How to Cold Set Bike Frame: A Complete Guide

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Have you ever come across a bike frame that just doesn’t quite fit the wheelset you want to use? Or maybe you’ve found a vintage frame that needs some adjustments to accommodate modern components? In situations like these, cold setting can be a valuable skill to have in your cycling toolkit.

But what exactly is cold setting? Well, let me break it down for you.

Cold setting is the process of adjusting the rear spacing of a bike frame to fit a different width of hub or wheel. It’s typically done on steel frames, as they are more flexible and resilient than other materials. This technique has a long and rich history that dates back to the early days of cycling.

Initially, cold setting was used to repair damaged or bent frames that were caused by accidents or wear and tear. It allowed cyclists to bring their beloved bikes back to their optimal shape and performance. As time went on, cold setting also became a way to adapt frames to different wheel sizes, hub widths, or drivetrain systems that were introduced over the years.

With the rise of vintage bike enthusiasts, cold setting gained even more popularity. People wanted to preserve and restore old frames with modern components, creating a blend of classic style and contemporary functionality. Cold setting also found a home among custom bike builders who aimed to create unique and personalized frames with different specifications.

Over the years, cold setting has evolved alongside advancements in frame and hub materials and technologies. These developments have improved the quality and durability of frames, making them more adaptable to adjustments. However, it’s important to note that cold setting does have its risks and limitations, such as:

1. Frame Cracking: Cold setting can potentially lead to frame cracks, especially if your frame is chromed, brazed, or lugged. It’s important to assess the condition and materials of your frame before attempting any adjustments.

2. Voiding Warranty or Insurance Coverage: Modifying your frame through cold setting may void any warranty or insurance coverage you have. Be sure to check the terms and conditions before making any modifications.

3. Difficulty with Certain Frame Features: Frames with internal cable routing, disc brake mounts, or integrated seatpost clamps can present challenges when it comes to cold setting. These features may limit the amount of adjustment you can make.

So when you get here knowing what the cold setting a bike frame is and the risks that you will face in the process, do you still insist on doing it? If it is a YES, let’s move on into the details of how to make it.

How to Measure Bike Frame Spacing and Determine the Desired Frame Spacing

Frame spacing is an essential aspect of bike maintenance and customization. It refers to the distance between the inner faces of the rear dropouts, where the axle of the wheel sits. When it comes to frame spacing for cold setting, it’s crucial to measure it accurately and determine the desired spacing based on the type and size of the hub or wheel you want to use.

Step 1. Measuring the Original Frame Spacing

Measuring your frame spacing is a relatively simple process that you can do yourself. Here are a few methods you can use to measure your frame spacing:

1. Caliper: Using a caliper is the most accurate way to measure frame spacing. Place the caliper’s jaws on the inner faces of the rear dropouts and record the measurement.

2. Ruler: If you don’t have a caliper, you can use a ruler. Align the ruler with the inner faces of the rear dropouts and measure the distance between them.

3. Stack of coins: In a pinch, you can use a stack of coins as a makeshift measuring tool. Place the stack of coins between the inner faces of the rear dropouts and measure the height of the stack.

Step 2. Determining the Desired Frame Spacing

The desired spacing for your bike depends on the type and size of the hub or wheel you want to use. Here are some common frame spacing measurements for different types of bikes:

1. Track, Fixed-Gear, and Single-Speed Bikes: These bikes typically have a frame spacing of 120 mm.

2. Older Road Bikes with 5 or 6-Speed Freewheels: The frame spacing for these bikes is usually 126 mm.

3. Modern Road Bikes with 8, 9, or 10-Speed Cassettes: The desired spacing for these bikes is 130 mm.

4. Mountain Bikes, Hybrids, and Touring Bikes with 7, 8, 9, or 10-Speed Cassettes: These bikes typically have a frame spacing of 135 mm.

5. Road Bikes with 11-Speed Cassettes and Disc Brakes: The desired spacing for these bikes is 142 mm.

6. Mountain Bikes with 11 or 12-Speed Cassettes and Disc Brakes: These bikes typically have a frame spacing of 148 mm.

It’s important to note that these are general guidelines, and there may be variations depending on the specific brand and model of your bike. Always refer to the manufacturer’s specifications or consult a professional if you’re unsure about the desired spacing for your bike.

And after you get these two numbers, please remember it and we will use them in the operation steps. In the following, we will show you two methods of how to cold set bike frame, depending on what tools that you prefer and have.

How to Cold Set Bike Frame Using a Frame Alignment Gauge

First of all, a frame alignment gauge is a tool that measures the alignment of the rear dropouts and helps you apply the correct amount of force to bend the frame. It consists of two adjustable arms that attach to the rear dropouts and a measurement scale that indicates the spacing between the arms. You can buy a frame alignment gauge from a bike shop or online, or if you’re feeling adventurous, you can make your own using a threaded rod, nuts, washers, and a ruler.

frame alignment gauge

Step 1: Prepare Your Bike

Before you start cold setting your bike frame, you’ll need to remove the rear wheel, brake, and derailleur. This will give you better access to the rear dropouts and ensure that these components don’t get damaged during the process.

Step 2: Attach the Frame Alignment Gauge

Next, attach the frame alignment gauge to the rear dropouts. The arms of the gauge should be parallel to the chainstays and seatstays. Adjust the gauge to the desired spacing, which is typically the same as the rear wheel spacing, such as 130mm for a road bike or 135mm for a mountain bike.

Step 3: Secure Your Bike

Now that the frame alignment gauge is in place, you’ll need to secure your bike on a flat surface. You can use a bike stand or ask a friend to hold the bike steady while you apply pressure. Ensuring that your bike is stable is crucial for accurate cold setting.

Step 4: Apply Pressure

With your bike secured, it’s time to apply pressure to the frame alignment gauge. Start by applying gentle and even pressure to the gauge, gradually increasing the force until you reach the desired spacing. It’s important to apply pressure slowly and evenly to avoid damaging the frame.

Step 5: Check Alignment

Once you’ve applied the necessary force, it’s time to check the alignment of the rear dropouts. You can use a ruler or a caliper to measure the spacing between the dropouts. Ideally, the spacing should be the same on both sides. If there is any discrepancy, you may need to repeat the cold setting process until the alignment is correct.

Step 6: Reinstall Components

After successfully cold setting your bike frame, it’s time to reinstall the rear wheel, brake, and derailleur. Make sure to double-check the alignment of the dropouts one last time before proceeding. Once everything is back in place, take your bike for a test ride to ensure that everything is functioning properly.

How to Cold Set Bike Frame Using a 2×4 Board

While a frame alignment gauge is the ideal tool for this task, it can be expensive and not readily available. Luckily, there’s a simple and affordable alternative: a 2×4 board. In this section, we’ll guide you through the process of cold setting your bike frame using a 2×4 board.

Step 1: Prepare Your Bike

Before you begin, make sure to remove the rear wheel, brake, and derailleur from your bike. This will give you easier access to the frame and prevent any damage during the cold setting process.

Step 2: Cut and Prepare the 2×4 Board

Start by cutting a piece of 2×4 board to the desired spacing plus 2 inches. For example, if you want to cold set your frame to 130mm, cut the board to 132 inches. Next, mark the center of the board and drill two holes on each side of the mark, about 1 inch apart. These holes will be used to secure the board to the bike frame.

Step 3: Secure the Board to the Dropouts

Insert two bolts or screws into the holes you drilled on the 2×4 board. Make sure they are long enough to protrude through the other side of the board. Tighten them with nuts or washers to ensure they are secure. Now, place the board between the rear dropouts and align the bolts or screws with the axle slots. This will help maintain the proper spacing during the cold setting process.

Step 4: Clamp the Board to the Dropouts

Using a vise or a C-clamp, gently clamp the 2×4 board to the dropouts. Make sure the clamping force is even on both sides to prevent any damage or misalignment. This step is crucial for ensuring that the frame bends evenly during the cold setting process.

Step 5: Apply Pressure to Cold Set the Frame

Place your bike on a flat surface and secure it with a stand or ask a friend to hold it steady. Now, it’s time to cold set the frame. Apply gentle and even pressure to the board, gradually bending the frame to the desired spacing. Be patient and take your time to avoid any sudden or excessive force that could damage the frame.

Step 6: Check the Alignment

Once you’ve applied pressure and cold set the frame, it’s important to check the alignment of the dropouts. Use a ruler, caliper, or any other measuring tool to ensure that both sides are evenly spaced. If you notice any misalignment, repeat the cold setting process until the desired spacing is achieved.

Step 7: Reinstall the Rear Wheel, Brake, and Derailleur

With the frame properly cold set and aligned, it’s time to reinstall the rear wheel, brake, and derailleur. Double-check that everything is securely in place before taking your bike for a test ride.

Step 8: Test and Adjust if Necessary

After cold setting your bike frame, take it for a test ride to ensure everything is functioning properly. Pay attention to any changes in handling or performance. If you notice any issues, such as misalignment or poor shifting, you may need to make further adjustments or seek professional help.

Tips and Tricks for Cold Setting Your Frame

Again, it’s important to approach cold setting with caution, and here are some tips and tricks to follow and ensure you have a successful and safe cold setting experience.

1. Wear Protective Gear

Before you start cold setting your frame, make sure you’re wearing the right protective gear. Wear gloves, eye protection, and long sleeves to avoid any potential injuries. Cold setting involves bending metal, and you don’t want to risk any accidents.

2. Clean and Lubricate

Before you begin the cold setting process, it’s crucial to clean and lubricate both the frame and the dropouts. This will ensure smooth movement and prevent any damage to the paint or finish. Use a mild cleaner and a brush to remove any dirt or grime, and then apply a thin layer of lubricant to the frame and dropouts.

3. Measure and Mark

To avoid overbending your frame, it’s important to measure and mark the desired spacing on both the frame and the dropouts. Use a ruler or measuring tape to determine the correct alignment, and then mark it with a permanent marker or a piece of tape. This will serve as a guide during the cold setting process.

4. Bend Gradually and Symmetrically

When it comes to cold setting, patience is key. You want to bend the frame gradually and symmetrically, making small adjustments at a time. Avoid bending the frame more than 2 mm at a time to prevent any structural damage. Use a cold setting tool or a hydraulic press to apply even pressure to both sides of the frame.

5. Check Alignment Frequently

Throughout the cold setting process, it’s crucial to check the alignment of the frame and the dropouts frequently. Use a straight edge or a laser alignment tool to ensure everything is straight and aligned. If you notice any misalignment, make the necessary adjustments before continuing.

6. Avoid Overdoing It

While cold setting can be a useful technique, it’s important not to overdo it. Avoid cold setting a frame more than once or more than 4 mm in either direction. Excessive cold setting can weaken the frame and compromise its structural integrity. If you’re unsure or have any doubts, it’s best to consult a professional bike mechanic.

7. Use the Right Tools

Using the right tools for cold setting is essential. Avoid using makeshift tools or excessive force, as this can lead to damage or even breakage. Invest in a quality cold setting tool or consider taking your bike to a bike shop that has the necessary equipment and expertise.

8. Know Your Limits

Finally, it’s crucial to know your limits when it comes to cold setting. Not all frames are suitable for cold setting, especially if they are too old, too thin, or too damaged. If you’re unsure or have any concerns about cold setting your frame, it’s best to consult a professional bike mechanic who can assess the condition of your frame and provide expert advice.

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AUTHOR

Randy Joycelyn

Randy is the founder and editor of Cycling Soigneur. He has been passionate about cycling since he was a kid. He has been riding bikes for over 10 years. Cycling has just become a part of life.

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