Bike Maintenance Fails: Common Mistakes

Are you making these common mistakes in your approach to bike maintenance? Let’s set the record straight!

#1: Inflating your tire with the valve stem on the ground.

Almost everyone was shown at some point (maybe by their Dad?) that to put air in your tire, you start with the valve stem near the ground and force the head of your pump down onto it. In reality, there couldn’t be a worse place for control or your body position.

Keep your valve stem between the 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock positions where it’s closer to you and easier to reach. This way you can control the stem from the rim side, or push it out by pinching the tire, making it easier to press the pump head on and push it off. Also, no more squatting or kneeling!

#2: Pulling your pump head off to the side.

Too many valve stems bend, break or tear when the pump is pulled off towards one side of the wheel. No one wants to rack their knuckles on spokes, so we pull away from the wheel, bending the valve stem and hearing the sad extended whoosh of air escaping.

Now that your valve stem is up in the air and pointing down to the floor, the easiest way to remove the pump head is to put both thumbs on the mouth of the pump (where it’s pushed furthest on the valve stem), release the clamp and then quickly and gently push down toward the center of the wheel. The small gasp of air you hear released was just the air trapped in the hose—it should last less than one second and have an even sound. If you’re hearing something longer or that the tone changes, you need to re-check your tire pressure as you’ve likely lost air from inside the tire.

#3: Not oiling your chain often enough (or at all).

The bike shop will get that, right?

Nope. You’ve got to oil it every 100 miles—more often if it’s a daily commuter bike or sees an abundance of rain or mud. Not only does it make the chain last longer (and who doesn’t want to save a few bucks?) but it makes it MUCH easier to pedal. Yes. It will make you faster, use less energy and save money. It’s a win-win-win.

#4: Putting too much oil on and/or not wiping it off.

It’s true that too much oil is better than none at all, but not by much.

Oil your chain lightly—a little bit goes a long way. It shouldn’t take more than 30 seconds or about five pedal strokes to hit the entire length. The goal is to get lubricant in where metal meets metal, but not much if any on the outside of the chain. You don’t need a drop on every link—more like a light squeeze across the length. Excess oil will migrate to the outside of your chain, attract dirt, which will carry to the inside of your chain and in some cases, splatter all over your bike. To keep the excess to a minimum, wrap your freshly oiled chain in a rag and while your left hand holds the pedal steady, forcefully rub the exposed length of chain until you can’t see much if any oil on it, then move to the next section. This whole process should not take longer than 3- 4 minutes. So there’s no excuse that “it takes too long”. You can waste more that much time on Facebook, Twitter or whatever your social media of choice is, and it likely won’t help you pedal your bike faster.

#5: Over inflating tires.

This could be an entire article onto itself (and might be soon), but the maximum inflation on the side of your tire is usually not the optimal inflation. In fact, it’s rumored that they find max inflation by inflating your tires till they blow off the rim—then cutting that number in half. Think of it as less of a recommendation than a way to make sure you can’t sue the manufacturer.

What’s right for you will depend on your body weight, the added weight of what you’re carrying and the width of the tire. To find the right zone, try the tire manufacturer’s website. Many now offer guidelines for inflation based on your weight.

#6: Neglecting your wheel rims or disc brake rotors.

These help you stop. Which saves your life.

Giving them one minute of attention when you oil your chain (that “every 100 miles” rule of thumb) will make your bike stop better. Black crud builds up on wheels that have rim brakes and on disc brake rotors. For rims, hold a clean, dry rag against the braking surface of the rim and spin the wheel until the rag seems to run clean. Again, this should take about a minute for both wheels. For disc brake rotors, spray the rag or rotor with 90% rubbing alcohol and wipe the braking surface clean.

If you want to seriously dial in your maintenance, take a class with Gracie’s Wrench or somewhere you can work on your own bike – in a hands on setting, The experience and skills you gain will make a huge difference in your confidence and your ride.

Tori Bortman is ORbike’s resident bike mechanic. She is also an educator, consultant and the owner of Gracie’s Wrench. Tori is the author of The Big Book of Cycling for Beginners published by Bicycling Magazine.

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