Summer Bike Maintenance

Tag Christof
Lauren Lyon

June 14 2015

According to Andy at Carytown Bicycle Co., the epic bike shop a couple doors down from Need Supply Co., “Bikes are just one big physics lesson.” They are perfectly contained, rolling demonstrations of gravity, force and friction, a collection of precisely machined parts working harmoniously with one another. And like everything mechanical, these relationships require attention and routine maintenance to keep them running as intended.

The way he puts it, bike maintenance is “a lot like your hair: people who see you every day don’t much notice that your hair is growing, but for someone who hasn’t seen you for six months, the change can be unbelievable.” And just like with your hair, some thorough maintenance after six months of riding can make for a pretty dramatic change.

This week, we paid the bike shop a visit for some handy tips both for getting your bike in shape for summer and for keeping it running smoothly all year long. For best results, you should have a set of quality wrenches, allen wrenches (i.e. hex keys) in various sizes, rags you don’t mind getting dirty and a good non-corrosive cleaning fluid.

Clean up

First thing’s first: get on that bike hygiene. Dust and road grime and mud and all manner of things slow, steadily gunk up your bike’s ability to run optimally. Wipe your bike down regularly to keep it from getting too dirty, and pay special attention to the part that translates your pedal power into motion: the chain.

Set your bike up so that the back wheel can move freely. If you don’t have specialized equipment to prop up your bike’s back wheel, you can simply turn it over, wheels up, and balance it on its seat and handlebars. Grasp the exposed section of your chain with a rag and pedal forward. As you run the chain the rag will progressively clean off impurities. Do this thoroughly until you’ve removed all visible grime.

For general bike cleaning, Carytown Bike Co. uses diluted Simple Green.

Grease up

After you’ve cleaned your chain, make sure it is running its smoothest by giving it a good dose of oil. Leave your bike in the free-wheel position it was in while you cleaned its chain and run the rear wheel again. Apply oil to your clean chain as it runs over the rear gear set. Small drops applied precisely are best, as they keep from splashing oil over your wheels, frame and yourself.

Note that if you’ve got a multi-speed bike, you’ll also want to run the bike vigorously through its gears once the chain is greased to ensure even lubrication across the system.

You’re best off if you skip the WD-40 and get something made especially for bike chains, like Tri-Flow, which comes highly recommended and includes an extended applicator (pictured) that makes it easy to apply to chains.

Your bike also has bearings in two critical places that you’ll want to keep well-greased: 1) where the fork meets the frame and 2) where the pedals meet the frame. You can plan on doing this less regularly than chain maintenance, but it’s a good idea to keep in mind for your summer maintenance.

Depending on your bike’s model and type, you can disassemble these areas and repaint the critical areas with fresh grease if needed. Be sure to do this in as dust-free an environment as possible to avoid getting debris caught in the sticky grease.

Line up

Once your well-oiled machine is running smoothly and squeak-free, it’s a good idea to make sure everything is aligned. Wonky alignment can lead to increased wear and tear, discomfort while riding and even accidents.

Handle bars and your front wheel should always be at exactly 90º to the frame and properly adjusted for your height.

On bikes with caliper brakes, make sure they are in contact only with your wheel’s rim and do not touch your tires at any point.

Tighten up

Last but not least, make sure everything is screwed together tightly. With so many moving parts, it is critical that you ensure they are all making proper contact with one another lest your front wheel falls off when you hit a pothole or your handlebars go wonky when making a critical manoeuvre.

Keep connections tight and solid, but take care not to be so firm as to strip any threads.

If you’d prefer to take your bike to a pro (and you happen to be in Richmond), we highly recommend Carytown Bicycle Co. They offer a full roster of maintenance and tune-up packages and definitely know their stuff.

Big thanks to Andy, Kyler and Carytown Bicycle Co.