We cyclists really ask a lot of our bikes. We ask them to carry us over miles of roads or trails and then to get us back home safely. We depend on our tires to provide a cushion between the bike’s frame and the ground. We depend on our chain to turn the wheels and shift the gears. And we depend on our brakes to stop us whenever we squeeze them. With so much riding on your bike, you wouldn’t dare neglect it between rides, would you? Failure to maintain proper tire pressure can result in a flat. Failure to maintain your brakes can result in something much worse.
There are plenty of reasons to take good care of your bike, and you don’t have to be a professional technician to do it. Richardson Bike Mart, in Richardson, Tex., is the shop that sponsors the Matrix Cycle Club, which gave a little-known biker named Lance Armstrong a boost early in his biking career when he joined the team in 1987. Now, the experts there will give you a boost, too. Just a few tools and the know-how on the following pages will get you off to a great start in maintaining your bike. Then you can ride confidently, knowing that your set of wheels will come through when you need them most.
CHANGING A FLAT TIRE
Ken “Woody” Smith, the general manager of one of Richardson Bike Mart’s Dallas-area stores, says most repair work he does is fixing tires damaged from riding with low air pressure. Get in the habit of checking your tire pressure once every 7 to 10 days, whether you’ve ridden your bike during that time or not. And “checking your tire pressure” doesn’t just mean squeezing the tires with your fingers and guessing how much air is in there. It means connecting a pressure gauge to the tire to get an accurate reading. But sometimes, flats just happen. A nail in the road or a sharp rock on the trail can create the need for a new inner tube, or in some cases, a whole new tire. Here’s how to remove your tires and fix a leak:
Step 1. Start with the back tire (the most difficult to remove). Shift the chain to the smallest sprocket (the highest gear). If you ride a bike without multiple gears, use a wrench to loosen the nuts and remove the chain from the sprocket.
Step 3. To remove the tire, pull the quick-release lever all the way and loosen the opposite side counterclockwise two to five turns. If your bike is sitting upright on a stand, the tire will fall out. If you don’t own a stand, have a helper lift the bike temporarily to allow the wheel to fall out. If you’re on your own, you can always place the bike upside down and lift out the wheel yourself.
Step 4. Completely deflate the tire. It’s much easier to get the tire off of the rim and the tube out of the tire if there’s no air in it. We used the pointed end of a tire lever to release the air, but a fingernail can also depress the valve core.
Step 5. Use the flat ends of the tire levers to create some space between the tire and the rim. Use three levers, placed two spokes apart, with the flat end underneath the edge of the tire, and the pointed end attached to a spoke.
or install a brand-new one if the rock or shard of glass that caused the flat is still in there. The rag will protect your fingers.
Step 9. Repeat the process in reverse order to put the tire back on the bike. (Except try not to use the tire levers, as they can pinch and damage a tube when you’re putting it back on the rim.) Align the air valve stem with the hole in the rim through which it fits. Until you get familiar with the process, never have both tires off at the same time. As long as one tire is on the bike, you can use it as a reference for how the other one should fit.
Nothing is more dangerous for a biker than having unreliable brakes. Just like monitoring your tire pressure, it’s easy to check your brakes to make sure they’ll be there when you need them.
Step 2. Check the brake tension. Look for the brake-adjusting barrel located on the inside half of the handlebar braking device. Adjusting the barrel counterclockwise will tighten the brake cable, moving the brake pads closer to the rim. Turning the barrel clockwise will loosen the cable and create more space between the pad and the rim. Leave three to four millimeters, but this is mostly a personal preference that you can adjust to your best fit.
Step 3. You can also move the brakes to the left or the right to make sure the pads on one side don’t wear down faster than the pads on the other. There is a brake centering screw on top of each braking clamp on each wheel. Loosen the screw and move the brakes left or right as needed.
Over time, the gear cable that runs from the sprockets to the gear-shifter by your hands will stretch. This can make it more difficult to shift gears. This problem can easily be fixed by adjusting the derailleur.
Step 1. If your gears aren’t shifting smoothly, or if they’re making noises they weren’t making before, try turning the derailleur adjustment barrel counterclockwise in 180-degree increment turns to tighten the slack in the cable.
A bike’s chain is the component that makes the whole thing go. It should be clean but slightly oily. It should never be dripping with oil. Check it whenever you’re tuning up your bike.
Step 1. With one hand, turn your bike’s pedals. With the other, allow the moving chain to run through your fingers. (You may have to have a friend raise the bike in the air if you don’t have a stand.)
Step 3. It’s O.K. if the spray gets on the gears, but don’t get any excess spray on the pedals or brake pads. Hold the spray in the same spot near the back gears while rotating the pedals so the chain moves. (Spray while turning the pedals backward five times at a moderate speed.)
Step 4. After you spray, repeat the testing process to make sure you haven’t sprayed too much.