In Part 1 last week, I told you to round up the few basic tools and supplies needed to maintain your (new, if you’re new to the sport) road bike. But this advice serves as a good reminder to all of us, no matter how old our bikes or how much experience we have.
Before we get started on the routine steps to take to keep it running like new, here’s something else important: When you’re not riding your iron horse, keep it inside.
This might seem like a no-brainer. But I’m regularly surprised to hear from even somewhat experienced roadies that their bike lives outside on the porch or in an open carport, or worst of all, in the backyard (usually, they say, because there’s no room in the house).
But even if you keep your bicycle covered, if you store it outside, you’re risking corrosion of the metal, plastic and rubber parts from the weather. It takes time, but one day your brake cable will snap from rust, your hardly worn tires will show cracks and your beautiful finish will lose its luster. Also, a bike stored outside is an easy target for bike thieves and, believe me, they look for them.
Tip: To store a bicycle so that it takes up hardly any space (I had 4 bikes hanging in a closet when I lived in an 850 square-foot condo), get a bike hook at any bike shop, hardware store/home center, screw it into a wall stud or ceiling joist and hang the bike vertically from either wheel (it’s perfectly harmless to the wheel to do this).
Now, on to simple, step-by-step maintenance for your roadster.
1. Inflate tires
Road bicycle tires are inflated to high pressures, usually from 85 to 120psi. (Though many of us have dropped our pressure in the past few years.) This might suggest to you that there’s a lot of air in the tires, so you don’t need to add pressure very often. But the thing to realize is that while there is high pressure in the tires, there is not very much air (volume) in those skinny road treads. And because there’s so little air in them, you need to check them regularly and usually add air to top them off before a ride.
Riding on fully inflated tires protects the rims from damage should you hit a pothole or rock. That’s important because the rims double as your main braking surface. Full pressure also helps prevent pinch flats and makes the bicycle ride as efficiently as possible. It ensures you get the most mileage out of your rubber, too.
Tip: The late Tom Cuthbertson, the author of Anybody’s Bike Book and a good friend, used this nifty trick for checking his tire pressure when he didn’t have a gauge. He would place his bike so that the wheel(s) was 90 degrees to a curb and the tire was against the curb’s sharp edge. By rolling the bike forward and pushing down with his weight against the tire/curb, he could see how much the curb could mushroom the tire. If the curb significantly deformed the tire, he knew he’d better add air.
For most roadies, the easiest inflation schedule is to top off the tire pressure before every ride, unless you’re sure the tires are ready to ride because you inflated them within a couple of days. With the good floor pump I recommended you purchase (and its accurate gauge), it’ll only take a couple minutes and your tires will be at the proper pressure.
2. Lubricate the chain
As much as the makers would have you think that theirs are modern marvels of engineering, bicycle chains are still just a bunch of steel links strung together pretty much just as they were a hundred years ago. Notice that I said steel.
Steel is super strong and durable, so it’s great for the bicycle’s transmission. But, because it’s running on the chainrings, cogs and derailleur pulleys, the chain must be kept adequately lubricated, or pedaling your road machine can become much harder than it should be. Dry, neglected chains can also squeak and rust and wear out the other parts sooner.
There’s a learning curve to lubricating chains. How much you ride, where you go, the weather the chain’s exposed to, the type of lube – all these things determine how often you need to add more lube. The key thing to know is that you never want to let your chain become dry or lube-free. Ideally, you’ll always have a thin layer of lube coating the entire chain.
To achieve this, apply one drop of the chain lube your bike shop employee recommended to each link all the way around the chain. Put down some newspaper to catch drips if you’re working inside. And pedal the chain backward. (If you pedal forward and get the rear wheel spinning as you’re lubing the chain, the wheel can catch the drips and fling them, making a big mess.)
Once the links are lubed, let them dry for several hours, or overnight, if you can. Then wipe any excess off with a rag – again, pedaling backward while holding the rag wrapped around the chain.
Tip: If you lube a chain right before riding, as you pedal, the lube will be flung off the links and it will make a mess of the rear wheel spokes and hub.
You can usually get at least a couple of weeks out of one application. If your chain becomes grimy, you’re using too much lube (or not doing a good job wiping off the excess). If your chain dries out quickly and starts squeaking, it means you need to apply more lube, or find a more durable one. That’s the learning curve I was talking about.
3. Lubricate the pivot points
The other parts on your road rig that need occasional lubrication are the brakes and derailleurs. These are complicated parts composed of moving pieces that pivot on each other. If you have a friend hold up the rear wheel, you can pedal by hand and operate the derailleurs and watch how they move to see the parts that slide/pivot against each other. By squeezing the brakes, you can spot their moving parts.
The pivot points only need a few drops of lube every month or so to keep them functioning smoothly. Like the chain, apply the lube, operate the parts a little, wait a few hours and then wipe off the excess. Be sure to lube the brake adjusting barrels and quick-release mechanisms, too. That will ensure that when you need them, they won’t be frozen and refuse to budge.
Tip: If you find that a brake or derailleur is binding a little due to lack of lube, instead of using drip lube, use a spray type. The propellant in these lubes helps force the oil in between the tight pivots and will free the parts up more quickly than a drip lube usually can.
4. Check that everything’s tight
Just from regular riding, parts loosen. That’s why I told you to pick up a basic set of allen wrenches. They’re all you need to check things regularly and keep them tight.
Do this at about the same interval as lubricating the pivot points (monthly), and also before any major ride. All you do is work systematically from the front to back of your bike and place the right size allen wrench into every bolt and turn it clockwise to ensure that the part isn’t loosening.
Tip: If you are just starting out, I’m assuming that your relatively new road bike has been professionally assembled and is in good working order. If not, it may need more than the simple tighten-up I’m describing here.
One more thing to check is your quick-release wheels. They’re held in place by the quick releases that clamp them into the frame and fork. These levers should be tucked against the frame and tight. You simply hold onto each lever and pull on it without too much force to see if it swings open easily. If it opens easily, it needs to be tightened more before it is closed.
5. Clean and protect
Now for the fun part, cleaning and polishing. Do this at least monthly. I like Lemon Pledge because it cleans and protects in one application. It’s quick to use and leaves my road bikes gleaming, regardless of what they’re made of – steel, aluminum, titanium or carbon.
All you do is spray the polish on a rag and wipe your bicycle and components with it. It’s safe for the frame, components and wheels. (Best to keep it, and anything other than water, off the brake track, though.) And I especially like the silky smooth wax finish/feel you get.
There you have it. Five easy maintenance steps to keep your new road bike running like new. Please comment with your favorite tips and tricks.
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.