Facing is, put simply, a process of removing excess material from your bike frame.
Closely related is reaming – cleaning out or enlarging a hole – and tapping, which is the process of cleaning out a thread or re-cutting a new thread.
A trained mechanic will apply this process to any part of the frame or fork which needs to be mated to a component: head tubes, stems, disc brake mounts, bottom brackets.
Having a frame faced won’t necessarily cost the earth. “To check everything – headset, bottom bracket, seat tube, tap out bottle cage bosses – it’s about an hour of work so will cost between £45 to £60,” Aeightbikes Glen Whittington told us.
Lee Prescott of Warwickshire’s Velo Atelier quoted around £100 to check everything including disc brake mounts.
The cost of tooling is a deterrent for some mechanics, with Prescott – who has been building frames for over 30 years and has also consulted on design for some of the biggest companies in the world – quoting a full set of tools to provide an “accurate, well toleranced job” at about £1000.
Why might facing improve a frame?
An absolutely perfect frame will pay dividends in terms of longevity and efficiency.
A bottom bracket shell which is exactly the right size and shape will mean that the bottom bracket sits straight, resulting in a crankset which runs more smoothly.
“People chase every single watt, and spend loads of money on ceramic this and aero that – but having bottom bracket bearings that run concentrically and efficiently will probably save them way more lost power,” says Prescott.
Whittington, who has worked as a mechanic at multiple workshops as well as for pro teams, told us: “There’s quite a lot of frames out there that aren’t quite how they should be, but people now expect bottom brackets and things like that to wear out relatively quickly. If it’s not faced it’s going to cause that kind of uneven wear.”
Disc brake calliper mounts are another area where facing could be important.
“The road standard system assumes everything is accurately made,” Prescott explained. “If the caliper mount is not perfectly perpendicular to the rotor, the pads are always going to be hitting the rotor at a slight angle. We’re only talking fractions of a degree, but when the whole pad travel on a road disc is less than 1mm, fractions of a degree matter.”
Whittington agreed, adding: “A lot of people talk about the bedding in period [of disc brakes]. You do need to get a little bit of brake pad material on to the rotors, but that will happen really quickly. What’s often happening is that the pads aren’t hitting the rotor squarely, but after a few rides they’ll wear unevenly so that they are.
“Facing the calliper mounts would mean everything lines up straight away.”
Not every mechanic believes frames need to be faced. In the course of researching this article, I spoke to seven representatives, ranging from independent mechanics to shops. Four said it wasn’t necessary, and that modern frames are typically within good working tolerance, whilst three were in favour, lamenting stories of bad quality frames across a range of price points.
Croydon shop Geoffrey Butler’s Pete Wise commented: “You get the occasional frame that needs facing, but it’s very rare. It’s not something we’d do on a new frame as standard.”
His voice was backed up by Bowman Cycles’ Founder, MD and Head of Product, Neil Webb.
“The majority of frames don’t need it. If [the frame] does need it and it’s causing a problem then you are one of the unlucky ones.”
“I think flat mount discs are much more prone to a tiny inaccuracy and they can make a big difference to your ability to make a rotor sit square within the pads. BBs are largely irrelevant, you’ve got angular contact bearings most of the time, and they take up a whole load of slack, and your frame is twisting more than the faces.”
Why might some frames need facing?
The obvious question is – why isn’t the frame delivered to a perfect standard in the first place?
“When everyone was on a metal bike all this was done at the factory – it made assembly quicker so it was cheaper for factories to do it properly rather than just fudge it. Now that [carbon] bikes are coming out of moulds, they’re trying to get the mould accurate enough that there’s very little finishing work to be done,” Prescott told us.
“We see a lot of very high end carbon frames, that are shockingly c**p in terms of concentricity,” he added – though not every mechanic I spoke to shared that view.
Regardless, a lot of this imperfection is laid at the door of competitive pricing: if manufacturers were called upon to conveyor belt out thousands of framesets within a fraction of a millimetre of perfection a day, those in the field say they’d have to be so expensive they’d become unattainable.
Neil Webb explained his experiences with Quality Control (QC) procedures.
“No bike manufacturer would specify a frame that was not absolutely parallel across the bottom bracket or absolutely perpendicular on a disc mount. But it’s the checks and processes in place that make the difference.”
And these checks and procedures are costly.
“Over the years, the thing I’ve found with factories in Asia is they will do anything you ask but you have to be so specific with what you ask for. You have to build up these massive quality control sheets that not only specify three different levels of critical dimensions to measure at three different phases, but you have to specify the exact tools used to measure it, the standard operating procedure of each measurement, then you have to specify what is a QC pass – +/- – then you have to specify how are you going to have that reported to you and how it will be signed off.
“Every one of those levels of checking adds to the flat percentage that you’ll pay on top of your costs. You might pay 6 per cent over material cost for minimal QC or if you want huge amounts of QC you might pay 11 per cent over material cost. Quality control, realistically makes up about 15 per cent of your costs. If a brand is trying to get a carbon frame with Ultegra XYZ with X wheels done for £1200, those 70 cents here and 50 cents here add up.”
He also points out that, in most cases, not every frame is checked.
“If a frame company is making 1000 frames for you in five sizes, the general QC process in anywhere in Asia is 10 per cent of each size is QCed, with 100 per cent of all critical damage specified, measured and reported. If more than 50 per cent of those fail they do another 10 per cent. If 50 per cent or more of those fail again, you do 100 per cent QC [of that batch]. So not every frame is checked as a standard process. Some brands may decide to pay more to have more checked, or even more to have everything checked.”
For Webb, it’s taken time to build up a deep understanding of how to get the best results.
“Issues are often quite a good indication of how much experience [brands] have with overseeing manufacture. When I started I knew none of this. You need to build that relationship where you go in and say ‘here’s our processes, here’s all the documentation, here’s what we need you to do, how much will it cost?’. You have to accept that if you want a certain amount of quality, it will cost you a certain amount of money.”
Some brands told Cycling Weekly they finish off their frames in-house. Canyon’s Jack Noy told us: “Our frames are quality inspected and facing/finishing tooling forms a key part of our finishing process to ensure areas which rely on accurate tolerance for optimum performance are to the highest standard.
“It is within our interest to ensure fitment and tolerances are to spec, to streamline the build process and offer our customers the best experience possible.”
Many cyclists will ride hundreds of happy miles on an unfaced frame without any issue.
“Around two years is where you might start to tell,” said Whittington. Rightly or wrongly, after two years, many riders have upgraded to the newest, shiniest N+1. Two years ago disc brakes and wider tyres were still under debate. The race to have the newest and the best, at an affordable price, may come at the cost of perfection – and it’s a price some are more willing to pay than others.
The bottom line
Lee Prescott, Velo Atelier
It’s a false economy not to do it. If stuff is faced, tapped and fitted properly, it’ll just last longer.
Pete Wise, GBCycles.com
With modern building techniques, I’d say it’s most of the time not necessary. Some people are ultra fussy and everything needs to be within the micro millimetre. But most frames are built within tolerances, so everything is square.
The necessity of facing likely depends upon how much you value perfection, how long you’re going to keep the bike and, of course, the quality of the frame as standard.
If you’re buying a £500 bike, an extra £50-£100 on facing is a big percentage, especially as you’re quite likely to trade the bike in before issues arise. If you’re spending thousands, that little extra cash spent on finishing could save you running through your bottom brackets like cheese.