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Keeping your bicycle in tip-top shape can prevent you from being stranded on the side a road, or even worse, on a trail miles away from civilization. A well-running bike can even help avoid an accident. Fortunately, maintaining your ride is much easier than performing car maintenance. Here's what you need to know.
When it comes to your bicycle, following the ABC’s of maintenance is fundamental to its longevity and your safety. Give your two-wheeler a once-over before you hop on and start cranking.
- Air: Inspect the tires for signs of sidewall cracks, tears or cuts that could compromise a tire's air-holding ability. Make sure tires are properly inflated and that either a pump or a CO2 inflator as well as patch kit come along for the ride. Correct tire pressure is essential for safety as it not only affects the effort needed to propel the bike forward, but is also responsible for the cornering ability and stopping distance when braking.
- Brakes: Test the front and rear brake levers to make sure they're working properly. Both front and rear brakes should feel about the same with both levers having the same amount of travel at full compression. If a lever “sinks” it might be a sign of a worn out brake pad that should be replaced. If your brakes squeal when applied, it’s time to examine and possibly replace the pads to prevent damage to the brake rotors or the wheels’ braking surface.
- Chain: Examine the bike chain and gears. Proper bicycle chain lubrication not only makes shifting gears easier but also ensures the drivetrain lasts longer. If you experience shifting issues, you might be overdue for a new chain. Replacing the chain at regular intervals will make the cassette, the cluster of sprockets on your bike's rear hub, last longer. The general rule of thumb is that each cassette should last as long as three chains. Failure to replace a stretched chain will cause unnecessary wear on the cassette, forcing you to replace it prematurely.
Tip: Don't turn your bike upside down to examine it to prevent damage to the saddle, cables and accessories. Instead, put it on a repair stand or find a way to suspend it, such as on your wall rack. If you do not own a bike stand and absolutely must flip the bike over, make sure to put both the handlebars and the saddle on soft surfaces, such as a towel; this will prevent scratches to both shifters and the saddle.
Wiping down your bike after every ride goes a long way toward keeping it in top running order.
- Wipe down your bike after every ride. Pay particular attention to the dust seals on the suspension components. Pledge(™) wipes make perfect bike wipes since the coating they leave acts as a dust repellant. Clean your cassette by soaking the edge of a rag in degreaser and sliding it back and forth between each cog.
- When your bike needs a bath, use a sponge and soapy water. Don't use high-pressure spray to remove dirt and grime: this will likely force grit into your bike's moving parts while washing away lubrication. Biodegradable dishwashing liquid or similar soap make a perfect bike bath.
- Avoid using strong detergents, degreasers and alcohols as they might cause premature component aging and even strip the clear coat from the frame.
- Clean your bike's chain regularly to extend its life. Use a rag and a mild degreaser to clean it, then wash it off. Wipe the chain and allow it to dry completely before lubricating it. Applying a lubricant to a wet chain will trap moisture and will accelerate corrosion. Use a dry lube in dry environments to prevent dust buildup, but replace it with oil based lube if you find yourself riding in the rain.
Odd sounds are your bike's way of trying to tell you something. Heed your bike's creaks and groans when you first hear them to prevent things from getting louder and more expensive down the road.
- Know what your spokes sound like when you pluck them. When one becomes loose, you'll easily hear it as you do your pre-ride check.
- A gritty scrape or screech when you brake is telling you your brake pads are worn. Check to see if the grooves in the pads are flattened out, and replace them if needed. Make sure to not touch the pads as you replace them because your skin oil can reduce braking power. Replace one brake at a time so you have the other one for reference.
Don't wait until your bike gives you trouble to take it to the bike shop. Getting your bicycle tuned up every couple of months keeps everything running smoothly and heads off any hard-to-diagnose issues before they turn into mechanical problems or safety hazards. Your mechanic is well-versed in checking out bearing surfaces, cables, derailleurs and other harder-to-evaluate bicycle parts.
Taking an online bike repair course can help you learn to maintain and repair your bike yourself. When repairing your bike, lay out components in the order you remove them to make it easy to put them back together in reverse order. Document the process on your smartphone so you have pictures to refer back to if you forget.
Maintaining an electric bike is similar maintaining a touring or mountain bike. However, electronic components require a little extra attention.
- Extend the life of your battery by topping it off whenever you have a chance. Lithium-ion batteries used in your e-bike do not like getting completely discharged and will last longer when fully charged on a regular basis.
- Most e-bike motors are sealed, leaving them maintenance-free.
- Avoid leaving your electric bike in extremely hot or cold conditions, as this can compromise battery life.
- If you experience battery issues, try letting your battery drain completely and charging it back up. If this doesn't restore your battery function after the second try, take it to a reputable e-bike shop for service.
- If you experience electric problems with your bike, make sure the electrical connectors are secured to the battery. Sometimes a bump in the road can jiggle a connection loose.
- Don't open any plastic covers or take electric components apart. You'll void your warranty, resulting in an unnecessary repair bill.
Whether your bike is electric or pedal-powered, avoid storing it in extreme temperatures, which can rot rubber and plastic components. If you're storing your bike in a space that others also have access to, use a lock. Some wall mounts come with a built-in lock that makes your bike less vulnerable to theft. If you need to store your bike inside your apartment, look for freestanding racks or wall-mounted racks that let your bike double as artwork.
Your bike is an investment not only of money but also of time and the care it takes to maintain it. Insure your bicycle against theft, damage, loss and liability to keep you protected should the unexpected happen.