I am penning this tome on bike cleaning after having a mixed week of pristine and not so pristine bikes to deal with. So, in the interest of self-fulfilment I thought a piece on the merits of keeping your bike clean may keep myself and my workshop less gritty!
To those that keep their bikes pristine – thanks and for those that don’t – thanks as well, if your bike ends up with me, at least it may not be showroom condition, but it is being maintained and prolonging it’s life.
This is not a sermon on thou shalt clean your bike at every possible opportunity but about being practical and dealing with keeping your bike on the road, in amongst our busy modern lives.
It doesn’t take long for an untreated chain to become rusty, if it’s been a wet ride it can literally be a couple of hours and the first tinges of rust start to appear, so time is of the essence. The pictures show a chain and cassette after a few days – the chain when removed was solid and didn’t bend at all!
We all have responsibilities, be it family life, work, homework and numerous other activities before, after and even during our working/school time, and the last thing on your mind when you get back from the commute or leisure ride is… ‘oh I must clean my bike’. A thousand and one other things take priority, so there a few things you can do to ensure that the bike doesn’t fall into a state of disrepair:
- If the bike is wet, a quick dry down with an old towel will ensure that there is no excess water left on the bike
- Use an old rag to dry the chain off
- Use a moisture repellent spray (GT85/ WD40 etc.) on the chain/ cassette/ chain-set
- Apply a lubricant, ideally with Teflon, to the chain/ cassette/ chain-set – don’t flood these but a liberal coating is more than adequate
Those few tips will keep the bike in working order until such time as time is found to give it the clean it deserves.
In the meantime, here’s a few useful bike cleaning DOs and DON’Ts…
- Firstly PLEASE DO NOT use a pressure washer on a bike, they will get it very clean but I guarantee that all the grease will be flushed from the bearings and unless these are stripped and re-greased they will rust and seize very quickly.
- Ideally use a specialist cleaner which, when applied, will lift road grime (I am testing a new product at the moment and my findings will be the subject of a future piece). This is not a necessity but it does help with the removal of the road grime before the bike is actually cleaned.
- Again, ideally, the bike should be washed down with warm water with a little detergent added. The use of a cassette cleaning brush (an old nylon pan scrubber works just as well) will ensure that any grit is removed from this and the chain. Likewise there are many specific frame-cleaning brushes to help get to those hard to reach areas! (I have seen bikes with the entire area below the front mechanism full of mud and small stone’s to the extent that the front gears didn’t work). Ensure the brake pads are cleaned and the wheel rim as well, as any grit will quickly wear the brake track.
- A chain bath is a relatively inexpensive method of getting all the grit out of the chain links and keeping it in excellent condition.
- After all the above give the bike a rinse and dry down.
- Apply a liberal coating of a good quality lubricant (ideally with a Teflon or similar additive) to the chain and cassette, but not too much. Applying too much lubricant to the chain and cassette will attract grit, especially if it’s wet and will wear these quickly. Again I have some new lubricants that claim that they repel grit – which do actually seem to be holding true, so I feel a further piece with the cleaner may be in order.
- Lastly if you’re feeling like treating the bike, a spray of the frame with a silicone spray and a buff with a cloth will have it looking tip-top.
Don’t worry if it all seems too much, nobody is going to stop you riding your bike if it’s dirty, but it may make you feel better and if you do remove all of the dirt and grime – it may go faster!
Bicycle brakes – well all they do is stop you………..don’t they?
The simple answer is yes, they do, or they should.
The necessity to stop safely and at the correct time is paramount, everything else on a bike counts for nothing if when in that instant you need to stop QUICK and you don’t. Not dwelling on any negativity the consequences could be horrific.
So lets look at the brake:
Early bikes generally (if they had brakes) relied upon rod operated callipers.
I can recall vividly a friend who had built a bike from various ‘liberated’ parts (as we did as kids in the 70’s) minus any brakes. On his first proper outing on a fairly long and steep descent, his only available means of stopping was to apply his foot onto the tyre – at the time it was hilarious – a plume of rubber smoke following him down the hill. He did stop, thankfully, but to the cost of a groove worn into the sole of his brand new wellies, a worn out tyre and a strange aroma of burning rubber!
Yes, he stopped, but at some cost and he couldn’t have stopped quickly!
The advent of more efficient brakes and the introduction of hydraulic systems, has ensured that most bikes these days can stop effectively and with a minimum of fuss, but that is in ideal conditions with the correct adjustment and good quality brake pads.
So what do you need to ensure that your bicycle brakes will work when you need them?
Make sure the brake mechanism is working correctly, in that both pads are applied to the braking surface equally and both release and return to their original position quickly and without hindrance. All brakes have some form of adjustment of the mechanism, to adjust how each applies the pad to the braking surface and to adjust the cable to compensate for wear on the pads.
Ensure the brake shoes/pads are not excessively worn; most pads have a series of grooves top and bottom at 90 degrees to the braking surface. When these disappear it’s time to change the pads. A visual check of hydraulic brake pads will be able to show when the pad is becoming too thin.
The brake shoes should be seated evenly and not toed in – if the pads are toed in, only a certain % of the pad is actually in contact with the braking surface – reducing the braking efficiency. This is the same for V, calliper and hydraulic brakes
In hydraulic brakes this can manifest itself as a squeal. Squeals can also be a sign of contaminated pads or rotor disc, usually grease or oil, both of these substances don’t mix well with the ability to stop!
Make sure the brake cables are not frayed – this may not seem so important but if excessively frayed the cable can pull through the pinch bolt rendering the brake useless at that most important moment.
Check that the brake levers are secure and cannot move, and are adjusted to your reach. Time spent before riding adjusting the position of the brake levers can make sure it is not too much of a stretch to get on to the brakes when you need them. Most road brake / gear combined levers have an insert (supplied when first purchased), to allow the brake lever to be moved toward the handlebars for those with smaller hands to be able to reach the lever.
That’s a good summary of the actually brake and what to look for to ensure you are going to be prepared before you go out.
One area that may well be overlooked is the actual braking surface on the rim of the wheel – just as crucial as the brake mechanism and one area that can be overlooked and if over worn can fail catastrophically.
Most wheel rim braking surfaces have a groove/ small hole etched into them to indicate that when they disappear it is past the time to replace the wheel!
The first of the following pictures show a rim that has ‘blown’ due to the braking surface being worn completely away. Thankfully the owner was commuting and was moving slowly when the rim failed, the consequence of this occurring on a fast road descent or that forest trail doesn’t bear thinking about, he was very lucky.
The second picture is of the opposite side of the wheel, and as can be seen the rim wear indicator is still intact – the brakes were badly adjusted and had been pulling on one side exclusively.
So, food for thought – above all get out there and enjoy being out on your bike; just undertake some basic checks before you go out and don’t leave anything to chance.
Or are 11 speed gears just another manufacturing gimmick…..?
Technology moves apace and cycling is no exception, yesterday’s Shimano Dura Ace is todays 105.
As in any field, the advances experienced in the professional echelons very quickly become available to the mass market. Look at the mechanical enhancements and accessories we take for granted in our cars that were developed in the F1 and rally arenas.
10 speed gearing has been the norm for many years now on road bikes to such an extent that only
budget ranges now seem to have 8 or 9 speed gearing. Long may they continue, as they are an excellent means for people to try our wonderful sport without breaking the bank before making what can be a substantial investment into a bike.
Carbon frames, carbon rimmed wheels, carbon bars, stems, saddles etc. all made to make a frame as light as possible, to such an extent that some bikes need ballast to meet UCI minimum weight limits.
So, once we have the bike to the lowest weight to gain the best power to weight ratio, and, assuming the wheels are true, wheel and bottom bracket bearings are smooth, tyres are in good condition and at the correct pressure and the rider is pedalling at the optimum, the last main components upon the bike to gain an advantage is the drivetrain.
The main manufacturers all produce 11 speed groupset’s at various qualities and at various price levels!
So what do 11 speed gears mean in reality?
And what are the manufacturers giving us that 10 speed didn’t?
Well firstly the claim is of
- Smoother shifting
- More powerful and responsive brakes
- Lighter chainset
One of the major ‘upgrades’ is the introduction of coated gear and brake cables, both inner and outer cables to aid smooth shifting, and also within the body of the shifters themselves. All this means that gear changes are smoother and braking, most importantly, is more responsive, something very reassuring when descending a favourite hill.
Most 11 speed chains also have this same coating, again to aid smooth shifting and with the smaller jump between gears, there should be less problem of chain snap.
Shifters gain new ergonomics and also a shorter lever arc. This has resulted in both the rear and front derailleurs having different pull geometry, meaning that all components have been radically updated from the 10 speed equivalents.
The cassettes are generally lighter whilst keeping the same thickness, so should have as long a life as the 10 speeds.
One other advantage that may not jump out as an improvement is taking the chainset 4 arm spider, giving the advantage of being able to change chain rings without having to change the whole chainset – so if you’re completing a hilly ride change to a compact and a time trial, change to a standard. One other advantage is the availability on some groupsets of having ‘semi compact’ gearing, for those wishing to push themselves that little bit further.
So with smoother shifting between the gears, more responsive braking and lighter components what’s not to like?
There are some fantastic deals out there on 11 speed groupsets and I’d be to advise on what would best fit your requirements.
Call Martin on: 07929 892429
As a qualified bike mechanic with nearly 10 years experience, there isn't much in bike maintenance that I haven't dealt with. I look forward to helping you make the most of your cycling.
If you’re truly passionate about your bike, why not consider having a bespoke bike built to your exact specifications. See some bikes I’ve build recently on our Bike Builds page, there’s even some stunning retro bike builds amongst them.