Roll On: Basic Bike Maintenance for Triathletes
By Mackenzie Lobby
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2011 issue of USA Triathlon Magazine.
Owning a whole lot of cool gear is one of the major perks to being a triathlete. Hours are spent finding the right wetsuit, tri suit and running shoes. Much research is invested into everything from sunglasses to hydration systems to high tech socks. Perhaps most attention, however, is paid to a triathlete’s major bank-breaker: the bike.Upon purchase most have grand plans of keeping the shiny two-wheeled steed in tip-top shape. Unfortunately, these ambitions often fall to the wayside. “Many triathletes aren’t exposed to how to properly care for the bike,” explains professional triathlete Tim O’Donnell. “Also, a lot of times it comes down to an issue of just not having enough time in the day.” According to coaches, athletes and bike mechanics, this can be a problem on a variety of levels. “If your bike doesn’t run well, you’re not going to be able to race or train well or safely,” says top bike mechanic Nate Kortuem. “Regular maintenance also prolongs the life of the bike because the cleaner the parts are, the less wear and tear you’ll have.” By keeping up with daily, weekly, semi-annual and annual care, you’ll be sure to get the best performance from your bike, while also staying safe.
Every time you hop on your bike, you should do a brief check of your equipment. This will only take a couple minutes and is well worth avoiding getting stranded miles from home.
- Tires. “If you have a gash in your tire, you can have a blow out; if the tire blows, you’re going down,” says O’Donnell. Take a look at the sidewall of the tires for maximum and minimum pressure. Always remember, it’s better to slightly under-pump your tires than over-inflate them.
- Brakes. Squeeze the brakes to make sure they are functioning properly. “The wheels should spin true in the center with no wobble or brake rub,” says Ken Axford, a USA Triathlon certified coach.
- Wheel Skewers. “Check to see if the wheel skewers are tight and seated properly,” recommends Axford. They should be snug in order to secure the functionality of the wheels.
Assuming you are riding regularly, plan to clean your bike every seven days. This becomes even more important if you are riding in wet conditions as chains and gears get grimy.
- Drivetrain wash. “You should wash your chain once a week, especially if you are riding in mud and gravel,” Kortuem says. For exceptionally dirty chains, he uses Goo Gone and then rinses it with a pressure washer. “Just make sure not to put the nozzle right by the bearings,” he warns.
- Drivetrain lube. “Once your drivetrain is clean, it’s pretty easy to put degreaser and chain lube on there to keep it running smooth,” says O’Donnell. Axford recommends not to reach for the WD40. “Use biodegradable degreaser and bike-specific chain lube,” he says.
The majority of triathletes should do a full tune-up at the six-month mark. Even if you are living in colder climes and riding inside on a trainer, it is a good idea to at least do a thorough once-over a couple times a year.
- Cables. “Every six months you should check your cables to see if they are fraying or if the heads of the cables have snapped off in the shifters,” explains Kortuem.
- Brake pads. Brake pads need to be replaced more often than most triathletes expect, especially if you are riding on hilly terrain where you use your brakes a lot.
- Tires. “If you’re getting flat spots on your tires, you’re going to need to replace those because that can be a major safety issue,” says Kortuem. If you see any cuts, general damage, bulges or fiber casing that show through the rubber, it’s time for a replacement.
- Headset. “Make sure your headset is tight so the handlebars are snug and working properly,” Axford suggests.
All agree that a yearly visit to you local bike shop is a good idea. “Many bike shops will allow you to go and learn from the mechanics while they are working on your bike,” says Kortuem. As a result of the wear and tear that occurs over 365 days of riding, there is a regular list of components that should be checked.
- Bottom bracket and cassette. “These places are often neglected and a lot of times they need to be cleaned, lubricated and sometimes replaced,” O’Donnell says.
- Chain. As a result of the wearing away of metal on the chain, the drivetrain “stretches” and can end up tearing out the cassette. “If you replace the chain more often, the other gears will actually last longer,” Kortuem explains.
- Bearings. In servicing the bottom bracket, front and rear wheel hubs, and the headset, it is also important to check the bearings. “This includes removing, cleaning and repacking or replacing them,” Axford says.
Set up a calendar to stay on track with maintenance. You’ll be protecting both your investment and yourself by keeping up with the regular recommended care. “Maintenance will prevent bigger problems down the road,” O’Donnell says. “Take pride in the equipment you use, and it’ll make your life easier in the long run.”
Mid-Ride Maintenance: What to Carry When You Ride
- Saddlebag or spare water bottle for tool storage
- Spare inner tube
- CO2 cartridge or hand pump
- Small multi tool with Allen wrenches
- Tire tube patch kit
- Cash, phone, ID