Don't Need to Be a Mechanic to Feel Like One!

This morning before I left out for work I figured that I should make a few adjustments to my commuter rig. During yesterday's afternoon ride out to my dad's I could really feel the bike dragging, when headed home after hanging at my pop's place I paid closer attention to the friction and the resistance. It was clear that my drive train (a fancy word for my chain, free wheel/cassette, and cranks) was part of the problem along with low/insufficient tire pressure, and there was also a slight wobble in my rear wheel which was rubbing on the brakes. Most of what was done could be done by most any and everybody; air in the tires and lube on the chain are the most essential basics to bicycle maintenance, while the straightening the wheel can be a tad more tricky.

Without removing my helmet and backpack, which were linked by the cable of my Niterider helmet light to the battery stored in my pack. I was cautious not to hit my head on the basement ceil as the helmet makes me seem taller and I am already too tall to stand in one third of the basment. I spent less than 10 minutes to clean the drive train, air up the tires, and true the wheel. The improvement was noticed immediately as I rolled out the Norman Rockwellesque brick alleyway behind my house that feeds into 19th Street.

to really understand the significance of such a simple set of tasks
ride your bike as fast as you can around the block a few times
time your self
then lube the chain and put air in the tires
run that same course again timing yourself
I guarantee that you will go faster
or your money back!

I will not wax on endlessly about the benefits of a clean drivetrain, but rather just go into a quick three step process that I have develop over the years. It is quick, it is easy, and it is rather inexpensive.

You will need a few things in addition to your bike
a cloth rag
some degreaser
some lube
(for my three step process you will need a basic synthetic lube and a wax lubricant, both bicycle specific)

a repair stand is great
but if you lack such a rig you can do it 'old school' style and turn your bike upside down balancing it on the handlebars and seat
use the wisdom of the traveling mechanic and hang the bike from a tree branch by the bike seat
(be cautious that the branch is strong enough to hold the bike and be careful not to muscle the bike in such a fashion that it falls on your head)

For a rag I like to use some old underwear, but you can use any garment you choose, cotton would be the preferred fabric. For the degreaser I like SIMPLE GREEN,but there are various bicycle specific products that work just as well that may cost you a tad more. I usually save an old Windex spray bottle and put a Simple Green to water mixture (1:1) in for shop use. It is really quite handy. Spray the whole chain, cranks, and cassette with a healthy dose of the Simple Green degreaser mixture. Then use your old underwear to remove all the gunk. Removal of the rear wheel to get a good sparkling cassette is recommended and don't be shy about getting the solid greasy gook from the jockey wheels on the derailuer. Grab on tight to the chain with a fist wrapped around the chain with your cotton rag betwen the skin and metal; rotate the cranks to pull the chain through your cloth fist. You may be shocked to see that the cassette and chain may have once had a metallic shine.....and very well could have that shine again.

With the chain, cranks, and cassette clean of all that greasy build up no it is time to lube things up. I like to use PEDROS SYNTHETIC LUBRICANT, but FINISHLINE is also popular and the kids at the local shop may have some recommendations of their own. With the wheel replaced back on the bike in working order now it is time to add some lube. Normally I pedal the cranks with my hand and drip a generous amount of lube onto the chain, not a sloppy goopy amount, but no reason to be cheap. After I have applied the lube I give it 3-5 minutes for gravity to do its thing and let to sink in to the inner pins of the chain. Then I use that same old pair of dirty underwear to wipe the chain clean again. There is no need for lube to be on the exterior of the chain. Too much lube will act like a magnet for dirt and will bring the chain back to that dirty, gritty state it was in when we started, we are trying to avoid that. So we wipe the chain down with the same method of gripping the fist around the chain with the rag as we pull the chain through our hands by rotating the cranks. Again it is not a bad idea to clean the derailuer or other parts of excess oil/lube.

we are not done
I like to put a little icing on the cake
After the clean and lube process I like to lube it up one last time
this time rather than using the SYNTHEIC LUBE I use a WAX LUBRICANT, again I go with PEDROS, but WHITE LIGHTNING would work just as well.....
essentially repeat the process of the SYN-Lube, but only this time actually be patient and wait an actual 5 minutes before removing the excess
I also like to shift through the gears a little to get a little of the WAX LUBRICANT COATING on the cassette as well....

PSYCHO LUBE has a two step process that works quite nice
but can be a little less economical
remember RINSE AND REPEAT is what the shampoo people say so that you will use more product and have to be running back to the store for more

okay you are done with the chain
now onto the tires

for this class you will need a few things
a pump; preferably a floor pump
if your floor pump lacks a pressure gauge then you will want a pressure gauge
your bike
your dirty underwear

In this basic tire pressure discussion we will be offering this simple introduction to the of the tools of the trade and some of the language as well as stressing how vital appropriate tire pressure or PSI can be. (PSI=Pounds per Square Inch)

In short, when I ride around town I am always scoping out other cyclists and their rides. For the most part Average Joes tend to be riding without enough air in their tires. They are increasing the rolling resistance, putting themselves at greater risk of a flat, as well as creating a potentially dangerous situation due to the lack of responsiveness of the bike due to a extra squishy tire.
(the squeak of the chain is also a sign of the need for some basic maintenance....I always get a kick out of some body passing me with a squeaky chain, always make me laugh to myself how they would really be moving fast with a little less friction in the drive train)

No need for a bike stand here
No need to hang your bike from a tree
it may be nice to have enough light to be able to read the sidewall of your bicycle tires
Imprinted on the sidewall of nearly any and all tires (cars and motorcycles as well) there is a measure of minimum and maximum tire pressure; measure in PSI. Take a glance at your sidewall, spin the tire around slowly to find the correct information. You may also find the dimensions of your tire which is vital information when buying a spare tube or a replacement tire. If the information is not found, try the other side of the tire. Once that information is found try to memorize it.

Now take a look at the valve.
There are two standard types of valves, presta and shrader.
Now I am not going to go into great detail of how to use each of these valves as this topic is making me dizzy and it is almost time to leave work. In short, the presta valve is a thin narrow valve that has a screw mechanism at the top of the stem that locks down to keep the air from exiting, while the shrader valve is what was standard on your bike growing up as a kid or can be found on car tires. I realize that I did not go through a list of terms or create a glossary, assumed that you kids did your homework.
To close this topic up quick and fast.....
Most of the pumps sold today have an adaptor that works for both presta and shrader, but the old style pumps most normally could be modified by disassembling the pump where it would attach to the valve. That too is too abstract for me to put into words. The easiest thing for a newbie to the PRESTA VALVE is to get a PRESTA ADAPTOR for a buck at your local shop. When making your purchase get your dollar's worth of investing by asking the guy at the shop how to use it. Then give them a chance to giggle by asking if you can get a shrader to presta valve adaptor as well while you are in the store.

squeeze/pinch your tire with your hands
Put air in your tires
pay attention to the pressure gauge
fill it up to the higher limit
then squeeze/pinch the tire
feel the difference
now wipe the sweat off your brow with that nasty ass pair of underwear
feel the burn in your arms from the use of the pumps
check out your triceps in the mirror
well done, you worked hard
now go out and ride

now get that stop watch ready
race around the block a few times and compare your splits

*there is an upper division class called PSI 404 where there are discussions seminars on different surfaces, climates, weather conditions, and also different types of terrain....but this is the basic class. I am still learning to work with lower tire pressure in the right situation, but I always have to customize the rules for Clydesdale applications cause I can not ride 15 PSI on a cross bike and expect my rims to survive, sure I can avoid the Snake Bite with my TUFO Tubular clinchers, but.....there are other things at risk

***unrelated but on a similar tangent***
suited up and ready to leave my dad's I made a last minute decision to take a stuffed nutcracker figure that they had decided to give away or trash
I strapped him, I mean it, to the exterior of my backpack and decided that he would ride with me until Christmas
sometimes it is fun to ride with a friend
my father got a kick out of it
we had a laugh
we said our goodbyes, he went inside closing the door behind him, I went to the side of his house and grabbed my bike
before I had even rolled the bike far enough to throw a leg over I noticed the front tire was flat
hopes that it was just the wheel rolling into deep and wet sod were dashed
it was flat
so I unclipped the front v-brake
flipped the bike onto its seat and handle bars
spun the quick release open
then pulled the wheel out from the fork
took a seat on the winter cool, but not cold flag stone stair
I scanned the exterior of the tire for punctures
removed the tire from the rim with the aid of an old quick stick
man, if that quick stick could talk, what a boring tale it would tell of living in a bag only to come out and fix the seldom but occassional flat
then removed the tube from a tire that is well past its prime and began scanning the interior for the cause of the loss of air
only now I scanned delicately with my fingertips rather than my eyes
it is a process that left a finger tip bleeding more than once
but a thorn, a nail, or a piece of glass may be hiding in the tire
tucked deep in the rubber
something that must be found sooner rather than later after the next flat 15 minutes into riding after the original patch kit repair
came up empty
this case of CSI (a show I have not so much seen a commercial for) remains unsolved
fixing the flat is more important than knowin "why?"
so I went from the tire to the front pouch of my bag which was still accessible after the three and half foot tall blue Nutcracker leaned forward
with a deep reach into the bag I came up with a tube
it was thin, real thin, cyclocross thin, 700c thin
not only too thin with the thickness, but also wrong on the circumference/diameter depending upon the home of your measure
so I went for another grab
I feared the worst, which was most certainly the truth
sure enough I pulled out a tube for a 29er, the WTB valve stem cover gave it away
so I stood up from the cold stone stair and headed towards the front door of my dad's house leaving my bike, bag, three and a half foot tall blue stuffed Nutcracker scattered on the front walk
my dad came to the door and saw the wheel at one hip and the tire swinging at the other hip
immediately my father offered me a ride home
I figured that the flat would need to be fixed sooner or later so why not now
it was tempting to have the 20 minute bond session drive home
I also wanted to get that short pedal home
it is too easy to find a reason not to ride in the winter months
so to back off from riding with gortex head to toe covering an already sweaty layer of lycra seemed ignorant
my dad has a hybrid so no tube to loan here
so I resorted to old standby....the patch kit!
at least I had that
let myself down that I was without a patch kit
(next rant.....what to bring when you leave home on the bike)
my dad and I got that 20 minute bonding session after all
other than using a tad more glue than I had intended I was textbook on the usage of the patch kit all the way down to being patient and waiting for the glue to vulcanize and become "tacky"
put the tube in the tire and the tire and tube on the wheel
used my trusty travel hand pump to fill the tire to appropriate pressure
((now I can recall why my forearm is feeling fried today))
and got to take that quick ride through chevy chase maryland into chevy chase dc and down through rock creek park and up into mount pleasant
climbing park road past my house
not turning down 19th to the alley behind my house
but going the next two blocks to the top of the hill
a hill that I promised myself I would never back down from
I may take a different approach to the house so that I come downhill on the approach
but if I am going up
I go all the way
not depriving myself the pleasure of a climb, even if it is a short one
after all
life is cumulative
rolled into find an empty house
so I showered before the family came home
I think I lost my point