Maintenance Schedules (or a Lack Thereof)

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I have friends who put their bikes on a regular maintenance schedule just like a car, with X number of miles indicating a hub repacking, Y number of miles indicating a headset rebuild, and so on. In fact, the League of American Bicyclists published just such a maintenance schedule (from the League’s “Bicycle USA” magazine via the Seattle Bicycle Club’s website):

Before every ride:

  • Check tire air pressure.
  • Check brakes and cables.
  • Be sure your crank set is tight.
  • Be sure quick release hubs are tight, but not too tight.

After every ride:

  • Inspect tires for glass, gravel shards, and cuts on tread and sidewall.
  • Check wheels for true.
  • Clean the bike’s mechanical parts as necessary.

Once a week or every 200 miles:

  • Lubricate chain (with dry lube; or every other week or 400 miles with wet chain lube).

Once a month:

  • Completely clean the bike, including the drivetrain if necessary.
  • Inspect chain and freewheel. Measure the chain for wear, check for tight links and replace the chain if necessary.
  • Inspect and lubricate brake levers, derailleurs and all cables.
  • Inspect pedals and lubricate SPD style cleats.
  • Inspect and check for looseness in the:
  • stem binder bolt
  • handlebar binder bolt
  • seatpost binder bolt (or quick release)
  • seat fixing bolt
  • crank bolts
  • chainring bolts
  • derailleur mounting bolts
  • bottle cage bolts
  • rack mounting bolts (use thread lock on these)
  • brake and derailleur cable anchors
  • brake and shifter lever mounting bolts
  • brake mounting bolts (do not alter brake centering)
  • Inspect tires for wear; rotate or replace if needed.

Every three months:

  • Wax bike. A clean, shiny bike always seems to go faster and farther.
  • Inspect frame and fork for paint cracks or bulges that may indicate frame or part damage; pay particular attention to all frame joints.
  • Visually inspect for bent components: seat rails, seat post, stem. handlebars, chainrings, crankarms, brake calipers and brake levers.

Every six months:

  • Inspect and readjust bearings in headset, hubs, pedals and bottom bracket (if possible; some sealed cartridge bearings cannot be adjusted, only replaced)

Annually:

  • Disassemble and overhaul; replace all bearings (if possible); and remove and if necessary replace all brake and shift cables. This should be performed at 6000 miles if you ride more than that per year. Commuters who often ride in the rain or mountain bikers who get dirty should overhaul their bicycles more often.

Wow, that’s a helluva schedule. I wish I could say I’m that diligent and organized, but I’m much more reactive in my maintenance routines. I’m on a regular 400-mile chain re-waxing schedule, but beyond that, it’s pretty much a squirt of oil here and there after a washing, and a hub, bottom bracket, or headset repacking once a decade whether it’s needed or not… ;-) I’m not recommending this approach, but mostly, I attend to things when they squeak, fray, rattle, or break.

I sometimes unknowingly pay the price for my nonchalant methods. For example, I recently planned on replacing the brakes on one of my bikes, but the retrofit went south for various reasons that I won’t go into here, so while I had the old brakes off, I gave them an overhaul. Nothing serious, just cleaning the posts and bushings, greasing the posts, oiling the other moving parts, taking up some cable slack, adjusting the springs, and putting everything back in place. Wow, what an improvement. I didn’t realize what I’d been missing because of my lackadaisical maintenance habits. Makes me wonder what else is in need of attention (probably my hubs and headset).

Of course, it’s possible to over do it. I had a friend years ago who repacked the grease in every bearing race on his bike about once a month (this was in Seattle during the winter, so it wasn’t completely insane). He was always having trouble with bearing adjustments, stripped cone nuts, etc. All that tweaking and adjusting ended up being harder on his bike than if he’d just left it alone.

Like so many things in life, it seems the solution here is balance; something between obsessive tinkering and total neglect. I’m not sure if I’m ready for the obsessiveness of the LAB schedule posted above, but perhaps I need to move just a little further in that direction.

How about you, do you maintain your bike on a strict maintenance schedule, or do you use more of a reactive approach?

Do you service your bike on a maintenance schedule?

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22 Responses to “Maintenance Schedules (or a Lack Thereof)”

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    Holy cow. If I did what the League of American Bicyclists suggests, I’d be doing nothing but working on my bike half my life. Reactive approach is just fine for me, thank you!

  • dukiebiddle says:

    I’m somewhere between keeping an eye out and fixing stuff when it breaks. The only schedule I maintain is that I pump my tires twice a week and clean and lube my chain about every 3 weeks so it’ll ride smoother (even a well maintained chain only last 2 or 3 thousand miles, pretty much the same amount of time as a poorly maintained one, so why treat it like a Fabergé egg?). That League of American Bicyclists schedule is downright comical. I’m far too busy enjoying myself on a bicycle to bother with all of that nonsense regularly.

  • Sharper says:

    I’ve got it easy. When one of my bikes starts to feel a little off, I make sure that’s the one I ride to my next shift at the Bike Kitchen, so I can spend a few minutes on it after the shop closes. I’m at the point now where I can usually tell how long ago each bike was taken in.

    Mileage-based maintenance seems bass-ackwards to me. My daily commuter gets 10x the mileage my other bikes get combined, but since it’s rarely exposed to harsh conditions, it doesn’t need as much maintenance — I probably oil its chain half as often as my wet weather bike’s chain.

  • Dolan Halbrook says:

    I built my bike with the idea of low maintenance, since I don’t have very much free time to be messing with it.

    This year I’ve pumped the tires up a few times, and dialed in the disk brake pads once or twice as they wear down. That’s about it.

    I did have my IGH overhauled once last year when it started to act wonky, which was a first, but I bought it used so I have no idea if it had ever been serviced before.

    I’m hoping for very little maintenance this coming year. I did buy a new chain recently as I think this once won’t make it though the winter, and after three years I think my back tire may need replacement in the coming one, but otherwise I’m hoping for another low-maintenance year.

  • Tali says:

    To someone who uses their bike nearly every day this maintenance schedule is pretty crazy. If I did this every day before and after each journey to/from work or she shops or similiar, I’d spend about 1/3rd as much time checking stuff as I would cycling.

    I top up the tyres about once a month and lube the chain when I feel like it. I know from the pressure guage on the pump that my tyre pumping schedule is quite adequate. Using Scwalbe Marathon Plus certainly makes the checking for glass in the tread part obsolute.

  • Fergie348 says:

    ‘Wax Bike’. Wow – really?

    I’ve gotten hooked on Chain-L for chain lubrication. I’m averaging 800 miles between cleaning and re-lubing with this product, including maybe 15% wet rides.

    http://www.chain-l.com/index.html

  • don in portland says:

    I follow a strict schedule with a few qualifiers. I’ve been using Schwalbe tubes, they seem to hold pressure pretty well, so I only pump my tires up about once a week and even then only a couple of strokes will bring them up to pressure. Chains on my winter commuter bike are cleaned every week and changed every 1000 miles. Tires, based on front or rear, are changed out 3000 miles for a rear and 6000 mile for a front unless there are obvious cuts, bulges, etc. I use quality sealed bearings for my hubs , bottom brackets and headsets which from experience take the most abuse in the winter so there really is no maintenance on those items. I usually spend about an hour a week checking/lubricating brakes, derailleurs, and chains on the bike(s) I’ve ridden the previous week, particularly if it’s been wet. I make it habit daily to squeeze the brake levers hard when I’m not moving, this will give me some indication on the brake pad wear and also put enough tension on the brakes cables so if there’s a loose cinch bolt or a weak
    cable it will become apparent.

  • Lee Trampleasure says:

    A (over?) fixation on maintenance is, in my opinion, anti-bicycle. People get in their cars and drive. A few times a year they go in and get their oil changed, and probably the tires are checked at that time. Any bicycle maintenance schedule that is much more than that will get people thinking “bicycling is such a hassle.”

    Of course, there will always be folks on both ends of the spectrum, I’m just saying that we shouldn’t get carried away. (I’m probably on the other extreme: I have about 3,500 miles on my current bike–yes, I just have one bike that serves commuting, errands, and multi-week tours–and have oiled the chain maybe once or twice, pumped up the tires when I feel them getting squishy, etc.)

  • sb mike says:

    I completely agree with Lee.

    Having this kind of maintenance schedule on a bike is down right discouraging for any new folks thinking about commuting by bike. What were the league of bicyclist thinking when they wrote this up!? I guarantee you that if car manufacturers promoted a similar maintenance schedule, people would never get a car.

    If someone asked me about bike commuting this would be the last thing I would show them.

  • somervillebikes says:

    i don’t follow any organized maintenance schedule. that would be impossible on a half-dozen bikes without painstaking record-keeping. and then it would mean i would be spending more time maintaining records than riding. on the other hand, i do enjoy spending time working on my bikes and i am uber-sensitive to anything in need of adjustment. when i feel that anything is out of adjustment, i tend to it promptly (wheel trueness, brake and shift cable lengths, etc).

    i generally find that things like binder bolts, stem clamps, pinch bolts, crank bolts, etc… never really need attention if they are properly torqued to begin with. if they come loose after proper torquing, it suggests that there is something else wrong.

    similary, if headsets, wheel cup and cones, and pedal bearings are properly lubed and adjusted and appropriate torque is applied to the locknuts, i find that they tend to stay in adjustment for quite a long time. it’s sort of like wheel truing: if spokes are tensioned correctly from the outset, a wheel can stay true after lots of abuse; if built poorly, you may find yourself needed to re-true your wheels frequently.

    even things like chain lubing don’t follow a regular schedule for me… if i ride a lot in wet weather, i will lube the chain if (A) i see any visible rust, or (B) here any noise above normal. this may be after just one or two long rides. but generally speaking, if i don’t ride in wet weather, my wet lube will last at least three months with regular riding.

    the only thing i find i have to do regularly is check the tire pressures.

    another thing i do regularly is check the batteries in my battery-powered lights. even in the morning when there’s daylight, i’ll switch them on to make sure the batteries are good before heading to work and discovering they’re dead when i need them on my commute home.

  • Don says:

    Although I consider that maintenance regime absurdly overzealous, there is one factor that prevents me from being more thorough: certain skills I can’t seem to learn on my own and haven’t found training for. Specifically, hubs, bottom bracket, and headset. I suppose people learn by taking apart old bikes. If I could get around my training gap, or live with the danger of seriously damaging or rendering a bike inoperable until I get help, I might consider being more assiduous.

  • Alan says:

    Hi Don,

    Regarding hubs, BB, and headset, I’ve found the modern incarnations to be so well sealed that they rarely require adjustment or maintenance of any sort. You’re probably not running much of a risk by leaving them be. I was only half-kidding when I said “once a decade whether it’s needed or not.” I recently peeked at the hubs on one of my bikes after 3 years and simply sealed them back up – nothing was needed.

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Roland Smith says:

    The only elements on my bike that get regular attention (after run-in) are tires (check and inflate ever two weeks), brakes (when the pads are worn), gear hub (new oil every year) and chain (clean and lube ever 2-3 months).

    When my bike (which is my daily commute!) is really dirty e.g. after the winter I wash it. Maybe 2-3 times per year total.

    I’ve never ever had to take apart and replace bearings, even on bikes that have seen >10 years of daily year-round use.

    Everything else gets fixed when it’s broken.

    The indicated schedule is way overdone, IMO.

  • 300 Pound Gorilla says:

    I follow the broke-and-busy approach. If anything breaks, I try to scrounge together enough money to fix it. If I can’t do that, I ride a broken bicycle. If it’s not ridable, I walk until I have the money to fix it. I definitely keep an eye out though. I depend on my bike for all of my transportation. Surprises can really throw a wrench in the plans.

  • Cycling For Beginners says:

    That’s quite a list! I pump up the tires and tap my brakes on my way out of the driveway, and oil the chain when it makes noise. Sure, if I noticed something else I would attend to it, but good grief! Do we really need to check bottle cage bolts monthly?

    If it jiggles, I’ll tighten it. If it squeaks, I’ll oil it. (That’s what she said.)

    Best,
    Rob

  • Michaelniel says:

    Lube – once a week
    pump – once a week
    chain – about 1500 miles
    Tires – when the orange “armor” section of my Conti Touring plus’ starts showing
    Wash – Once in the spring
    Other stuff – I’ve been feeling a drop in my bottom bracket for months….but only when it’s really cold out. Every time it gets cold I say to myself “I’ve got to take her to the shop”….but then it warms up again and I forget about it all together. Who wants to give up their bike for a couple days anyway..right? Probably should take her in for an inspection…..and maybe some fresh cables :)

  • Alan says:

    @Michaelniel

    That’s one of the great things about bikes; they can be fairly hobbled and still keep rolling! :-)

    Alan

  • Pete says:

    Anybody else get the feeling that regime was written by lawyers?
    I mess with parts on my bike often enough that they tend to get sswapped before they need any maintenance!
    @Don – get a good repair manual and jump in. The Park Tools or Bicycling mag books are both good. There’s nothing on a bike that’s all that hard or complicated to learn.

  • Alistair says:

    If anyone here’s a member they could polietly ask the League if any of their staff follow such a schedule regularly for a transport bike. I must say it looks bizzare, even counter productive to me.

    “before easch ride: check quick release hubs are tight, but not too tight.”

    So I am supposed to mess with my hubs two or three times day? No wonder they feel thier hubs might be set incorrectly; they are messing with them two or three times a day.

    Cheers, Alistair

  • kfg says:

    \‘Wax Bike’. Wow – really?\

    Yes. A polished and waxed bike will last longer. Plus it’s faster, everybody knows that. :)
    It’s not a ’57 Caddy, it’s not like it takes half a day.

    \I guarantee you that if car manufacturers promoted a similar maintenance schedule, people would never get a car.\

    But cars that did get got would last about 10 times longer. Most cars don’t wear out so much as they get under maintained. Maybe that’s why the car manufacturers don’t promote such a list? The actual recommended procedure for cars by car people IS actually very similar but most people don’t do it; so they have to buy a lot more cars. If they’re not dead I mean.

    Pilots do. Pilots can get dead in a hurry if they don’t.

    LAB, of course, isn’t a manufacturer. They’re a \pilot’s\ organization.

    \Anybody else get the feeling that regime was written by lawyers?\

    No, engineers. The lawyer list looks rather different (well, OK, they might have snuck that QR thing in there) and includes warnings to never ride the bike.

    I don’t follow anything like that list myself, but I do keep a good eye on my bike and take care of things as I deem they are needed, which will usually include at least one strip down a year if it’s seen any real mileage in rain/snow. More with loose balls.

    I’ve never had any problems with bearing adjustment or wonky threads because of it, but I do have loose ball hubs decades old that I expect to be able to get more decades out of. Don’t fix things that ain’t broke, but maintenance pays.

  • Don says:

    @Alan, I’m glad to hear you say that. I’ve been operating under the Hippocratic oath. So any forays into a hub ought to be based on curiosity more than necessity. That takes some pressure off.

    @Pete, thanks for the encouragement. I believe you’re right, although my shop housekeeping practice leaves much to be desired, so I will need to make things a little more tidy before operating. I have an old abandoned 24-inch Giant I was contemplating reviving a piece at a time with my son. I also have some decent hubs attached to worn-out rims. I grew up with the Tom Cuthbertson book, and I just need to have at it. And I’ve always been intrigued by wheelbuilding . . . :>)

  • Pete says:

    @Don-
    Wheelbuilding!!?? That’s sure jumping in the deep end! ;)
    I learned what (little) I know about bike repair from getting a 20 year old MTB out of mothballs to use for commuting. I knew the bike couldn’t possibly be worse when I finished than when I started, and there was no fear of ruining “good” or expensive parts. That Giant sounds like a good first project.

 
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