Bike Commuting: Routine Maintenance
Probably one of the most important parts of an enjoyable commute is having a well-tuned bike. There’s nothing more enjoyable than speeding along with every part of your bike working in unison and there’s nothing more frustrating that hearing gears crunch or feeling the drag of a misaligned brake. All bikes are different and have different components to them, but there are several basic things you can do that require little in the way of time or experience to improve and will keep your bike from looking like the one in the picture.
Clean Your Bike
As a primer to tuning your bike, one of the most important things you can do is actually one of the easiest: clean your bike. Sometimes, this can make all the difference. One day, I was having a tough time shifting my front gear and was about to get my tools out to fix the cable tension (don’t worry if that sounds intimidating) but it turned out that the only problem I had was a massive amount of mud gumming up the works. Picking out most of it was enough to solve the problem and it was here I realized that keeping your bike clean is more than just aesthetics. Having a clean bike also helps you pinpoint what the problem is. (Admittedly, most commuters won’t be riding through six inch puddles of mud on a regular basis but it’s still a good practice.)
I clean my bike with a cheap dish soap that won’t damage the finish and a low pressure hose. Be sure to not use anything high pressure that will force water any tubes or hosing where it can cause damage. I also have a special wash cloth for drying my bike after it’s bath.
Check Your Tires
The next step I take is to check tire pressure. I’m sure many of you have heard people touting tire pressure as a way to improve gas milage, but it goes for bikes as well. If my bike drops ten PSI, I feel it because I have to work harder to go the same speed. Bike tires typically start at around the same tire pressure as cars (35 PSI for cruisers) and can go to 65 PSI on a mountain bike and 120 PSI on a road bike. That’s more than three times the tire pressure in the average car. And unlike cars, many bikes don’t have a suspension system that softens bumps, so it’s easy for air to get pushed out of the tubes.
Clean Your Chain
After taking care of the easy stuff I use either a chain cleaner or some WD-40 and a paper towel to clean off my chain. This eliminates the gross build-up you sometimes get on chains that leads to chain tats, or the grease-mark of a gear ring on your leg. Despite being a lubricant for just about everything else, WD-40 acts as a degreaser on a bike chain. If you have the option of using WD-40 on your chain or not using anything, don’t use anything because it’ll leave you with bare metal on metal. Just in case I didn’t say it enough, unless using it as a degreaser WD-40 IS BAD FOR YOUR CHAIN. If you have gears on your bike, make sure to get the gears in the rear derailleur (the two cogs in a parallelogram frame on the back wheel). Once you get your chain clean, use a paper towel to get as much gunk and degreaser off, and than drip chain lube into the chain while spinning the gears. If you don’t have a bike stand, this is most easily done with the bike resting on the ground on the handlebars and seat. (Make sure you cover the ground and any part of the bike that may get dripped on.) After putting a bike specific lubricant on the chain, make sure to use a paper towel to get any excess off. If there’s too much lube, it’ll just collect dust and you’ll be back at square one.
Getting sparkly clean gears and a shiney chain took about 45 minutes the first time, but has taken less than five minutes each successive clean so don’t be discouraged if it takes a long time. If, however, your chain is rusty, you’re better off replacing it than working about it snapping mid-use.
Inspect your frame for any cracks that may cause an accident and make sure all the bolts are tight. For many bikes, this can be done with a fixed 15mm wrench, or an adjustable crescent wrench. Bike manufacturers may have disclaimers that say their warranty is voided if bolts aren’t regularly tightened. Applying a coat of wax to your bike will also help give your bike a pretty shine and keep it from rust damage, though make sure you check which type of wax you’re using because some are not intended for the finish used on bikes.
Odds are, this will take care of most issues and can be done in less than fifteen minutes. Regular basic care will ensure that your bike will keep taking care of you for a long time. If this doesn’t help, stay tuned for more maintenance tips.
Photo Credit: Stock Xchng