It’s hard to believe that it has been 15 years since Campagnolo Ultra-Torque was introduced to the marketplace. I remember the day in 2007 when I was standing in a local bike shop holding the brand new Campagnolo Record Ultra-Torque crankset, the drive-side in my right hand and the non-drive side in my left. I looked at the semi-axles, Hirth joint, and the bearings and said to the shop owner, “this won’t work.” The owner, being a big fan of everything, Campagnolo, looked at me as if I had three heads. I didn’t bother explaining why because, although he is a nice guy, I knew that he had limited technical knowledge.
After seeing the promotional images online and reading all of the technical articles put out by Campagnolo, It was great to finally get to personally hold and inspect an Ultra-Torque system. I left the bike shop with ideas swirling around my head, but my overwhelming thought was that I must be missing something critical about the design. My hangup was the lack of a way to compensate for bottom bracket shell width discrepancies that most of the other cranksets were able to do. It is rare to have English threaded bottom bracket frame shell widths be precisely 68mm and Italian threaded shells to be exactly 70mm as specified. Additionally, with the placement of the bearings being fixed on each semi-axle in combination with the Hirth joint connecting the two together, one would also have to assume that the manufacturing of each side of the semi-axle and the machining of the Hirth joint is absolutely the same and that process is repeatable. I would later go on to learn that the reputation of repeatable machining of exacting measurements in Italian factories leaves a lot to be desired. Putting all of this together, even if the two sides of the cranksets semi-axles were EXACTLY the same length, every single one, there still isn’t a way to adjust for a shell that is under-spec at 67.8mm or over at 68.3mm. I had concluded that this is why they opted to use a wave washer.
It wasn’t long before I had the opportunity to install one. And like every responsible bike mechanic, I installed the Ultra-Torque crankset and bottom bracket following the factory installation instructions verbatim. Approximately six months and 3K miles later, I received a text from that customer that said that he was getting a noise/knock that he thought was coming from the bottom bracket. I had a solid sense that it was the Ultra-Torque system. Since he lived close by, I asked if I could head over there as soon as possible to pick it up and keep it for a few days. After a quick test ride and inspection without disassembling it, I noticed the very obvious axial movement to the drive-side when the wave washer was compressed and the immediate return to the non-drive-side when the pressure was released. I called my father-in-law (who retired from NASA) to see if he could stop over to give it a look. As soon as he arrived, all that I told him was that there was a knocking noise that was coming from the bottom bracket area and asked if he could figure out what was causing it. I didn’t want to bias his assessment, so I didn’t tell him anything else. I told him that I’d be back in about an hour.
When I returned, he said that the noise appeared to be a result of the axial movement in the crankset. This supported my theory. We discussed some different approaches to a solution. We landed on the idea of eliminating the wave washer and introducing some sort of shim stack to make up for the absent wave washer and to be able to precisely dial in the system to the specific bottom bracket frame shell width. Remember, this was just before the introduction of press-fit bottom brackets. In the following days, I ordered shims in several different thicknesses. I knew from the start that this process would be tedious and time-consuming to get right. It is a big difference from the relatively simple method described in the official installation manual.
My first attempt at a solution was using a combination of external and internal shims with the wave washer still in the recommended location. This effectively took up the additional space while adding some preload to the system. This worked for about two weeks until I received another text telling me that the click was back. It was silent and smooth for several hundred miles of hard riding. The knocking turned into a click. I was disappointed, but I wasn’t surprised. I felt that I was making progress towards a solution.
I landed on what I first called a Wavewasherectomy. The removal of the wave washer and the addition of external shims installed between the bottom bracket shell face and the non-drive side threaded cup. After a while, I added an alternative method. This was the addition of external spacers while continuing to use the wave washer, which effectively added preload to the wave washer and bearings. This technique was most effective for shell widths that were over spec. This approach was for people who were not comfortable with removing the wave washer. I made it aware to those who chose this approach that there was a good chance that in the future, they might have to add to the shim stack if or when the wave washer takes a set and loses its spring tension over time which it will then effectively lose it’s original work height. Ultimately, I landed on a set of eight shims in four different thicknesses. I machine down the OD for both the English and Italian shim kits and the ID of the Italian shim kit. You can find the custom machined, stainless steel RogueMechanic Shim kits for threaded English and Italian bottom brackets here.
As you would expect, some keyboard warriors on the cycling forums didn’t want to play nice. One, in particular, had me banned because of my opinion and because he thought that I was disrespectful (this was not the case because that is not my style). I approached the issue on the forums as if I was missing something. I wasn’t aggressive. All that I wanted to do was to provide a solution that was happening to some, not all that had a Campagnolo Ultra-Torque system. I concluded that there were two camps out there; one approached this issue theoretically and the others practically. Mine is the practical approach. I received a massive amount of heat, but the hate was more than offset by the amount of love and gratitude I received from those who ordered a shim kit and eliminated the dreaded Ultra-Torque noise. I went on to offer a solution for Campagnolo Ultra-Torque Press Fit bottom brackets. These are a set of custom machined PTFE shims designed to be added internally onto the non-drive side semi-axle. You can use them with or without the wave washer.
So 15 years later, I continue to produce the shim kits and ship them worldwide. I feel obligated to continue until Campagnolo offers a solution or modifies its design. Back in 2014 at NAHBS in Charlotte, NC, I even gave a couple of the top dogs at Campagnolo North America the opportunity to convince me why the axial movement is acceptable and to give me a reason to stop offering the shim kits. Even though we had some great conversations, they could not give me a valid reason to stop. So in closing, I will continue to produce these shim kits until the need is no longer there, and I am grateful for the opportunity to help those who were experiencing issues.
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