Taking simple steps before and after you ride will pay off with fewer repair bills and part replacements. "It's amazing how much more wear your bike endures when it's not cleaned properly," says Richard Belson, a bike repair instructor at the United Bicycle Institute. "If your chain is dirty, it's like running liquid sandpaper over your components. They're going to wear out quicker."
A quick post-ride cleaning is the first step to take, but it's not the only way to save yourself time and money as the season wears on. Here are four simple things you can do to keep your bike rolling like it's new.
1. Start with a clean chain
The vast majority of bike mechanics will tell you that the best thing you can do for your bike is to keep it clean. Wipe it down after each ride, especially if you've been riding in bad weather. But the most important piece of gear to keep dirt-free is your chain.
Eric Fostvedt, mechanic for the professional Axeon Cycling Team, suggests using a thick-bristled brush to apply a citrus-based degreaser onto the chain and derailleur pulleys about every 100 miles. Wipe off the residual grime off with a clean rag and reapply chain lube.
You can also head off component wear by replacing your chain before it's too worn. Over time, chains stretch and create additional stress on parts. About once a month, use a chain checker (they're a cheap tool and Park Tool makes a good one). Insert the tool's pins between two chain links and press the swing-arm gauge tight; the gauge will indicate the amount of wear. Expect to replace your chain every 2,500-3,000 miles.
2. Wash the rest
When your bike is dirty, you don't need expensive products to clean it. A sponge, bucket of warm water, and dish soap works wonders, Fostvedt says. Aside from looking like a pro, a clean bike, like your clean chain, can keep all components — from bar tape to wheels — lasting longer.
As you're washing it down, keep an eye out for any scratches or cracks in the frame. If you notice anything suspicious, take it to your local shop for an in-depth inspection to determine if it's a frame crack or harmless paint scratch.
3. Lube your chain and shift cables
You can use a lubricant specifically formulated for wet or dry conditions, but an all-purpose lube like Tri-Flow typically works just as well. Excess lube attracts extra grime. A drop per chain link is sufficient, but you can be less methodical and remove the extra grease by running the chain through a shop rag.
Shift cables need a touch of lube, but far less often than a newly-clean chain. When Fostvedt notices his shifting isn't as crisp, he drops just a small dab of Teflon-based Finish Line dry lube into the cable housing.
4. Keep an eye on the rubber
Before you ride, check that you have plenty of life left on your brake pads and tires. The grooves in your brake pads and tires are wear indicators. After those are gone, it's time to swap them out for new rubber. On tires, also make sure the sidewall isn't torn and there are no bulges.
Brake pads are simple to replace: Use a hex wrench to unscrew the holder (a brake shoe) from the caliper. Pry the worn rubber pad from the holder with a flat-head screwdriver or pliers. Slide the replacement pad into place. Replace the brake shoe, making sure it lines up with the rim's brake track.