With all due respect to Roman Polanski’s classic 1967 spoof "The Fearless Vampire Killers," I want you to get in the habit of hunting for, finding and terminating your bicycle vampires.
These two-wheel ghouls constantly suck your energy by making your bicycle harder to pedal. And, like the fanged variety, they’re apt to appear at any time and can be hard to find. In fact, it’s rare that you’d ever notice a vampire while riding or even rolling your bike.
To help, here’s an easy and fun 4-step check to perform about every 90 days during riding season (or a few days before any major ride or event; which gives you time to mend problems). Finding and fixing a vampire is one of the most satisfying repairs you can make. Start with the drivetrain since that’s the vampire’s favorite hiding place.
Note: I’m assuming your bicycle and components aren’t abused or worn out. If so, more inspection and repairs will likely be needed than I cover here.
1. Chain check
Perhaps the most common energy-sucker is a dry chain. Few lubes last long if you ride regularly and in all weather conditions. And many roadies end up with not enough lube and a chain that’s stiff and dragging. You can identify a dry chain by its shiny rollers and metallic sound when turning the pedals. Don’t let the chain ever get like this. Keep it adequately lubed for how and where you ride.
2. Pulleys check
The two pulleys on the rear derailleur are the second hardest working wheels on your bike. Even if you keep your chain nicely lubed and apply a little to the pulleys, too, moisture can make its way inside and bind or even freeze one or both pulleys. Check for this by lifting the chain away from each pulley and flicking them with your finger to see if they spin freely and smoothly. If not, you can usually restore them by simply disassembling, cleaning and lubing all the parts.
3. Bottom bracket check
The bottom bracket (BB) is the bearing mechanism that the crankset spins on, so it influences every pedal stroke. To check yours, shift onto your smallest chainring and then lift the chain off the ring and rest it on the frame. Now, hold one crankarm (not a pedal) and gently and slowly turn the crankarm feeling for tightness, roughness and smoothness in the BB. It should turn freely with a slight hydraulic resistance from the grease inside. If it’s tight, dry or rough, you probably need a new bottom bracket (or a bottom bracket overhaul if yours can be serviced).
4. Wheels check
Like the bottom bracket, the wheels spin on bearings, which when bad become vampires. It’s almost impossible to feel bearing issues with the wheels in place on the bicycle. So, to check if yours are failing, remove both wheels. Then hold each wheel’s axle (not the quick release wheel-clamping mechanism) between your fingers and turn it. Like the BB check, the wheel axles should turn freely and smoothly with a slight resistance from the grease inside the bearings. If the bearings feel tight, rough or dry, you need the hub bearings serviced.
Jim Langley is RBR's Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He's the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his "cycling aficionado" website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim's streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim's full bio.