Cycling Edinburgh

Five tips for better bike care


These simple bike maintenance tips will help you keep your bike in top condition

By David Wray (Grease Monkey Cycles), October 2013


Whether you are a 52-week-a-year commuter, a downhill racer or a 'Sunday afternoon spin to the pub' casual rider, caring for your bike is one of those tasks that often gets put off again and again until it is forgotten. However, ensuring your bike is in top working order is a far less arduous task if you keep on top of maintenance. So use these five simple tips from Grease Monkey Cycles to help keep your wheels turning and your face smiling. Little and often is the key.

Basic tools

Basic cleaning equipment is simple and inexpensive.

1. Give your bike a regular wash and clean

It's tempting to simply stack your bike in the garage and forget about it after you use it - especially if you don't cycle regularly. But a quick ten-minute going over with a brush and some bike wash can do a world of good. This is especially important over the winter months, when road salt and other gunk will corrode and seize up your bike's components, leaving you catching the bus to work or twiddling your thumbs at the weekend because your bike is out of commission.

As tempting as it may be, never clean your bike with a pressure washer. Doing so will force water into the various bearings around your bike, stripping grease, encouraging corrosion, and making it more likely that future riding will cause damage. And be wary of the cleaning products you use. We recommend using a bike-specific wash/shampoo which will not damage paint work or contaminate your braking surfaces, as that in turn would affect your ability to stop - not to mention producing that awful squealing noise every time you brake.

2. Protect your bike from the elements

All too often, we get bikes in our workshops that have been stored outside, and have suffered greatly as a result. Rusted chains, seized brake and gear cables, corroded bearings - these will all stop you before you've got going. Ideally, the bike should be stored in a dry place, preferably indoors - especially over the winter. While this will be difficult if you don't have a garage or shed or if you live in a flat, the benefits to your noble steed - and to your wallet - will far outweigh the inconvenience of having a bike tucked behind the sofa.

Cassette

A worn chain can shorten the life of the cassette.

3. Preventative maintenance

Fixing small issues before they turn into a drama is vital to the longevity of your bike. Even if you are not at all mechanically minded, there are a few simple checks you can make to ensure your bike will be ready to go when you need it.

Many parts of your bike have a limited lifespan: they are prone to wear and tear, and, to prevent damage to other parts, they will need replacing promptly at the end of their life. Replacing worn brake pads, for example, will extend the life of the rims and the brake rotors. Similarly, keeping braking surfaces clean and free of contaminants will prolong the life of the pads.

Be sure to keep your chain lubricated so that it can move around the gearing system smoothly. But don't overdo it: a total coating of oil is a magnet for dirt and muck which combine to form a grinding paste and will quickly wear the chain. A worn chain can prematurely wear out the cassette (the cogs at the back) and chain rings (the cogs at the front). It will also make it more difficult to shift gears, and might snap under load. For these reasons, it's important to change your chain regularly.

Finally, lubricate the cables to keep them moving freely; this is as simple as carefully dripping some chain lube down the ends of the outer cable (be sure to mop up any excess with a rag).

4. Keep your tyres pumped up to the correct pressure

Keeping your tyres pumped up is perhaps the most obvious way to care for your bike, but is often overlooked in the excitement of getting out and about. Under-inflated tyres will not only sap your energy and be more prone to punctures, but they introduce the risk of damaging your wheel rim if you hit an unexpected pot hole or kerb.

A damaged rim more often than not will spell the end of your wheel. It might also affect braking performance (depending on what type of brakes you have), which is definitely not something to be messing around with.

Pumping up the tyre

It takes only a few moments to keep your tyres properly inflated.

It is important to keep tyres inflated even if the bike is sitting unused. Flat tyres can crack around the sidewalls, causing problems relating to punctures at best and blowouts at worst. Any tyre that has cracks, sidewall bulges or shows signs of perishing should never be ridden on.

5. Correct bike setup and fit saves you and your bike

Making sure that your bike is the right size for you to begin with will help minimise the risk of falling off and causing damage to yourself or to your shiny pride and joy. Ensuring that the gears are properly indexed and brakes are adjusted and optimised will help with this too, keeping you safe and preventing the wear and damage that incorrect setup can cause.

 

Remember, every bike is different, is ridden in a different way, and will need a different approach to care. So treat these tips as a guideline only. However, by following these five suggestions and keeping a careful eye and ear out for problems with a view to catching them early, your bike will serve you well for years - and can very easily become an essential part of your life. Learning and practicing basic bike care skills is a valuable investment that will rapidly repay itself in terms of money, time and satisfaction.

Grease Monkey Cycles is an Edinburgh-based bike maintenance company, offering a collection and delivery service at no extra charge. The company also does cycle hire and runs bike maintenance classes.