Care and Maintenance
Preventive maintenance: don't start today by doing yesterday's work. - Deniece Schofield
Over the past couple of weeks I have sent both of my most-used bicycles to Banks Bikes for clean-ups and tune-ups. In the case of my winter bike, that means some parts replacements - a worn out chain and corroded cables tell the tale of how hard winter cycling can be on your bicycle! Even though I cleaned and lubricated the bike, especially the chain, salt and grit and water took their toll. I’d noticed difficulty shifting, and had issues with the rear brake for months. Both turned out to be cable issues, in the parts of the bike I couldn’t see (covered and internal cables). What you can’t see is a good reason to take your bike for a tune-up, at the very least, once a year or so (depending on how much and how you ride - lots of gravel and dirt? Take it in more often!). Rusty chains and cables won’t work properly. When you need to do an emergency stop, everything has to work properly.
The good old ABC check is a great way to check your bike for safe operation before every ride. Make sure you have enough Air in your tires and they are inflated to the correct pressure. Nothing ruins a good bike ride like a pinch flat and a long walk home. In the pouring rain. But that’s another story. Of course you can easily learn to change your flats yourself - but is that how you want to spend your riding time? Much easier to just make sure your tires are in good condition and properly inflated. Trust me. I’ve tried the other way.
Brakes - do they work? I mean, do they REALLY work? Once this winter I took off down the steep hill I live on, headed for work, and when I pressed the back brake lever got . . . nothing. I was able to proceed fairly slowly using the front brake but any emergency stop would have been over the handlebars. Yeah, check those. Also make sure your stem and handlebars are not loose.
Now on to the Chain and crank. Make sure your chain is not worn out (you can get a chain measuring tool or just take it to the bike shop), and that it is properly adjusted and lubricated. A rusty chain is not going to spin or shift easily, and wears out your cassette and itself prematurely. Cassettes can be quite expensive. The time you save not maintaining your chain can cost you. Check the shifter cables - are they loose? Are the derailleurs in the right position? The sound of a derailleur against a chain makes me want to lose my mind. Pro tip: if you have a cable replaced, you will probably have to take it back to the shop to have it tightened after a few rides. Cables stretch.
There are other bike mechanical checks you can do, but I want to go on to what I consider your most essential cycling equipment. Your frigging helmet. DOES IT FIT? Two fingers above your eyebrows to the base of the helmet. A V shape around the bottom of your ears - keep the straps straight and taut. One finger under the strap beneath your chin. Keep the chin strap taut. How old is it? Helmets have a life expectancy of about 5 years. The date of manufacture will be inside it on the label. If it’s older than that, replace it. If your helmet has chips, cracks, or other damage, replace it. If you have fallen wearing your helmet, replace it.
I know a lot of people don’t like helmets. I know a lot of people don’t like helmet laws especially. I do not look the least bit attractive in a helmet. That’s not why I wear one. Why do I wear one? For one thing, in Nova Scotia it’s the law that all cyclists wear a helmet. For another thing, you can’t persuade children to wear helmets if adults don’t wear them. Children are in a hurry to look grown-up (they don’t know you have to work and pay bills when you’re a grown up and that’s pretty much your life, but don’t ruin their childhood by telling them) and “cool”. If adults don’t wear helmets, kids won’t either.
I’ve also had people say if they get hit by a car, a helmet is not going to help them. I think I know a few people who have been hit by cars that would dispute that, but I’m going to go with the argument you’re not that likely to get hit by a vehicle. You know what you are pretty likely to do? Fall off your bike, just lose control for some reason and go smack on the ground. And your helmet will protect your head very well in that kind of incident.
Twice in the past decade, a helmet has saved my life. Once it was a cycling helmet and on April 3rd it was an equestrian riding helmet. I wasn’t hit by a car either time. I fell from the height of myself on my bike and from a horse to the ground. In the most recent incident, the horse I was riding bolted and in a series of equipment failures (not my horse, not my equipment but I take full responsibility because I should have checked things over better!!) I ended up hitting the very hard ground at a velocity of 10 m/sec. Once I was home safe after a hospital ER visit, I recalled the one really smart thing I did before that ride. I adjusted my helmet so it fit perfectly. So I pass this on to you: check your frigging bicycle (or horse tack, if you’re riding a horse) and wear your helmet, properly fitted and adjusted, every time you ride. Every single time.