Bicycle Cleaning, Maintenance, Road Repairs, and what to carry with you.

Yesterday, I did a little bike cleaning.  It’s something I do regularly. There are a lot of good reasons to do this.  First, it’s nice to ride a clean machine. Second, a good cleaning is also an opportunity to inspect your bike.  I have found problems that could have stranded me on the road somewhere while cleaning my bike.  I have found tire damage, chain damage, and other problems while cleaning my bike.  I clean my bike regularly by habit.

I recently went out on a windy winter day to ride with friends, and while the conditions weren’t the best, the one thing that didn’t concern me was the condition of my bike. Perhaps as a result of good maintenance habits, or more likely because of a good amount of luck, I seldom have problems out on the road. I consistently ride between 2500 and 3500 miles a year. There are a lot of problems that can occur that you have no control over. The most obvious is a tire puncture, but good luck on the bike is enhanced by good habits when you’re off the bike.

My cleaning habit means I probably spend a little more money than the average rider on things like cleaners, degreasers, and chain lubricant. I will not pretend that my habits are the most effective or even the recommended way to maintain your bicycle. For example, I clean and lube my chain a little more often than most people do.  However, I do wipe off the excess lubricant and make sure that grit isn’t building up that might wear my gears out too fast.  In fact, they wear anyway, but keeping up simple maintenance is a good habit.  I actually enjoy cleaning my bike. It’s part of my ride.

The other thing I insist on is a yearly overhaul. I get a full maintenance check. I have the wheels checked, the headset checked, the bottom bracket checked, and I get the chain replaced yearly. Yes, chains wear out. It’s also a fact that replacing your chain is less expensive than replacing worn gears. Worn chains wear down your gears more quickly. If I’m told a part is worn, I replace it. I can spend a lot on maintenance, but when the bike is working great, it becomes a part of you.  When it isn’t, or it’s doing something wrong, or making a noise that bothers you, it gets you worried. It takes away from the experience of riding. Pro tip: The best time to take your bike in for yearly maintenance is between December and April.  That is when your local bike shop is the least busy.  I have more than one bike, so I can just switch bikes and keep riding if I have a bike in the shop, but there are good reasons to do overhauls when it’s cold out.  It keeps your local shop busy when most people aren’t thinking about their bikes, and that’s a good thing!

Nobody can escape road repairs.  If you ride enough, you will puncture a tire.  Sometimes things will need to be tightened.  Sometimes a friend will need help. Having said that, road riders are minimalists. We want to carry as little as possible.  Yesterday, I had a look in my saddle bag again, and here’s what I carry: Two tubes, in the correct size for my wheels.  Because road debris doesn’t care that you had a puncture five miles ago, and riding with friends sometimes means sharing tubes. There are latex and butyl tubes, and while latex are lighter, I go for good quality butyl tubes. The weight isn’t much, but they’re a little tougher. I also carry an adhesive patch kit that I replace every couple of years, because it’s the last, forlorn hope of getting home when bad luck is persistent.  I carry tire levers, the smallest multi-tool that I can get away with, and a couple of disposable wipes that are good for cleaning hands and other surfaces after roadside repairs.  I also have a small, retractable cable lock for cafe stops.  This is not effective protection. It is actually the least that I can do to protect my bike. The determined or professional thief will cut the cable and make off with the bike in a flash, but it deters crimes of opportunity.

Saddlebag_contents

This is what I carry in my saddle bag, though I probably don’t need the second tube as long as I have the patch kit. The second tube is protection from worry.

I always carry a mini pump in my cycling jersey pocket, and of course, a cell phone. Other than an ID, money or a bank card, and whatever keys are necessary for house or car, that’s all I carry. I know people who carry less. I know a lot of people who carry much more. Whatever you’re comfortable with is the right amount.  Some riders carry everything they could possibly need, including multi-tools with spoke wrenches and chain tools. They are, by definition, heavy and complicated.  If you want to carry a spoke wrench, an individual spoke wrench is light and easy to fit in a saddle pack.  A Chain tool? If things get that bad, I carry a cell phone. I know that accidents happen. People crash. Damage is sometimes unavoidable. However, it seems to me that the heaviest thing that people carry with them is worry.  I try to carry only the minimum that covers the most likely emergencies.  It all has to fit in the saddle pack or my pockets.

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