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Cycling Maintenance: Small Moves My Young Apprentice…

May 2014

Performing one’s own bike maintenance is not only financially beneficial, it’s a great way to learn one’s way around their bike.  One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned about tinkering on my bikes is that it’s a lot easier and more fun to ride if I keep my bikes in tune rather than wait for problems to become bad enough that a trip to the shop is warranted.  Not only that, while it is sometimes tricky nailing down an offending issue, once you start working on the fix, it’s incredibly difficult to mess up your bike so bad the shop can’t fix it.  Bicycles are, by nature, incredibly simple machines but tuning them relies on the adherence to a specific order of steps to ensure the adjustments “work”.  After you know the order of the steps, it’s all about small moves.

Take a rear derailleur for instance.  Say your rear derailleur is making a little more noise than it should – you’re getting a little “click, click, click” noise when you pedal or shifting is slow going up (right to left) or down (left to right) the cassette.  A common mistake in fixing this is to simply start turning the barrel adjuster in the hopes the noise will be corrected.  The noob way to do this is to start turning the barrel adjuster in whatever gear you happen to be in to see what happens.  If the noise gets worse, said noob will simply turn the adjuster a few turns the other way to see if it stops.  It’s that few turns that’s the problem.  You should only be going with eighth or quarter turns at a time…  Small moves.

Worse, and I was guilty of this one early on, one might start with the set screws if their initial twisting of the barrel adjuster doesn’t work.  Messing with the set screws, unless your bike is shifting off of the cassette or you changed the cassette, is a strict no-no.  The only reason you should have to touch the set screws is if you change the position of the cassette on the wheel (or if you’ve bent the derailleur hanger, in which case you replace the hanger) – for the set screws to work their own way out of adjustment is exceptionally rare.

How about truing a wheel?  Same concept as the index adjustment – small moves, 1/8th or 1/4 turns on the spoke nipple.

You do not want to start cranking away to get that wheel back to true – in fact, cranking away will usually compound the problem.  Large turns, big moves, will usually make the issue worse.

On my Venge I’ve developed a particularly troubling, yet minor, “clicking” that seems to originate in the crank area when I’m out of the saddle and pushing hard.  It’s exceptionally subtle, almost unnoticeable, in fact most people wouldn’t even notice the noise.  So Wednesday night I started with a few of the standard culprits.  I cleaned the chain.  This is the number one offender for a more noisy than normal drivetrain.  When that didn’t clear up the issue, I concentrated on how the bike was shifting…  It was just a shade slow going up (right to left) the cassette.  Two 1/8th turns over a mile fixed that.  Still a little noisy.  Next up was to check the chain rings to make sure the bolts are tight (one was just a touch loose) and to take apart the bottom bracket, clean out any dirt, relube everything and put it back together…  And that’s where I’m at now.  I’ll be going for a ride this morning to see if that took care of the issue.  If it does, great.  If it doesn’t, then I’ll look at the seat post next, then the rear Quick Release skewer.  It’s amazing how many little clicks and creeks are caused by a loose seat post or QR.  From there, if I still haven’t tracked it down, I’ll probably think about taking it into the shop.

All bikes develop little clicks and creaks as the miles are piled up and if you know where to start and follow a reasonable strategy (and use the Bike Repair app for the required steps), fixing all but the biggest bike problems is simple and easy.  Getting to know your way around your bike, however, does take some time.  You can pay now and learn how to do it, or pay someone else a lot more later to fix it for you.  Don’t fear the bike.  Fix it.

Now get your hands dirty!



  1. saltyvelo says:

    My disdain for bicycle shopatiers is clear.

    And there is no need to get your hands dirty when rubber gloves are cheap. 🙂

    Don’t forget to check your pedals and cleats….

    • bgddyjim says:

      Cleats are brand new (less than 4 weeks old) and clean… Pedals do need a servicing there’s no doubt about that. Waiting on my Look wrench to get here.

      • saltyvelo says:

        No 8mm hex thru the back? If you have keo’s, I thought they didn’t have wrench flats. Making sure all screws are tight in the bottom of the shoe won’t hurt….

      • bgddyjim says:

        Keo requires a special wrench to take the spindle out of the pedal body to re-lube the bearings. I’m going to take the pedals apart.

        It is an 8mm through the back to remove the pedals.

      • saltyvelo says:

        10-4, have fun!

  2. sxeveganbiking says:

    Grime in the cracks of your fingers and around your is a sign of a fun day of tweaking. If the dirt bothers you… Swarfega 🙂

    • bgddyjim says:

      Dish soap. I love the stuff – and believe me, I’m picky about getting them clean. I might give the stuff a try though. Thanks

  3. sxeveganbiking says:

    ^that should say “…and around your nails…”

  4. meganjanicke says:

    In Austin there is a really cool non profit called Yellow Bike Project where you can go during certain hours and use a stand and tools to work on your own bike or a beater bike they have in the shop. Volunteers are there to help answer your questions. I’ve been going when I can to learn bike maintenance. I was really surprised at just how much I was able to do right away! I certainly agree that learning your way around a bike pays off. Great advice!

  5. When you start tinkering (minor changes) are you starting in the most neutral gear (I like to begin there)?

    • bgddyjim says:

      Index adjustments are smallest gear/cog. If it’s shifting sluggishly I’ll give it an eighth or quarter turn in whatever gear I’m in. So no, I start at the poles. Big ring/small cog for the rear and small ring/big cog for the FD.

  6. I am doing a Park Tools bike repair course at the end of the month and I am most certain that I will be learning a lot in the 20 hours i am doing the course. If I like it enough, I might just do a 10 day 100 hour bike mechanic course a week later. I feel a new career coming on.

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