With spring waiting just around the corner, thoughts, for the majority of us, should begin to focus on getting our bicycles into good working order. Many of them have spent the last four or five months gathering dust and cobwebs in basements and garages. After an entire year of use they could most certainly use some adjustments and new components. Let’s briefly chat about the most common of them.
Chains and freewheels. Besides rear tires, these two components are usually the biggest wearable. If your chain has seen plenty of mileage it’s a good idea to have it checked for wear. If the chain is badly worn, then the rear gear cluster will also need to be changed. If a new chain is paired with an old set of gears, the shifting will tend to skip and jump since the two components no longer mesh properly. Aluminum front chain rings will wear as well and should be checked for “shark finning”, wherein the teeth become shaped like a sharks fin. These teeth will tend to not release the chain smoothly. Steel chain rings are more common these days and do not wear as quickly.
Cables. Shifty little things! Give me a brake! In a nutshell, these parts are what cause the important components on your bike to either do or not do what they are supposed to be doing. Commonly referred to as “cable stretch”, the outside housing actually compresses over time with regular use, thereby leaving the inner cable slacker than it originally was. In order to restore proper shifting, the slack needs to be tightened at the derailleurs. In some cases the inner strands of the outside housing itself can pull away and cause inaccurate shifting. This can be checked by carefully pulling the end caps from the ends of the housing. Look for strands of wire protruding from the end of the casing. Replace it if necessary. Check the inner cables for any sharp bends, crimping, rust or fraying. If the exposed part of the cable is rusty, you can imagine what the cable under the housing looks like. Every bike can use fresh cables and they are one of the least expensive parts to replace. Be sure to replace any of the small metal cable ends if they have gone missing.
The better you can stop, the faster you can go. Not only do brake pads wear down, they also become contaminated with dirt and grime. A fresh set every spring will do wonders for your confidence and peace of mind.
Tires. This can be a big conversation. We can talk about rebound and durometer and suspension loss and thread count and all kinds of stuff. I think we’ll talk solely about tires in a later blog entry. For the moment let’s just say that worn tires have less traction and are less safe. Something to bear in mind is that tires are a lot like pencil erasers. The friction of the road wears them down. They become thinner. There’s no need to wonder why that thorn penetrated your tire casing, is there? While inspecting the tread surface, take a look at the sidewalls of your tires. They can weaken as the ply of the sidewall ages, producing cracks or holes. This is especially common if a tire has been ridden while under inflated. If it’s time to replace your tires, buy the best ones you can afford. The rubber is of a higher quality and they are less heavy, which produces a more comfortable and livelier ride.
If there’s one thing to say about handlebar tape, grips and saddles, it’s that they, along with pedals, are the touch points of your bike. While gold duct tape may look fabulous, it might not be the best option out there. Fresh handlebar tape or grips can make your old bike feel new again as well as restore your level of control. There are many different kinds of each to choose from. When it comes to conversations in a bike shop, no other subject tops saddles. People love to complain about them. Depending on the quality and frequency of use, saddles can break down fairly quickly. The foam becomes non supportive and gel padding hardens and becomes brittle. Mountain bike saddles become torn and the rails can bend in a crash. There are many better saddles out there now and most are offered in different widths and shapes to fit your body more accurately. If your seating isn’t quite what it used to be, consider replacing it with something more agreeable.
Finally, there is one item that can always use replacing. Your water bottles. Particularly if you only own one. It’s a good idea to own at least four of them so that they can be properly cleaned and used in rotation. Many bottles are insulated to keep water cold and some, such as the ones made by Specialized, are antimicrobial to prevent the growth of nasty bacteria.
Go out to the garage, move the snowblower out of the way and give your bike the once over. I think I hear spring approaching…..