Bike maintenance: do it before it’s too late
Ryan Summerlin May 17, 2013
The bike shop can be an intimidating place. What questions do I ask? Will I sound like a novice? When should I have a professional look at my bike? It doesn’t need to go to the shop, it works all right if I jiggle the shifter. That clicking sound is probably fine.
Anton van Leuken, owner and head mechanic of SBC bike shop in Salida has heard it all over the years.
“I wish people would bring their bikes in sooner,” says van Leuken. Time and time again he sees bikes that should have been brought in before a problem got worse. The longer you wait, the more it will cost. People tend to ignore minor things like slight or delayed shifting problems and compensate for it by adjusting their riding, rather than getting a bike looked at.
He hands me a disassembled front fork and points to a small groove on the shiny metal of a part where the front suspension has worn in to it. What could have been a relatively inexpensive maintenance fix now means replacing a large piece of the front suspension, and so a $50 fix becomes a more than $200 one.
A number of simple bike fixes are worth considering regularly to maintain your bike’s performance.
Lack of maintenance on front and rear suspension components is one of the more common problems van Leuken sees in his shop. Servicing them regularly can avoid bigger damage.
Another inexpensive maintenance issue that a number of bike mechanics recommend is getting your shifting cables replaced. Wear and tear on the cables and grime built up inside the casings can lead to slower or even irregular shifting. With labor it’s a quick inexpensive fix, usually under $50.
Chain wear is also an often untreated bike ailment, and if left unchecked can lead to damaging chain rings and more costly repairs. Chains can also effect how well a bike shifts gears.
If you bike regularly, it’s a good idea to replace shifter cables and bike chains once a year. Those simple fixes can drastically improve performance. It can lead to your bike shifting like new, says van Leuken.
Chain tension and wear is also something that any bike mechanic can measure with a quick look if you stop in a shop.
Another thing riders often neglect are their tires.
“Tires are huge,” says Clay Schwarck, Wilderness Sports bike shop manager. “A lot of people around here keep tires for a couple of years and they get dry rot.”
There are two important factors in considering new tires, tread-wear and quality. A $20 Walmart tire may look burly, but it’s made out of a cheaper rubber that will wear down much faster than a more expensive alternative. It’s the old “you pay for what you get” adage.
A well-made more durable tire will cost you in the mid $40 to $70 range. Smaller tread patterns can still be very efficient if they are made out of stronger, more durable materials.
One thing that both Schwarck and van Leuken mention, is that many casual riders also don’t realize how many simple things can be done to make a bike a better fit for a rider.
Schwarck says that a lot of customers come in to the store and mention that they are having pain in their lower back, knees or any number of places when they ride. The culprit is an ill-fitting bike.
Shwarck says for around $150, they can do a “bike fitting.” Just like going to the store to get fitted for a suit, the same can be done for a bike.
While the corrections are fairly small, it’s an elaborate process that bike techs are trained and certified to do. Adjustment can be made to your seat post, beyond simple raising and lowering. They can also move it forward or backward with different designed seat posts. They can also raise and lower or otherwise adjust the stem of your bike so that the handlebars are in a more efficient position for a specific rider’s body type. Even pedals can be adjusted.
One bike upgrade that Schwarck recommends is a seat dropper. It’s a concept that has become more common in recent years. It involves installing a switch on your handlebars that connects to a hydraulic system that can raise or lower your seat while you ride. So you can raise your seat if your biking on flat surface, or lower it right before you hit a downhill. It’s a feature that can add comfort to your ride and miles to your trip. But it comes with a price tag. Seat dropper installation runs around $300 to $500.
Most important is just a basic tune-up once a season, or more if you are putting a lot of miles on your bike. Basic tune-ups often include replacing shifter cables and will usually be $50 or less. They also check and lubricate shocks.
“Keep your bike in working condition,” recommends van Leuken. The benefits pay dividends on your bikes performance and ride comfort. “If it urkes you when you ride it, get it fixed.”
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