SAE What?

Here are the two most dangerous SAE screws to get mixed in with your ISO (metric, as in bike) screws. They are the 1/4"-28 and the 10-24, shown with the ISO screws they are confused with at right. The SAE screws are 1/2" long, the ISO screws are 12mm, slightly shorter. Shown here are button screws. Each "wrong" button screw will also take the "right" screw's Allen key, with a slightly loose fit.
  • The 1/4"-28, at bottom, is slightly bigger than the M6 above it, with slightly looser threads. When I hold two these at arms-length, I can't tell which is which, let alone identify one by iself.
  • The 10-24, second from top, has coarser threads than the M5 above it. This seems obvious, but doesn't actually take much carelessness to miss, especially if you don't work in a bike shop surrounded my M5 threads all day. The bottom of the 10-24's threads are quite a bit deeper than the M5's, but because coarser threads are thicker, the outside diameters of the screws are about the same.
What happens when an SAE screw is used by mistake on a bike? Nothing good, of course. In my previous post, I discussed my adventures with 10-32 screws and nuts versus M5, but all I wielded in anger was a thread gauge. This time, wanting to know the whole horror story, I got out the tools to wreck some hardware.

The 1/4"-28 is notorious for destroying bike bosses. I used a torque wrench to thread it into an M6 nut. The screw progressively stiffened to 20 Nm. At this point the screw was visibly cross-threaded into the nut. M6 screws are often torqued to 25 Nm or higher; on stems, aero bars, and the like. Threading by hand, it's obvious something is wrong, but a torque wrench is long enough to make 20 Nm easy to turn. But even using an Allen key, by the time it's clear that something is wrong, the threads on the bike are likely destroyed.

I backed out the 1/4"-28 and threaded in the correct M6, which promptly bound. Forcing it did not help. attempts to back the screw out again succeeded only in shearing off the screw. If I had conducted this experiment using an actual bike instead of a special stunt-nut in place of the bike, I would now have a huge mess on my hands.

Thanks to Adrian Burns for pointing out the perils of the 1/4"-28.

The 10-24 is insidious. It's easier to spot, but if missed, it threads in and appears to work. Yes, it's a bit stiff, but even with dry threads I never measured above 5 Nm. Once it's in, it appears to hold. Your rack or bottle cage is now mounted. But the bike's threads are trashed, and the screw will probably loosen. If thread locker doesn't help, you may try a new screw, doubtless an actual M5. Then the real grief starts.

I simulated this by tightening a 10-24 down to about 10 Nm. The screw wouldn't strip through at this torque, but it easily loosened. I then backed it out of the nut and threaded an M5 screw. This was stiff for a few turns as the M5 reformed the damaged threads. Then the M5 became rattle-loose in the nut. Now nothing will fit that hole until it is drilled and tapped for something larger.

I try not to keep any of these problem-child screws around, especially not in the heads and lengths used for bikes, especially in stainless, which is used a lot for bikes. If I feel like I have to stock one of these, I'll mark it on both ends with a red laundry marker to remind me that it's trouble.

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