Prepping Your Bike for Summer Riding
Mar 18, 2023
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Whether taking your bicycle out of the basement or garage or transitioning from the trainer to riding outdoors, use these tips to keep your bike riding great.
Warmer temperatures and sunshine mean many riders take their bikes out of storage or off the indoor trainer to get out on the road or trails for the first time in several months. But you should do more than just pump up the tires and start riding after your bike has been sitting for a few months. This is especially important if your bike was used on an indoor trainer or sat in a non-temperature-controlled place for a prolonged period.
Anyone can benefit from these quick tips and tricks to prep their bike for summer rides. Spending the extra 30 or 45 minutes to wash your bike, lube the chain, and perform a bolt check can save you from potential problems down the road.
A novice rider or home mechanic can handle many of these repairs with some basic tools. However, seek the services of a bike shop or professional mechanic if you feel any repair is above your skill level.
Before riding, perform a quick visual and basic inspection of your bike. If you feel uncomfortable about performing maintenance yourself, bring your bike to a local shop for a tune-up or to fix any specific issues.
→ Tires and Tubes: Look for dry rot or excess wear to the tread or sidewalls. If cords are showing or there are cracks, replace the tire(s) before riding.
→ Brakes: Make sure your brakes properly engage. If you have rim brakes, the pads should contact the rim evenly and not rub the tire. If the brake pads are excessively worn, have them replaced.
If your bike has disc brakes, check that the rotors are straight and the brake pads have sufficient material left. For hydraulic brakes, look for leaking brake fluid at the caliper or lever. The levers should not pull all the way to the bar and should stop the wheel if you spin it.
→ Cables and Housing: Inspect the brake and derailleur cables and housing, Look for cracked housing or strands of housing pulling through the end caps. Also, check for frayed cables and that cables have end caps.
→ Drivetrain: Check the bike's drivetrain for excessive wear or damage. First, check that the rear derailleur hanger is straight. If bent inward, this can cause poor shifting, and the derailleur cage might contact the spokes. The chainrings should not be missing teeth, the derailleur pulleys should spin when the bike is backpedaled, and the derailleurs should move through their range when shifted. Check that the chain is rust-free and that all links articulate smoothly.
→ Wheels: Spin the wheels and check that they are true. Look for significant side-to-side movement or hops at the rim. Pluck each spoke to feel for any loose ones. Feel for crunchy bearings as you spin the wheels
→ Grips/Tape: Inspect the grips or bar tape. Grips should stay in place and not twist on the bar. If the bar tape is worn, torn, or peeling, replace it if necessary. Also, the ends of the bar should be capped to avoid taking a core sample of your body in a crash.
→ Suspension: If your bike has front or rear suspension, cycle it through the travel a few times. Look for any leaking shock fluid and listen for cavitation (you’ll often hear a sucking sound if this happened). Check your shock pressure and make sure air did not leak.
→ Dropper Post: For bikes with dropper posts, check that they drop and return properly. If they are slow to return, sag when pressure is applied, or will not drop at all, service the post.
→ Batteries: If you have an e-bike or your bike has electronic shifting, a power meter, a cycling computer, or lights, don't forget to charge any batteries. For e-bikes in particular, check the contacts for any corrosion and the battery itself for any cracks or damage. If the battery heats up while charging, immediately move it outdoors to a safe area.
→ Tubeless Sealant: When tubeless wheels sit unused for weeks or months, the tubeless sealant in the tires dries up. Give your wheels a shake and listen for fluid. Or check your sealant level by using a zip tie as a dipstick in the valve (with the core removed). If the zip tie comes out dry, re-up your sealant.
→ Other: Don't forget to check other areas for potential issues. Spin the pedals and crank, and turn the bar to check for gritty or sloppy bearings. Also, check for loose components or parts throughout the bike. Things like loose fenders or rack bolts are easily overlooked but can quickly ruin a ride.
Give your bike a thorough cleaning. Often, riders forget to do this at the end of a season. If your bike has been sitting for months, it probably has a coating of dust. Washing your bike also allows you to check over the frame, fork, and components for cracks or damage.
For a quick how-to on cleaning your bike, click the link below.
HOW TO CLEAN A BIKE
After drying and wiping down your bike, pay close attention to your chain. Proper chain cleaning and maintenance keeps your bike running smoothly and saves you money in the long run. First, break out the degreaser and a couple of rags to remove old gunk from your drivetrain and chain. Spending extra time making sure your chain is spotless helps improve the performance of the lube you will apply.
HOW TO CLEAN YOUR CHAIN
When your chain is clean and dry, apply your favorite lube to the chain rollers. Though it might sound weird, be sure to follow the lube brand's instructions—many new high-performance lubricants need time to penetrate into the chain's rollers and cure properly.
For a primer on chain lube and how it can save you thousands, read Bicycling Test Editor Dan Chabanov's excellent deep dive on the topic.
HOW TO PICK THE RIGHT CHAIN LUBE
Before jumping onto your bike for a ride, do a quick bolt check to ensure that all components and controls are properly tightened. For this, you usually only need a set of metric hex wrenches (aka Allen keys) and Torx wrenches. Some bikes might also require a pedal wrench (15mm open-end wrench) or headset wrenches.
When performing a bolt check, I like to start at the front of the bike and work my way to the rear of the bike. Confirm that each bolt is snug, but don't overtighten anything.
If your bike has carbon parts, I highly recommended using a torque wrench and following the component manufacturers’ recommended torque specification. This helps ensure you do not apply too much force that risks breaking or compromising the integrity of parts.
Once a winter activity for racers and superactive cyclists, the popularity of indoor riding soared over the past few seasons. Thanks to lower-priced direct drive trainers, wider adoption of power meters, and online training and racing platforms like Zwift, cyclists can train year-round, even if weather or trail conditions keep them from riding outdoors.
Riding your bike on the trainer puts a lot of wear and tear on your bicycle's components. And when we ride indoors, we often neglect regular maintenance we would otherwise perform if we were riding the same mileage in the real world. Sweat and salt are highly corrosive; if you don't wipe down your bike and regularly lube your chain, you could be in for some serious surprises.
In the name of science, I rode the same bike on my indoor trainer for six months without any maintenance. Over that period, I tallied up more than 60 hours of riding and over 900 virtual miles. And all without wiping down my bike, cleaning the drivetrain, or lubing the chain. I finally had to put a stop to the experiment when my chain skipped and I firmly planted my knee into my stem during a sprint workout.
After the inspection and maintenance sections, I tally up the damage I did to my bike and the total cost of the repairs.
If your bike has been heavily used on the trainer for a prolonged period, go over the bike in more detail than if it was sitting idle for the off-season. And fair warning, what you find could be pretty gross—Most seasoned bike shop mechanics can tell you horror stories about an off-the-trainer bike overhaul.
Rachel Rubino, head technician at The Tricycle Cafe and Bikes in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, stressed the importance of paying extra attention to maintenance on your trainer bike, "One time a rider came in with a drop snapped off of his aluminum Zipp bar right below the lever clamp. Maybe not the grossest, but definitely the most worrisome salty-sweat corrosion that I've seen."
Rubino added some excellent advice for indoor riders to help prevent corrosive build-up, "Whenever you see chunky yellow salt deposits under the bar tape, this is unsafe and gross. It can be prevented by covering your bars with towels and setting up enough fans (four is not too many!). I suggest using cheap bar tape on your indoor trainer bike and changing it monthly."
Spend time checking every part of the bike and component individually. Look for rust and corrosion on bolts, especially inspecting areas where sweat might collect. Pay close attention to your seatpost, stem, handlebar, headset, and front derailleur mount—these are common areas for sweat to land and corrosion to occur.
As Rubino mentioned, unwrap your bar tape to inspect your bar and brake hoods for corrosion. Be prepared to be scared—bar tape often soaks up sweat like a sponge and leaves some absolutely gross residue. Also, carefully inspect the brake hood clamps and bolts. Since your weight is on the hoods when riding, and the clamps are usually covered by tape, you do not want to have one fail on a ride.
After your general inspection, now it's time to dive into any parts replacement. If you are performing service yourself, this work is best done with a bicycle repair stand. The replacement of some parts requires specific tools. If you do not have the proper tools, acquire them before beginning service or have the repairs performed by a professional mechanic.
→ Chain: Check your chain for excessive wear. As a chain is ridden—especially when exposed to grit or sweat—the bushings and rollers in the chain wear out, causing slop to develop and the distance between the pin centers to increase. (This is commonly called "chain stretch", though the metal in the chain hasn't really stretched.) Generally, when a chain "stretches" by 0.5 percent, it is time to swap the chain. If your chain reaches 1 percent, it really accelerates wear on cassettes and chainrings.
The easiest way to test for wear is a chain checker tool. But you can also use a ruler. A fresh chain measures 12 inches from pin center to pin center. If it measures more than 12-¹⁄₁₆ inches, change your chain.
→ Chainrings: When riding the trainer, cyclists often spend most of their time in the big ring (as compared to riding outside, where you encounter non-digital hills). If you’re doing a lot of high-power workouts (especially when riding with a worn chain) your chainrings will see extra wear. Check the chainring teeth for any damage—a sure sign of wear is "shark finning" of teeth and/or being able to easily pull the chain from the ring and see a lot of daylight.
→ Cassette: For direct-drive trainers (where you remove the bike's rear wheel), you might have a separate cassette on your trainer than on your bike's outdoor wheelset. If so, still check the cassette on your wheel for wear. Your cassette is probably still usable if your chain was new (or still in good condition) when the bike went on the trainer. However, if you notice the chain skipping under power or failing to stay in gear, replace the cassette. If you use the same cassette on your wheels as your trainer, replace the chain and cassette if your chain has over 1% wear.
For wheel-on trainers or rollers, check your chain length. Replace the chain and cassette if the chain has over 1% wear.
→ Check the BB: When riding the trainer, sweat drips off your body and often runs down the seat tube onto the bottom bracket shell. While most BBs use sealed bearings, sweat is corrosive and can work past seals. Spin your crank and feel for grittiness or notching in the BB bearings. Check for any side-to-side play, too. If your bottom bracket shows wear, replace it.
→ Housing and Cables: While your bar is unwrapped, check for wear on your shift housing, hydraulic lines, or Di2 cables. If anything needs replacing, replace it now. Once you rewrap the bar, any hidden cables will be covered up, and you will need to unwrap the bar to access them.
→ Bar Tape: As previously mentioned, bar tape soaks up sweat. If you removed your bar tape, replace it. Trying to reuse old bar tape is almost always a lost cause. Use fresh tape—it makes any bike look and feel better.
→ Brake Inspection: While your brakes don't get used when riding the trainer, pay extra attention on bikes with disc brakes. First, check that your pistons have not moved. It is easy to accidentally hit your brake lever and push out a piston when the wheel and rotor are removed (I use plastic pad spacers when my bike is on the trainer to prevent this). Follow your brake manufacturer's instructions to reset the pistons if they moved.
While you are checking your disc brakes, this is a good time to clean the pads and rotors. They can collect sweat from being on the trainer, or become otherwise contaminated. Use isopropyl alcohol to clean the pads and rotors. Check your pads for wear and rotors for damage while you’re cleaning them.
→ Tires (for wheel-on trainers): Bikes used with friction or fluid trainers (where the rear wheel remains on the bike) often wear through rear tires quickly. Standard tires are not designed for constant use against a drum or roller. This is why some brands make trainer-specific tires for indoor use. If your tire looks worn, replace it.
→ Grease or Carbon Paste the Seat Tube: Check your seatpost/seat tube before heading onto the road or trail. As sweat rolls off your body on the trainer, it drips onto the seat clamp area. This can lead to stuck seatposts. If your bike is steel or aluminum and using an alloy post, remove the post and apply grease inside the seat tube. If your frame is carbon, or you are using a carbon post in a metal frame, apply carbon paste inside the seat tube.
→ Carbon Paste for Carbon Bars: If your bike uses a carbon bar on a two-piece bar-stem setup, remove the bar and apply carbon paste to the bar/stem. Then, retighten the bar to the correct torque.
After a close inspection and deep cleanse of my trainer bike, I found the true extent of the damage. My chain and chainrings were toast. The chainrings were so worn that the chain would no longer reliably stay in the big ring. Additionally, the chain had so much side-to-side play that it skipped on the cassette.
Before putting the bike on the trainer, I cleaned it and lubed the chain with Silca Super Secret Lube. The chain had approximately 700 miles of wear, and the chainrings previously saw about 2,200 miles of riding. They weren't new components but still had life left in them. Also of note (as I use a direct drive trainer), I did not swap the cassette from the bike's wheel onto the trainer. Instead, I used a SRAM PG-1130 mounted to my Wahoo Kickr Core.
However, since I had ridden the bike with a worn chain for so long, the cassette on my trainer also wore out. While the cassette on my wheelset was still usable, I decided to change it since I was changing my chain and chainrings.
My bar tape was worn where the heel of my palm sits when on the hoods, but otherwise was probably still ok. However, since my bike was ridden inside so much, I unwrapped the bars to make sure I hadn't damaged or corroded the bar or Di2 cables underneath. Luckily I didn't find any corrosion, because if I had, replacing the one-piece cockpit on my bike and rebleeding the brakes would have been a costly and time-consuming task.
While my bottom bracket wasn't totally worn out, it shows signs of wear and probably will need to be changed at the end of the season. My headset bearings were fine. The new chain was ultrasonically cleaned and waxed before installation. I also performed a full bolt check on the bike, added fresh sealant to my tires, cleaned my brake rotors, and put some carbon paste in my seat tube.
I replaced worn parts with the same Shimano's Dura-Ace R9100 series components that were on my bike. Had I used less expensive Ultegra or 105-level replacements, the price would have been reduced, but the bike's weight would have increased. Chain - $53Chain wax - $40Chainring (outer) - $238 Chainring (inner) - $37Cassette - $264Bar tape - $28 Sealant - $3 (x2)Total - $666
As Deputy Editor, Tara Seplavy leads Bicycling's product test team; after having previously led product development and sourcing for multiple bike brands, run World Championship winning mountain bike teams, wrenched at renowned bicycle shops in Brooklyn, raced everything from criteriums to downhill, and ridden bikes on six different continents (landing herself in hospital emergency rooms in four countries and counting). Based in Easton, Pennsylvania, Tara spends tons of time on the road and trail testing products. A familiar face at cyclocross races, crits, and bike parks in the Mid Atlantic and New England, on weekends she can often be found racing for the New York City-based CRCA/KruisCX team. When not riding a bike, or talking about them, Tara listens to a lot of ska, punk, and emo music, and consumes too much social media.
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The Best Bike Is an Old Track Bike→ Tires and Tubes: → Brakes: → Cables and Housing: → Drivetrain: → Wheels: → Grips/Tape: → Suspension: → Dropper Post: → Batteries: → Tubeless Sealant: → Other: → Chain: → Chainrings: → → Cassette: → → Check the BB: → → Housing and Cables: → → Bar Tape: → → Brake Inspection: → → Tires (for wheel-on trainers): → → Grease or Carbon Paste the Seat Tube: → → Carbon Paste for Carbon Bars: Total - $666