The Sprinter's Guide to Cycling Volume 5: Bike Maintenance

Volume 5: The Sprinter’s Guide to Bike Maintenance “It’s the rider not the bike” – Mike Walden

Roadies obsess over their equipment and view it as an ally in their route to success. Sprinters view the bike as a necessary evil. A great roadie finish includes references to how the bike and rider have “become one” – Lance Armstrong’s famous quote - “no chain man - no chain.”

Roadies and sprinters part ways when it comes to bicycle maintenance, sprinters win despite their equipment. Before a race, the toolio roadie is waxing his chain, rebuilding his bottom bracket and putting ceramic bearings in his derailleur wheelies. The sprinter hopes he remembers to put air in his tires.

A quick inventory of my own equipment proves my genetics - below was the current state of my bike (upon this writing), and some typical sprinter solutions:

Issue #1: Rust. Recently I noticed a squeaking sound than intruded over the volume of my ipod headphones. To my chagrin I noticed after the ride that my chain, and cog were rusty after a winter of disuse.  

Solution #1: Lube. I didn’t have any expensive “roadie lube” handy, but figured oil is oil so I dumped some 10W40 motor oil from my car onto my chain. Problem solved – look, you can barely see the rust in the “after” picture (sadly my Blackberry self destructed and I lost this wonderful archive of photos of dumping a quart of motor oil on my chain in a Target parking lot in South Barrington)

Issue #2: Brakes.  Again, a foreign sound recently intruded over my headphones (I usually ride on a bike path w/ no cars and hence can listen to music) – this time it was the grating of metal on metal. Sure enough my front brakes had managed to wear themselves out.

Solution #2: Adjust. Right hand = rear brakes. Enough said. (Hear is a picture of the offending pads)

Issue #3: Cracked Seat. I didn’t even notice this problem until someone pointed it out to me. My immediate thought was, “what’s all that extra material on the back part of the seat for? - clearly not necessary” However, over the past weeks, the crack has continued to grow…

Solution #3: Adjust. Sit a little more forward – a typical sprinter move – in a match sprint on the track you end up riding the nose of the saddle anyway…

Issue #4: Threadbare Tires: I only noticed this one because I was taking off my rear wheel to put it in the trunk of my car – apparently if you ride them enough, tires wear out.

Solution #4: Keep riding back to the car – I ride “run flat” heavy tubes on my training wheels, so no big deal if I get a flat.

Issue #5: A month or two ago I received an email from Ray Dybowski about inspecting your bike, and in particular, your cleats. A month later and in putting together this inventory, I actually looked at the bottom of my shoes and discovered this – half a cleat.

Solution #5: In this case, I was forced to admit that actual maintenance was required and I replaced this cleat. (As an aside, during the mid 90’s one of my shoes had a slightly loose cleat with stripped screws, and like a good sprinter I kept my pedal tension very tight.) The solution here was to leave my left shoe clipped to the pedal – in fact it stayed  on the bike for a 4 year period – until I replaced the bike.

Issue #6: Lately, when I’m in the big ring, but using a smaller gear, if I get out of the saddle, my chain will drop to the small ring without shifting. I used to think this was my bike flexing, but now, after experience with this, I realize it means my chain is worn out. Last season I broke two chains – one during a race.

Solution #6: I’ll have to replace the chain soon… and likely that will require a new cassette as well… instead, considering all these issues stacking up, there really is only one solution: a new bike.

My new Trek Madone 6.5 arrived a few weeks after I wrote this (last spring): complete with a new chain, cogs, seat, brakepads, and whatever else was about to go bad on my 5 year old Colnago. Problem solved.

Next Up: The Sprinter's Guide to "Kits" (that's Roadie for bike shorts/jerseys)