Repair Tips : Long Term Maintenance

RJ, from the blog An Adventure Called Bicycling, rides bikes in every fashion: touring, commuting, road racing, mountain biking, folding, hauling and more. Currently, she is working at Gregg’s Cycles, consistently rated the top bike shop in Washington state.

You might know how to clean and lube your chain, but do you know when to replace it? The following list of parts are those that need to be replaced routinely, once or twice a year.


After lots of braking, especially in wet and grimy weather, brake pads will become ‘glazed’ (smooth and shiny instead of matte and grippy) or even hold onto chunks of metal and rock picked up from the road.
Pick out rocks with something pointy and scuff the brake pad with sandpaper and wipe with alcohol to keep them happy and brakey. Also wipe the rims with alcohol, because that’s why your pads are dirty in the first place!
While the pads are wearing down, you’ll notice that you have to pull the brake levers farther and farther to get brake action. The brake cable tension needs to be readjusted in order to compensate for the lost volume, take your bike to your local bike shop if you are not confident in your abilities.
Eventually you will run out of good rubber and hit the metal base if you are not attentive. Most brake pads have some kind of wear indicator, like a channel or groove that was there when you bought it, and has disappeared since the pad wore down. Some people wait until their pads are toast and change them once a year. I love the confident, grippy feeling of fresh brake pads, so I err on twice a year, or more if I’ve been particularly abusive to my bike. Your pads will wear faster if you ride in steep areas or wet grit and grime. You might go through one set of pads in the summer and several in the wet winter.
When purchasing brake pads, know that there are a lot of different shapes and compounds out there– so talk to your local bike shop about what will work best for you.


The danger of riding a tire that’s too old is that many of the consequences appear suddenly. The tire was intact one day, then begins turning into shreds the next. To maintain performance and safety, replace tires before they absolutely need it. If the top of the tire is flattening out, the side walls are cracking like something faux-antique, or you can see ANYTHING beneath the outer rubber (like the next colored layer of rubber or the threaded casing), replace it!

First of all, make sure you have appropriate tire pressure to prevent flats and maintain performance. The pressure rating for your tire is printed on the side and reads something like 65-85 PSI or 100-120 PSI. If your tire pressure goes under the minimum, you risk a “pinch flat,” or the rim impaling your tube when ridden over a curb. For performance, heaver riders should pump up their tires closer to the maximum (since their weight is pushing the tire into the ground for good traction) and lighter riders should pump their tires up closer to the minimum (since they aren’t pushing the tire into the ground so much and need help getting good traction). In wet weather, ride with a little less air for improved traction and after your ride, check for little slices and cracks. Pick out rocks (it helps to deflate the tire) that may be trying to invade these cracks and fill with Krazy glue.

Oh boy, this is another article! Your tires are your contact with the road and shouldn’t be underestimated for how much they affect the feel of your ride. Tires that have great flat protection may ride stiff, tires that are comfy may be slow and tires that are great on grass may be abysmal in mud. Talk with your local bike shop about what tire is ride for your needs, or check back here for a whole article on the issue!


Cables make your shifting and braking work and the housing is the sheath that protects it. Cables stretch over time. The cables on a new bike will stretch a lot in its first two weeks of use (and require a tune-up), then stretch slowly after that. Cables need adjusting when your shifting grows a mind of its own and you have to brake levers much to far to get brake action. Cables need replacing when adjusting them no longer fixes this problem.

Adjusting cables is a full process, which we will meet in another full article!
And you will wonder why you hadn’t done this sooner.

Chain Tool


Like cables, chains also stretch over time. If shifting performance declines and has not improved after adjusting the cable tension, chain stretch is usually the culprit. Chain stretch can be measured using a “chain stretch measuring tool.”
Heavy loads, cross-chaining (using a far-inside and far-outside gear) and lack of regular cleaning can expedite chain stretch. A chain should be regularly degreased (Simple Green, available at the grocery store), rinsed and re-lubed with a bike-specific lube (wipe off excess lube). Never use WD-40!
  • If you have not had practice and training in replacing a chain, I recommend taking your bike to the local bike shop.
  • If you run a stretched chain for too long, not only will shifting performance decrease, but you risk breaking the chain while riding which can have serious and bloody consequences if you are unlucky. Additionally, an unclean or stretched chain will wear out the cogs on the cassette (gears in the rear) faster because the cogs and chain do note ‘mate up’ so precisely. Cassettes are usually replaced on the every-few-years basis and the chain rings (cogs in the front) a few years more than that, depending on your weight, habits, power output and maintenance.
Of course, if all this seems overwhelming– take your bike to your local bike shop to get a full tune-up BEFORE the spring craziness begins. Once the sun comes out, your bike shop will be flooded with tune-up requests. Beat the crowd and give your shop some much needed business in the quieter months.

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0 thoughts on “Repair Tips : Long Term Maintenance”

  1. plauale says:

    Small common misnomer: Chains don’t stretch, they wear in a way that makes them elongate. And you don’t need a special tool, unless you consider a ruler special. Click the link to read how to VERY EASILY measure Chain Wear, it takes 5 seconds.

    If you disagree, you could read the the whole article…

  2. Paul says:

    A great deal of the higher end road racing tires (high thread count, dual compound) have absurdly high maximum pressures and minimum pressures that are higher than they need to be. I would argue it’s worth experimenting with pressures below the minimum if you find the higher pressures reduce the ride quality.

    I’m on a set of Vittoria Diamante Pros, 25mm, and I run the front at around 95 and the rear at 100 psi. I weigh 160 lbs and generally have 10 – 30 lbs strapped to my back. I’ve had zero problems with pinch flats, even after hitting huge potholes. The minimum recommended pressure is 110 psi, and the maximum is 130. Also running tires at higher pressures increase the chance, in my experience, of a puncture.

    Racers like their tires to feel like very fast rocks, but for a commuter on racing tires that’s not so great.

  3. Hey Paul – I agree…the ride is brutal when tyres are pumped to their max pressures. Fine if your racing but really not necessary otherwise

  4. Kevin Love says:

    This is waaay too much work for the average commuter who just wants to hop on his bike every day and go.

    I don’t do any of this stuff on my Pashley. I can’t even get at the chain – the full chaincase keeps me out as well as all the salty road water. Also:

    Internal hub brakes – zero maintenance.
    Internal hub gears – zero maintenance.

    In my opinion, articles like this discourage people from taking up bike commuting. They say “I don’t have the skills to take care of my bike” and continue driving cars.

    We should be emphasizing low-maintenance commuter bikes and how easy they are to use and how easy it is to take up cycling to work.

    Let’s focus upon the positive, not the negative.

  5. plauale says:

    I respectfully disagree with Kevin, except that some people will continue to drive because they fear what they don’t understand.

    I am a strong support of “Do it yourself” in that empowerment and freedom come from understanding and experiencing. I see lots of people riding with the QR open or brakes unhooked. Why? Perhaps, they don’t know any better or they don’t have the tools. This article is meant to guide those to choose to adjust those brake pads instead of unhooking them and risking your life.

    Internal gears and brakes are much lower maintenance, but much more complicated and expensive to repair and replace. Fine for those fat pocket commuters who browse this (and countless other) site looking for shiny new bikes. For me new products I can’t fix is negative, things I can repair is positive along with almost everything that goes along with bikes.

  6. Kevin Love says:

    Plauale wrote:

    “Internal gears and brakes are much lower maintenance, but much more complicated and expensive to repair and replace.”

    Kevin’s comment:
    CAA says that annual costs of running a typical car are $6,516 per year.

    Annual cost of a Toronto public transit pass is $1452.

    My estimated annual cost of running my Pashley is less than $200. That includes annual bike shop maintenance, replacing the factory-installed standard Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres when they wear out and everything else.

    A proper commuter bike is by far the cheapest form of transportation.

    As to gears, my father rode his 1973 Schwinn 3-speed for 34 problem-free years. I’ve still got my 1973 Schwinn and rode it every day until I got the Pashley. I am looking forward to riding my Pashley with its 5-speed internal-hub gears 53 years from now, when I’m 100 years old.

    How many 34-year-old cars do you see on the road every day?

    Source for pass cost:

    Source for car cost:

  7. Kevin Love says:

    Plauale wrote:
    “For me new products I can’t fix is negative, things I can repair is positive along with almost everything that goes along with bikes.”

    Kevin’s comment:
    Let’s apply that same principle to all the other machines in my life. If it breaks, can I fix my…

    Vacuum cleaner? No.
    Refrigerator? No.
    Oven? No.
    Washing machine? No.
    Computer? Hell no.

    What percentage of car drivers do even the most basic of maintenance on their own cars, such as oil changes?

    If you are a bicycle lover and want to know how to fix your bike, all power to you. I approve. Same if someone is a vacuum cleaner lover and knows all about how to fix vacuum cleaners.

    As for me, I love liveable cities. Cities built for people, not cars. I particularly love my own City of Toronto, where 29% of the entire population are utilitarian cyclists. Do you think that 29% of the population wants to spend time getting their hands dirty learning bicycle repair skills?

    To build a better City is why I am a bicycle advocate. I also just love riding my bike everywhere; to work, church, grocery shopping, etc. That is fun!

    If we benchmark advanced cycling cities such as Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Tokyo and many Chinese cities, the ordinary people do not have cycle repairing skills. They just ride their bikes everywhere, and allow professionals to fix them on the very rare occasions when they break down.

    If cycling is to become a popular, mass activity with a high percentage of cycle commuters, it has to be easy, safe and convenient for ordinary people who do not want to get their hands dirty fixing bikes. It means bikes that do not need fixing, and are absolutely reliable to get people to work on time every day.

    In short, it means bikes like those used by the vast majority of people in Copenhagen, Tokyo, Amsterdam, etc. Bikes with internal hub gears and brakes, fenders, fully-enclosed chaincases, and coatguards.

    Source for Toronto statistic is page 15 of:

    Note the sturdy commuting bike on the front cover, with the features I just wrote about.

  8. plauale says:

    I agree with you on many of those points, I don’t feel that there is much disagreement with the goal but the approach. You are an bike advocate, which is great, keep the pressure on the government and policy!

    I am an mechanical engineer, I like to fix things, bikes are one of the few things people can actually still fix. So although I drool when I think of the thoughtful design of the Rohloff hubs, I don’t see a lot of people riding them around. Sturmey’s 3g hub is a repairable, cheap and long lasting alternative, true.

    I could go on all day about appliance repair and consumer products disposability… But to keep things on the bright side I think it is important for people to understand the basics of maintenance so that we don’t all end up as subservient consumer drones. I look forward to learning new skills in our time of peak oil, like basic farming, forestry, and city planning too.

  9. jdc says:

    As a bike mechanic, I agree with replacing your chain regularly on any bike in order to prevent premature replacement of the entire drivetrain. My outlook on commuter bikes? With the exception of people who live in a year round dry climate, your commuter is usually a mismatched beater bike that uses hand-me-down components off of your good bikes. It doesn’t need to be XTR equipped to be reliable, but should be mechanically sound. That Pashley? It seems a shame to “wreck” that beauty with Ontario’s winter riding weather when you could be using a perfectly suitable “normal” beater. I wouldn’t ride it in the snow, although I do realize that at it’s heart it’s only a replaceable machine. When it comes to commuters, I believe that most people could get away with a single speed machine, fixed or free, which eliminates most of the mechanical element altogether.

  10. RJ says:


    @ plauale: Yes, I do realize that a ruler can be used to measure the chain– but I was trying to simplify the article. In retrospect, I probably should have included it. Thanks for bringing it up!

    @ the rest of the conversation: my intent was to empower people with common bicycles who wish to understand more about basic maintenance. I did not intend to make any philosophical argument about who should be riding what and why and how etc.

  11. Paul in Minneapolis says:

    I love bicycles. They are easier to learn than cars!!! I’ve done both… Bicycle evolve, but nothing compared to polluting cars.
    I have a question that I don’t yet know. My winter/bad weather bike has a fully inclosed chain case and it has an internal geared hub. I’ve riden over 500 miles this winter and the chain still looks new.. In winter I use to clean my chain ever day, but that is no longer needed. If my chain never gets dirty, when should I re-oil it?

  12. Kevin Love says:

    Paul asked:
    “If my chain never gets dirty, when should I re-oil it?”

    Kevin’s answer:
    The owner’s manual for my Pashley has that happening during its annual shop maintenance. So for my bike that’s once per year.

    Did your bike come with an owner’s manual? If not, I suggest that you contact the manufacturer for his recommendation.

  13. Kevin Love says:

    JDC wrote:
    “That Pashley? It seems a shame to “wreck” that beauty with Ontario’s winter riding weather when you could be using a perfectly suitable “normal” beater.”

    Kevin’s comment:
    The Pashley was designed for all weather conditions. I fully expect to be riding my exact same Pashley Sovereign Roadster 50 years from now. The fact that I ride my bike everywhere will be a major contributing factor for me living another 50 years!

    Go to any snowy country with high bike culture, such as Denmark or Holland. You will see bikes that are used every day and stored outdoors overnight for year after year with no discernable ill effects upon them.

  14. Paul in Minneapolis says:

    @ Kevin Love
    No, I bought my Trek L200 used… I put the chain on last spring (~700 miles ago) and have checked it sever times and it looked like I put it on that morning…
    On my other bikes I clean and re-oil the chain weekly or after rain.. Only because it needed it..
    Without sand, salt and water getting on the chian it is hard to tell when it needs it..

    I’ll write Trek and ask them..

    Oh, If anyone wants ultra low maintenace bike write trek and ask how to get a L-200… They sold them in the US back in 05…

  15. Kevin Love says:

    Plauale wrote:
    “I am an mechanical engineer, I like to fix things…”

    Kevin’s comment:
    That’s cool. Among other things, I am a Certified Quality Engineer. So, I’ll use a little reliability engineering jargon and state:

    “The types of bicycle that are enabling technologies for advanced cycling cultures are those that have been moved to the top of the maintenance hierarchy.”

    Those who are not engineers are probably scratching their heads and saying “what’s that?” Here is the maintenance hierarchy, from bottom to top:

    1. Breakdown maintenance. Wait until things break and then fix them. In some cases, this makes sense. At home, I wait until a light bulb burns out before I replace it.

    2. Preventive maintenance. Do maintenance at regular intervals. For example, the annual maintenance on my Pashley, where the dealer does every item on page 11 of the owners manual. Or to continue with light bulbs, replace each light bulb once a year whether it needs to be replaced or not.

    3. Predictive maintenance. This would involve testing the light bulb to see if it is weak and needs replacement. I regularly test batteries and replace the weak ones.

    4. Maintenance elimination. This would involve buying a special “long-life” light bulb that will need replacement very infrequently.

    Mature bicycle cultures, such as in places like Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Tokyo, have standardized upon bicycles that are at the top of the maintenance hierarchy. It is not hard to see why. It is possible to buy a bike that is absurdly cheap and astonishingly reliable for the ordinary person who doesn’t know how to do bicycle maintenance and has zero desire to learn.

    For more information, see:

  16. jdc says:

    I hold Pashleys in high regard, they are simply beautiful bicycles. It would be fantastic to ride the same Pashley for 50 years, Kevin. I own a 1975 Frejus that is equipped with it’s original complete 1974 Campy Nuevo Record gruppo on it. It’s been going strong for 35 years! My 1984 Velo Sport Alpin radonneur bike has an extremely rare Shimano Deore road gruppo on it….has seen many hard tours and is ridden without any special care . My 1984 Sekine is my foul weather bike. My French-made 1983 Peugeot mountain bike is all original and still ridden off road. My newest project is a 1962 Allin club racer….to go along with the 1959 that we have at the shop. Your Pashley should last a long time. I hope to add one to my stable one day.

  17. jdc says:

    Paul in Minneapolis…..lubing a chain. Sometimes the only thing worse than not lubing a chain is lubing a chain too much. I find that proper technique is more important. As a mechanic, nothing sours my mood more than having to wrestle with someones filthy, greasy black chain.

    If you were standing here beside me it would be easy to demonstrate proper chain lubrication, lol. Ideally, what we want is lube on the rollers of the chain where they contact the pins. We don’t need it anywhere else on the chain. Add lube to the chain. Wait a few minutes for the lube to penetrate. Now we need to remove any excess lube by running the chain backwards through a rag held in your free hand. A well known bicycle mechanics institute instructor, Jenny Scorza, said it best. “it is humanly impossible to remove enough excess lube from the chain”. Take a look at the chain of a brand new bike in a bike shop. Ideally, THAT is what a chain should be like when cleaned and lubed.

  18. Paul in Minneapolis says:

    @ JDC
    I agree, when I say re-oil, I take the chain off, soak it in cleaner, rinse, dry, replace chaing then put 1 drop on each roller. It is time consuming, but I get ~3 to 4 thousand miles before they ware out.
    With new chains the factory grease is best and I leave it on till the enviorment has taken its toll. But with a chain protected I want to leave that factory grease on as long as I can. Along witht the chain case it also has the advantage of a single speed. I was hoping someone from where these type bike are riden would know to tell me.
    For the life of me, I can’t understand why euro type bikes are more common in the US… I wouldn’t be surprised if the auto companies work to keep such wonderful bikes out of america…

  19. Paul in Minneapolis says:

    @ Kevin Love or anyone, My chain case if fully enclosed and I should be able to make an oil bath. This would eliminate all chain maintenance till the chain wore out. Also, with an oil-bath how long would a very good chain last? And last, what would be the best oil to use – in temperature ranges down to minus 30f and up to 100f? My winter riding is below 30f.

  20. jdc says:

    Question for all of you. We just started carrying the White Lightning brand of lubricants at our shop, due to numerous requests for the line. Do any of you use or have you used their wax based chain lube in the past? How was it? The theory behind it sounds interesting. I might test it by using it exclusively on the fixie that I’m building.

  21. jdc says:

    I just thought of something else. Do any of you know someone who’s using Shimano’s new beltdrive system on a commuter? I sold a beltdrive bike to a customer in the summer, but it isn’t being used for commuting.

  22. Kevin Love says:

    Paul wrote:
    “My chain case if fully enclosed and I should be able to make an oil bath. This would eliminate all chain maintenance till the chain wore out.”

    Kevin’s comment:
    I presume this is the Trek bike you referred to previously. Did Trek email you back and say that this would eliminate all chain maintenance?

    This reminds me: My Pashley is due for its annual maintenance on January 28. Notice how this date was cleverly chosen to avoid when the recreational riders are in the shop. I’ll have to make arrangements to bring it in.

    The shop is Curbside Cycle in Toronto. A wonderful place that I highly recommend. One of the particular delights that I am looking forward to is riding a Batavus loaner while they work on my Pashley.

  23. dukiebiddle says:

    Paul in Minneapolis, why would you need ~3 to 4 thousand miles more miles out of a chain that only costs $20? Removing, soaking, drying, lubing on a weekly basis seems unusual to preserve such an inexpensive item, especially when you consider the hours spent annually preserving one chain.

  24. Ned says:

    Thanks for the great info!

  25. Patrick Higginbotham says:

    A chain cleaned with solvent looks great,but how much will actually get into links where it is most needed.The same with spray lubes.Does lube under pressure on both sides actually penetrate links.Is the old fashioned oil can actually better.Also I think it is far better to clean the braking surface of your brake blocks by scraping the blade of a small pocket knife across them at right angles

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