Posted by: Travis | April 29, 2010

Travis’s Guide to Cycling Style and Cultural Norms Part 5: Skills/Maintenance

There aren’t many things more frustrating than a bike that mechanically doesn’t hold up its end of the deal when you want to go for a ride on a beautiful spring day. A tire that keeps going flat, a noisy derailleur that’s out of tune, or a squeaky chain that’s dying for some lube can turn a otherwise fun ride into a test of nerves. I know a lot of people who ride that aren’t mechanically inclined (ahem…Dad), whose eyes glaze over when bike maintenance/repair comes up. A lot of people out there want their bike to work when they pull it out to go for a ride, and not worry about it the rest of the time. This is all fine and good, but can lead to unnecessary (and expensive) trips to the bike shop and missed ride time.

Sure, bike maintenance can be a little overwhelming at first, but if you take the time to learn a few basic skills (and leave the more complex stuff to the guys at the bike shop), you can save yourself a lot of headaches (and cash), and extend the life of your bike significantly.

There are several schools of thought when it comes to bike maintenance. First is the ‘i just want to ride my bike’ crew. These are the guys that ride around with squeaky chains and noisy derailleurs. When the chain gets too noisy to bear, it gets a shot of WD-40. No maintenance is done unless the bike is unridable because of a flat tire, broken chain, or some other component. On the other end of the spectrum are guys that keep rags in their car and wipe down their bike before and after every ride. When their bikes are ‘filthy’, they are cleaner than my bike is as soon as i’m done washing it. I end up somewhere in between. I don’t care so much about the frame being dirty, but a noisy drive train drives me nuts, so i normally keep that pretty clean.

Bike maintenance isn’t nearly as hard as it sounds. A great resource is a book by Lennard Zinn called Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance (yes there is also a book for mountain bikes and triathlon bikes). Its a great book that goes through revisions pretty frequently and is my main resource when i run into a problem i can’t fix and the shop is closed. The second good resource, because a book can only take you so far, is a website called Bicycle Tutor that has videos and step by step guides of how to perform most bike maintenance tasks.

  1. Learn how to lube your chain and do it regularly – The single best thing you can do to keep your bike quiet and running smoothly is lubing the chain. Here’s a video from Bike Tutor. I lube my chain about every 200 miles, or once a week or two for me. At a minimum, for those who don’t ride that much, do this once a month. I also clean and lube the chain after wet or particularly dirty rides. This is one of those things that is easier the more you do it. If your chain is reasonably clean, it can take less than 5 minutes. If you haven’t done it in 6 months and have to use degreaser to clean it, it can be more like 30 minutes. Ask your bike shop about what kind of chain lube they recommend. Unless you’re going to be doing lots of riding in the rain, get a ‘dry’ lube, and avoid wax based products. I use Rock n Roll Gold, which is a combination lube/cleaner. I find it works pretty well.
  2. Learn how to change a tire – Another critical skill is how to change a tire if you get a flat. Always carry an extra tube and inflation tool (CO2 or minipump) with you on your rides. If you can’t change a tire (taking the old tube out, fixing the tire if needed, putting a new tube in, and pumping it up), and you’re out of cell phone range, you’re basically screwed. Learn how to do this, practice in your living room, get good at it. Here’s a video.
  3. Talc your tubes – I’m not sure if this is true, but it’s plausible, so i do it. Before installing a new tube, give it a light dusting in talc (also known as baby powder). Supposedly it lets your tubes move around inside the tube more freely, preventing tears, and subsequent flat tires.
  4. Clean you bike – You don’t have to wipe your bike with a rag before and after every ride, but once a month (and after wet/dirty rides), give it a bath. I normally use two buckets and two sets of brushes: one set is for the drivetrain (and gets all greasy), the other is for the rest of the bike. Doing it this way is a bit of a hassle, but greasy brushes can spread grease all over the frame, and that’s not cool. For a quick wash i’ll hose the bike down, do a once over with a soapy brush, rinse, then hit the places that are still dirty, rinse again, clean and lube the chain, dry a bit an your done. For a more in depth cleaning i’ll do the same thing, but take the wheels off and be more critical in my spot-checking. Occasionally i’ll also take the cassette off and degrease the whole thing so it is no longer black.  If you ride a lot, it is also recommended that you have your bike overhauled (all the parts stripped, cleaned and put back on, some parts replaced) by your local bike shop once a year, normally after the end of the racing season. Just a side note: sweat contains high levels of salt and is very corrosive. When you’re out riding the wind helps keep you cool and prevents most of your sweat from falling on your bike, but if you do spin classes or ride a trainer on your bike a lot, your sweat drips right down onto your bike. Protect your bike with a towel and stay of top of the situation by keeping your bike clean. Consult your local bike shop if you have problems.
  5. Check your tires before every ride – This is easy. Check your tire pressure before every single ride. Tires can lose as much as 40psi (or more) over night, so make sure and pump your tires up before you leave for a ride. Tire pressure depends on your preference and what kind of tires you have. I generally ride around 110-120psi, and then drop it down to 95-100psi in the rain or on bad roads.

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