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End-of-Year Bicycle Maintenance

Itís a sad fact of life for most of us: the end of the cycling season eventually arrives. We have to store away our trusty steeds until spring sunshine melts the snow and ice (or at least overcomes the rain) enough for us to ride. If we want our bicycles to be ready to roll in the spring, however, we need to take care of them before we put them away. Just follow these few preventative end-of-season measures to save time on spring cleaning and rust removal.

Part of end-of-season maintenance is identifying general maintenance issues that may require repair. While the notes below may help you identify problem areas, there is not space in this article to tell you how to make the repairs. Either take your bike to a quality local bike shop or, if youíre the do-it-yourself type, invest in a good maintenance and repair guide and a set of tools. While I make no claims of being a bike mechanic, Iíve been happy with the book I purchased: The Bicycling Guide to Complete Bicycle Maintenance and Repair for Road and Mountain Bikes by Todd Downs.

To start, wash your whole bike down with soap and water. Donít use a pressure washer: you donít want to force water into bearings and other places where itís not meant to be. A bucket of hot soapy water and a sponge will do the job. While youíre washing, look carefully at the entire bike for general signs of wear or rust. Light rust on many surfaces may be able to easily be removed by rubbing it with steel wool or other abrasive material. While you have the steel wool out, rub down the sides of your rims to remove any dirt and brake pad residue. Doing so will improve your braking.

Use degreaser to clean the very dirty areas like derailleurs and brakes. Take the time to remove components such as tires, cassette, chain, and the drive side of the crankset for cleaning. A scrub brush and soapy water may be enough; if not, use degreaser to get everything thoroughly clean. While any degreaser might work, those specifically designed for use on bicycles are formulated to not harm the plastic or composite components that are now often used on our bikes.

Check the bearings in your hubs, bottom bracket, and headset for wear, and overhaul or replace as necessary. If you push laterally on the wheel and feel play, the hub bearings have loosened and need to be replaced or overhauled. The spindle in the bottom bracket should spin smoothly, without binding or looseness; if this is not the case it may need maintenance. Your headset may need maintenance if your handlebars feel loose, or if they rattle and clunk when you ride over bumps.

Inspect the chain for stretch and the links for wear or damage. If youíve had trouble shifting, hear a metallic rattle when you pedal, feel like your pedaling is rough, or if your chain skips gears, you need to maintain your chain. Clean it well, lubricate, and replace if necessary.

Inspect and lubricate the brake and shifter cables. You can clean the cable housings by removing the cables and spraying solvent or very light oil like WD-40 or White Lightning Clean Streak through the housings. Cables are wear items and are not expected to last the life the bike. If you see any signs of wear on the cables, replace them. I have seen several recommendations calling for replacing the cables annually as a matter of course, but I think this schedule would depend on how much you ride.

It wonít take long to make sure your bike is happy and healthy before it hibernates for the winter, and the time is well spent. Youíll have the added advantage of getting to know your bike better so that you can more easily identify any future problems you might have.

Have fun and ride safe!

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