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What is Good Bicycle Maintenance?

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The essentials steps:

  1. Learn to look for problems: Anytime you ride your bicycle, its components are exposed to myriad stresses. One such stress is, of course, friction. Friction will cause chains, cogs, bearings, brake pads and tires to wear. Another type of stress is that the bicycle sustains in accidents or emergency maneuvers: this will cause spokes to break, derailleurs to become damaged (or misaligned) and more. Finally, there is vibration: this will cause nuts and bolts come loose.

    Luckily, the stresses caused by day-to-day riding tend to affect mostly certain areas of your bicycle. The first step in good bicycle maintenance is learning where to look for (or listen or even feel for) problems. top of page

  2. Spotting Problems and Preventive Maintenance: Most bicycle problems start out small, then worsen only if they are left unchecked. Expensive breakdowns are usually the result of long-term neglect. Example: hub bearings (or their races) can "communicate" problems to you with sound or a felt vibration: a regular, cyclic "wub-wub-wub" that increases or decreases in frequency as you respectively increase or decrease traveling speed. Even with this problem, the bicycle may be "usable" for quite some time. But the longer you wait, the more damage will be done. In this example, if one attends to the problem immediately, it may just be a loose hub nuts or bearings in need of grease. Neglect the problem long enough and you'll need to replace the entire hub -- a timely and costly procedure.

    The best way to maintain a bicycle correctly and avoid expensive repairs is to develop a maintenance schedule that matches your riding habits.For example, if you ride your bike in the rain or streets treated with ice-melting road salt, corrosion is an especially important issue. top of page

    rust at bicycle cable housing
    above: Keep a close eye on cables and cable components. This is a close-up of a cable "hanger" (aka cable retainer or housing stop); notice the rust at the weld-seam. This is important to note because the hanger is a stress point that helps maintain cable tension -- necessary for braking or shifting. If this rust is allowed to continue eating away at the metal, the hanger may snap during a gear shift or -- more importantly -- a panic-brake stop. The cable strands also show signs of corrosion. This bicycle was ridden on wintery streets in Ohio and road salt was partially responsible for the corrosion. Cleaning, drying and re-lubricating a bicycle, especially after wet, snowy or muddy rides is critical preventive maintenance.
  3. Learning what to do when a problem is discovered. Once you identify a problem with your bike, you have to decide whether to tackle the repair yourself or leave the work to a trained bike mechanic. It's important to remember that some procedures require more training, more experience and more technical equipment than you'll have access to in a home workshop environment.

    Remember: attempting to address advanced maintenance or repair problems can cause additional damage to your bike, and expose you to unnecessary risks when you ride. So make your decisions wisely. One of the most important parts of learning how to maintain your bicycle properly is learning when to leave the work to trained professionals.

    The References and Resources section of this web site has book and link recommendations to help you build your skills. If you have the tenacity, there is no reason why you cannot master the skills of a professional bicycle mechanic. top of page


What is the feel of the bike?

This is not some supernatural phenomenon or weird clairvoyance. Rather, it is noticing something not quite right with a machine you've been riding for a while. The "feel" is mostly vibrational -- such as that coming from hub, crank or pedal bearings. If you've had the bike for a while and something "feels" wrong, your sense is probably correct -- even if you can't see or hear the problem.

Please note that new bicycles or newly installed components take some time to "break in". Allow the bike or component(s) some time to do this before taking further action.

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Spotting danger signs