Bike Maintenance Basics

Bicycles have come a long way over the past few decades.  From lightweight alloys to titanium and carbon fiber, today’s bicycles are significantly lighter and more responsive than those from not that long ago.  Advancements ranging from index shifting to dual pivot and now disc brakes have helped today’s bicycles work and ride better than ever; technology improvements are a big reason why so many people enjoy riding their bikes today.  However, like anything mechanical, a little maintenance is required if you want your bike to work as it was designed.  Just doing these two basic maintenance items can dramatically help the performance of your bike, make your riding much more fun and keep you off the side of the road repairing your bike in the middle of a ride.

Tire Inflation –  Bicycle tires are relatively low volume and thus can lose pressure relatively fast.  It is a good idea to inflate your tires before every ride as a road bike tire can lose 5-10 psi in as little as 24 hours.  Properly inflated tires are not only the best way to make sure your bike rolls as fast as possible, but are also the best way to prevent pesky and inconvenient pinch flats.  Recommended tire inflation levels vary tire to tire and are printed on the side of the tire.   Tires list a maximum inflation on the side that you should not exceed.   This being said, this number is a maximum and not necessarily where the tire will ride best for you.  Unless it exceeds the maximum listed on the side of the tire, most road tires ride smoothly and efficiently around 100 psi.  If you are bigger or particularly prone to flats you may want to go a little higher, if you are lighter or want a smoother ride, going a little lower is fine.  Inspect your tires periodically to make sure that the tread is not cracking, cut or becoming overly worn.   Replace damaged tires in advance of your ride, it just isn’t worth the risk.

Chain and Cable Lubrication –  Keeping your chain and cables clean and well-lubricated goes a long way towards improving shift quality and minimizing wear, so be sure to stay on top of these items by lubricating at least every couple hundred miles and having your chain checked for wear/stretch at the 1500 mile point.

Chain Lubrication

  1. Using a workstand or a trainer, elevate the rear wheel so that you can pedal the bike while working.  Alternatively, if you don’t have a way to elevate the rear wheel, you can flip the bike upside down.
  2. Shift the chain into the middle of the rear gears to provide easy access.
  3. Using a rag or chain cleaner, wipe off excess grit and oil from the chain.  Holding the chain with a rag while pedaling the bike forward or backwards can work well to degrease.  Apply degreaser to loosen heavier deposits.
  4. Apply a quality bicycle specific chain lubricant (not basic WD-40, which is a solvent more than a lubricant) and allow it to soak in for about a minute.   Wipe off the remaining lubricant from the outside of the chain; you want the lubricant on the inside of the rollers and not on the outside of the chain where it just attracts dirt.

That’s it on the chain!   Repeat every 100-200 miles, depending on conditions and the lubricant that you use.

Cable Lubrication

Cable friction is one of the leading causes of sluggish shifting.   To lubricate your cables, simply apply a Teflon based lubricant to any exposed cable where it enters into a cable housing.   Good access points for cable lubrication can often be located at the shift lever, where the cables enter the derailleurs, and under the bottom bracket (where the cables are routed on many bikes) .  After applying the lube, work it into the housing by pedaling and shifting through the gears.  Lubricating the pivoting sections of the derailleur itself and the derailleur pulleys, as well as up in the shift lever housing, is also a good idea.  Unless you don’t care to stop when using your brakes;-), use care to keep all lubricant away from the brake pads or the braking surface of the rims.

Keeping your tires properly inflated and your chain and cables lubricated are easy to learn, quick to do and make a world of difference in how your bike functions and performs.  They can make the difference between a great ride and a frustrating day spent on the side of the road or struggling harder than you have to up the hills.

If you have questions, contact us or stop-in and talk to one of our technicians or find a good mechanic at another shop and ask them to help.  Many technicians are happy to help educate people on how to take better care of their bikes!