Random Thoughts on Bike Maintenance

[Excuse the randomness of this post – this is what happens when I’m on vacation…LOL. —Alan]

I’m doing a little routine maintenance on the bikes today. Nothing too Earth-shattering, just wiping off the accumulated grime, scanning for damage, checking wheel alignment, lubing where needed, adjusting cables where needed, checking for loose nuts & bolts, and topping off the tires. We’re talking 15-20 minutes per bike at most, assuming I don’t discover some problem. I run through this routine every few weeks and I rarely, if ever, get caught on the road with a mechanical problem.

We were on recumbents the past few years before switching to uprights earlier this year. Even though we rode high-end recumbents, I’m finding our uprights are requiring less maintenance. I’m guessing this is because recumbents have longer cable runs and chains, with cables and chains being the two things that require the most attention on bicycles. This isn’t a dig on recumbents, just something I noticed but didn’t expect.

About checking for loose nuts and bolts… Notice that I say “checking”, not “tightening”. When I say “check”, I mean just make sure nothing is backing off or settling to the point of vibrating loose. I try to avoid incrementally tightening every nut & bolt on the bike every time I check – doing so will eventually break something.

Get yourself some good tubes; I recommend Schwalbe. With good quality tubes you may only have to top-off your tires every 3-4 weeks, whereas cheapie tubes may require re-inflation once a week or more. We’re only talking a couple of dollars difference in price to substantially reduce your hassle factor.

With their teeny-tiny chains, any good quality lube will do on an upright; recumbents require more time and attention in this area. I try to avoid over-lubing my chain; I place one drop on each link, then wipe off the excess. Leaving excess lube on a chain attracts dirt and causes far more harm than running a little dry (assuming there’s no rust). How often I have to apply the lube depends upon the particular lube I’m using, what kind of conditions I’m riding in, the length of the chain, and whether the chain is exposed. For example, I haven’t had to lube the enclosed chains on our Pashleys in over 4 months, yet on my old Tour Easy I went through a fairly elaborate chain maintenance routine on a regular schedule. Again, no dig on ‘bents, just the result of a long, exposed chain running across idlers and picking up a lot of road grime.

I tend to like bikes that are overbuilt so I don’t have to spend too much time truing wheels, babying parts, etc. A heavy-duty, well-built, city or touring bike, if used and not abused, will rarely, if ever, require any maintenance beyond the basics of lubrication and minor adjustments. My LHT, for example, has been fairly heavily ridden for over 6 months, yet I haven’t had to do anything other than one minor headset adjustment a few weeks ago. Even the factory built wheels are perfectly true after a bunch of curb-hopping and pothole encounters. Of course, parts will eventually wear out and require replacement, but that doesn’t qualify as “maintenance” in my book.

I probably spend more time than needed maintaining our bikes, but it’s something I enjoy that adds to the overall experience of cycling for me. If I didn’t enjoy it, I could probably get away with squirting a little Phil’s on the chains once a month and riding the bikes until something falls off. We did that for years when we were kids and our bikes never suffered any ill effects for it.

13 Responses to “Random Thoughts on Bike Maintenance”

  • Spanky says:

    My thoughts on chain maintenance are quite different: it is such a messy job, and the results so temporary, that I rarely bother with it. Only once or twice a year do I strip down my chains and relube them. I see them as a relatively cheap and replaceable part of the bike, and the time I would put into maintaining them is of greater value than the part itself. I just squeeze on some lube every couple of weeks and forget about them. Also, I’ve read, on the Rohloff site I think it was, that road grit becomes integral to a chain after a while, and constantly stripping that grit out will cause the chain to wear out faster as it constantly has to go through the process of grinding down a ‘new’ layer of grit.

    Things like rear derailleurs on the other hand are pretty much a permanent part of the bike, and need to be kept fresh, quite aside from the fact that they will start squeaking and behaving badly if left untended to.

    My wheels I keep a pretty close eye on.

  • charles says:

    I have about 2000 miles, maybe more, on my recumbent (Rans V2) and the chain is about 75% worn out, using my chain wear gauge. My single speed with a cheap 6-speed chain has about the same mileage with less than 50% wear. I have a few upright derailleur bikes with less mileage and they seem to be wearing fairly well. I drip lube on the links and wipe the chain down with a shop rag every few hundred miles when the weather is decent. I think many more people under lube rather than the opposite. The more miles I put on a bicycle the more I appreciate a deraileurless bike and quality wheels & hubs etc. I will eventually end up with a four speed deraileurless bike and Phil wood hubs. Just have to get the last 30 pounds off first.

  • Deb says:

    @Spanky – that’s sort of interesting. I don’t find cleaning my chain to be a big deal (I use one of those tools that makes it easy), and the pure pleasure I feel from not having a noisy chain is hard to discount. So I find it interesting that some advocate not cleaning a chain. How do people deal with the sound, or does that go away if you stick it out long enough? And doesn’t the grit grind down the teeth? I’d think that would be a good enough reason to clean the chain. What stops more grit from continuing to build up? I don’t know much about it overall. This is essentially my first bike. (at least, it is the first one I’ve ridden this much, and thus the first one I’ve done anything at all to take care of.)

    @Alan – I have a LHT as well with Schwalbe’s, and I’d definitely agree with the topping up the air every 3-4 weeks. (sometimes i go longer, I think.) It is nice not to have to worry that much about the air pressure! I love my LHT. In almost 5 months of bike commuting, I’ve put on something like 2500 miles. My bike computer doesn’t work very well once it gets near freezing, so I’ve lost track of the miles with any certainty. It is near 2500, if not a bit more. Anyway, one of the things I’ve started to wonder about is how many miles we can expect from tires? They look good to me still, but do they tend to get 5k miles? 10k? 3k?

  • Torrilin says:

    I haven’t done anything to my Breezer’s chain since I got the bike. The chain guard has kept it quite clean, and it doesn’t make any noise… it is so quiet in fact that I am very careful to warn pedestrians that I’m around. When I first got it, coasting was relatively noisy compared to pedaling. It would make a soft ticking noise. As I’ve put more miles on the bike, that noise has gotten much quieter.

    I’ll check the chain over before I ride next, since between snow and a knee injury I haven’t ridden for several months. It’s a good bike, but I haven’t let it sit so long since I got it and a good checking over can’t hurt.

  • roy says:

    Bicycling Magazine’s web site offers a “Care Calendar” which I use. I recommend that schedule which must be modified to fit the bicycle being maintained. The big monthly maintenance requires less than 30 minutes.

    I quickly wipe down the bike after each ride including wheels and rims. Since I use Rocklube.com self cleaning Rock N Roll lubricant, I also wipe off the chain at that time per instructions. I lubricate weekly per instructions unless the chain gets noisy and/or decides not to shift in the usual smooth fashion. All of this takes less than five minutes.

    I also run Schwalbe Marathon tires and tubes. Consequently, I have been experiencing few flats or mechanical failures. I strongly recommend routine maintenance. Riding a well maintained bike is just more fun.


  • Duncan Watson says:

    Cycle maintenance is its own reward. I enjoy the work, I like being good to my bikes and the results are excellent as they prevent roadside issues. I have a bike repair stand and the normal set of tools and I quite enjoy working on my bikes. I work in my garage which I leave open while working on the bikes. I end up spending quite a bit of time talking to my neighbors when they walk their dogs or get home. It ends up being a social time as well as good for the bikes. The result is good for me, my bike and feeling connected to my local community.

  • Jim says:

    I have a web site (www.YourMonthlyToDoList.com) that provides customers with a personalized monthly to do list for the items they own. Subscribers receive a questionnaire with over 400 items. They check the items that apply and we send them their to do list for those items each month. Activities range anywhere from monthly to every 25 years. Besides the things you might expect like your home, yard, and auto, I’ve included health, finances, BIKES, and more. If you have a chance to look at it I’d appreciate any comments you might have.

  • Steve Fuller says:

    I have noticed that I’m much better about performing regular maintenance since I bought a work stand. My maintenance schedule depends on the bike. My mountain bike sees driveline maintenance more often than any of my bikes, just due to it seeing more adverse conditions (off road or gravel rides). I’m probably clean the grime off of and shine up my fast race bike more often than I do my touring/commuting bike. My single speeds require little maintenance other than an occasional wipe down, and a quick chain wipe/lube. This conversation reminds me that it’s time to give some of the bikes a good wash down soon. My Corsa is in need of a bath.

  • brad says:

    I have to admit that the only reason I don’t like riding in the rain is because of the mess it makes of my bike and especially the chain. In good weather, my chain remains clean and doesn’t pick up much in the way of grime, since I wipe off any excess lube. But once it rains, my chain turns black. I have a chain cleaner that does a decent enough job, but I find cleaning the cassette is difficult even with good solvent and a long brush.

    I agree about the value of overbuilt wheels. For the past four years I’ve ridden my Trek 520 touring bike 1-2 hours a day every day in spring, summer, and fall on bumpy pothole-ridden city streets, along with frequent 60-70 mile rides out in the country on the weekends, and the wheels are still as true as the day I bought the bike.

    While I don’t mind doing maintenance, making the time for it is always a challenge for me so it tends to get put off. For that reason, I’m leaning toward getting a “no maintenance” urban bike with disc brakes and internal gearing to use as my shopping and errand bike-about-town.

  • Alan says:


    I agree, a good workstand makes the job much more enjoyable.


    I’m the same way Brad – I dislike the rain and snow only because of the maintenance issues it creates. I guess it’s a good thing I live in the mild-mannered central valley of NorCal.

    I didn’t mention wheel maintenance, but I do have a truing stand collecting dust in the corner. When I rode less robust bikes I found the need to true my wheels on occasion, but since I’ve been riding heavy-duty wheels it doesn’t get much use.

  • Joel says:

    Now that I have workspace (moved over the weekend) one of my first purchases is going to be a good workstand. I’m tired of having to either: 1) hang the extremely heavy, homemade, trailer hitch mounted bike rack on my truck to use as a work stand – or – 2) flip my 10,000 pound, 1973 Schwinn Speedster upside down (while not messing up the rear fender mounted light) to get at the wheels/tires. A stand will be wonderful.

  • Randy says:

    I am space challenged, so almost all maintenance is done outside (or outsourced to the local bike shop). I agree with Spanky re chains. I’ve had my tour easy about 6 years and have tried several approaches. I put about 4K on it per year (at least half commuting and a lot of errands) and the routine at present is to take the bike to the shop every winter while I’m on vacation and have them replace the chain, cables, pads, and cassette (usually). I clean the chain every 1000 miles or so, and lube it every week or two. I switched to aerospokes, so no longer need to have wheels trued several times per year. I know I could save by doing more myself, but I rationalize the cost by it being just a small fraction of what I’d be spending on insurance, maintenance, and operating expenses of the paradigmatic, 2-ton, steel and plastic chariot offered by the auto industry (hmmm . . . maybe rails to trails should seek a bail-out).

  • Jim says:

    I own and run a small bicycle shop, where we do a lot of repairs. Recently a customer brought in a bike that had an adjustable stem, which was worn to the point that it flopped to its lowest position and was completely loose. Closer inspection revealed that parts of the adjustment mechanism were completely ground or sheared off – it must’ve been ridden loose (and hard) for hundreds or thousands of miles.

    Another time (at another shop where I worked), we had a bike come in because it was making an annoying creaking noise. The source of the creak was the large hole on the inside of the chainstay, where the rear tire had worn all the way through the metal.

    We see these types of things, and we just shake our heads and wonder how people can be so oblivious to such huge and obvious issues.

    On the other end of the spectrum is the guy who has a 50 year-old 3-speed that makes a mysterious rattling noise that is so small that nobody else can hear it, and he’s convinced that the bike is ready to burst into flames. My standard joke is that I would be more concerned if a 50 year-old 3-speed didn’t make rattling noises! (that joke is seldom taken in good humor). We see this and wonder how anybody can be so concerned about such a tiny thing.

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