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Daily Bicycle Maintenance: Paying Attention to Your Bike

by ExperiencePlus! - Tuesday, July 27, 2010 training

Daily Bicycle Maintenance: Paying Attention to Your Bike

by Rich Young, ExperiencePlus! Tech Guy

One of the best things about bikes is their elegant simplicity. But when it comes to keeping your bike running smoothly, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Even knowing when something needs professional attention can be difficult. The good news is that taking care of your bike doesn’t have to require lots of time or mechanical expertise. All you need is your own eyes and ears, and a good local bike shop to help when you find something that needs attention. Here’s my super-easy checklist of quick inspections you can do to help keep your faithful steed running smoothly.

 

How to Quickly Inspect Your Bike Before Every Ride

It’s easy to forget to give your bike a quick once-over if you’re in a hurry to get going; however, once you’re familiar with what to look for, most of these things can be mentally checked off between the time you approach your bike and the first 10 yards of your ride. Getting into the habit of watching for these problems can save you money, time and skin.

 

     

  1. Check Tire Pressure

     

  2. Check Your Chain Lube

     

  3. Check Your Brakes

     

  4. Check Your Pedals

     

  5. Feel for Loose Parts

     

  6. Listen for Unusual Noises

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check Tire Pressure

Road Tire and Presta Valve Stem
Why? Riding on under-inflated tires can cause flats and damage your wheels. And pumping up tires is a lot easier than fixing bent wheels.
How? It’s hard to tell with your thumb if a tire is under-inflated, especially on narrower, higher pressure tires. Instead, use a pressure gauge or a floor pump with one built-in.
What if there’s a problem? It’s good to know how to change a tube yourself, and a lot of you reading this probably already do. But if you’re not sure, have a mechanic at your local shop give you a quick lesson. Rear wheels can be a little tricky to remove and install because of the chain & derailleurs.
Mechanic’s Tip Don’t just throw a new tube into the tire without finding out what caused the flat – if the sharpie is still stuck in your tire, it will be happy to flat yet another tube.
Safety Pointer Under-inflated or over-inflated tires can both cause accidents, though it’s more common with under-inflation.
Checklist TopTiresChain LubeBrakesPedalsLoose PartsNoises

Check Your Chain Lube

Regina America Hollow-Pin Chain
Why? Riding with a dry chain wears the chain’s moving parts out faster. This, in turn, wears out everything else on your drivetrain faster: cassette, chainrings, even the little pulleys on your derailleur.
How? Before throwing a leg over the bike, back

pedal a half-revolution and listen for squeaking from your chain. If it’s squeaky, looks dry, or even if it’s just been a while since you lubed it last, take a second to apply some fresh oil to the chain.

What if there’s a problem? Steady a drip bottle of chain lube so that it’s just above the chain, then backpedal through three or four revolutions while gently squeezing the lube out onto the top, not the sides, of the chain. If you don’t want to get messy, a local shop will usually do it for a dollar or two. They can also tell you what oil to use in your locale.
Mechanic’s Tip Every climate has its own best chain lube. Seattlites might want something not too far removed from motor oil, while we Coloradoans favor fairly thin lubricants that don’t attract too much dust. But WD-40, Liquid Wrench and similar "penetrants" are never a good idea.
Safety Pointer Don’t use aerosols, as the overspray can get on the rim and interfere with your rear brake.
Checklist TopTiresChain LubeBrakesPedalsLoose PartsNoises

Check Your Brakes

Shimano 105 Dual-pivot Caliper Brake
Why? Because people with bad brakes lead shorter, more painful lives.
How? Before you start rolling, squeeze each brake a

couple times to make sure they’re working. Squeeze them again lightly as you start rolling to feel for uneven braking due to wheel damage, or the change in braking vibration that can mean your brakes are rubbing the tire rather than the metallic braking surface of the rim.

Mechanic’s Tip This is especially important if you frequently take the wheels off for transportation or storage — it’s common to forget to hook up the brakes again.
What if there’s a problem? It may be as simple as taking up a little slack in the brake cable with a barrel adjuster or as complicated as a loose or broken part, but. . .
Safety Pointer . . .these are your brakes we’re talking about, so if you don’t know what you’re doing, take it to a shop.
Checklist TopTiresChain LubeBrakesPedalsLoose PartsNoises

Check Your Clipless Pedals, if you have them

Why? If you find something that interferes with disengaging your pedals, you might just save yourself from keeling over at the next stop sign. It’s hard to look cool when you’re on the ground with your feet stuck in your pedals.
How? As you engage the cleat and pedal, take a minute to clip out and back in again once or twice.
What if there’s a problem? If it feels rough or stuck, it might be a pebble stuck in your cleat. That’s easy to fix. But if it feels sloppy and loose, or feels uneven but doesn’t improve with a little light oil on the retention mechanism, you might have a broken cleat or pedal. That’s more likely to require a trip to the bike shop.
Mechanic’s Tip If you’re riding in muddy, sandy, rocky or snowy conditions, a couple moderate sideways whacks of shoe against pedal can help you clear the interfering grit and gunk without dismounting.
Safety Pointer In my shop days, I saw more than one customer injured by falling over in clipless pedals they couldn’t get out of. Don’t monkey with the cleat tension unless you understand what you’re doing, and give yourself a chance to get used to any changes in a safe test-ride environment.
Checklist TopTiresChain LubeBrakesPedalsLoose PartsNoises

Feel for Loose Parts

Properly Closed Quick-Release Lever
Why? Some loose parts will cause things to wear out faster, while others can cause crashes. Either reason is good enough for me.
How? As you mount and push off, feel for anything unusual. The force of your weight on the bike and the first couple pedal strokes will usually make serious problems like loose wheels, saddles, handlebars or accessories apparent with a clunking sensation.
What if there’s a problem? Depends on what it is. If you can find it and fix it, great; if not, you shouldn’t ride until you know what’s causing any big clunk.
Mechanic’s Tip Again, people who frequently remove wheels for transportation or storage are most likely to encounter forgotten quick release levers.
Safety Pointer Novice cyclists are often mystified by quick-release levers (if you’re not certain that you’re doing it right, ask someone who knows). But any significant clunking sensation means something’s about to fall off or fall apart, and that’s never safe.
Checklist TopTiresChain LubeBrakesPedalsLoose PartsNoises

Listen for Unusual Noises

Why? Because bikes are so quiet, you can detect problems early with a good ear. Early detection means less expensive repairs and safer riding.
How? As you start out on your ride, listen for unusual sounds of scraping, rattling, rubbing, or creaking.
What if there’s a problem? Stop and see if you can figure it out. If you can’t, it might not always be necessary to scrap the ride. Little noises can be really hard to track down, and if there aren’t any other symptoms, it might not require immediate attention.
Mechanic’s Tip Pay attention to rhythm. Noises that start & stop with your pedaling are usually symptoms of something in the drivetrain or parts of the bike that bear your weight. Wheel & brake noises will get faster as the bike accelerates, and continue whether or not you’re pedaling.
Safety Pointer Noises relating to wheel rotation are always worth finding before you ride anywhere, since they often indicate unsafe conditions in your brakes, tires or wheels. On the other hand, creaking sounds that seem to occur when you shift your weight around on the bike can be as benign as a stem or seatpost that needs lubrication, or as serious as a small crack developing somewhere important. Take it to a mechanic if the creaking gets louder or fails to go away.

If this seems like a lot to think about, don’t be intimidated! I came up with this checklist by paying attention to my own unconscious routine as I approached my bike. With a little practice, you too can turn this six-point inspection into an unobtrusive habit that will make your riding safer and help your bike last longer.

I’ll be turning wrenches on our Race tours this July, but when I get back I’ll take a look at monthly maintenance issues. See you then!

Rich