10 January 2012

How to Love Your Bike Back: Bike Maintenance Basics

Guest Blogger, mechanic and instructor by Tori Bortman, Gracie's Wrench

Get pumped to ride with Tori Bortman, owner of
Gracie's Wrench. Photo by Dan Sharp.
Winter is time for short rides, refueling your heart and soul, and getting ready for the sweetness of spring. What better time than at the beginning of the new year to give your bike a fresh start?

You don’t have to go big. Simple maintenance is a snap. Personally, I tend to put it off to the last minute, but with this easy maintenance guide, you can get the basics of your bike running well in under 15 minutes—or 5 if you’re in a hurry to get out the door!

Regular maintenance a great habit to get into. Not only will it make your bike run better – which means much easier to pedal for you!-- it gives you a fresh look at your bike every time, so you can spot big problems before they start.

Now get to it.

Bike Maintenance Basics
Frame Cleaning
  • Bucket Method—This is the quickest way to get your whole bike clean—including the rims (see note below). Fill a bucket with soapy dishwater, spray the bike lightly with a hose, then scrub gently with a car washing brush or soft sponge and rinse. While it is tempting to spray hard to get the muck off, use the hose on “grandma’s watering can” setting, otherwise you can destroy major parts of your bike by forcing water and dirt into them. Let the bike drip-dry a bit before hanging by the front wheel. Time: 5-7 minutes.
  • Spray cleaner method—Spray your bike frame with a cleaner/degreaser (Simple Green, 409, citrus cleaners) and wipe clean with a rag. This works for cleaner bikes but overall takes longer than the bucket method because you’ll have to clean the wheels separately. Time: 10-15 min.
Remember to use a dry rag when cleaning your wheels. Photo by Dan Sharp.
Clean alloy oxidization (the black gunk) from your rims with a dry rag. This stuff makes your braking bad and ruins your wheels and brake pads. If they need further cleaning, only spray cleaner on the rims after using a dry rag or the black stuff will just smear. In the above bucket method, a sopping sponge or brush works because it involves more of a bath for your bike. Time: 10 min.

Lubricate every 100 miles or after every ride in the rain.  The chain oil should act as a cleaner, if not use a solvent to clean (409, Simple Green, or a citrus de-greaser). ATB Lube is my recommended brand of oil because it contains both a lubricant and solvent—conditioner and shampoo in one. Never use WD-40 to lubricate! Thoroughly wiping down the chain after lubrication is as important as applying the oil. A coating of oil on the outside of the chain will only collect dirt. Time: 3 minutes.

Tori, center, demonstrates the zen of road bike maintenance.  Photo by Dan Sharp.
Air pressure will depend on your weight, type of bike, weather/course conditions and riding style, but has a huge effect on ride quality. Read the side of your tire to find the PSI range. Here’s a (very) basic guide for how high to inflate. Check tire inflation every 3-4 days. Inflate with a floor pump.
  • Riding on Pavement—If your tires are below 80psi, take to max inflation. If your tires are over 80psi, go only to max inflation if you weigh over 180lbs. Otherwise, try decreasing inflation until your ride is actually harder to pedal.  10psi lower in the front tire than the rear will increase your traction. 
  • Off-road/on-road—Will totally depend on your weight. For larger riders (over 175lbs), higher pressure is recommended. For smaller riders, lower pressure will give you better, faster traction. 
Tori, right, gives one-on-one instruction during a Basics class.
Photo by Dan Sharp.

Most off-road tread and some commuter treads are directional and direction can vary between front and rear tires.  Check your sidewall for correct tread direction.

Treaded tires need to be replaced when tread is worn down. Smooth tires will begin to have a flat spot and look squared off instead of rounded when they need to be replaced.

  • Check pad wear when cleaning rims. If any of your wear indicators are gone, replace.
  • Scrub any black stuff (rim oxidization) from your pad face with sand paper. (Do not use on wheels!)
  • Adjust the barrel adjuster for better braking.

About the author:  Teaching and bicycles have been Tori Bortman’s passion for the past ten years. Learning mechanics and riding skills as an adult from the ground up, she was endlessly frustrated that it was difficult to find good teachers who understood that the world of bikes can be daunting and with the patience and lack of ego to explain things so anyone could understand. This inspired her to start her own bicycle maintenance and skills programs through her business, Gracie’s Wrench. Through Gracie’s Wrench she now offers regular courses and workshops covering everything from flat repair to tune-ups to wheel building, as well as consulting services for progressive businesses that understand the value of cycling.


Unknown said...

“Regular maintenance a great habit to get into.”—A bike is like a child that needs extra attention. I agree that you'd never know what is wrong with it if you don't take a look at it. The basic things that you should guard are the wheels, the chain, and the pedal. These are the ones responsible for the control, and the ones that performs more friction. That's why it should be greased or lubed.


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Padhma said...

Very happy to see this blog. Gives a wonderful information with coded explanaion. Thank you for this blog. very useful to me.
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Naeem said...

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Umer said...

amazing but please mention their Preventive Maintenance Checklist schdule

Ash Green said...

Insanely comprehensive :)

Thank you so much,
Now I have something to read during the holidays. This will take a while but well worth it like always
You can read another one here the motorbiker

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