Feb 20 2017
Are you a winter cyclist? Do you commute by bike, or do the weekly grocery run with your trusty steed? I know how that goes. On returning home after a trip, tired, grubby with sweat and coated with road salt — and possibly gritty road splash, too — the first thing I want is a hot shower. But this isn’t the time to turn your back on the bike. Because you know as well as I that once it’s rolled into its home berth, the bike will be forgotten till the next run. By then, the grime that the bike collected on the previous trip will have had enough time to eat away at the drivetrain and any parts that can rust or corrode.
So, tend to your bike before you tend to yourself. First, unload your gear, removing water bottles, bags, and pump. Now clean the bike to get rid of salty slush, mud, and grit. You don’t need any special cleaning agents or equipment, just ordinary dishwashing detergent mixed with warm water and dispensed with a hand-operated pump sprayer—a recycled window spray bottle works just fine—along with a bucket, a sponge or rag, and a stiff brush (for wheels and tires). Be thorough, but don’t spray water directly into the freewheel or bearings. If the bike’s chain is dirty—of course it will be!—clean and lube it as well as the derailleurs, cogs, and chainrings. Inspect the tires and wheels as you clean them, and when necessary, probe cuts (very carefully) with the point of a penknife to dislodge any leftover glass. (WARNING! These tiny, sharp sherds often fly out with surprising force. After one bounced off my nose, I started wearing safety glasses. I’d suggest you do the same. You can’t afford to lose an eye.)
After washing off all the muck, make a note of any chips or dings in the frame’s finish for later retouching. Make any necessary repairs as soon as possible, replacing wearing items—brake blocks, chain, tires—well before they’re dysfunctional. Overhaul all hard-used bearings regularly: pedals every few months, wheels twice a year, bottom bracket and headset when needed. Some of this work is doubtlessly unnecessary, but the effort pays off. On-the-road repairs are no fun, especially in less than optimal conditions.
What’s that? You say you aren’t mechanically inclined? Don’t worry. Bikes are wonderfully easy to work on. Get a good book, a basic tool kit, and a workstand. And begin with easy jobs. Overhauling an old-style cup-and-cone pedal is a great way to learn how bearings go together, for example. Tackle more complicated jobs when you feel ready, buying specialized tools only as you need them. There’s not much point in owning a tool you can’t use, after all.
Does this all sound time-consuming? It can be. But with experience, the jobs will only take a fraction of the time they once did, and a properly maintained bike needs surprisingly little unscheduled repair. In fact, if you do your post-ride debriefing religiously and clean your bike after every trip, you’ll find that your pre-trip checks and post-trip checks take only a few minutes at most—just long enough to top up the tires, check the brakes, and spin the wheels. It’s time well spent. Then go and enjoy that hot shower!
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