Our bikes have looked after us well over the years. They’ve got us through those hectic rock gardens when we had our eyes tightly shut. They’ve soldiered on bravely through the torment we expose them to on those muddy rides. They’ve taken the nasty wipe-outs on the chin and got back to their ‘feet’ for another round. They’ve even put up with our poor shifting techniques, albeit with a small groan of displeasure. So it’s only fair that we return the favour and do our best to look after them.
The good news is that you don’t need an engineering degree to keep your bike smiling from ear to ear. All it takes is a few bucks to get the essential tools and a few pointers in the right direction from someone in the know. We can’t help you out with the bucks, but we can definitely shed a few pearls of wisdom that we’ve picked up over the years. – Paulo Conde and Gresham Enerson
- Bike wash detergent of choice
- A variety of brushes
- Chain cleaning kit
- Chain-length ruler (measuring in inches)
- Electrical tape
- Floor pump
- Shock pump
Step 1: Keep it Clean
You wouldn’t dress a wound if it were still covered in dirt, so don’t expect anything less for your bike. If there’s only one thing you do, give your bike regular washes to keep it clean and operating smoothly. While relatively simple, your bike is made up of a collection of expensive moving parts. When we expose them to mud and grime (an occupational hazard of our sport) these parts begin to wear away. For this reason we suggest washing your bike after every single ride. We’ll go through the art of washing your bike in a future article, but for now do your best to get the grime and dirt off, especially from the drivetrain where wear and tear is most prevalent.
Step 2: Keep it Tidy
Once things are spotless give the bike a good inspection and some TLC to ensure that the essentials are still in order for your next adventure.
Frame: Check the frame for any signs of cracks, especially around the rear triangle, the bottom bracket and all the welded area/tube junctions. Scratches are par for the course, but cracks under the clear coat or anything deeper than a surface scratch may be a cause for concern. You don’t want your bike snapping in two when it takes the next big hit – trust us on this one! If in doubt, dust off the warranty card that came with the bike and seek professional opinion.
Wheels: Wheels need to be perfectly balanced to roll smoothly, so give each of the spokes a gentle pluck to make sure that there aren’t any loose/broken ones. You’ll know the wheel is out of true if it wobbles from side-to-side while you’re riding.
Tyres: Make sure there are no foreign objects sticking into your tyres. If you’re going to be pulling a devil thorn out of a tyre, you’d rather deal with the consequences in the comfort of your home than out on the trail. Also, check that the tread is still adequate. Worn tyres don’t grip well and are more susceptible to getting punctures. In terms of sealant (you’re not still running tubes are you?), we recommend you top up with 60ml every 3 months so that you have some on hand when you need it on the trails. Tyres are porous and do lose air slowly over time, so as a final step inflate the tyres to your preferred pressure using a floor pump with an accurate pressure gauge.
Fork and Shock: While your arms are still warm from pumping your tyres, inflate your shock/fork in a similar manner to your tyres. We recommend investing in a quality shock pump with an accurate pressure gauge to allow you dial things in precisely and consistently.
Chain: Chains ‘stretch’ as they are used, so check that the distance between 12 links on your chain is no more than 12 1/16 inches (you get chain wear tools with this exact measurement). A worn chain wears out the cassette more rapidly than a new one and cassettes are expensive to replace, so rather keep a close eye on chain wear and replace that to save the rest of your drivetrain from an untimely end. If the chain is still in good order, apply some lube after the wash to keep things running smoothly. Apply the lube to the ‘top’ of the chain at the bottom, as it works its way into the rear derailleur (so that the lube works doesn’t just fall off the outside) while slowly turning the pedals, pouring first over the outer links, and then over the inner ones. Don’t apply the lube to the chain pins as the lube won’t work its way into the chain where it’s actually needed. After applying the lube, leave the chain for 5 minutes and then wipe any excess off with a cloth to avoid the lube acting as a glue for dirt to bind onto during your next ride.
Cassette and Chain Rings: Cassettes and chain rings should have relatively symmetrical looking teeth when looked at from the side. If they’re hooked and starting to look like a set of J-Bay’s finest waves, it’s probably time to replace them. Also, check the teeth are not bent, missing or damaged. You’ll know there are problems in this area if your chain slips under load or you have problems shifting in some (not all) gears.
Brakes: Brakes are there to stop us from certain death, so check that the pads are not excessively worn. Recommendations vary, but the common consensus is that there should be at least 1mm of pad left. Also, check that there is sufficient bite when grabbing a handful of brakes. If the brakes feel spongy, it’s usually because of air bubbles in the system so it’s time to get the system bled.
Headset: The headset is the centre of the universe when it comes to the cockpit so you want to make sure that it’s all snug and happy. Stand over the bike, hold on to the front brake and gently rock the bike backwards and forwards. There should be no knocking/play in the headset area. If there is you’ll need to loosen the stem and headset bolts and re-tighten – headset cap bolt first, then the stem.
Cockpit: Double check that the cockpit is still setup as per your preference. Check that the saddle height is correct, the saddle is level and that the fore/aft position is spot on. If you want to make this check easier use some electrical tape to mark the base of the seat post and the edge of the saddle rails.
Final Touch: A little lube can go a long way to prolonging the moving parts of your bike while also fighting off corrosion, so we recommend applying a few drops of lube to the pedal springs, suspension pivot points, barrel adjusters and any exposed shifter cables before stashing the bike away.
Remember that if in doubt with anything rather seek professional help. Good bike shops are always willing to have a look and give advice, so it’s well worth building up a relationship with the guys at your favourite one.
That’s it. You’re done! If all of the above goes according to plan, your bike should be clean, ready and eager to tackle whatever madness you’ve got lined up for your next ride. The entire process should take 15 to 45 minutes depending on your degree of TLC, but the satisfaction that comes from hitting the trails on a shiny steed and having things operate smoothly far outweigh the effort you put in.
TREAD Magazine is sold throughout South Africa and can be found in: Spar, CNA, Exclusive Books, Discerning bike shops and on Zinio
*Originally published in TREAD Soul Provider Issue 32, 2014 – All rights reserved