by Adam Ward, March 11, 1999
Here are five things that are very simple and can make a huge difference in your bike’s performance:
Check your air pressure regularly. Check every one to two weeks, and check a little more often if you have a high-pressure tire. Tires will lose approximately 10 pounds per square inch (psi) of pressure per week. The reason for this is that the butyl rubber used in the tube is porous.
A dry chain can be annoying to the rider as well as damaging to the bicycle. Too little lubricant means that your drivetrain will squeak and wear prematurely. Too much lubricant means that it will be a greasy mess that will attract lots of dirt and also cause premature wear. Lubricate your chain with a bicycle-specific chain lubricant (White Lightning, Pedro’s, Finish Line, and so forth), one drop on each link. Then shift through all the gears and wipe off the excess with a rag. You do not need lubricant on the outside of the chain, you need it on the bushings and the rollers on the inside. If you have over-lubricated your chain, clean it with a bio-degradable solvent (Pedro’s, Simple Green, and so forth). Use a brush for the build-up. Make sure to clean all of the drivetrain components; leaving a dirty one will negate your chain cleaning. Make sure to let all of the solvent evaporate before you lubricate your chain! If you ride more often or in dry, muddy, or dusty conditions, you will need to lubricate your chain more often.
If it is very hard to shift or brake, chances are that your cables need lubricant or replacement. A cracked or frayed cable also calls for replacement. A little discoloration on bare housing is fine, but rust is not. Cables are one of the things that can make your bike shift and brake like new again.
If your brakes do not work like they used to, replacing the old dried-out pads can help. If your pads are worn unevenly, it is also a good idea to replace them. If the surface of the pad is glazed, take some sandpaper to it and make it dull again. If your brakes squeak or squeal, try cleaning the rims, sanding the pads, or adjusting the pads so the front of the pad (towards the front of the bike) hits just barely before the rear of the pad.
Bearings are the most important thing. Without them, you would not be able to pedal, roll, or steer. If your bike rattles, most likely a bearing surface is loose somewhere. Engage the front brake and push the handlebar forward to check your headset bearings. You will feel a knocking if they are loose. Lift up the rear of the bike and try to move the wheel side to side to see if your rear hub is loose. Do the same for the front hub, but check the headset first, as they can often be confused with each other. Grab the crank on one side and try to move it side to side. Then rotate it 90 degrees and do it again. This checks your bottom bracket bearings. If your bearings feel gritty or do not roll smoothly, or have spots where they are tight and spots where they are loose, it may be time for an overhaul or replacement. Of course, if you ride a lot or in extreme conditions, you will need to overhaul more often. Be sure not to direct water at your bearings if you hose off your bike. All the grease will wash right out and the bearings will wear faster.
I hope this helps to identify problems before they get out of control and also to help you learn something about your bike.