To help you get the most out of your bike (and your speed machine safe and in good working order), you need to take care of it regularly
If you take care of your bike, it will take care of you.
This is what I learned early on in my triathlon journey. I picked up biking late in life so discovering my bike from the ground up came naturally. From studying the numerous parts to mastering different maintenance hacks, I spent several years gathering knowledge the hard way.
I understand that a lot of newbies and veterans still don’t give that much importance to taking care of their bikes. That’s alright but in today’s socially distant, quarantine-loaded world, it’s time to expand our skill set. Being self-sufficient when it comes to simple bike maintenance will pay huge dividends in the long run.
Here are a few tips to lengthen the life and improve the reliability of your bike:
Change a flat
Yes, this comes at the top of the list. Changing a flat is perhaps the most important skill every cyclist should possess. I’ve seen dozens of athletes drop out of races because of a puncture, and it’s disheartening since it’s easy to learn. All you need is practice—and lots of it.
We’ll talk about changing clinchers for this particular article since it’s the most common.
Changing a flat is about following a process. First things first, in case it isn’t completely deflated yet, remove all remaining air from the tube. Next, try and dislodge the bead of the tire from the rim. You’ll need tire levers to do this. I recommend investing in quality plastic ones so you can avoid doing more damage. There are multiple ways of using your levers. A quick search on YouTube will show you different methods—it’s all about finding what you’re comfortable with.
Assuming you’ve already unseated the bead and removed the tube, the next step is to identify the location of the puncture. Removing the offending object is important. Failing to do so will just puncture the new interior tube. A simple way to do this is to manually pump some air into your old interior tube. In doing so, you’ll find where air leaks. This will allow you to spot where you need to remove the foreign object from the casing.
Once you’ve removed the object, replace the inner tube with a new one. Pump a little bit of air so the tube takes shape and is easier to guide on the rim. Before you reseat the tire on the rim, make sure you check if any part of the inner tube would get pinched between the bead and the rim. Once you’re all set, pump it back up and you’re good to go!
Pro tip: Choose softer tires to make your flat-changing endeavors a lot easier. Cheap hard tires will make your life hell.
Check for chain wear
This is perhaps the easiest trick on this list but it’s also the most neglected. A worn chain is a silent assassin. It does a lot of damage and often goes unnoticed. Technically, you can keep on using your bike with a worn chain but this presents multiple problems.
First, it can lessen the integrity of your chain. This can potentially lead to a sudden break and a bad day indeed. Second, it will slowly grind the teeth of your gears and chainring. This will result in a shark tooth-like profile that would be irreparable. Slapping on a new chain on worn gears would only damage the chain.
Luckily, it’s fairly easy to identify and replace your chain.
A chain wear tool is all you need to check whether your chain is due for replacing or not. If it’s indeed worn out, the “ruler” tool will slide into the links. This means you need to remove the chain either by unsnapping the “missing link” or by using a chain breaker. It’s best that your local bike mechanic show you how this is done but there are also numerous videos on YouTube demonstrating this.
What’s important is that your new chain should be the same length as your old one. This means you’d need your trusty chain breaker once again to subtract links from your brand new chain. In case you haven’t already, throw in a new pair of “missing links” to make chain removal easier and quicker.
Pro tip: Make sure you check for chain wear every six months. Have your mechanic “cut” your new chains to spec so you’ll spend less time fiddling around with it.
Maintain your drivetrain
Speaking of your chain, it’s important to keep it clean and slippery. I often see people add more and more lube to their chains without doing any sort of maintenance. The problem here is that the dirt and grime are still coating the chain, which leads to more friction, increased rate of wear and even drivetrain inefficiency. The solution is to remove all the grease and grime from your chain (and gears) before you lube it properly. You’d need a quality (hopefully eco-friendly) degreaser to remove all the dirt from the chain, gears and even pulleys.
Take your time and make sure you go over it multiple times. Once you’ve done this, meticulously add some lube to each link in the chain. The chain only needs lube on the inner parts of the links so you can wipe off the excess with a clean cloth. Remember to do this technique once every two to three months.
Pro tip: Submerging your chain in hot water and using an ultrasonic cleaner can make your job a lot easier.
Wash your bike
A clean bike is a happy bike. It’s normal to think that the act of bike washing is merely cosmetic. However, you’d be surprised by the numerous benefits of keeping your steed spick and span.
First of all, it makes maintenance easier. By removing mud and dirt from your bike, you can access your bike’s nuts and bolts. As mentioned earlier, your drivetrain will also function better if it’s kept clean.
Secondly, asphalt, gunk and all the nasty stuff you encounter on the road are usually highly acidic. These can damage your bike’s paint job and cause fading or discoloration in the long run. Cleaning your bike regularly can help keep your machine look good longer.
Finally, washing your bike will also potentially expose any damage that needs to be addressed. Little nicks and cracks might go unnoticed if you have a filthy bicycle. While some of these might be merely cosmetic, you want to keep tabs on whether the damage is getting worse over time.
Pro tip: Don’t use a jet spray on parts with bearings such as bottom brackets, wheel hubs and headsets. These can potentially wash away protective grease inside the bearing races.
Have some training questions, feedback or suggestions for future articles? Drop a note in the comments section below or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. You can also get in touch with Don directly here.