Thursday, February 16, 2012

In the Weeds

My common maintenance missteps to avoid in the 2012 season.


If there is only one thing in this article of which you take heed, this should be it.  Dirt and road grime are the kryptonite to your bike’s Superman.  They are the Clayface to your Batman, the Senator McCarthy to your independent thought, et al.  Dirty bikes never run well—or at least they never run as well as they could if they were clean.  Dirt finds its way into bearings, cables and really any other nook or pigeonhole that it can.  Like termites, it enters, makes its home unbeknownst to you, and sets about ruining your stuff.  Stuff that you probably spent hard earned money on; stuff you needn’t replace if you kept your bike clean. 

Soap and water is the name of the game here.  Get down and dirty with it and wipe it down by hand.  Find your inner Van Gogh—get a soft paintbrush measuring two or three inches wide and really get into all the small spaces around your components and drivetrain.  Wipe off the soapy water with a soft, lint-free rag or use compressed air to expel any excess water.  Always, Always, ALWAYS relubricate any pivot points, pulley wheels, and your chain after washing your bike.

Don't let a dirty bike sit! Get that stuff off of there within 24 hours.

Washing Woes

Bike washing isn’t all fun and games though.  There are several pitfalls that can make your bike washing adventure a wallet sapping problem down the road.  Unlike your hometown “save the high school” charity carwash, air dry is not an option here.  Unlike cars, water can become a blister on the foot of your bike’s ability to run.  Rust and corrosion can become a serious problem if a wet bike goes unnoticed.  Water—from rain, hose, or powerwasher—can blast much needed grease from the major bearing sets throughout your bike.  Even if you use the thickest waterproof grease, high powered hoses and powerwashers are a no-no when it comes to bike washing.  I know you see pro tour mechanics powerwashing all the team bikes after each stage or race, but unless you have a professional tending to your bike’s every want and need after every time you ride, I wouldn’t recommend it. 

Like I said before, compressed air does a fantastic job getting all excess water out of pivots and other small crannies and ALWAYS relubricate after you wash.  It’s mandatory. 

There are many different lubes out there.  Make sure your using the one best suited for your specific needs.  

Underlubrication/ Overlubrication

Now that I have convinced you of the value of lubing your chain and pivot points, let’s talk about how to actually execute said lubrication.  Unfortunately, it is not as simple as the “spray every time you play” technique many people use when it comes to chain lube.  But on the other hand, it is not an every 3,000 or 6 months (whichever comes first) oil change option that other people prefer.  Bikes need lubrication to work correctly, but too much can attract dirt and cause premature component fatigue.  No one likes premature fatigue.  Find that happy medium with your lubrication technique.  Apply lube every 100-200 miles or a week to 10 days—whichever comes first. 

As you rotate the cranks, drip the lube into each link until there is a thin and even coat ont he chain.  Pause—reflect on your life so far; give the lube a minute or so to make its way inside the rollers or pivot points.  Here is the all important step that most overlubricaters skip: Wipe the chain off!  Keep wiping.  The chain should look clean on the outside.  Grease or lube on the outside of your chain is a dirt magnet and we have all been familiarized with the baggage that dirt brings to the party.  This simple step will save your chain and all your other components from being grossly over-lubricated. 

If your cleaning up after yourself, your chain should look clean after lubrication

Post Race Preservation

So now you will be able to show up to all of your races with your bike sparkling and lubed up and ready to go.  But what about after the race?  I understand that after a hard race for which you have been training, you might hate even the sight of your bike, but this is the moment where champions are made—or at least this is where they save a couple bucks in replacement parts down the road.  Right now, as you are reading this, close your eyes and think back upon the experience of your last race...

Well….scratch that.  Don’t actually close your eyes.  It tends to make it difficult to read a computer screen.  Let’s try this: 

As you are reading this, close your mind’s eye and think back upon your last race.  Think about all the sweat, the dirt, the drool, and all of the hammer gel that didn’t quite make it down the hatch in the heat of the moment.  Guess where that unmentionably disgusting elixir lands? Your bike.  It finds its way into all of your important moving parts and gunks them up.  Ignoring your bike at this time is costly.  Headset bearings and cables are ripe for the ruining.  Giving your bike a good bath when you get home from your race can go a long way towards saving you money. 

Don't let flat spots on your rear tire leave you stranded.  Stay on top if it!

Rubber Neglect

Tires wear.  Flats happen.  Glass is ubiquitous in a city of this size.  But that is no good reason to neglect your tires and tubes.  Other than leave you stranded 15 miles from your car, what did they ever do to you?  Think of tires like babies, they need constant attention and inspection.  Replace your tires before they develop large flat spots in the middle of the tire.  Extreme wear means an exponential increase in flat probability.  In the unfortunate event you do find yourself changing a flat, take your time to carefully inspect the tire.  Make sure there are no foreign objects or road debris lodged in the tire.  If you miss a rogue shard of glass, you could find yourself changing another flat in the very near future.  When you do find yourself needing to replace your tires, make sure you buy really fat ones like I recommended last week. 

Trainer Neglect

While we are on the topic of flat spots on worn tires, let’s move on to the arch nemesis of your rear tire: your trainer.  This winter notwithstanding, many winters have left us non-hard-as-nails softies stranded inside on our stationary trainers for extended periods.  While they may be good for your fitness level, trainers tend to be deceivingly hard on your bike.  Rear tires wear quickly on trainers—so much so that many people use tires specifically made for trainer use.  Be sure to keep an eye out for the same signs of wear that I already mentioned and get your tires replaced if need be before climbing out of your winter shelter to rejoin your fellows for a gentlemen’s ride. 

Just because your not riding outside does not mean your bike doesn't need your love.
People tend to sweat more when they workout indoors and most of that extra sweat finds its way into your headset bearings.  Certain replacement will be necessary unless you employ a towel or bike thong  to shield your bike. 

Staying on Top of it

All of my subjects so far have a common undertone—in case you haven’t noticed.  My main point here is to “get ahead of the bike maintenance ball,” as it were.  Like car, home, or even relationship maintenance for that matter, bike maintenance is about staying on top of it.  It’s about taking care of small simple problems now so they don’t become bigger problems later.  If you regularly replace your chain before it becomes really worn, you can avoid replacing cassettes, pulley wheels and chainrings.  Throwing a towel over your handlebars before a hard trainer workout can save you $50 later on new headset bearings or $150 on a new stem after your sweat literally corrodes through it (I’ve seen it!). 

Staying on top of it can save you big money in replacement bearings down the road.

In Over Your Head

There is a saying that goes, “God give me the know-how to fix my bike when I can, the good sense to take it to Cadence when I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference.” I’m pretty sure that’s in the Bible.  If it’s not, then you should file it in your home maintenance bible.

It’s great to take care of the small stuff yourself.  It gives you a better understanding of how your bike works and undoubtedly makes you a better rider and cycling ambassador.  There is a very real value, however, to the ability to know when you’re in over your head.  Bike shops like Cadence spend a lot of money to make sure we have the highest quality and most up-to-date specialty tools so that you don’t have to.  As professional wrenches, it is our job to be trained and experienced in dealing with various problems and it is probably likely that we have seen your problem before and fixed it many times. 

Half the battle in bike maintenance is knowing whether you’ve got it well in hand, you’re on the brink, or you’re just in the weeds. 

We want to hear what you think about this blog!  Do you have questions, comments, or good ideas for future posts?  Let us know what you think in the comment section below and thanks for reading!


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