If you have a bike that you don’t respect, chances are it sits in the corner of your garage, unattended to, for years on end. If it’s lucky it’ll see a spritz of W-D 40 once or twice a year (one if the worst things you can put on a chain according to every bike mechanic ever – obvious exaggeration). In fact, from the looks of it on Tuesday night, some of the advanced guys treat their high-end bikes like that too. This is how my bikes were treated when I was a kid – my dad didn’t know any better and to be frank, didn’t have the care to know any better.
Today I own what was, at one time, almost a $3,000 bike. I do everything I can think of to keep that bike in tip-top shape. I clean and lube everything at least once a year. Seat post, saddle bolt, quill stem, crank bolts, chain ring screws – everything. I even store the expensive bikes in the house – not in the garage, in the house.
But there is always the question of just how far to go – and with that comes the factor of time or money. Maintaining a bike is actually easy and inexpensive as long as you know what you’re doing. The problems start if you don’t because the items that need attention get put off until there’s enough time to tinker with the bike. If you’re like me, that’s usually between 8 and 9 pm on Sunday or between 5 and 6 am on Tuesday. As these items are shelved for a more appropriate time, they add up. Before you know it, you’ll need five hours that you don’t have to do all of the tinkering so you take your steed into the shop and drop $125 on a tune-up. There is hope though. It took a significant amount of time, but by throwing 30 minutes to an hour each week at working on my bikes, I eventually became very fast and efficient at working on them. What used to take a half an hour (if I was lucky enough not to turn the task into a mess), now only takes 5-10 minutes. I can do a full clean and lube job on my bike in less than a half hour without breaking a sweat. As I’ve learned from my mistakes I became efficient. Now maintaining my bikes is quite simple and painless.
With the amount of time I put into working on (my bikes and taking my bike to the shop to get my mistakes fixed) it took about a year of messing stuff up before I finally started getting a good understanding of how things worked so that I could fly around the adjustments and cleanings to keep my bikes in tip-top shape (one I ride daily, one every week or two, and one occasionally). My daily bike obviously takes the most work, every other week, while my mountain bike and the back-up road bike only need attention every couple of months or twice a year respectively.
So here’s what I have to do to love my bikes and keep them rolling (relatively) trouble-free:
1. Chain degrease/relube and drivetrain clean and lube (20 minutes every 200-300 miles) including cleaning of the cassette and pulley wheels on the rear derailleur. I also use a bit of chain lube on the exposed cables to keep them like new.
1a. Once every year or two I take the pulley wheels off the rear derailleur of the mountain bike to get rid of the grime and dirt build-up that comes with single track riding to keep them working smoothly.
2. Wipe down (10 minutes, as needed) or complete wash/dry (30 minutes as needed).
3. Clean and relube quill stems (both road bikes 10 minutes every 3 months to 1 year each).
4. Clean and relube seat posts (5 minutes each every 3-6 months).
5. Complete disassembly, clean and relube chain rings and crank. Once a year on the mountain bike and backup road bike. Same for my daily road bike unless it starts creaking, in which case, as needed (45 minutes to one hour).
6. Rotate the tires. Yes, I rotate the tires. They’re just like your car tires. Rotating them will extend their useful life (once or twice a season). Oh, and I pump up my tires before every ride. Some deride this behavior as unnecessary but I’ve found that if I don’t, the tires develop a flat center.
7. Clean the cables, cable stops and, if necessary cable housings. I also coat the exposed cables with a thin layer of bike or chain lube.
There are reasons for each of these items and to keep this post to a semi-reasonable length, I won’t go into each in depth. For example, if you sweat (buckets in my case) when you ride, the droplets frequently blow back and hit the seat post… My seat post is aluminum and my frame is carbon – the two have molecular corrosion issues anyway (really they do), but add the salt from sweat and the seat post can corrode to a point where it can’t be removed. Same applies to the cable stops (different materials, same salt).
Also, one item, taking apart the crank and chain rings to clean and relube, probably isn’t all that necessary but I just like knowing that I’ve done everything I can to make the seriously expensive components properly maintained (cranks run upwards of $200-$500).
There are a few reasons I like to love my bikes. First, I just like having a quiet bike and a clean, well lubricated bike is a quiet bike. To me, there’s nothing better than sitting there on my used bike that I paid less for than an entry-level ride, and it is cleaner, and quieter than a brand new $2,500 bike. That’s when I know I’ve done my duty to protect my investment. Second, I like to ride almost every day. If I’m constantly taking my bike in for general maintenance issues I can’t. With everything that I’ve got going on, the only way I know to keep my bikes on the road is to keep them well maintained. Finally, after all of those years of neglecting my bikes as a kid, it’s nice to have bikes that I don’t have to leave sitting in the corner because I’m too embarrassed to take them out.