Not long ago I didn’t know my butt from a hole in the ground as far as correctly maintaining a bike goes. I was in that “knows just enough to be dangerous” category. I could complete some things deftly and quickly, but I had a tendency to skip a step or two and I could really pooch things up if I wasn’t careful. However, now that I’ve fixed enough of my mistakes, some multiple times, I learned the correct ways to go about taking care of those items that I don’t make the mistakes anymore. It’s not exactly the sexiest way to become competent at bicycle maintenance, but hey, whatever works.
With winter, and for us in the great northern Midwest, comes a time that is both excellent and miserable at the same time. First, without a fat bike, riding outside is pretty much burned till March. We’ll get a few decent days, possibly, between now and January 10th, but they’re numbered. That means trainer season for many of us. The good news is this season is also crushingly boring.
It’s the perfect time to take the bikes apart and put them back together – and if you’re only a mediocre mechanic, this is an excellent time to mess things up so you have time to fix them. Now, perhaps I’m a bit of a nerd, but I really enjoy taking the bikes apart and putting them back together through the winter to get them ready for the spring thaw. Man, if that isn’t turning a frown upside down, I don’t know what is!
So here’s the list I go by, usually not in any specific order, as I work my way through my wife and my fleet of bikes.
- Brakes center calipers and check and adjust pull and inspect brake cables/housing. Clean and lube or replace as necessary.
- Clean and lube headsets. This is one of my more enjoyable tasks because it’s one of those that doesn’t seem like it does all that much to improve the bikes performance, until your headset bearings freeze up from a lack of maintenance. Seen it happen on friends’ bikes. It is not pretty. I’ll tell you what is pretty; perfectly clean and smooth bearing operation in the steering. I’m almost bummed I’ve already done most of our bikes already.
- Shifter cables and housings. The conventional wisdom is cables should be changed yearly and housings every two to four cable changes. This is another of those maintenance items that really puts a smile on my face. If done well, the result is one’s bike feeling like new again. I depart a little from the conventional wisdom when it comes to internally routed bikes. The cables are protected don’t let in dirt as easily so they tend to last A LOT longer. I have friends who’ve gone more than five years without new cables on their internally routed bike.
- Jockey wheels. You know the saying, the squeaky wheel gets the grease? I wonder if this isn’t where that saying originated (not really, just making a point). I like to take them apart, clean them and lube them and put the assembly back together. A yearly must for a quiet bike.
- Crankset cleaning. The crankset and bottom bracket collect more than their fair share of grit and dirt. I clean them up quite often, but I give them a good going over during the winter months after I run out of other things to work on.
- Bottle cages; clean up on the down and seat tubes! Believe it or not, I take the bottle cages off the bikes, clean the frame behind the cages and clean and lube the bolts and put them back every winter. This is another of those, “okay, I’ve done everything else” projects. Guess who doesn’t find cage bolts have magically welded themselves into the frame with a semi-permanent mixture of sweat and sports drink? That’s right, folks. This guy.
- Free hubs! The free hubs are not free. They do spin more freely and sound awesome when they’re properly cleaned and maintained. I also use this as an excuse to check the wheel bearings, though I don’t know exactly what I’d do if one went bad… If your bike makes a strange noise when you coast, other than the normal ratcheting sound made by the free hub, the free hub is a great place to look.
Now, I do each of those for no less than six bikes… so I manage to keep fairly busy on the weekends for the eight to ten weeks we’ve got snow on the ground. And our bikes are obviously happier for it.