As bicycle mechanics, we’ve seen some unfortunate bicycles. Many unfortunate bicycles could have been saved by some simple checks and general awareness of the way your bike should normally operate. There are a few things every cyclist should occasionally do to take better care of their bicycle.
Lubricate the chain.
Folks are often disappointed when it seems that every bike shop wants to sell them a new chain. Yet when asked what chain lube they use, the response is most often “uhh…”
Lubricating your chain should be done every 100 miles depending on conditions and frequency of use to maximize the life of your chain. If you haven’t yet ridden a hundred miles but you’ve been riding on particularly dusty trails or gravel roads or wet roads or it’s been 3 months since your last ride, you should clean and lube your chain.
You will want to use a lubricant made specifically for bicycle chains.
WD40, in its most well-known form, is not an appropriate lubricant for bicycle chains. WD40 does, however, make a line of bicycle-specific products which are perfectly suitable.
Most oils and greases are too thick for bicycle chains. They will attract dirt, dust and other road debris causing a big dirty mess which will then transfer to yourself, your pets, and everything you own. Bicycle specific lubricants are made to be heavy enough to stay on the chain but light enough to prevent grimy buildup. Some bike lubes are heavier than others to account for wet riding conditions in which lighter lubricants might be washed away. Choose a lubricant that is designed for your riding preferences and conditions, and is based on a realistic assessment of how often you will actually apply the lube.
** Note from Sam: Sometimes I wish I was more responsible about lubing my chain. However, the desire is not strong enough to change my behavior. I would prefer to use a lighter and cleaner lubricant but such products need to be applied with greater frequency and I tend to forget. So, I use a long-lasting, “wetter” lube because it makes up for my neglectful attitude towards my chain.
Check your tire pressure.
You don’t necessarily need a gauge unless you value precision and consistency.
** Note from Jason: I don’t value those things when it comes to bicycle tire pressure so I just squeeze the tire with my hand or bounce on the bike as I’m riding to observe the amount of deflection or ‘squish’.
The maximum recommended pressure is listed on the sidewall of most (all?) tires. To determine what maximum pressure ‘feels like’ have your shop inflate your tires to maximum pressure, according to their gauge, then try to remember the amount of squish you are able to inflict when squeezing it.
Minimum pressure is determined by the weight of the rider plus gear and your riding style. If you don’t ‘unweight’ the bike when going over bumps you should stick close to the maximum pressure. (By that we mean: shifting your weight to the back tire as the front tire contacts the bump and then shifting the weight back to the front tire as the back tire contacts the bump). This is to avoid pinch flats. Pinch flats occur when your tube is pinched between the wheel, rim, and a bump in the road (usually the raised edge of a concrete slab).
As the poet said, “Bounce Bounce Bounce Bounce Bounce Bounce Bounce Bounce Bounce Bounce”.
Check the rest of the bike by bouncing it. Yes, that is correct. Bouncing the bike on its tires. Any unfamiliar rattling could be a sign of a problem, like a loose bearing. Loose bearings cause faster wear of rotating components and necessitate replacement sooner than expected. Some rattling will be heard from the chain and rear derailleur but you can familiarize yourself with the normal noises so that you will recognize potentially problematic noises when they present themselves in the future.
If you ever get on your bike and it ‘feels weird’, something is probably wrong and it will be cheaper and safer to visit the bike shop sooner rather than later. A bicycle shouldn’t feel sloppy or floppy, clunky or clanky. It should be solid and smooth. If yours is weird currently, you should take it to a good mechanic at a bike shop and have them give it a once over. You should ask them for something along these lines:
“Could you please inspect this for me? I want it to ride as best it can. What particular things would you suggest need to be done in order to ensure it rides smoothly and safely?”
If there is something you are curious about or something that you think needs attention regarding your bicycle, ask a bicycle person. We are everywhere. You are, of course, always welcome to ask us by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or using our contact form on the site. Sometimes you will need to speak to someone in person, in which case ask your local bike shop people. As with all customer service situations, if they are rude, try a different person. When it comes to bicycles, you deserve to have someone helping you who appreciates the way you want to ride and will help you get the most out of cycling. Don’t settle for less than that.