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)
- 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?