Minimal bicycle maintenance

With winter behind us, the urge to make clean, to expunge all memory of the filth of the season can become overwhelming… or not. There are those, some of them readers of this site, who can’t be bothered with washing their bikes; even the most assiduous amongst us may occasionally lapse and leave a less favoured machine untended and prey to corrosion or worse.

Even in this scenario, however, some sort of care and attention – what we might call ‘minimal maintenance’ – is wise. Here’s what RCUK recommends for the bone idle:

1: Keep an eye on rim wear. Unless you have Ceramic braking surfaces, rims used for braking steadily wear. When they get too thin to resist the pressure of the air inside the tyre, the side wall section will crack away with potentially disastrous consequences. This check is particularly important on a machine that is otherwise given little attention, since its rims will probably wear faster than usual. One easy check is to place a straight edge against the braking surface and look for a gap; more than 1.5mm is potentially dangerous. Some rims have wear indicators such as a small hole in the braking surface that is no longer visible when the rim is worn.

2: Part worn brake blocks present two potential problems: no, make that three. Firstly, they might finally wear out completely halfway through a ride, leaving the owner with no brake on that wheel. This will also bring whatever metal component holds the block – external shoe or internal moulded part – into contact with the rim, greatly facilitating wear. Finally, should the block be positioned even slightly too high, a sharp lip of rubber will form over the outside of the rim. If left, this will slice neatly through the side of the tyre. So, keep an eye on brake blocks and replace them in good time, especially if doing a lot of wet weather riding.

3: Several different metals are used in the construction of lightweight cycles; wherever they are in contact, such as parts threaded into the frame, there is a good chance that galvanic corrosion will attack. In the worst case, this will go unnoticed until the component has seized. Bad news, so not only should threaded components be treated to an anti-seize before initial fitment, but they should be removed annually and re-treated. You might stretch this to two years between lubes if really indolent.

4: Is there any need to restate the importance of checking chain wear? Let it go too far (1% stretch is acceptable) and it will eat the sprockets, costing money that the budget biker generally prefers not to waste. Either buy a chain checker and use it as shown or, if strapped for cash, measure over 24 link pins between the same point on each pin. On a new chain this will be 12; maximum permissible wear is 1%, which equals 0.12″ or 1/8th inch. So, when 24 links measure 12.125″, replace the chain.

5: Don’t just check the chain; check the chain rings as well – they don’t last forever. While you will know when the rear sprockets are worn ‘cos a new chain will jump on them, you will not be able to discern a worn chain ring thanks to similarly obvious symptoms. It will, however, make the transmission feel spongy and will wear the chain more quickly than a new ‘ring. Look for hooked teeth and a ramp forming on the rearward face of each tooth. Since wear is concentrated on about 40% of each half of the chain ring by the uneven torque exerted through the pedals stroke, the ring can be turned by one bolt (72deg with a five-arm spider) to get more wear out of it.

6: The best way to treat a bike that never gets cleaned is to treat it with a corrosion preventative such as ACF50, thus ensuring that, while on the outside it looks like something the cat would not deign to bring in, under the encrusted dirt lies a gleaming, unsullied machine just waiting for the restorative flush of hot, detergent-filled water. After all, you may get the urge one sunny day…


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