For the cyclist, winter presents a few challenges, but also opportunities. Deciding to brave the harsh elements for a ride is probably the greatest challenge. Though an avid road cyclist, I often find myself looking forward to cold weather, as it gives me the chance to experience the many other facets of cycling our area has to offer. I can race cyclocross, or hit the trails on my mountain bike.
Maybe the most overlooked opportunity of winter, and the one I look forward to most, is getting my bike back into tip-top shape. The mileage I put on my road bike during the warm-weather months is a mix of gravel roads, pouring rain, and smooth pavement, not to mention the sweat from the hard work of making my bike go as fast as I can. All of this can combine to make a bike feel less than new. But, with a bit of preventive and routine maintenance, your bike can feel like new for the upcoming cycling season.
Regardless of the cost of your bike, you’ve made a significant investment in the healthy lifestyle of being a cyclist. And, whether it’s your first bike or the “N+1” of the most addicted cyclist, they all need maintenance at some point. This goes above and beyond the “simple” tune-ups that most shops offer with an initial purchase. If the shop from which you purchased your new pride and joy is helpful and proactive, you’ll be informed of the routine maintenance schedule required to offset the normal wear and tear of riding your bike. This can prolong the life of your bike and minimize replacement costs. There’s nothing worse than seeing nice weather outside but having your bike in the shop waiting for repairs when routine care could’ve kept it going.
The repair areas of most bike shops tend to be less busy in the colder months, so this can actually be the best time to get those routine, or possibly major, repairs done. Depending on how much you ride your bike and the elements to which it has been exposed, the necessary maintenance could be as simple as a tune-up and cable lubing, or as complex as a full-blown overhaul and component replacement.
As a shop owner and mechanic, every bike that graces my repair stand is treated as though it’s one of my own. Consequently, when a bike comes through my repair area, I always examine a few key items:
The chain is a “consumable” item and is an afterthought on most every bike. When the chain is in use, it actually stretches and will start to wear the cassette and chainrings. When chain wear is checked regularly, it can usually avoid excessive erosion of the more expensive drivetrain components. Chain replacement is recommended at 80- to 85-percent wear. The cost of a replacement chain varies greatly with the number of gears your bike is running and what level of components you have. Manufacturers have recommendations as to what chains work with what drivetrain systems.
Cables and housings are another often-overlooked and inexpensive replacement item. Through use, weather, and road grit and grime, cables and housings can become contaminated and corroded. Worn cables and housings can make components feel sluggish and not operate as smoothly as they did when new. There are several options when replacing cables/housings on your bike, the least expensive of which is galvanized cable and unlined housing. This combination isn’t recommended in my shop, however, as they’re rather prone to corrosion and can have a short life if your bike sees any unfavorable elements. I typically recommend stainless-steel cables with lined and lubed housings. This setup can extend the life of your cables and housings for a couple of years of continued use. Even with this combination, you’ll want to have the cables and housings checked routinely for utmost performance, particularly if you find yourself constantly battling the elements.
Looking Good, Feeling Good
Handlebar tape or grips also wear continually as you ride. This is a constant contact point with your bike, and should be replaced at the first sign of excessive wear. You don’t want to lose your grip and, therefore, control of your bike. Exposure to the elements will accelerate wear. With bar tape and grips, material and color choice are a personal preference but will enhance your feel on the ride and refresh the look of your bike. This is of great importance, of course, because your bike should look as good as it makes you feel.
Just like driving your car, you wear a little rubber off of your tires with every mile ridden, even on glass-smooth pavement. The odd patch of gravel on the road less travelled only wears tires more quickly. Check to see if your tires are overly worn and need replacement. Tires come in different styles and compounds based on their intended usage. Tire selection should be based on the types of roads in areas that you ride most commonly, and whether you’re racing, commuting, or cycling for fitness.
Bearings are the last item that I get a “feel” for on any bike repair. Bearings are located throughout your bike, including in the bottom bracket, headset, and wheel hubs. Most bikes manufactured today use sealed bearings that require little maintenance and adjustment. They’re also a consumable item, however, and can fall victim to prolonged use in less than ideal conditions. Generally, bearings are simply replaced at the time they feel less than smooth, as sealed bearings are mostly non-service items. If your bike’s bearings feel gritty when turned, it might be time for replacement.
So, if you’re like me and want your bike to feel like new for the upcoming cycling season, step into your local shop and find out what type of services they recommend for your bike in its current state. Again, it could be as simple as a tune and lube, or as complex as a complete overhaul. If you’re mechanically inclined, it’s also a good idea to find out what steps you can take between visits to the shop to keep your bike operating smoothly.
Author: Tom Harp is the owner of Wild Trak Bikes in Alton, Ill.