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The Two Ways to Make a Stable of Bikes Look Like a Million Bucks

February 2016
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A clean bike is a happy bike.  A happy bike is a fast bike.  A fast bike makes daddy happy.  A clean bike also lasts longer, and in case you hadn’t realized, they cost an arm and a leg to have fixed!

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With my four bikes, my wife’s three four and two for my daughters, keeping up on maintenance can be quite a chore.  On the other hand, the alternatives, paying someone else to do it or buying nine new bikes every few years can get just a tad expensive.

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My key to keeping up on the bikes has been to watch how those who are paid to care for bikes do it.  I used to be very ginger when washing my bikes.  A damp cloth, a little bit of soapy water and an hour.  Watch a pro mechanic wash a bike…  A bucket of soapy water, a sponge, a good brush and five minutes and they’re done.  Clean chain, clean drivetrain, five minutes.  The trick, of course, is to avoid getting water in a few key places…  The bottom bracket (where the crank arms attach to the bike), the wheel hubs, and the headset (where the fork goes into the frame).

Last Sunday the Trek in the photo above was quite trashed after a long, wet, muddy 38 miles…

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I used the pro method and rather than take an hour or more to clean it, I had it sparkling in a fraction of the time.

Maintenance repairs have a lot in common.  A new derailleur cable on that Trek can be done in five minutes.  A crank cleaned and lubed in 15, a headset adjusted in just three minutes.

The trick is becoming so familiar with how a bike goes together that completing a repair is second nature.  This takes some time to develop, it’s taken me four years and I still make a mistake from time to time.  It’s the nature of learning something new.  Interestingly, I always look at my mistakes as something positive, when I learn from them.  In fact, the more mistakes I make, the more I learn about what I can and can’t get away with.  I also pick up speed every time I have to redo something, though that can sometimes get a little monotonous.

The winter months present a perfect time to get ahead of things. That slow leak in the front tire, get the grime cleaned out from behind your cassette, heck, clean the cassette in the first place… The more I complete these items, the faster I get and the fewer mistakes I make.

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The power of tinkering cannot be underestimated. Are your hoods perfectly square and level? How about your saddle, has it slipped? Is it still level? Is your bike shifting properly? Any funky noises to attend to? Is your headset loose? When you pick your bike up and put it down, are there any clunks that would indicate loose parts?

These are all simple things that, if left unattended to, will take away from your season….

I have a secret to share as well: Most bike shops are impossibly slow through the winter months. Sure, there’s the odd paint job that they’ve got, but for the most part, they’ve got time to take care of you. When I have repairs I don’t understand or are too costly to screw up, I call and ask if I can bring my bike in to have it fixed… If they have the time, I take my bike in and watch them fix it – or better, work with the mechanic.

As this goes, I am lucky to live in a small town that has a shop owner who truly cares about cycling and actually goes out of his way to help we enthusiasts learn as much as we’re willing to about how bikes work and how to fix them properly. I’m not naive enough to believe that all shop owners will be as cool as ours, but it never hurts to ask.

Finally, my photos, particularly of the Venge, are a little misleading. My bikes are clean but they’re not without their nicks and dings. Well-ridden bikes get dinged up, there’s nothing that can be done about it. I’ve got three decent nicks in the Venge’s frame, a few on on rim, and a decent little scrape on the left crank arm. I get fixed what I can afford to, but a somewhat dinged up bike is just a sign that it’s ridden well.  While my bikes, especially the Venge, look pretty close to flawless in photos, they’re not.

Now, there is one other way to make a stable of bikes look like a million bucks:  Pay someone to keep them up.  At that cost, you’d be better off just buying a few new bikes every year though.  Look at the bright side; You’d get some great treatment at the bike shop.  A shop owner’s gotta take care of the whales after all.

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2 Comments

  1. Sheree says:

    I like to keep our bikes nice and clean too. I hate riding a dirty bike or driving a dirty car.

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