Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Time for Bike Maintenance?

I know a lot of people who ride bikes. I know a few people who like to work on bikes. For the rest it is either, ride, put away, ride again repeat, or at the most ride and once a year pay someone to look at things.

While I find it perfectly acceptable that people don't want to learn how to be a bike mechanic (and frankly there are lots of bike parts I don't work on), for your bike, for the mechanic you pay (either with cash or beer) and for your own hands, there are some simple things everyone should be able to do with their bike.

Really the bike is a rather simple thing (don''t stare directly at those derailleurs though) with a pedal moving a big ring with spikes that moves a chain that moves tiny cogs that move a wheel. Easy right?

And for the most part that chain system is the only thing most people have to worry about on a daily basis (yeah I know tires need air blah blah). Dirt and water and road grime get thrown from the tires onto the drivetrain constantly and it is a fully exposed system (most of the other bearings etc on the bike are hidden away and need little to no work).

Now there is little you can do to stop grime etc... from spraying onto your chain, but there are a few things you can do to help keep the amount on there to a minimum. And remember - dirt and grime wear things out and the cleaner your drivetrain, the less often you will need to change your chain and cassette and that is more money in your pocket.

So does your chain look like this?


Yes, I know. That is grease and good as the chain needs to be lubricated to work. Well sort of. The chain needs lubrication  only on the rollers on the inside of the chain as they need to spin as the chain passes over the cassette (or cogs) on the back. It certainly needs no lube on the outside of the chain.

In my line of work (and it has nothing to do with bikes) we know that dirt attracts dirt. So if the parts of the chain which need no lube are covered in it, then they attract dirt, which attracts more dirt etc... and what does dirt do? Well it grinds away at the metal that is your bike. It grinds away until those cogs are unhappy and the chain doesn't fit well anymore. Worst case scenario it eats at the chain until it breaks while you are riding. Better case it wears the cogs unevenly so that you can't shift well anymore.

And true worse scenario? It gets grease on everything within arms length of the bike. You pants, your leg, your fingers, the carpet, your car, need I go on?

 See that drivetrain (yeah, its mine)?  See the silver metal? Well you should see that on your bike as well. This is my everyday bike. Do I still get a  little black on my hands if I touch that chain? Sure a little, but nothing obvious and surely not what most people get.

And finally clean your chain and cassette for the sake of the poor mechanic that has to fix your bike (be they from a local bike shop or just your neighbour).

So how do we clean it, Ian? Simple

They sell fancy chain cleaner things at most bike shops. I like them for getting a good scrub on the drivetrain  every so often as they get inside the links. But they aren't needed everyday. They are essentially a plastic device with brushes that snaps over your chain and you pedal the bike backwards.

If your chain isn't too bad then I suggest getting a rag, soak it in cleaner (some sort of degreaser - either solvent based or water based like Citrus degreasers etc...) and grab a hold of the chain. Now pedal backwards with the bike either held by a friend or leaning on the wall. Outdoors is always preferable if possible.

Keep going until you get all the dirt off. Then soak an old toothbrush into the cleaner and hold it against cogs and pedal or scrub and spin. When you think it is cleaned enough you need to rinse it off. For this reason water based cleaners are best. Just use a wet rag to wipe the surfaces or if outdoors, a light spray from hose will do the trick easy there, too much water will get into spots you don't want to).

Really that is it. I like to dry it off at this point and then put a drop of oil on each chain bearing. One drop is plenty. Let it soak in for 20 minutes or so and then grab another rag or paper towel and wipe off all that excess oil.  And voila, silver metal again!

There are tons of varieties of chain lube and everyone has a favorite that is the best. My personal favorites are Tri-Flo or Pedros, and mostly due to their ease of finding them. Most shops will have one or the other.

So the chain is clean, now what?

Personally I like to wipe my chain off after every ride (or in the case of my commuter bike every few rides). It takes no time and I use a simple piece of paper towel. This will help remove a little more excess oil that will seep out. It will take dirt from the road off Or water), which will then prevent more dirt from sticking. And then once a month or every few hundred kms or so I wipe it with some cleaner again and reoil. That fancy chain cleaner rarely needs to come out unless you are ridding in mud or salt winter road slush.

So go do your bike a favour and make sure that is is nice a clean before your next ride, and at this time of year, before it goes to bed for the winter (though I highly suggest you try winter riding).

Now off to Riverport for me!
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