British winters are rarely cycling friendly. Only the dedicated among us can brave the conditions week after week. And for those of us who park the bike up in the corner of the garage for the winter, there are several bike maintenance techniques that we should perform before starting up again.
From cables to tyres and from derailleurs to chains, many parts of your bike can drift out of alignment. After a long winter break, your bike won’t be exactly the same as it was in late autumn. To perform that essential post-winter break bike maintenance, you may want to pick yourself up some bike tools before the bike maintenance class that follows!
If you’ve left your bike in a cold shed all through winter, you’ll want to inspect the tyres before you begin riding again. Inspect them for any grit and glass which may have become embedded, and remove anything you find. Also, and perhaps more importantly, look for small tears or openings in the rubber of the tyre. It may be time for a fresh set if you notice them beginning to corrode. The last thing you want is a blowout when you begin riding again.
Air will leak from your bicycle tyres when you haven’t used your bike for a while. On the tyre rim, you’ll see the recommended pressure range. If conditions are wet, it is often better to err on the side of lower pressure. On wet, slippery roads, tyres will grip better with lower pressure.
However, if you plan on riding flat and dry roads, then a higher pressure will imply less rolling resistance. A track pump is always best. With a gauge built in, you can always be sure of the pressure.
An important piece of bike maintenance is to ensure that both your front and back brakes are in good working order. Cables often stretch when they haven’t been used for some time. In such cases, brakes can become less effective unless they are readjusted. You may want to bring your bike to a bike mechanic if you’re unsure of how to readjust the cables manually.
Hopefully, before you packed up for the winter, you lubricated your bike well. For those who haven’t, then it’s best to give the drivetrain a solid inspection for dirt and rust.
If your drive chain hasn’t been properly lubricated or cleaned, now may be the time to perform this all-important piece of bike maintenance. Riding on it further will only lead to degradation and the unnecessary wearing of the components.
Apply some degreaser to the chain and cassette and wash it thoroughly. You may want to use a small wire brush to really get into the nooks and crannies. Once clean, you can then apply the lubrication.
Chains stretch over time and it’s important to change them before they become too elongated. A stretched chain will begin to wear other components such as the chainrings and cassette. If changed regularly however, it results in minimal wear of other components.
But if left too long, then the bill for a new chainring and cassette can quickly become very expensive. A chain wear indicator tool is your best friend here. With a simple measurement, you can quickly ascertain whether your chain needs changing by measuring the distance between links.
If your bike hasn’t been ridden for a while, a misaligned derailleur may be an issue. Poorly indexed gears lead to a suboptimal and potentially dangerous riding experience. Ideally, you’ll place your bike on a bike maintenance stand and realign the derailleurs with the adjustment screw. For badly misaligned gears, you may require the help of a bike mechanic.
Headsets, handlebars, quick release skewers and bottle cages can often rattle themselves loose. It’s important to give them all a once over before you begin riding again. Don’t over tighten them, just ensure they are all torqued sufficiently. 4.5 - 5.0 Nm is usually the standard torque, but follow the manufacturer's recommendations if different.
They may not be a part of your bike, but as the interface between it and your legs, your cleats are important. The tightness should be checked before you begin riding again. Cleats can come loose, and without the correct tool on the road to retighten them, loose cleats can spell disaster. Check they are torqued sufficiently into the base of the shoe before you swing your leg over the bike after that winter break!