Bike Month: It’s Time to Fix it Up

Saturday May. 1st, 2010

Brian Menkhaus

It’s that time again. Winter has released its icy grip and allowed the sun to once again warm our faces, lure us outside, and tease us with weather perfect for biking. And, as always, it pukes another twelve inches after all the lifts are closed for the season. So we’ve caught the bug but can’t get a fix. Not to worry, this is the perfect opportunity to grab a few of your favorite beverages (preferably carbonated), dust off the trusted stead (aka your bike), and give it the sorely needed attention that you’ve been putting off for so long, all while watching the pretty snow accumulate on your back porch and wringing your hands in frustration.

Where to start? What to do? It’s alright, we’ll take this slowly as you clear the powder from your ears. One of the most important (and satisfying) things you can do is clean your bike up. By this I don’t mean brush off the cobwebs and pick off the larger chunks of mud clinging to the underside of the frame. I mean a very thorough cleaning and purging. Roll up the sleeves, pull out the cleaner (I use Simple Green, it’s inexpensive, effective and doesn’t ruin more sensitive parts) and get to work. Make sure the gears and chain are free of random debris you may have picked up, clear the brake and derailleur lines off, and wipe off the brake pads. If there is some major grime build-up, get out the degreaser or WD40 (which works great for cleaning but NEVER use it for lubrication. It actually collects that grime and makes it gum up, leaving you with a worse situation than before). Once clear of last year’s memories, you’re ready to start tuning up that good ol’ bike.

What’s the most important thing on a bike other than the wheels? Yup, a way to make them stop. Look at your brake pads (if they are all even there). Are they completely smooth and worn down? Are there any little cracks from old age or too much sun? If so, get a couple new pairs. They shouldn’t be more than 5 or 6 bucks a pair at the local shop. Check the cables that connect the brakes to the brake levers on your handlebars. Are they fraying at the ends (or anywhere else for that matter)? Rusty? Is the housing (the black tube that the cables go in to) cracking or broken anywhere? If the answer is yes to any of this, then you may consider replacing the cables and housing. Again a few bucks (4 – 6) for each line. This you can certainly do if you are even slightly mechanically capable and have a bit of time. If you aren’t (or had a few too many of those carbonated beverages earlier), consider taking your ride to a shop and have them do it.

Brakes covered. Now the wheels. Hold one end of the bike off the ground and give the wheel a spin. If it wobbles side to side, up and down, or barely moves you might need to see to that. Truing (straightening) a wheel isn’t as daunting a task as it may seem. The tool to do so, a spoke wrench, is usually less than $10 and, with a few tips from a mechanic or doing a little research, a person can usually get a wheel reasonably true and operable. There are, of course, exceptions, can we say ‘Taco’?

On to shifting. You know, that thing you do with the little levers or buttons on the handlebars to make the pedaling easier or harder? Like the brakes, follow the lines and check for anything out of place, excessive wear, or damage. New cables and housing for the shifters should be about the same price as for the brakes. Often, a disconnected or loose cable is the culprit. If it’s loose, follow the line to its end at the derailleur (dee-RAIL-yer, the doohickey next to the gears on the rear wheel or next to the gears by the pedals) and see if you can tighten it up. If you just can’t get it to work, don’t get frustrated or make it worse. See a counselor and drop your bike off at a bicycle repair shop on the way.

Step back, take a deep breath (and another swig or two), and look again at your bike. Be sure there are no obvious problems (yes reflectors and lights are required at night in Bozeman and, yes they will write you a ticket. Trust me…). Check tire pressure (changing a flat is a whole other subject that takes years of finger-hardening practice, or a $3 tire lever). Make sure you have a reliable lock. There are, of course, many other things that could be done, but what we’ve covered are the most important to getting ready to ride. Don’t hesitate to drop by a local shop and pick their minds on any sort of bike-related topic. They are usually happy to share tips and eager to talk about bikes (as long as the morning allotment of coffee has been consumed). It’s warming up and we’re all ready to start throwing mud up our backs, so tuck your pant legs in your socks, strap that helmet on, and get the rubber rolling.

Brian Menkhaus is the owner/operator and maintence manager of the Bike Peddler at 101 East Oak Street in Bozeman. 406-587-3737