Biking in the City: Bike Maintenance and Care
A properly functioning bike goes a long way toward making your rides more enjoyable. Maintaining your bike with a few simple steps keeps it in good working order for endless hours of happy pedaling. The more diligent you are with preventative maintenance, the fewer major problems you’ll have down the road. (You could grab a Zipcar after a mechanical mishap…but for argument's sake, let’s keep that bike rolling well.)
Proper Bike Fit
While we touched on this topic a bit before, a bike that fits you is part of the maintenance equation; it’s the interface between proper biomechanical and mechanical function. The best way to find the right size for you is to go to a reputable local bike shop, where the experts will make sure you’re fitted properly. Being comfortable on your bike makes it much more likely that you’ll ride it, and prevents overuse injuries that a poor fit can cause.
Preventative Maintenance: First Steps
There are a few elements of preventative maintenance that extend the life of your bike and stave off common mechanical failures. The most important? Inflating your tires. Nothing asks for a flat like under-inflated tires. Your tires have a recommended pressure range written on the sidewall, so try and keep it filled to that psi (pounds per square inch) at all times. There are also guides online that can give you a better idea of your ideal tire pressure based on body weight. Investing in a good floor pump at home is also a huge help with consistent inflation. If you have to remember to go somewhere to inflate your tires, or if you use a mini-pump, you might be less likely to inflate them on a regular basis.
Lubing your chain is the second most important part of bike maintenance, and a good habit to get into. Proper lubrication reduces wear on your bicycle drivetrain, keeps shifting crisp, and prevents your bike from sounding like a hamster wheel. To lubricate your chain, lean your bike against a wall, grab a quality lube and run your pedals backwards while dripping the lube onto the chain. About three full rotations should be enough to cover the full length of the chain. After you’ve covered the chain, stop dripping lube but keep pedaling backwards. After a bunch of rotations, take a rag and wipe off the excess lube while continuing to pedal.
The Bike Wash
Cleaning dirt and oil from your bike is another way to keep your bike rolling smoothly, and it also gives you a chance to inspect your bike closely for anything that might seem abnormal. To clean your bike, you’ll need a bucket with water and soap, some degreaser, a brush, and a rag. Then just get to work scrubbing your steed down! It’s pretty simple, but people often neglect to wash their bikes. Avoid spraying the bike forcefully with a pressure washer or hose, which can force water into bearings in the hubs, headset and bottom bracket. Finally, remember to lube the chain when you’re done.
Replace Worn Parts
There are parts on your bike that wear down to actually increase the performance and longevity of other parts. If your tires didn’t wear out, for example, they would become very hard—resulting in terrible traction that would feel like you were riding on garden hoses. Keep an eye on your tires: if they start to square off in profile or if any tread starts to wear into the rest of the tire, you should be looking for new tires. And if you can see threads of the casing, you really need new tires—a worn tire is asking for punctures.
Chains (depending on conditions) can last up to two thousand miles if you don’t want to have to change out the rest of your drivetrain. If you change your chain consistently, your cogs and chainrings won’t get as worn down and will fit well with a new chain. Chains are far cheaper than new cogs and chainrings, so it’s worth the investment.
More Advanced Mechanics
For more advanced mechanics, you can go to your local bike shop, where a tune-up once or twice a year is an excellent way to make sure everything on the bike is in tip-top shape. Or you can also learn mechanics yourself and perform the same tune-up. Many bike shops offer classes in basic bike care and mechanics, which can be a fun and rewarding way to spend a weeknight—and save you a trip to the shop the next time you get a flat.
Keep it Smooth
A smooth-running bike lets you focus on your ride instead of little (or big) problems you may encounter out on the road. Spending a little bit of time on preventative maintenance means you can spend less time on repairs and more time riding.
Have any tips for new riders or DIY bike mechanics? Let us know in the comments how you maintain your ride throughout the year!