Wednesday 11 December 2013

Top maintenance mistakes by urban cyclists

Summary: There are several, simple maintenance and setup tasks that beginner cyclists can get wrong till someone finally clues them in. This post will collate them in one place.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Will Vanlue

1. For good grip and comfort, don't keep the tyre pressure too high
- Obviously don't let the tyre pressure get way too low (when your fingers can easily push the tyre walls in) as this risks your wheel getting bent and makes riding more inefficient. However, the mistake most cyclists make is pumping the tyre pressure too high - assuming that the higher it is the better. This isn't at all true.

- Firstly, traction/grip gets better at lower pressures so if you're not on a very grippy surface all the time, too high tyre pressure will lead to loss of grip and possible accidents. You should consider this when riding often in the rain or off-bitumen - especially if your tyres are thin (19 - 25mm). Lower the tyre pressure whenever your bike starts slipping (e.g. corners).

- Secondly, high tyre pressure leads to a more uncomfortable and stiff ride due to bumps or roughness in the road surface. A major reason to ride is enjoyment so it's worth sacrificing a minute of travel time to make the ride much more comfortable.

2. Lubricate your chain rollers not chain and teeth surface. Wipe it totally dry after
- This is rarely explained to riders and I find it bizarre as it's completely unintuitive. Until I read an article explaining the purpose of lubrication I simply used to put it on the chain/teeth surface areas and not wipe it dry thoroughly - which is completely wrong! See: > How to lube a bicycle chain

- If you don't wipe the chain and cogs/teeth totally dry afterwards you will pick up dirt/grit that wears down your chain/cogs much quicker than normal.

3. Get puncture-proof tyres; there's no need to be a puncture-fixing ninja
- The idea that cyclists have to always carry equipment and be well-practiced so that they can fix punctures anytime, anywhere is a ridiculous view promoted by sports/recreational cyclists who favour light tyres for racing. Urban cyclists should just get puncture-proof tyres and be done with punctures forever!

- Note that the stock tyres most bikes come with are generally terrible for punctures and need to be replaced. E.g. Low-cost tyres from the Kenda brand have terrible puncture protection. However, unless upgrading cheaply at the time of bike purchase to the best puncture-proof tyres available (e.g. Schwalbe Marathon Plus or Durano) it may be better to buy these online and replace the stock ones yourself. (Upgrading to more expensive tyres that still aren't puncture-proof may just be a waste of money).

4. Check and adjust your brakes to fix problems
- Brakes (especially standard caliper brakes) are really easy to adjust so just learn how and do it as needed. Don't wait for infrequent visits to a paid bike mechanic. See: > wikiHow - 6 ways to fix brakes on a bike
Check regularly to make sure the tyres aren't rubbing on the brake pads. If one is, adjust the brake pad distance and also check that your wheel is straight (true).

- If you're losing braking power check the brake pads are not worn out, are still aligned, touch the correct part of the rim and the pads/rims are clean.

5. Get the seat position and height correct; learn how to stop (get off seat first)
- This adjustment makes the most difference to your riding comfort and is the main factor in whether you get any injury/pain from riding for extended periods or distances (over 1 hour or 10km).

- Often urban cyclists keep the seat too low so they can touch the ground easily with their feet while remaining on the seat. This seems sensible but the correct seat height for most cyclists means that you should barely be able to touch the ground with your tip-toes when seated. Your knees should also be almost (but not totally) straight at the bottom of the pedal stroke. See: > wikiHow - How to adjust your bike seat

- To comfortably ride with the correct seat height you need to learn how to stop properly as if seated when coming to a stop you will be unstable. The correct stopping technique is simple and just requires practice: while slowing down just come off the seat so your full weight is only on the pedals and then when stopping put one foot down.

- Generally, keep your seat level not angled down or up as this leads to you sliding around on the seat. If you are moving on the seat your handlebars are probably too low (see below).

6. Get the handebar height to match the correct seat height
- One of the biggest issues with most modern bicycles is that most don't readily support simple handlebar adjustment. Yet for urban cycling the default handlebar position is often too low (urban cyclists are better off with an upright position).

- Most bicycles now use plastic spacers to adjust handlebar height and further adjustment upwards is often limited as all the spacers are already below the stem and more can't be added. Instead you might be told you need to buy a new stem (the bit that connects to the handlebars) with a greater angled rise.

- It's best to get your desired handlebar height set up at the time you buy your bike as a different stem and spacer setup can be negotiated as part of the purchase.
See: > wikiHow - How to adjust handlebars; > How to adjust handlebar height (using spacers)

7. Straighten (true) your wheels yourself with a spoke tool
- You don't need a bike stand, special equipment or training to keep your wheels straight (called "true"). Anyone can buy a simple spoke wrench tool and learn how to true the wheels themselves by turning the bike upside down and using the brake pads for checking straightness. See: > wikiHow - How to true wheels of a bicycle

- The narrower your tyres and higher the pressure/load, the more likely your tyres are to go out of true due to bumps in the road. Eventually spokes will fail and the wheel may buckle while you're riding.