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Basic Bike Care
Your bike will love you for it!

Did you ever look at something you’ve 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 I’d 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 you’re not going to let things get away from you; that this time, you’ll take steps to keep this possession in pristine shape forever.

Well, if it’s a bicycle you’re thinking about, I can help. I might not be able to restore it for you if it’s been abused. But I can give you some easily done basic bicycle care steps that’ll 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
Use a good floor pump to keep your tires inflatedProbably, the number one reason bikes fall apart is because people ignore the tires. Here’s 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 tire size).

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) don’t realize that the tires have softened and ride the bike anyway. Unfortunately, if you ride with soft tires, there’s 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, it’s 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 it’s 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 manufacturer’s recommended pressure, which is written on the tire sidewalls. Here’s the great Pedro's Super Prestige pump that I own and recommend.

A few drops of lube on the derailleur and brake pivot points makes all the differenceLube 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 Tri-Flow and don’t 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 you’ll 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. Don’t get any lube on the brake 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 tips on bicycle lubrication.

Clipless pedals often develop creaking noises. Sometimes this comes from the shoes rubbing on the pedals. For metal pedals and cleats, a few drops of medium weight oil on the cleats will quiet the noise. For plastic cleats, you can try a wax furniture spray or even better is Finish Line's Pedal and Cleat Dry Film Lubricant. It dries fast so it won't stain your carpet if you walk into your living room in your cycling shoes.

Washing your bicycle is quick, easy and funKeep It Clean
Mountain bikers, especially those who ride in the mud, should keep a cleaning kit in the corner of the garage ready for use at ride’s end. All that’s 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. It’s 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 don’t ever direct it toward greased parts.

Once you’ve 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. This cleaning brush kit by Finish Line makes the job a lot easier. When you’ve 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 it’ll save the paint finish and help keep the parts running nicely because you’ve gotten rid of all the dirt and grime. Don’t forget though to relube things after the bath because if you leave the parts wet with water, they’ll rust.

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.

Hanging bikes keeps them safe and saves space tooStore It
I tell everyone to store bike(s) inside. It’s the best way to keep them running and looking like new. And it doesn’t 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. I’ve seen bikes stored in stairwells, bathrooms, bedrooms—anyplace you can find dead space is fine. It’s also possible to use two hooks and hang the bike horizontally, one wheel on either hook.

It’s not the hanging that saves the bike. It’s keeping the bike out of the environment. You might think it’s okay to leave it on a porch or deck as long as there’s 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 don’t like the idea of bike hooks in your walls or rafters, consider a bike storage display stand. These provide convenient storage while displaying the bike like a work of art.

Baby It
Bikes are tough but you greatly increase the chance of problems and rapid wear if you beat them. It’s much better and you’ll 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 can’t 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 can’t ride around, you’ll 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 won’t take a beating. It’ll save you money in replacement parts, greatly reduce the chance of injury, and ensure that your bike keeps running trouble free.

Inspect It
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 ride).

Scrutinize the brake pads to see if they’ve 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. That’s 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 don’t forget bolts holding on accessories, which can loosen too.


to the WRENCH page

Ten Steps to Keep a Bike Running Like New

  • For steel frames, touch up paint chips immediately to prevent corrosion. If you can’t find a color match, try at a store that sells nail polish, which is available in a zillion hues. Check out the incredible Revlon Dream nail polish-only paint job by Robert of TwoFish bicycle accessories.
  • Place a piece of electrical tape on the right chainstay (the frame tube that runs from the bottom bracket to the dropout where the rear derailleur is attached). The chain hits this tube frequently. Tape will prevent paint chips and help silence the noise. To protect carbon frames, which are at more risk, there's a shock-absorbing protective tape called Effetto Mariposa's Shelter Tape.
  • Weekly, inspect the surface of the brake pads that strike the rims and, with an awl or knife, pick out any bits of sand or aluminum that have gotten embedded in the pad. This will prevent the pads wearing the rims.
  • A coat of wax will help keep a bike clean. Use any liquid car wax. Lemon Pledge spray furniture wax works great too.
  • If you carry a lock on the bike, don’t just hang it on the handlebar or wrap it around the seatpost to carry it. This approach allows the lock to swing and strike the frame as you ride, which will eventually chip the paint and possibly ding the frame. Instead, purchase the proper lock bracket for the frame or carry the lock in a backpack.
  • New bikes almost always come with a warranty that provides a free tune-up after you’ve used the bike for about a month to six weeks. If yours is a new bike, be sure to take advantage of this free checkup—even if it means driving a ways to get the bike back to the shop where you bought it. It’s very important for a new bike to get this thorough checkup because the adjustments on new bikes are most likely to change during the first few weeks/months of use.
  • If you have to lay the bike down to park it, always place it on a soft surface and always on its left side. Laying it on its right side puts pressure on the rear derailleur, which could damage it.
  • Riding in the rain is fine, but be sure to dry the bike off as soon as you get home and then apply lube to the chain and brake and derailleur pivots. If you don’t, the water will rust the parts.
  • Try to never lean your bike or park it in a bike rack in such a way that the frame is touching something (even if the other bikes are parked that way). Bicycle frame tubes have thin walls and they’re easily dented. Plus it’s very easy to chip the paint job, which may lead to corrosion. If you have to lean a bike, rest it against the seat and handlebars as I explain in my Bicycle Parking 101 tip. Most bike racks are made to hold the bike by the wheel.
  • It may seem selfish, but never let anyone ride your bike except for a short test ride. I’ve seen too many bikes trashed by boyfriends, brothers and friends. It’s not their bike, so I guess they figure it’s okay to ride it as hard as possible. I say let them wreck their own bike.