Preparing your Bike for Spring
If you are a Scottish cyclist then you will be an opportunist. Long spells of settled weather don’t happen here very often and if you are anxious to get out for that first ride of the year, then you will have been spending your time monitoring the weather forecast and gazing at the sky as the weekend approaches.
The rewards of cycling at this time of year certainly repay the effort. A good day in March or April is just warm enough to shed some layers of protective clothing, but fresh enough to feel invigorating as you speed through the countryside that is coming to life and filling with colour again. Early spring enthusiasm has to be balanced, however, with a sensible approach to the mundane preparations for your trip. The joy of whizzing along a quiet road rapidly turns to misery when a mechanical mishap leaves you standing in the cold miles from home with a useless piece of machinery.
So where to start? What can we do at this time of the year to prevent those nightmares happening when we are relying on our bikes the most?
Your bike at this point is probably in one of two states. If you are a hardman (or even harder woman) of the road or trail and have been clocking up the miles through the dark of winter, then your bike is probably ready to put up the white flag and collapse. Water, grit and salt from the roads make a grinding paste that eats through seals, washes away lubrication and turns metal components to a rough, rusty mess. Riding in low light conditions makes the water-filled potholes hard to spot and your battered wheels will be somewhat less than round.
On the other hand, if your bike was put away in the shed after the last ride of the autumn and hasn’t been looked at since, it has probably developed an unhealthy rusty tinge in the damp winter air. The tyres will have long since deflated and parts that used to turn are now stubbornly solid.
Whichever category you are in, the arrival of better weather reminds you that cycling is actually a great joy and the prospect of a long ride at the weekend is very enticing. Unfortunately this occurs to every cyclist in the country about the same time and when you try and take your bike in to your local shop or mechanic to fix the problems caused by winter, you find they are struggling under an avalanche of broken bicycles and there is no possibility getting it back for two weeks at least. By that time of course, the good spell will have passed and you will have a working bike but no inclination to go out in the driving rain.
The answer of course is to get smart. Get the big jobs done by your mechanic before the good weather arrives. And learn enough about your bike to spot the problems early and fix the simple things yourself.
Get your bike out of the shed, cupboard or garage and look at it in good light. The following checklist will help assess its condition.
• Hold the bike upright and rotate the pedals backwards. Does the chain run smoothly without jumping or rattling? Are the chain and gears free of rust and accumulated muck? Problems are likely to be due to a dirty chain or misaligned derailleur (rear gear).
• Lift the rear of the bike by the saddle (easier with a helper). Turn the pedals forwards while changing front and rear gears. Do the changes happen smoothly, or does the chain sometimes not move onto the next cog?
• Does the bottom bracket bearing (where the pedals rotate) feel smooth? Is there any play in the pedal crank arms when they are pushed side to side?
• Lift the front and rear of the bike so that the wheels can be spun round one at a time. Sight along the wheel as it spins, looking at the brake blocks. Is there any wavering of the wheel in the gap between the blocks? Does the wheel rub anywhere?
• Remove each wheel and turn the axle with your fingers. Does it turn smoothly or do the bearings feel rough?
• Are the brake blocks worn? If the grooves in the blocks have disappeared then new ones are needed.
• What condition are the tyres in? Are there cracks in the sidewall or cuts in the tread from road grit?
• Apply the front brake and grip the handlebars. Try and rock the bike backwards and forwards, looking for any movement in the headset bearing.
• Methodically work through the bike from back to front, checking that all bolts, levers and parts are tight and secure.
Now you have an idea where the problems may lie. Whether you tackle the work yourself or take it to a professional depends on your experience and confidence, and how well equipped you are with your own tools. Modern bikes are quite highly engineered and require good quality tools to do jobs properly. If you are entrusting your life to a machine which will carry you along at speeds over 30mph, repairs and maintenance must be carried out to a proper standard.
There are jobs which can be done by cyclists of any level which will go a long way to keeping the bike running smoothly, and also build the rider’s knowledge of their bike.
• Clean the bike with hot water and car shampoo, then rinse in clean hot water. Dry with paper towels or rags, cleaning oil and muck from the chain, gears and brakes.
• Spray mechanical parts and bolts with a water repellent lubricant.
• Apply oil lightly to the chain, then wipe off the excess.
• Clean the wheels, especially the rims where the brake blocks contact.
• Pump the tyres to the appropriate pressure.
• Ride the bike a short distance, changing gears and applying the brakes. Note what is not working smoothly.
• Simple jobs like changing brake blocks and adjusting gears can be done at home with simple tools like allen keys. There are youtube instructional videos covering every job on every conceivable type of bike.
• Bigger jobs such as wheel truing and bearing replacement are generally best left to a mechanic. It will give peace of mind to know that the bike has been assessed by a professional mechanic at least once a year.
• On your first long rides, take some basic tools to deal with any unresolved problems that come to light on the road.
So remember the key is to start early. Get the basic jobs out of the way before the sun comes out and leave yourself time to order new parts and get your mechanic to fix the big things. Then when the good weather arrives you will be out on the road when everyone else is queuing at the bike shop.