Routine maintenance is an important and unfortunate part of owning and riding a bicycle. Time spent working on the bike equals less time spent riding. A well-tuned bike, however, performs better and lasts longer. Will you be working on your own bike this year? Maybe you take it to the shop for the annual spring tune-up. Either way, how do you know how much service the bike really needs? Performing regular maintenance on your bike keeps you in touch with what needs service and when. It also makes it easier to communicate with the techs at the shop should you need their assistance.
Your bicycle service should always begin with washing the bike. Nobody likes to work on a dirty bike. First, if it’s a mountain bike, make a mental note if the suspension fork or rear shock is particularly oily and dirty. Then, degrease the chain, cassette and chainrings. Remove the wheels; wash them and the frame with soapy dishwater. Rinse everything with a light spray of the water hose.
Now that everything is clean, begin by inspecting the wheels. Quickly check the tire tread and sidewalls for cuts and other damage. Also look at the rims for any dents or cracks. Next, roll the axles gently between the fingers. They should roll smoothly and quietly. Any roughness indicates a need for adjustment or overhaul. Grasp the axle end and attempt to wiggle it sideways. If you feel movement, an adjustment may be required. Be aware, however, hubs with cartridge bearings are usually not adjustable. When worn out, cartridge bearings require replacement.
While the wheels are off, inspect the bottom bracket. Derail the chain and examine it using the same procedure as the hubs. The modern bottom bracket uses cartridge bearings. If the axle spins rough or has lateral movement it will need to be replaced for best performance. Next, inspect the chainrings. Worn chainrings have teeth that appear to have hooks. In some cases they may look like the dorsal fin of a shark. Chainrings that are worn can contribute to an occurrence called chain-suck. Also look for bent or broken teeth.
Prior to installing the wheels is the time to inspect the brake pads. Rubber brake pads that are unevenly worn (it’ll be obvious) should be replaced. Also, small stones and bits of aluminum are often embedded in the brake pad surface. These bits can be easily removed carefully with a sharp pointed tool. Disc brake pads are easily examined by looking into the brake caliper with a flashlight. The disc brake pads should be replaced when the pad material, which is bonded to a metal backing plate, is 2mm thick or less.
When these checks are done, restore the chain, wheels and brakes to their functioning position. Spin the wheels to see if they straight and round. Now inspect the chain for any twisted or damaged links. An easy way to do this is to rotate the cranks backward slowly while watching the chain closely. Also look over the cassette and chainrings for damaged or bent teeth. Keep in mind that when replacing any one component of the drivetrain (i.e. chain, cassette, chainring) there is a possible incompatibility between the new and old part. This may cause the chain to skip under hard pedal pressure.
A skipping chain may also be caused by worn or dirty derailleur cables. Dirty or worn cables do not allow the derailleur to align properly under the cassette. Cables in good condition slide smoothly inside the cable housing. They will also be free from kinks and broken strands. Remember to check the cable head inside the brake or shifter lever. Also inspect the cable housings and brake lines. These too should be free from both kinks and cracks. It is possible that these housings may be worn on the exterior from the friction of rubbing somewhere on the frame. Replace any housings or brake lines with significant exterior wear.
Before packing up all the tools, remember those dirty suspension parts? Inspect the fork legs and/or rear shock shaft for wear and scratches. When extremely worn, these parts will have aluminum color showing through. It is important to keep these parts clean and scratch free to avoid premature. Wipe the shock and forks clean before every ride.
That’s all there is to it. Including bike wash, this inspection can be performed in less than an hour. In fact, this is similar to the service that team mechanics perform to every bike, every day. Done every couple weeks, or when the bike is so dirty you can’t stand it, this routine maintenance will reduce the chance of problems on the road or trail. It will also keep you and your bike performing tiptop without spending too much time in the shop.
Author Tom Jow is a former U.S. National Team mechanic and bike guru at the Wild Rose.