After a long, gray winter here in the Tetons, it’s finally bike season! Afternoon thunderstorms have left the singletrack tacky, and the last of the valley snow has melted off our roads. But lo and behold – early season riding has left your bike a bit dirty, your tires a bit soft, and your drivetrain a bit squeaky. Kyle Peterson, a mechanic at Fitzgerald’s Bike Shop here in Jackson, gives us his tips for regular maintenance to keep you rolling smoothly this summer!
Before, during, and after every ride I keep a mental record of any noises I hear:
Listen, diagnose, and assess if it is a critical issue BEFORE you go for a ride – better safe than a mouthful of dirt.
Your bike’s drivetrain is critical. It takes all your pedal strokes and propels you down the road: the faster you pedal the faster you go! Maintaining a clean and well lubed drivetrain is crucial throughout the summer and will prevent major issues later on. I always wipe down my chain and rear derailleur specifically after riding dusty singletrack or gravel roads.
Hot tip: always lube AFTER the ride. If you put fresh lube on immediately before your ride, all it will do is attract dirt. Applying lube after the ride gives the lube a chance to work its way into the chain and dry before my next ride. And let’s be honest, we all prefer to just grab our bike and go.
Your tires can dramatically improve your ride – or hinder you if they are worn out. If the tires you purchased five summers ago have been repeatedly exposed to harsh sun, cold snow and back again, they are probably in poor shape. A good test for wear and tear is to simply deflate the tire – if cracks appear on the side and throughout the tread, then it’s time to head to the shop for some new ones!
I take a look at the tread (the knobs and texture) of my mountain bike tires about once a week, or especially after a crash or gnarly technical ride. Rear tires tend to wear faster than the front – if you find your bike constantly slipping out or drifting on corners, then your rear tire is probably in need of replacement.
Always check your tire inflation BEFORE every ride. Maybe there is a slow leak from your last spin around the block. Maybe your roommates are pranking you after a late night and let air out of your tires. Maybe they’re rock hard and need to be softened. Whatever the case, check! The recommended tire pressure is quietly printed on the side of your tires. Though usually hard to see, it is critical information. Recommended tire inflation depends on the tire size and volume – for example, road bike tires use a higher pressure than mountain bike tires. Whatever pressure you prefer to run, making sure that your fancy presta valves haven’t let out too much air is important. If you roll out for a ride on soft tires you risk suffering from the dreaded pinch flat, or “burping” your mountain bike tire (sealant spitting out of your tubeless tire). Do your due diligence and check your tire pressure!
Giving your bike a good clean every month keeps your bike happy, and keeps you riding. Just like you don’t want to use shampoo to brush your teeth, your bike won’t run well if you use degreaser to try and “lube” your chain. Here is a list of cleaning solvents with how and where to use them.