Friday, April 4, 2014

Nixon's Nuggets - Spring Bike Maintenance (Advanced Course)

Last week, I covered some minimum items to check before your first outdoor ride as well as a “quick check” before each ride. This week, I’ll delve into some more complex items that your bike may or may not need. And by more complex I mean that they require more “bike only” tools as well as a deeper working knowledge of the different systems. I won’t go into how it’s done but rather give you an idea of the tools necessary to complete them.   

Next steps

In addition to the “minimum” guidelines, add these “next steps” for a more thorough check-up.  If you want to tackle this at home, these will require more specialized tools and a bit of bike maintenance knowledge. 

·         Inspect and clean headset bearings/cups – This requires the removal of your top cap and stem in order to access the headset bearings and the cups where the bearings reside. This can be done using regular tools (Allen wrenches) unless you have an older, threaded headset. Then you will need the proper size headset wrenches. If the bearings feel gritty or are difficult to turn in your hands, replace them, but inspection shouldn’t require their removal.

·         Inspect and clean bottom bracket bearings/cups – Most modern cranksets have a self-extracting bolt holding the non-drive side arm to the spindle. All you need to begin crank removal is the proper size Allen wrench. If your crank is an older model where both the drive side arm and non-drive side arm are held on with bolts, you will need a crank removal tool. And if your crank is that old, you will also need the correct bottom bracket tool to remove the BB/cups from the frame. Modern systems don’t employ the use of external BB cups but they still require special tools for removal/installation of the bearings. The nice thing about today’s systems is that the tools required for the headset are also used for the bottom bracket.

·         Inspect and clean wheel bearings/cups – You will need cone wrenches for this job.  They are essentially an open end wrench but way thinner compared to what you would find at the hardware store. The front wheel is easier to work on than the rear wheel.  For the rear wheel, you may also need a chain whip and the appropriate cassette lock ring tool to remove the cassette if you wish. 



·         Replace brake and derailleur housing – Cable housing can last many years, unlike the inner wire. This is one of those “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” items. But if yours shows signs of breakdown: kinks, outer casing rips/tears, frayed ends, or the inner wire comes out dirty, then it’s time to replace them. Considering going “compression-less” (Nokon, I-links)? This is the time to do it. Using standard cable housing? Measure twice, cut once, or use your old housing as a measurement guide and use a quality cable cutter for clean cuts.


·         Check that wheels run true – A rough idea of the balance of your wheels can be done with the wheels still on the bike; spin them and use the brake pads to see if there are any lateral hops. You can even make rough corrections this way but you will need the proper size spoke wrench. However, to have the wheels trued precisely, you will need a truing stand. A dishing tool is helpful to align the wheel so that it runs exactly in the middle of the dropouts. Truing wheels, let alone building them from scratch, takes some skill and patience. The Bicycle Wheel by Jobst Brandt is an excellent companion.   




            In addition to the “minimums” and “next steps”, add these for a complete check-up.

·         Complete overhaul – Just about everything wear related on the bike will get replaced. This is also a good time to consider upgrading parts.    

·         Remove and clean all parts – Strip the bike down to just the frame and clean all of the parts. An old toothbrush will be helpful to get in all the tight spaces. 

·         Replace all moving parts/bearings – If you’re considering upgrading to ceramic bearings, this is the perfect time to do it.

·         Clean and chase threads with tap and die – A tap and die set will be necessary.  Be very careful not to cross thread anything or your bike won’t go back together. 

·         Anti-seize compound, grease, and carbon paste – Have you ever tried to remove a bolt only to find it won’t budge? Sweat is corrosive and sports drink mucks things up.  It will flow into even the smallest spaces, like the threads on bolts. Anti-seize will help prevent them from corroding together and is especially important if you are connecting dissimilar metals. Are you using an aluminum or titanium bolt? Coat the threads with anti-seize. If it’s a regular stainless steel bolt, coating the threads with grease will be fine. If you are installing carbon parts, like a seat post or base bar, use a coat of carbon paste on the clamp area. The paste will help keep those parts from slipping. 

Whether you choose to do these things yourself or have your LBS (local bike shop) perform them is up to you, your abilities and your comfort level. If you do choose to undertake these at home, I will stress again the importance of a good bike repair manual. 

Lastly, many triathletes and cyclists use indoor trainers during the winter/off season. Some even use an indoor trainer during the season because of schedules, safety, and getting a more focused training session. Try these trainer tips to keep your bike cleaner while using the trainer.

·         Use a bike sweat net.  This little contraption is an absorbent towel that connects to the seat post and stretches to connect to the bar and/or brake levers, covering your top tube and stem. They work pretty well.

·         Wrap top tube, down tube, headset/stem with plastic wrap.  Use this alone or in conjunction with the sweat net. When you wrap, start at the bottom of the bike and wrap up the down tube, around the head tube and stem, continue along the top tube, and finally, wrap down the seat tube back to the starting point. Doing it this way should prevent sweat droplets from entering the wrap overlap.

·         Use personal sweat towels during rides.  This should need no extra explaining.

·         Clean your bike once every week.  Sweat is extremely corrosive. Riding inside can compound this effect because you don’t have the “luxury” of wind blowing most of that sweat off of you.  Using a fan while indoor riding helps.    

·         Use a trainer tire and/or dedicated trainer wheel.  Tires specifically designed for hometrainers withstand the heat buildup from the roller better than regular tires. If you splurge for a dedicated trainer wheel, you won’t have to swap out tires on your regular wheelset nor will you add miles to it which will prolong the life of the bearings and cassette. Add a trainer only cassette and you won’t have to worry about excessive wear on your regular cassette either.    

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