7 '21 at 13:16
  • Ekar uses right hand too. According to the english manual, only SR 12v uses the left-hand thread, while current SR is 12s, not sure what the difference is. However, the German version of the manual claims only 12s uses a left-hand thread. Strange!
    – Erlkoenig
    Dec 8 '21 at 5:33
  • @Erlkoenig "Velocità" is "speed" in Italian, so that's what I assume 12v stands for.
    – MaplePanda
    Dec 8 '21 at 18:19
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    @MaplePanda Ah, makes sense. Somewhat confusing to use both 12v and 12s in the English texts (web pages, manuals). The German translations aren't that great in general either. Slightly disappointing for an European premium manufacturer with long tradition 🤔 A certain Japanese company does it better...
    – Erlkoenig
    Dec 9 '21 at 7:14
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I would say the one thing that's counter intuitive is that sometimes loosening things can be a good idea.

A couple of examples I can think of are things like the adjuster bolts for v-brakes and cantilever brakes, to even out the sides. Sometimes when trying to adjust them it's better to loosen them completely and start from scratch rather than tighten them to the point where one side is in almost as far as it will go.

Same goes for things like barrel adjusters for brake and gear cables .once you've tightened them too much it's time to reset to zero and readjust (or just replace) the cable.

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  • Good point. Also applies to preload in some systems. You can’t simply crank down the preload to the max.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Dec 5 '21 at 23:46
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As usual, Calvin Jones @ Park Tool says it best:

The direction of wrap is also important. We want the direction of handlebar wrap to match the direction of load as the hands rotate on the bars. Under load and stress, it's common for riders on the drops to rotate their wrists outward. Consequently, we want to match their left side with a counter-clockwise wrap from the rider's point of view.

He continues:

But on top this reverses. On top when we're riding, especially up the hill, people tend to twist their wrists back. [So we want the direction of wraps on the tops to be] the opposite of the direction on the drops.

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There is the minimal size of the largest cog on the cassette, and maximal size of the smallest cog (as follows from here). Intuitively one would think that the largest cog can only be too large. But as the derailleur glides in a diagonal line as it shifts up and down, the cogs must increase in size following some expected progression.

This is important because there are cassettes on the market that start from 12, 13 or 14 teeth cog, or end at 25. But in the specs of the derailleur is clearly written, for instance: smallest cog 11 to 12 while largest cog 32 to 36. Good to know before ordering that cassette that goes from 14 to 25 like this one, that otherwise looks so optimal for your life style.

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Bottom brackets, like pedals, have a side that threads opposite.

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  • Not all BBs, though! Italian and a few other standards have right hand threads on both. Also, this was covered on other answers.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Dec 8 '21 at 15:55

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