December 5, 2009
While the winter season often means that you spend less time on your bike, it doesn't necessarily mean that you should spend less time with it. Your bike has seen many miles throughout the course of the year, and this is an excellent time to give it a tuneup before you zero out your cycle computer and start logging the miles for 2010.
Before I get going, I want to acknowledge that bike maintenance can be intimidating if you're not used to doing it regularly. If you don't feel comfortable working on your bike, check with your local shop to see if they offer repair classes, or would be willing to work with you on your bike. Just be sure to reciprocate the favor, and purchase replacement parts and tools from them.
To start the process off, I like to first give the bike a good wipe down. Using a rag, and some dish soap mixed with water in a spray bottle, I wash the dirt and grease off the frame and components. This will help keep you cleaner as you work on your bike later, and make it easier to inspect the bike for flaws and/or worn parts.
From here, it's a good idea to look at four key areas, which are all moving parts on your bike and as such tend to wear out the quickest. These areas are your drivetrain, brakes, cables and housing, and wheels and tires.
The drivetrain of your bike consists of your cassette, derailleurs, chain, and crankset. Looking at your gears, you can tell if these are worn out if the cogs are coming to a sharp point. The chain is a little more tricky, and there are tools available that allow to you see if your chain has stretched near its breaking point. Generally, I shoot for around 2000 miles per chain, but that can vary based on different brands. If you can, it's never a bad idea to replace your cassette and chain at the same time, so that they wear into each other consistently.
I tend to change my cables and housing, regardless of wear, annually, but a good checkup is to look for frayed segments of the cable, and places on the housing that is beginning to wear through. If you feel a lot of friction when you shift or brake, its probably time to have them replaced.
The brakes are relatively simple to maintain. Two things to look for here are spring tension and pad wear. If the brake pad has worn down to the point where only a few millimeters of cushion remain, they should be replaced. As for spring tension, if you feel like your braking is spongy, even after you have replaced the cables, the springs might be reaching the end of their useful life.
Lastly we come to your wheels and tires. Make sure there aren't any large cuts in the tire that go through the casing entirely, and look to see that there aren't any frayed areas on your side walls. With the wheels, look to see that they roll true (that they don't bounce side to side, or up and down), and check for loose spokes.
With the inspection and replacement process over, add some light grease to the chain, and start thinking about your 2010 adventures.
Photo by Josh Tack.
TOURING GEAR AND TIPS is written by Joshua Tack of Adventure Cycling's member services department. It appears weekly, highlighting technical aspects of bicycle touring and advice to help better prepare you for the journey ahead.