For many bicycle riders proper routine bicycle maintenance for Dutch style bikes or mountain, bmx, road etc. is done only on an 'as-needed' basis. What this means is that the pump doesn't come out until the tires go flat or the rider will likely be burning the soles of their shoes as they find out the brakes have gone bad. The truth is, regular maintenance of bikes is actually very important for safety, to improve the lifespan of the bike, and to create a more enjoyable ride.
What can be frustrating about a lack of performing bike maintenance is the fact that most of the tasks take only a few minutes to perform. It's easy to see the excitement and anticipation to get on and ride but is it worth it at the risk of having to push the bike all the way home? Keeping a bike maintained proactively ensures there will be limited surprises of the negative variety on your ride.
So how do you maintain a bicycle? There are some checks that should be done before every ride and other processes performed when storing the bike for the Winter or taking the first ride of Spring. It's best to assume there's a bike sitting in the shed that is begging to be ridden and start with preparing a bicycle for it's first cruise.
Bike Maintenance for First Ride of the Year
Depending on where the bike was stored in the offseason, or if there was an offseason, it could be ready to ride or may need some preparations. The League of American Bicyclists recommends the ABC bike check which means air, brakes, and C's (cranks, chain, cassette, cables).
The tire tubes will at least need air and there's a real good chance they may require replacing altogether. Depending on what kind of climate the bike was stored in, the cold temperatures make the air in the tires contract. Any moisture that accumulates will also settle in the rubber and rot it. The tires themselves will also become oblong from absorbing all the pressure on one side.
The brakes are easy to check for the first ride of the year because it's not as if they contain hydraulics or any other type of air or fluid. If the bike was stored in a crowded shed or garage the brakes may have become misaligned. Also if the brakes were starting to wear at the end of last season there's no better time than the beginning of a new year to replace them.
Cranks, Cables, Cassettes, Chain
Cold weather can be hard on the metal chain when the bike is in storage but either way the drive train, including the crank and cassette, should be investigated as well. The bike should cycle through all the gears without any issues and the chain should be cleaned and lubricated with specific bicycle chain oil.
Cleaning and General Preparation
Pic via londoncyclist
The final bit of maintenance if a bike has sat in storage over a long period of time is a good Spring cleaning and run down. Getting rid of the Winter grime helps the moving parts function a bit better and serves as a way to get an up-close look at other parts of the bike such as the handlebar stem, pedals, seat post, etc. to make sure they are functioning perfectly.
Bicycle Maintenance Before / After Every Ride
In order to enjoy a bike ride it helps to have a nice road or trail to ride on, pleasant weather, and perhaps most of all a fully-functional bicycle. While for the most part bicycles are relatively maintenance free (you won't have to fill them with gas or change fluids like a car, obviously), it still never hurts to do some maintenance both before and after every ride. These little inspections and tweaks take only minutes but can ensure your safety and better ensure the bicycle doesn't break down mid-ride, leaving you to call a cab or do the dreaded 'push of shame' back home.
Pic via Wisegeek
- Tire Pressure Check – an essential step before every ride is to check the tire pressure on the bike. A pressure gauge should be a staple in every ride-along kit along with new tire tubes, a hand pump, and a multi-tool. Depending on the bike the typical tire pressure is 80 to 130 psi for road tires or between 30 to 70 psi for mountain tires or hybrids. Checking the tire pressure may seem like overkill but it can be the best way to detect a small leak if the tires are consistently needing refilling.
- Brakes – the general rule with brakes is that they should be fully applied by the time the brake lever is halfway. This is important to remember because even if the brakes work fine with pulling the levers full to start the ride, they could be worn down by the return home especially if there are hills. Sometimes the brakes simply need to be realigned with the barrel adjusters but eventually the pads may need replaced.
- Bolts – often times bolts fail on a whim so it can be hard to predict their wear. That being said a quick tightening of the handlebars, stem, and seatpost will at least prevent the bolts from wiggling loose. It probably wouldn't hurt to pack extra bolts in the bike bag for those 'just in case' moments.
- Chain – most riders know the importance of keeping the bike chain lubricated but it can actually become over-lubed if done before each ride. When the chain starts to squeak or slow is a good notification that it needs lubricating but the most general timeline is about every 2 weeks.
- Gear Cycle – it can be easy for a bicycle rider to fall prey to the notion that sticky gears will 'work themselves out' or what's known as 'do nothing and everything will take care of itself'. This does work sometimes but why not take care of the issue front and center? The gears should be cycled through before a ride to make sure they move onto the next cog smoothly. If there is rattling and skipping the barrel adjuster should be rotated anti-clockwise to increase the cable's tension. Shifting through the gears as a maintenance tip before a ride can also identify any issues with the chain as skipping can also indicate a stiff link.
- Cranks – another area which can cause some havoc on a ride if not properly maintained is the crankset, on which the pedals operate to power the bike. The crank should have very little give in and out and if so it could be a sign of the bearing on the bottom bracket being worn. While checking the crankset it's also an opportune time to make sure the pedals are in tact/free of movement and to make sure the chain rings aren't bent.
- Lubrication – some maintenance tasks are done for safety while others improve the ride. Lubrication is a combination of both as well as extending the life span of the parts. Lube is basically the fuel that makes the bike go and it should pump through the whole system to ensure the cycle is operating at max function. Besides the chain, the brake and derailleur levers take a couple drops of oil in the barrel adjusters periodically as do the cables and assemblies of these components with all the moving parts. It's important to remember that bicycle grease is used for bearings systems like those in the hubs, cranks, and headset while bicycle oil is for thin-threaded bolts, chains, and other small moving parts.
- Lights – no matter where and when a ride takes place it's always important to have a headlight and taillight installed on the bike. If the rider commutes to work and stays late or just wants to explore dark caves on an adventure ride lights are a key safety option. Plus, they are required if riding at night so make sure the lights work as regular maintenance and pack extra batteries in case they go dead.
The list of bike maintenance to perform before each ride may seem long and arduous with thoughts that the sun will go down before the bike is even out on the road or trails. The truth is if the rider practices these regularly they will become second nature and the whole process can be completed in five to ten minutes, if that.
Bike Maintenance After a Ride
It can be tempting to rush into the shower or start replenishing the body after an invigorating ride but the bike should be quickly tended to first. Perhaps the most important detail is to just make sure everything survived the cruise, inspecting for any unfamiliar rattling or loose parts. From there it is important to wipe down the chain as it almost assuredly attracted some dirt, debris, and road grime especially if the road conditions were wet and muddy. Many riders also take a rag and wipe down the bike post-cruise or if it was especially grimy conditions it's wise to hose down and dry the frame.
Semi-Regular Maintenance Tips
There are a few components on the bike where checking them every time before a ride doesn't hurt but also may not be necessary. What these semi-regular tasks mostly consist of is cleaning and lubing to make sure the parts function as required and to expand their life cycle.
For the bike frame itself it obviously never hurts to clean it after each ride but it's at least recommended to get on some sort of regular schedule whether that be weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, etc. The frame really only requires a clean rag, dish soap, and water as well as some fine-combed brushes to remove the grime that the hose cannot reach. Frames can also be waxed for added protection against road debris.
There are a few parts that should be removed and soaked for a proper clean such as the cassette, freehub, and bike chain. These can be left to sit in mineral spirits and agitated with an old toothbrush to both clean and degrease the components. These parts will then need to be lubricated with either grease (bearings and large thread bolts) or oil (thin-thread bolts, chains, small moving parts) before being re-installed.
And as always regular inspection can be a lifesaver. Evaluate at the welds of the bike and any other intricate sections that may have been overlooked on the regular pre-ride maintenance.
Annual Bike Maintenance
Hopefully the weather and schedule cooperated so the rider approached thousands of miles pedaling on two wheels over the season. If that's the case the bike underwent it's fair share of stress and some components might as well be replaced because their failure is inevitable next season. Some of the parts that should be replaced completely include the bearings (wheel, headset, crank), the shift and brake cables, brake pads and disc brakes.
The bottom bracket and the pedals can also be overhauled and if the person is comfortable the entire bike can be disassembled with every thread lubed with grease. Disassembling the bike is definitely a personal choice but one thing that should at least be removed and/or lubricated is the seat post which has a tendency to seize if left stationary. These tasks can be done before storing the bike so it's ready to ride immediately next season or in the Spring so that storage doesn't affect the repairs.
Storing the Bike
Pic via Dale Mackey
Depending on where the bike is being stored there are some important steps that will preserve the components. Assuming the bicycle is in cold weather it's key to remove all electrical components such as headlights/taillights, cycling computers, etc. Make sure the bike is cleaned thoroughly so that dirt and grime aren't allowed to settle and oxidize and if possible cover the cycle in it's storage location. It's always best to hang the bike on a storage rack so that the tires don't become oblong from supporting the bike in a stationary position all offseason. At the very least, inflate the tires fully (or remove them) because the cold will make them eventually go flat.
Some of the bike maintenance steps are absolutely necessary while others are just recommended precautions. Either way, proper bike care is crucial for an enjoyable riding season and to ensure the safety of the rider.
Top picture via thebristolbikeproject