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.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
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.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
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!
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
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.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
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.