Did you ever look at something youve owned for a while, say a car, something
you like or liked a lot, and wonder how it got to where it is today?
You look at that car that served you all these years and you remember
the ordeal haggling on price at the dealership; you recall the gleaming
paint and the awesome acceleration during the first years of ownership;
the pride of showing off your new wheels.
Now, you wonder where all those dings in the body came from; how you
could have let the sun crack the dashboard; why the carpet wore through;
you long for the days when she pulled away from lights with power to
spare instead of sputtering and stuttering. You might think to yourself,
Boy, I wish Id have taken better care of that car because
she sure was a beaut when new.
You might even have thoughts like these when you buy something new and
promise yourself this time that youre not going to let things
get away from you; that this time, youll take steps to keep this
possession in pristine shape forever.
Well, if its a bicycle youre thinking about, I can help.
I might not be able to restore it for you if its been abused.
But I can give you some easily done basic bicycle care steps thatll
rejuvenate most well-ridden two-wheelers. And the same tips can keep
a new bike running and looking new for as long as you want.
Pump It Up
the number one reason bikes fall apart is because people ignore the
tires. Heres what happens: Bicycle tires have very little air
in them. And bicycle tubes, which are made of butyl rubber, are porous
enough to allow air to seep out.
The result is tires softening over a period of about a week for road
bikes and about a month for mountain bikes (though it depends some on
When the tires get soft, bad things happen. Some folks decide to stop
riding the bike because they think they have flat
tires and they put off getting the flat fixed because it means loading
the bike in the car and dragging it down to the bike shop.
Others (and this is more common) dont realize that the tires have
softened and ride the bike anyway. Unfortunately, if you ride with soft
tires, theres a risk of rim and tube or tire damage should you
hit a pothole or rock. The impact compresses the tire, allowing the
object to smack into the rim, possibly bending the rim and puncturing
the tube. Besides this, its much harder to pedal a bike with soft
tires, and the tires wear quicker when used underinflated.
These reasons ought to be enough to convince you that its best
to regularly inflate the tires. Road bikes should be checked before
every ride (photo) and mountain bikes at least weekly. Use a good pump
that has a built-in gauge and follow the manufacturers recommended
pressure, which is written on the tire sidewalls.
It or Lose It
A bicycle is made up of a bunch of moving metal parts, many of which
are meshing with each other. In order to keep these parts from grinding
each other to dust as you pedal merrily along, they should be lubricated.
Spinning parts containing bearings, such as the wheels, pedals, bottom
bracket (what the crankset is mounted to), and headset (the mechanism
that connects the fork to the frame and allows steering), come from
the manufacturer packed with grease. About once a year, these components
should be dismantled, checked and regreased. But, because special tools
are needed and the work is required only occasionally, you may prefer
to leave this job to a bike shop mechanic.
What you can do quite easily is lubricate the chain and pivot points
on the brakes and derailleurs. Use a light lubricant such as Triflow
and dont apply too much, because that will only attract dirt and
grit that can actually accelerate parts wear.
You can tell when a chain needs lube, because the links will appear
bright and shiny, and when pedaling youll hear squeaking. But
only apply enough lube to put a light coat on the chain (about one drop
per link). Any more than that and grime and gunk will build up. One
good technique is to apply the lube (pedal backwards while the bike
is leaning against a wall and put some paper down to catch drips), let
it sit a bit and then wipe off the excess.
When I say lube pivots, I mean the places on the derailleurs and brakes
where things move. For example, on a sidepull brake (as found on most
road bikes), the brake pivots on bolts and you can apply a couple drops
of lube at these points. Dont get any lube on the pads!
For derailleurs apply the lube where the body of the derailleur moves
(photo). Here too, be sure to wipe off the excess.
The company Finish Line offers a nice product brochure that includes
on bicycle lubrication.
Clipless pedals often develop creaking noises.
Sometimes this comes from the shoes rubbing on the pedals. For metal
pedals and cleats, dabbing a bit of grease on the cleats will quiet
the noise. For plastic cleats try a wax furniture spray or Armor All
spray. If the racket is coming from the pedals, apply a few drops on
the jaws and spring. Just be sure not to walk into your house after
giving your cycling shoes the treatment or youll leave lube prints
on your carpets.
Mountain bikers, especially those who ride in the mud, should keep a
cleaning kit in the corner of the garage
ready for use at rides end. All thats needed is a bucket
with some sponges and dishwashing detergent and a nearby hose.
When you return from a ride, prop the bike up and spray off the majority
of the mud and muck with the hose. Its crucial to not blast the
water sideways at the bike. Doing so may force the water into the pedals,
hubs and bottom bracket, which may compromise the grease and bearings
inside these components. Instead, spray water only from above and dont
ever direct it toward greased parts.
Once youve knocked off most of the dirt, fill the bucket with
warm water and enough detergent to raise some suds and go to work on
the bike with the sponge. If there are lots of nooks and crannies on
your rig, consider getting various brushes (Park tool makes a nice
set: see their frame brush in the photo), which will speed up the
cleaning process. When youve scrubbed the bike fully, rinse off
the soap by dribbling water from above.
With a little practice, you ought to be able to turn a filthy mud monster
into a sparkling wonder in about 15 minutes. And itll save the
paint finish and help keep the parts running nicely because youve
gotten rid of all the dirt and grime. Dont forget though to relube
things after the bath because if you leave the parts wet with water,
Tips: to quickly clean bikes that aren’t too
dirty, apply spray furniture polish to a rag and wipe your bicycle clean
with it. Also see Park
Tool’s bike washing and cleaning how-to.
I tell everyone to store bike(s) inside. Its the best way to keep
them running and looking like new. And it doesnt take much in
the way of space or supplies. The only item needed is a bike hook. These
are shaped like question marks and coated with vinyl so as not to scratch
the wheel when you hang the bike on the hook.
Install the hook in a stud in a wall or a rafter or beam; anywhere
where the bike can hang vertically is fine. Ive seen bikes stored
in stairwells, bathrooms, bedroomsanyplace you can find dead space
is fine. Its also possible to use two hooks and hang the bike
horizontally, one wheel on either hook.
Its not the hanging that saves the bike. Its keeping the
bike out of the environment. You might think its okay to leave
it on a porch or deck as long as theres a roof covering it. Don’t
make that mistake. Moisture in the air will attack the metal parts on
the bike. Especially caustic are areas close to the ocean where the
salt in the air will quickly corrode components.
You can avoid these hazards by simply storing the bike indoors. If
you dont like the idea of bike hooks in your walls or rafters,
consider a bike storage display stand, which your local bicycle shop
might stock or can order for you. These provide convenient storage while
displaying the bike like a work of art.
Bikes are tough but you greatly increase the chance of problems and
rapid wear if you beat them. Its much better and youll enjoy
the riding more, if you learn how to ride smart to protect the bike.
The key skill is to learn to constantly scan the road or trail ahead
and try to avoid the things that ruin a bike such as potholes, ruts,
roots, rocks, glass, oil spots, etc.
Some of these things cant be avoided. And riding off road, you
have to ride over obstacles all the time. But there are ways to do it,
and still save the bike. Learn to get up off the seat and bend your
arms and legs the same way a jockey sits on a racehorse. If you do this
every time you spot objects you cant ride around, youll
protect the frame, fork, wheels and components.
If you enjoy jumping a mountain bike, learn to do so professionally.
Good jumpers rarely land hard. They work on their technique so they
land softly; you barely hear the impact. Ditto for riding wheelies or
hopping over logs and things. The lighter your technique the better
chance your bike wont take a beating. Itll save you money
in replacement parts, greatly reduce the chance of injury, and ensure
that your bike keeps running trouble free.
All machines wear, and a bike is no different. Expect changes in your
equipment if you ride a lot and prevent failures by staying on top of
things with weekly or monthly inspections (depending on how much you
Scrutinize the brake pads to see if theyve
worn out (most have grooves in them; when the grooves disappear, replace
the pads). When the pads shrink from use, you not only lose braking
power, the chances of the pad diving into the spokes or striking the
tire and popping it increase.
Operate the brake and shift lever and look closely at all four cables
both at the levers and at the derailleurs and brakes. Also inspect along
the frame. If you spot any signs of fraying or rusting or even if you
see cracking in the cable housing sections, have the cable and housing
replaced by a shop. Thats much better than getting stranded miles
from home with no brakes or a bike stuck in a super-hard-to-pedal gear.
Check the tightness of key component by putting a wrench on every important
bolt and snugging slightly to see if it has loosened. Check the seat
and seatpost bolts; the wheel quick releases; the stem and handlebar
bolts; the brake and shift lever bolts; wiggle the spokes to feel for
loose ones; tighten clipless pedal screws; and dont forget bolts
holding on accessories, which can loosen too.
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