You’ll hear the virtues of bicycles espoused in many environmental circles; and with good reason. From both an energy and material use stand point, they truly are one of the most efficient forms of transportation. They are also, at their most basic, a simple technology that is in reach of most people to both afford and maintain. Bicycle use, along with dedicated lanes and pathways, are springing up all over the U.S.
I like bicycles for another reason as well. They connect you to place. The speed of bicycle travel is both fast enough, and slow enough, to cover reasonable distances while seeing and experiencing and places you are traveling through. I’ve learned the back roads, side roads, and country lanes surrounding my home by bike. I appreciate the topography better, and have taken in the vistas of the hills and farms because I’ve peddle up and down and past them on my bike. I’ve seen much more than I ever could have on foot (I’m not a marathon runner) and have been able to realize details I would never have by car. Things like who has eggs and straw for sale, the diversity of homes and properties, the course of streams, and the smell of fields and the soil beneath the vineyards. A bicycle is truly a gateway to connecting you to where you live, and grounding you with a sense of place.
Weather your passion is roads or trails, if you want to get out to explore and experience your part of the world from the saddle, you’ll need to keep that bike in good working order. Here are my basic maintenance steps to take before and after each ride.
- Oil your chain. A properly lubricated chain is essential for getting the most power, and smoothest ride, from you bike. First, don’t use WD-40. It’s a degreaser, not a lubricant. Use lite machine oil or specialty bike-chain oil. Run a few drops over the top of your chain, crank the petals about 1/3 of a turn, and oil the top again. Repeat 2 more times. This ensures the entire chain is oiled. Don’t use too much though or it will drip and collect dirt, degrading performance.
- Oil your front bearings. Just a drop on each side, applied between the rubber gasket and the front forks.
- Inflate your tires. The proper inflation range will be printed on the side walls. Depending on the terrain you will be tackling you may want to inflate toward the high end (smooth roads) or low end (rough surface) of that range. I never go to the max, always preferring 5 to 10 psi of margin for both un-anticipated rough surfaces, and to prevent blow-outs.
- Check your breaks. I’m assuming this is not a children’s bike and that you have hand breaks. To set them correctly you want them to clamp tightly when you have squeezed the hand lever to about 50% of its maximum travel. This will give you quick response at the maximum power point in your grip. Break cables all have small nuts at either end of the cable that can be adjusted to set the break point. If unsure about this, consult a few YouTube videos first before making the adjustment.
- Set your proper seat height and make sure the nut or toggle bolt is tight. You don’t want that seat twisting or collapsing mid-ride. (Or falling off. I’ll tell that story another time).
- Wear a helmet. Always. Period.
- Clean your bike. Your bicycle should always get some cleaning after a ride. How much it needs will vary widely depending on what conditions you encountered. Dry roads on a sunny day? You may just need to wipe of a little built up dirt and grease off the chain, and make sure no pebbles got stuck in your tires. Extreme off road? Then give the bike a good wash with the hose and soap you’d use to clean your car. Even if you never go off road you bike deserves a periodic wash. Treat it as you would your car.
- Degrease the chain. Any time you wash your bike you will need to clean and re-oil your chain. There are special tools for this, but here is the easy (and cheap) way. Pull out the WD-40 (yes, now it’s time). Fold up a couple paper towels and spray one side thoroughly. Turn your bike over so it’s resetting on the seat and handle bars. Grab the chain lightly with the folded paper towel in one hand, and turn your cranks slowly with the other several times. Shift to another spot on the towel and repeat. Keep up this process, changing towels as necessary, until you are satisfied you got most of the black greasy gunk off your chain. Then follow step 1 of the before tip to re-oil before putting your bike away. You want to keep that chain oiled to protect it from rust.
That’s it. My basic before and after rituals to keep a bike in good working order all season long. With these you should get may miles of enjoyment discovering new places and grounding yourself more fully in the town you call home.