Snowy River Cycling

Bike Maintenance 101

   Tuesday February 5th, 2019

I have to confess up front, that of the 35 or so bikes that I own, the worst maintained one is my own bike. But the other day I followed my own advice and carried out the two most basic, easy bits of bike maintenance on my own bike and IT WAS LIKE RIDING A NEW BIKE!!!!

Well, almost. There are a few more than two overdue tweaks actually.

But these two simple things will almost certainly transform the quality of your ride, unless you did them just three days ago. Do not be put off by the belief that someone other than you is really the best person to do this: ANYONE can do these things, and it is fantastically empowering to realise you are capable of creating such a beautiful improvement to the quality of your ride.

No 1. Clean and oil your chain.

Chains are made of metal and when two bits of metal rub close to each other, there is friction that needs to be lubricated so that the two pieces of metal glide instead of grind over each other. The only place that actually needs lubricant on your bike chain is the bit you can't see: in between the inner faces of the chain. The cogs the chain passes over, and the outside of the chain itself don't need lubricating.

Bike chains also pick up all sorts of grime and filth: from the extreme mud of the Mawson Trail in the wet ( pictured) to everyday road grime and dust. This grit and muck most unhelpfully also works its way in between the inner metal faces of the chain, acting as an Anti Lubricant. The solution is to clean your chain, then apply Real Lubricant.

A quick clean of the outside of a chain to remove the visible gritty greasy layer is a good start, but if you REALLY love your bike your cleaning process will aim to get rid of the invisible grit as well. If I don't have time for Real Love for my bike chain, it puts up with the Just Enough Love of an external wipe down and re-lube, which is a vast improvement on No Love At All.

There are lots of different ways to clean a chain: look them up on YouTube or ask a friend. This is the technique that works for me, when I have to process lots of dirty bikes.

  • Wipe down chain with rag to remove thick visible stuff, scrape off derailleur wheels and front chain rings.

  • Slop detergenty water all over the chain, with a bit of scrubbing action from a nail brush.

  • VERY carefully direct a jet of high pressure water directly onto the chain, rotating it slowly to blast out the whole chain. I can hear gasps of horror at the mention of high pressure water near a bike: just don't direct it at the centre of your wheel, or the base of the cranks to avoid blasting dirty water into sensitive bearings.

  • Wipe off the chain and or leave out in the sun to dry.

  • Sparingly apply the lubricant of your choice along each link of the chain. ( I use a simple light bike chain oil: there are lots of different types of product so find one that suits you. Even vegie oil can be used in an absolute crisis). Gently spin the chain around a few rotations (you don't want oil spattering everywhere if using a liquid lube)

  • Wipe all the excess oil off the chain. Oil that is visible on the outer part of your chain is doing nothing except attracting more dirt.

And then..

No 2. Pump up your tyres.

I discovered I had been riding around on underinflated tyres most of my life when I invested in a good floor pump with a gauge, and I know I am not alone. A nice floor pump is a good investment: I particularly like the Lezyne screw on fitting that secures the pump to the tube so I know it isn't going to pop off.

Check the tyre on your bike for the recommended pressure: as a general rule the skinnier the tyre, the higher the pressure it will take. Pumped up to the maximum pressure your bike will roll more easily, at the minimum pressure you will get more cushioning for bumps. With time you will work out what makes you and your bike happiest together on the terrain you ride on.

Now take your bike out for a ride and enjoy!

How often you carry out maintenance will depend on the conditions: on clean, dry, sealed roads your chain might stay happy for say 100 -200 km: if you are riding in rain and mud it will be sad and needing attention the same day. Tyres hold their air for at least a couple of weeks but gradually the pressure starts to ooze out.

The more attuned you get to doing these tasks the more sensitive you will become to the needs of your bike, and the amount of bike love in your life will just keep getting greater and greater.