The Care and Maintenance of your Bike
Okay, here’s a True Confession: I’m NOT a technical person and I am not very mechanically inclined. However I do appreciate a smoothly running bike and I can tell when my bicycle is well-maintained. I have learned to know when something is starting to go wrong and get something done about it.
Hopefully, you are giving your bicycle a regular cleaning and doing some basic maintenance to keep it running smoothly. (See our earlier article on bike cleaning here.) If you and your bike are putting in lots of miles together, you should be tuned into noticing those little things that indicate a potential problem: chain skipping, shifting trouble, frequent flats, and unusual noises. These “little things” really should be checked out and fixed. While some of these things are minor, some are problems that should be fixed before they start a chain reaction of other mechanical troubles on your bike, and there are still worse problems that if left unfixed, may contribute to an accident on your bike.
If you are the kind of girl who opens the hood of a car and just sees stuff, get a friend or family member to help you here as you inspect your bike. Here are some things you can check:
- Pull the brake levers and check to make sure they pull evenly and they don’t hit the handlebars when pulled all the way.
- Check the teeth on the front chainring. The teeth should not be sharp and pointy like shark’s teeth. If they are sharp, it is a sign of wear and it will affect your shifting.
- If you are having shifting trouble, it could be: a bent derailleur, a stretched chain, or merely a dirty drive-train (if you can’t remember the last time you cleaned and lubed your chain, it has been too long.) Most bike shops recommend cleaning and lubing your chain after every 3-4 bike rides for a high usage bike.
- If when you pedal, the chain skips at all, you’ll want to take it in for an adjustment.
- Lift the bike off the ground 2-3 inches and let it drop, landing on its tires. Listen for any unusual rattling noises. Find out where the noises are coming from and see if something is loose.
- Check for frayed cables—water or debris will get in there and cause it to rust. Cables and housing should be replaced every couple years.
- If you hear or feel pulsation when you use your brakes or you hear your brakes rubbing at a regular interval—you may have a wheel out of alignment.
- Hold the wheel steady between legs—and see if you can move the handlebars. If you can turn the handlebars while the wheel is still, your handlebars are loose. You should get them checked immediately.
- If the tread is worn off your mountain bike tires or you are getting a lot of flats, it is a good sign they need to be replaced. For a road bike tires, the tire should be rounded on the top. Eventually you will feel a flat edge on the top and you may notice small cuts in the tire. Some tires will have wear marks that indicate when the tire should be replaced. If the threads on your sidewalls start to fray, then it is time to change your tires.
If you observe the following problem, you should take your bicycle to your local bike shop and have it inspected:
Carefully examine the frame of the bicycle for cracks. If it has been in an accident, you’ll want to go over the bike thoroughly. A crack will weaken your frame significantly and can cause catastrophic damage. Most bike frames have lifetime warranties, so you should take it in. If you have been in an accident, you should also check your helmet thoroughly for damage or cracks. If the helmet is damaged, you should replace it.
A final note: make a friend or two down at your favorite bike shop. As things slow down at the end of bike season, ask them for advice about your bike and learn a few things. (Come bearing a plate of homemade brownies and you will soon be a favorite customer!)
The following photo gallery may help you with your bike inspection: