March 2016 - Bicycling
A Fresh Start for You and Your Bike
By Dave Kraus
Spring is the season of renewal. It’s also the time when many owners and their bikes stumble from their winter hibernation like sleepy eyed bears and venture back out on the roads and trails.
It’s a fresh start for both you and your bike, and a good time to take stock of your fitness, riding style, and equipment. That might include things you haven’t thought of or have neglected longer than you realize.
Inspect your bike to identify specific problems that can be addressed during a professional tune-up, which can be a good idea every year to make adjustments that require special tools and expertise.
Clean It – First get it clean, using a biodegradable cleaner with a toothbrush, other small brushes, and some old towels to dry things off. Make sure not to use a high velocity hose spray on the bottom bracket, wheel hubs, and head tube areas. A high pressure blast can get water inside and ruin the bearings.
Frame – Are there any telltale cracks, dents, or wrinkles in the paint? If you find anything suspicious, don’t ride the bike again until it’s checked out by a professional. Any defect can be potentially dangerous, but some newer frame materials such as carbon can fail suddenly if cracked or highly stressed.
Tires – Look for rot, cuts, or embedded road debris. Make sure the tread area is not “squared off.” If it is, then it’s time for a new tire.
Wheels – Spin each wheel. For rim brakes, the wheel should stay centered between the brake pads. If it’s consistently closer to one or the other, your brakes need to be centered. If the rim moves back and forth as the wheel spins, then it’s out of true. Grab the rim and move it back and forth sideways. If there’s lateral movement, the hub needs adjustment. Your local professional mechanic can fix any of these problems.
Disc brakes offer more stopping power than rim brakes, but they also require more precision in installation and adjustment and are best left to a pro. If the rotors are visibly warped, scratched or dented, or if the brake lever feels spongy as you engage the brakes, let them know.
Seatpost and Handlebars – Remove your seatpost, check for corrosion, and apply some grease to the post to prevent it from getting stuck in the frame. Also upend your frame to make sure no water got in while you were cleaning it. Check your handlebars for corrosion, especially if you work out hard on your bike and drip salty sweat on them frequently.
Shifting – If your bike doesn’t shift smoothly, the cables may have stretched. This is another good adjustment to leave to a pro mechanic, who can adjust and lube the cables.
Lubrication – Use specially formulated lubricants available from your bike shop to lube your chain and other pivot points such as derailleurs and brake pivots. Lubricating the bottom bracket, wheel hubs, and headset is usually best left to a pro.
Batteries – Replace your computer, light, and any other batteries if needed.
Seat Bag and Tools – Your seat bag should have at least a spare tube, tire levers, mini-tool, patch kit, a few zip ties, and some emergency cash. If you use CO2, make sure your cartridges match the air chuck. It’s no help out on the road to have non-threaded cartridges if your chuck requires threaded. Also check your spare tube to make sure the valve stem is long enough to work with any deep section rims you may be using. (Don’t ask me how I learned this!) Lastly, if your patch kit has been hiding unused in your bag for years, the patch glue may have dried out, leaving the patches useless.
Clothing – Are your shorts so threadbare that your friends don’t want to ride behind you? How about those ripped out gloves or stinky helmet pads? Replace them at your local bike shop while you’re also checking end of season deals on winter clothing for next fall. Also check your shoe cleats for wear and replace if needed.
Bottles – If you use sports drinks during your rides, the sugar in them can leave residue that can breed germs. Time for a thorough cleaning or new bottles.
Make It Pretty – Color coordinated tires, bottles cages, and bar tape are popular cosmetic upgrades. Replace your bar tape and check your handlebars for corrosion as mentioned previously in the maintenance section. It’s a hidden hazard you don’t want to find out about the hard way.
YOUR RIDING TECHNIQUE
Early season may also be the best time to make the investment in a professional bike fitting. The payback can be substantial, especially if you’ve had physical issues that have detracted from your cycling experience. If you’ve had issues with chronic knee or back pain or other discomfort, you may have fit issues that can be addressed by a professional. It can also save you pain and money when you buy a new bike by making sure you get the right size frame and components in the first place to adjust the bike perfectly to you.
There are more distracted drivers than ever on the road. Yes, you have an equal legal right to use the road, but if a 3,000 pound car hits your 20 pound bike, there’s no doubt who the loser will be. Basic safety equipment can reduce your chance of becoming a statistic.
Helmet – New York state law requires all riders under 14 years of age to wear one, but it’s a good idea for everyone. All bike helmets must meet the same safety standards regardless of cost, and there are hundreds of models available. Make sure your helmet is properly sized and adjusted. If you don’t know how, ask. Wearing a helmet saved this writer’s life!
High Visibility Clothing – With bright dyes that don’t fade like those in the past, neon colors are the “hi viz” standard for clothing that can help you be seen – and stay alive. Also look for reflective strips on new gear.
Lights – Lights are brighter than ever, and prices have fallen. Get the brightest red tail light available and use it on ALL your rides, even in daytime. Don’t let a driver run into you, then pull a “SMIDSY.” (“Sorry, Mate, I Didn’t See You.”)
Video Cameras – They are still not cheap, but can offer several hours of looped recording and preserve crucial evidence from a collision or altercation. Some also offer integrated lights.
Other Safety Equipment – A few strips of reflective tape on your frame or shoes can offer important added visibility. A small rear view mirror that attaches to your handlebars or helmet can also give you vital warning to get out of the way of a car heading toward you.
Common Sense – Just because you have a legal right to ride on a particular road doesn’t mean you should. Bypass routes with heavy traffic, no shoulders and bad pavement. Talk to experienced riders locally to find out which locations they avoid. Make sure to ride with, not against traffic, and always expect the unexpected.
Stay smart. Stay visible. STAY ALIVE and enjoy your ride!
Dave Kraus (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Schenectady is a longtime area cyclist, photographer, and writer who rides 3-4,000 miles per year. Visit him at krausgrafik.com.