Crud and mud
Keep your bike clean and maintained for optimal performance
By Ashlon Durham
Your bike may speak a language all its own. Whether you are riding mountain bike trails, commuting to work or cruising city paths on the weekend, things can go wrong at any moment. If you take preventative measures to extend the life and enhance the performance of your bike, you will keep on pedaling for years to come. After a long winter, your bike will benefit from a good spring cleaning and tune-up whether you have been riding or it’s been sitting in the garage.
DRIVE TRAIN. The most important part of the bike’s functionality is the drive train. The drive train consists of the front chain rings, rear cassette, chain and the front and rear derailleurs. Most components of the drive train are intended to wear out, and this process all starts with the chain. As you ride, your chain will stretch out over time, but once it stretches to a certain point it is no longer replaceable. If this occurs, you will have to replace the rear cassette, chain and chain rings all at the same time. To avoid this costly mistake, take the time to check your chain stretch with a chain-checking tool and make sure that you replace your chain between .5 and .75. If you wait until it reads 1.0, you’ll need to replace the whole system.
Dirt, grime, crud and mud are constantly attacking your bike no matter where you are riding. The easiest way to maintain a good working bike is to regularly clean your drive chain with a degreasing agent such as Simple Green. Make sure you spray your cassette and chain, then “floss” your cassette with a rag and wipe down your chain. Chain cleaning devices are also available at most shops and will make this job easier. Derailleur jockey wheels are also notorious for getting covered in goop and need to be cleaned as well. Use a screwdriver to clean off areas covered with stubborn mud and grime.
CHAIN. Once your cassette, chain rings and derailleurs are clean, it’s time to lube your chain. Always use a lube that is intended for bikes – WD40 and other lubes build up grime quickly and are not good for the system. There are many kinds of bike lube on the market, and you should be able to find it at any local bike shop.
Lube each individual chain link, then go through every gear to disperse the lube onto the cassette and chain rings. Once you’re done, wipe the chain off with a clean rag so that excess lube does not attract more dirt.
If you find that your bike is not shifting properly, there may be more than one issue to tackle. The first thing to check is whether your cable housing is sticky. To start lubing your cables, shift into the highest gear on your cassette range and the highest gear on your front chain rings. Then, without moving the bike or spinning the pedals, shift down to the lowest gear. By doing this you create enough slack in the cables to remove the housing from the guides on your frame. Once the housing is free, run a rag with degreaser on it across the cables and move them around to get all the grime off. Once the cables are degreased apply a small amount of lube to every point where the cable will be making contact with the housing. Once your cables are lubed, put every piece of housing back in the proper guides.
If your bike is still not getting into every gear or if your chain is jumping between gears, check your cable tension. Your shifter is made to take up the amount of cable that is needed to shift up one gear with each throw of the paddle. If the gears are not shifting up, apply more tension to the cable with the barrel adjusters on your shifter and/or derailleur. If you can’t go down, you need to take some tension off. The end goal is to have the jockey wheels on your rear derailleur line up with the rings of your cassette for each gear.
Another common problem that can affect gear change is a bent derailleur hanger or derailleur. If this is the case, take your bike or the bent hanger to a bike shop to get a replacement or have them replace it for you.
BRAKE SYSTEM. The brake system is another essential part of your bike that needs extra special care. If your brake levers are pulling to the bar, apply more tension to the cable via barrel adjusters on the lever. If you have hydraulic disk brakes they need to be bled by a skilled mechanic. If you are using V-Brakes or cantilevers it is easy to get more efficiency out of your brake system by cleaning the braking surface of each rim with sandpaper or Scotch Brite. Never to clean your brake pads or braking surface with any degreaser and never get lube on them.
The lube will contaminate the system and make your brakes howl.
Sometimes the problem with your bike is obvious, while other times it may take some digging to uncover the root of the problem. If you still feel like your bike is speaking a different language after reading this, it may be wise to bring it to a shop. It may be best to leave the bike – and your safety – in the hands of professionals at one of the many great local bike shops. If you take these precautions, your bike should be in prime riding condition for the spring season. X
Expert mountain biker Ashlon Durham has worked as a bike mechanic since he was 13. Living in Glacier, he loves gravity sports and spends his time outdoors with his best friend and dog.
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