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Preventive Bike Maintenance Made Easy


Nothing is more important for prolonging the life of your bike and insuring good performance than regular maintenance.  High performance bikes are like any other racing vehicle.  They are fragile and demand frequent preventive maintenance.

Almost all of the costly ($200+) repairs we see at Bikesport are the result of poor or non-existent preventive maintenance.  For every two hours the bike is on the road or trail, you should perform a minimum of 15 minutes maintenance.

There are three things you can do to safeguard your bike from serious mechanical problems:

  1. Keep your bike clean by washing it.
  2. Do not use too much chain lubricant.
  3. Keep your tires fully inflated.

If you practice these three maintenance operations regularly, you will greatly reduce the amount of serious mechanical problems you have.

Washing Your Bike.

Scott Parr, former team mechanic for Motorola, once said a pro team bike mechanic is really a “glorified bike washer”.  Washing bicycles is so important to their maintenance it is the first task pro team mechanics perform at the end of each racing day.  In big events like the Tour de France, all the team bikes are washed completely every day.

Bike washing dislodges abrasive residue that can be pulled through a bicycle drive train and into cables.  This residue is what causes the parts to wear quickly.

Basically, you wash a bike like you wash a car.  Modern bicycles have sealed or semi-sealed bearing surfaces that can resist some water intrusion.  They are not waterproof.  Do not use power washers or direct a high pressure stream of water into any bearing surface such as hubs, bottom bracket, headset, or cassette. 

A work stand is useful when washing a bike as it enables you to remove the wheels before washing.  This lets you get into the rear triangle of the bike more easily and do a better job of getting the bike clean.  If you don’t have a workstand you can simply lean it against a wall.

            To wash a bike you need the following equipment:

  • Bucket
  • Sponge
  • Towel(s)
  • Stiff bristle brush
  • Hose
  • Chain lube
  • Simple Green (or other water soluble, bio-degradeable)

Start by rinsing the bike off with a garden hose.  This will dislodge the loose foreign matter attached to the bike. Some people are concerned water may damage bearings or cause corrosion. While a valid concern, most modern bikes have adequate seals to prevent water intrusion. Even with extremely dirty mountain bikes, it is best to avoid the high-pressure power washer and stick to a garden hose.

Once the rinse is complete apply the Simple Green or other biodegradable degreaser to the drivetrain. Be sure you get the back of the chainrings and the cogs as well as the chain. It is a good idea to degrease the rear wheel and the rear brake also as these pick up lubricant residue from the drivetrain. After you apply the degreaser it is a good idea to let it soak for a few minutes to dissolve lubricant residue.

Following the degreaser, use your stiff bristle brush to scrub the chainrings and cogs. Scrub both sides of the chain as it passes over the chainring while back-pedaling. If you are using a work stand and have removed the wheels you can simply place a quick release skewer in the rear dropouts to hold the chain. We use an old hub (most bike shops have used ones they can give you) with a cogset on it for a "dummy hub" to hold your chain in place while you wash. Scrub the drivetrain thoroughly and pay attention to the back of the chainrings. If you have used wax based lubricants like White Lightening you may have a difficult time getting the entire residue off.

After scrubbing the degreaser off the drivetrain soap the entire bike with a big sponge and a lot of warm suds. Wash the handlebar and stem area, getting behind the brake levers and under the stem. Wash under the saddle and wash both rims and tires. Soap the drivetrain to wash off the degreaser residue.

Following the wash, rinse the bike completely. If you left your wheels on during the whole process, pedal the bike in the workstand or pick up the rear wheel and pedal to sling the excess water off the bike. Quickly towel the bike and take it for a ride for about 2-3 blocks to blow the water off. Centrifugal force will shoot most of the water off the rotating parts. After your short ride put the bike back in the stand and towel it off thoroughly.

About every 3-4 washes you should mark your saddle height on the seat post, remove your seatpost and dry the inside of the seat tube and the outside of the seatpost. If your bike needs grease between the seatpost and seat tube (not all bikes do, it may cause problems with carbon seat posts or carbon frames and may not be recommended with titanium bikes- see your owner's manual), put a thin layer of fresh grease there and replace the seatpost to the original height.

Following the complete drying, relube your chain from the bottom, on the inside of the chain's rotation so centrifugal force drives the lube into the chin links, not off onto your bike. Wipe all the excess chain off by back-pedaling the drivetrain through a rag several times.

If you have a painted bike I recommend waxing it. During the waxing be sure to inspect the frame for cracks as well as bar and stem. Check to be sure your bottle cages are tight and not cracked. This might also be a good time for new handlebar tape.

Once this operation is complete and you have checked your wheel quick releases and aired your tires the bike as close to new as you can get it by washing and is ready to ride again.

A key component of washing the bike is inspecting it completely for minor problems that could become major. Washing your bike not only makes all components last longer, but forces you to look it over in great detail.

Keeping the bike clean is the most important step in maintenance and the most frequently overlooked one. Take care of your bike and it will take care of you.




© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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