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Bike maintenance courses are held for members regularly throughout the year.
Basic bicycle maintenance is about adjustment and lubrication to reduce wear and tear on your cycle. By following a program of preventative maintenance, you should reduce the need for expensive repairs and replacements and prolong the life of the bikes working components. Discussed here are the main bicycle components and some ways of ensuring that they remain in good running order.
This is only a rough guide as wear and tear will vary considerably depending on weather conditions, mileage and road surfaces. While the aim is to prevent problems they can still occur. So be aware of any unusual sounds, clunks and vibrations etc. as you ride. Track down the faulty component and fix it straight away or take it to your favourite bike shop if the problem is beyond your ability. Remember, prevention may be better (and cheaper) than cure.
Acquiring the skills
Doing your bike’s maintenance yourself costs less in the longer run, can be more satisfying and promotes self-sufficiency, which is very desirable if you plan to tour. Some people do not have the desire to learn the skills but they should still be aware of the basics so that they can determine if something needs attention.
Pedal Power often runs maintenance classes which are advertised in the club magazine. If you are not able to attend an organised course, an alternative might be to find a competent friend who agrees to let you sit in. If you have some mechanical aptitude Pedal Power members may borrow any of the excellent text books from our library. Just ask at the office.
The ACT library system also holds some recent maintenance manuals. Because of the recent tendency for new bike models and components to appear in the shops every year, the manufacturers provide specific up-to-date adjustment leaflets for each part. Ask your local bike shop for those relevant to any new bike you buy.
For hands-on experience without expense, you might consider buying an old 10-speed for a few dollars and practising on its problems to develop confidence. They make great theft-proof commuters and utility bikes too!
Ask your bike shop for advice on the range and quality of tools you should buy for your projected usage. Here are some suggestions:
- Puncture repair kit and tyre levers.
- Multi-tool contain most of the equipment required for simple adjustment and repairs – a range of Allen keys to fit the nuts and bolts on your bike, a spoke key for small wheel truing adjustments, and perhaps a chain breaking tool. Read the section on chains in this leaflet before trying to use the latter.
- A pair of cone spanners for hub adjustments.
- 8, 9, 10 mm metric spanners are only required if your bike has any small standard nuts or bolts in those sizes. For larger nuts like the locknuts on the hub axles, carefully adjusting a quality shifting spanner to fit them as required will suffice.
- Needle-nosed pliers are sometimes handy to pull cables taut while tightening their anchoring nuts on brakes and derailleurs.
Causes of wear and tear
Most of the components on modern bikes have been designed to run well without extra day-to-day lubrication, with the exception of the chain (see below). In fact, unnecessary oiling or greasing may anchor dirt in places wear it will cause abrasive friction. Many components like bottom brackets are fully sealed units requiring no maintenance for the life of the bearing in them, while close-fitting labyrinth seals protect the bearings of any well designed hubs from water and grit penetration. Keeping all moving parts as clean as possible prevent excessive wear.
Vibration may gradually loosen some nuts and bolts, with pannier racks being among the worst offenders. Check that racks are installed with medium strength Loctite, or use lock washers or nylon locknuts on any mounting bolts.
Most modern brakes, for example V-brakes, are very efficient but require minor adjustments to ensure the brake pads are kept close to and aligned with the rim. Ask your shop for the adjustment leaflet relevant to your brakes and be aware of the embossed wear-line on the brake pads, which tells you when replacement is necessary. Ask your bike shop to demonstrate replacement and adjustment of brake pads when you buy your next set.
If your brakes scuff the wheel rim on one side even though the wheel runs true, you will find screws on the outside edges of the brake arms which tighten or loosen the brake arm return springs. Consult your leaflet or maintenance manual for how to adjust them. Remember that your brakes are a safety item. If they’re not functioning correctly, ask immediately for help at a shop.
Check your gear and brake cables regularly for breakage of any strands and replace if necessary. Replace any missing cable end caps to prevent fraying. Frayed ends unravel quickly to needle sharp points and catch in clothing and puncture skin.
Modern derailleurs usually give good service with a moderate amount of maintenance. Don’t lay the bicycle down on the derailleur side, to avoid bending it or its mount point to the bike. Clean dirt or mud from both derailleurs with an old toothbrush, and a little citrus degreaser if necessary.
Gear change cable adjustments can be made with small screwed knurled rings mounted where the cables exit the gear change levers. The rear derailleur unit has an extra adjuster where the gear cable enters it at the rear. Small screws marked High and Low on both derailleurs act as stops for only the inner and outer limits of their travel and have no effect on the changes between gears. Maintenance manuals explain these adjustments in more detail.
The chain is a critical component for the effective function of any modern index gear shifting bicycle. As it wears, the gear changes may become less efficient and accurate. For this reason bike shops recommend early replacement of chains when problems develop. Buying two chains with each new gear cluster and swapping them around every 1000 km is one good way to get longer life from a gear cluster. Clean the chain lightly with a toothbrush and a little citrus degreaser. Avoid soaking the chain to clean it as you will wash out internal lubricant, which may be difficult to replace.
Lubricating the chain is best done with one of the good quality dry wax lubricants. Don’t use sticky oils, which hold dirt to create a grinding paste. If no suitable lubricant is available, running the chain clean and dry is quite acceptable for a while.
A clean and correctly lubricated chain may run well on dry, sealed roads for over 5 000 km. Off-road use or wet weather riding may shorten this life considerably. Excess wear will often be signalled by poor gear changes, which cannot be corrected with cable adjustments. Some chains can be removed by simple sliding catches on masterlinks. Others require special chain removing tools and oversize chain pins to ensure a safe rejoining of a new chain.
Chains come with fitting instructions which you should follow faithfully. If a new chain jumps teeth after fitting to an older cluster, you will need to renew the cluster unit too. Check also for any heavily worn chainrings on the pedal cranks. These can be replaced individually on quality sets.
The wheels, pedal crank axle and steering stem all rotate within bearing units which should be periodically checked. They should rotate freely without roughness or grating sounds or any loose side play. If the bearings need attention some subsystems like hubs and headsets can be disassembled, cleaned, regreased and reset. You will need a manual and some special tools like cone spanners to do these jobs. It is recommended that you replace any ballbearing sets completely when doing this.
Most bottom bracket crank axles except the very cheapest are sealed units which can be screwed in and out of the bike frame with a special tool. You cannot dismantle them, so a defective one must be replaced completely.
These come in two main types, threaded and slide-on. Each can be dismantled, cleaned and degreased or readjusted to remove loose play in the bearings. You’ll need to consult a manual for details, and some special tools are required for the traditional threaded variety.
Rear gear cassette or free wheel unit
A rear gear cluster removing tool is necessary to repair cluster side spoke breakages and to replace worn threaded clusters. If you have a Shimano cassette cluster system, you’ll also need a chainwhip tool to prevent the cluster rotating while you unlock the outer lock ring with a standard cluster removing tool. Expensive small one piece custom-built tools are available to achieve the same result with a bit more fiddling when touring.
Cassette freewheel bodies are integrated with the hub but can be removed and replaced if they malfunction. They do not require oiling.
If you are wearing out one high gear cog on a gear cluster long before the others, you are possibly pedalling too slowly for efficiency. Check whether your pedalling speed stays in the optimum 65-85 rpm range for the human body’s energy output and change gears more often to suit the terrain or riding conditions.
Cranks and pedals
An alloy pedal crank arm attached to a metal bottom bracket axle will be permanently damaged if ridden at all while insufficiently tightened. If you have a loose or creaking crank, stop immediately and take it to a bike shop for tightening. You can buy a tool for this job to take on tour with you.
Many nylon pedals are not designed to be maintained easily. Replacements are cheap to buy if yours are damaged or worn out. More expensive pedals, including cleated models, can often be overhauled and adjusted. Ask your bike shop for advice on your particular type.
On some cheaper sets, heavily worn rings are not replaceable. The whole set must be exchanged. If you’re doing a lot of riding, it may be worthwhile to upgrade to a better set with interchangeable rings.
Rims and spokes
If the wheel rims go out of line on a newish bike, your warranty should include re-truing. If a rim is scuffing a brake pad, you can do minor re-truing of the affected section with just a good quality spoke key, which must be a good fit on the square surfaces of the spoke nipple. This is a nut on the threaded end of each spoke.
Read a manual first, and remember even one quarter turn of the nipple will have an effect on the rim. Proceed cautiously, spinning the wheel often to check for improvement and alternately loosening and tightening spokes on opposite sides of the rim to move it into correct alignment.
Tyres and tubes
Tyre underinflation transfers road shocks to the rim and will damage it, necessitating expensive replacement. To guard against this, buy a quality pump with a gauge to ensure correct inflation. Check your tyres for foreign objects and deep cuts which expose the tube. Large tyre cuts can be patched with a piece of thin sidewall canvas from an old tyre. After a puncture, always search for the object which caused it, which is probably still in the tyre. You can do this while you are waiting for the glue to dry on the tube before applying the patch
Cracking in the rubber on the sides of a tyre is common and unimportant. The canvas underlay of the tyre casing is the important structural element for holding the correct shape and keeping the tyre’s strength. When changing a tube, check that you re-seat the tyre correctly and evenly, particularly around the valve. Push the valve up a little if necessary for this. Ensure no part of the tube is trapped under the tyre bead before reinflating.
Have a look at the separate Pedal Power leaflet on puncture repairs for more information.
Suspension forks and frames
These are specialised components, which require extensive regular overhauling. You will need to ask your bike shop for the maintenance information relevant to your particular system. Cheap shock forks should not be ridden in rain or muddy conditions, as their low quality rubber boots won’t keep out dirt and water, which damage the components. For city or sealed road riding, it may be better to avoid having them altogether, as they absorb some of your pedalling energy, especially when hill climbing. You could try a suspension seat pillar as a comfort alternative on stiff aluminium-framed bikes.
Buying for maintainability
A sound first step towards maintainability is buying a quality bicycle from a specialised bicycle retailer who will be able to advise you at the time of purchase and offer after sale support. Better quality bicycles soon repay their higher purchase costs through time saved when performing maintenance, as well as running better from the outset.