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Preparing your bike

As a cycling enthusiast, you’ll want to get the best out of your bike and enhance your riding experience, as well as improve your performance, have gears that respond the way you want while climbing a steep slope, and not getting stranded in the middle of nowhere because a part is broken.

Reasons to prepare your bike

For reliability

Whatever use you want to make of your bike, you will certainly want reliability.
Since the point of cycling is to train on your bike, you obviously do not want to waste time fixing your bike as you ride.  So don’t let chance determine how your bike will behave next time you go out.
There is nothing more disappointing and frustrating than getting ready, then going to your bike to discover it has a flat! Consider yourself lucky if this is the case before you head out on the road! But what would happen if the flat had happened 90 km from your own place? Could you only rely on a friend being available to come and pick you up? Part of having a flat is certainly chance, and part of it may be due to the path you have chosen (too close to the edge of the road for example, or distracted), and . . .   bike preparation.  Maybe your tyre had pre-existing vulnerable points, and it just needed a pointy stone to pierce it? In 50,000 revolutions during a ride, it is not hard to imagine that a tiny stone or bit of metal can get into that hole at some point.

Another common shortcoming is the full gear shifting range.  So many bikes have wrong end settings, making it random, difficult, sometimes impossible to get the lowest or the highest gear.  Mentally picture yourself on a 12% slope: you start in second gear, quickly shift to first gear to maintain a decent speed, but your rear derailleur just does not want to cooperate on that last move . . .

Tyres and shifting will mainly determine the reliability checkpoints.

For safety

Assuming you will take your bike elsewhere besides just on a track, you will be sharing the road.  Sharing it with cars, trucks, buses, motorbikes, other bikes; pedestrians, including children and prams will never be too far from your path.  You will also be sharing it with infrastructure.  Cold, hard, merciless posts, trees, benches, bus stops, kerbs, fences, street furniture etc.  Like my motorbike coach use to say: "whatever it takes, avoid shocks at all costs".  The close proximity between you moving at a high speed, and these static or moving obstacles, more or less unaware of you, leave you no choice but to stay up on your wheels.  Other road users could seriouslty injure you or even kill you if you fall on a busy road with cars or trucks that are too close to you.  Controlling your direction starts with handlebar, pedal, and tyre reliability.

Given that the only surface of contact between your bike and the road will be at most a dozen of square centimetres, you just don’t want to substitute the safety and quality of your tyres.  Also, the only really effective way to quickly change direction is your handlebar, which you should ensure is secure enough on its stem.

In the same fashion as mechanics prepare an aircraft before a flight, a rider should prepare his or her bike for it to respond correctly and smoothly to the various demands you will make: braking, accelerating, shifting gears, crossing railways, turning on sharp bends, going at high speeds, resisting the stress when you dance.  These situations will dictate the safety checkpoints.

For performance

Some less random issues such as non-smooth gear shifts, high friction between a spinning part and a static part, touching rim of brake pads, sorry but I dare say it . . .   it is all ones own fault.  All of this is definitely predictable, and this is typically what could fill your mind with stress at this consecrated time that your (long) ride is.

As I am writing these lines I am taking a look out of the window and I realise that it is not necessary for everyone to spend time on preparing their bike.  In France it is more common than in Australia to see people of all ages and all social levels riding a bike in the city.  It is even more common in Northern and Eastern European countries.  For this type of everyday use, all that is needed is an approximate reliability, with at least two tyres that are more or less inflated.  However, would this standard content you as a more serious cyclist? Think of the triathlon competitors, where every second person gives a last blow into their tyres with a foot pump just before heading to the beach for the start.  This is because they, just like you and me, aim for excellence in performance, and therefore have less tolerance for random mishaps and error.

For some reason, as sport cyclists we all want to go as fast as possible for a given effort spent.  Don’t ask me why.  After all, all the energy we put into combating friction is part of the training too! It is work!
To convert as much of your muscular energy into useful mechanical action, you need to decrease the friction between rotating parts.  This conclusion will define the performance checkpoints.

For the look

When you saw your bike before buying it, let’s suppose at the shop, I’m sure it attracted because it looked all shiny and clean and sexy, let’s admit it! If it was a second hand bike or frame, you would have liked it to be clean , and not covered in mud when you picked it up, wouldn’t you? So why not keep it sexy looking and let it be a pleasure for your eyes.  Also, keeping it clean allows you to see every inch of your frame and machinery and hence ensure that everything falls into place and is adequately tightened and set as it should be.

Procedure

Backlog

First, Make sure you fix what went wrong during your last ride before you take it on your next ride.

During your ride is obviously when you will spot whats going wrong.  Just after your ride is the best time for logging the TODO, in writing, and rarely the best time to address these issues.  Therefore, everytime you maintain your bike, grab your log and address the most important points first.

Reliability checkpoints

Tyre pressure

The recommended tyre pressure is specified on the side of your tyres.  The more you inflate them, the less contact they will have with the road, so the less friction they will produce while rolling, and therefore the more your energy you will need to exert to gain speed.

Attention, inflating them too much may lead to insufficient grip in bends and on wet roads, causing serious injury or even death.

Even if your tyres tolerate a much higher pressure than indicated on the specifications, we recommended you observe the maximum value, bearing in mind that they may inflate more with higher road temperatures that they come into contact with, the sunlight they receive, noting that the black rolling strip will help transfer even more heat, and possibly the temperature in your car if you take your bike elsewhere before or after riding, particularly in summer.

Further reading: how to determine the pressure you need? read more
This section is technical although it should satisfy those of you in need of an answer to this question. The pressure (P) is defined by the weight (F) over the surface (S) it applies to: P = F / S

Applied to tyres, a tyre will need as a pressure the weight it must carry (including its own weight) divided by the surface that you decide is sufficient to create grip for the profile you aim to ride on. It is commonly admitted that for competition tyres typically found on the market, 5 cm2 (~ 0.8 in2) per tyre is a floor value that should at least be met for riding on a dry, smooth tar surface.  If you plan to ride on wet, or on gravel (we will avoid this while on a tour . . . ), you should aim at a larger contact area.
This said, you can now determine the pressure your tyres need.  They need P = F / S, where F is the weight of you as a cyclist ready to go + the weight of your bike ready to go (that includes full bottles, toolbag, etc).
To facilitate the math, use all weights in pounds (lb).

e.g.  me: 180 lb + all my clothes, including shoes, 5.5 lb, + fully ready bike: 19 lb, + food + drinks: 2.2 lb = 206.7 lb
The surface per tyre I choose is 0.9 in2, because I don’t feel comfortable sticking to the lower limit.
Therefore the pressure I should inflate each tyre to is: P = F / S = 115 psi (~7.9 bar).

Important note: when using this formula, always use consistent units, either pounds and square inches, or kilograms and square centimetres, or you will get odd results.

Note: if your pump displays the pressure in bars, be aware that 1 bar is not exactly 1 kg per square centimetre, but about 1% more.  I will not explain why here, contact me if you want to know why.

Shifter setting

Make sure that the whole range of gears can be obtained easily.  While testing, remember you should not cross your chain, as in go past a certain angle, like having your chain be too far to the right at the front while being too far to the left at the back (i.e.  large chainring with low gear on your cassette).
The end screws, usually labelled L and H, standing for Low and High, determine how far your derailleurs can travel left and right.  Do this while giving the shifter cables enough tension at all times . . . Read the specifications of your groupset to find out the best way to set them.
It does take a bit of practice to have it perfectly right.

Safety checkpoints

Respond correctly and smoothly to the various demands you will make: braking, accelerating, shift gears, crossing railways, turning on sharp bends, going fast, resisting the stress when you dance

Performance checkpoints

Check the lubrication status of the five main friction points to avoid a portion of the energy developed by your legs to shamefully go up in limbo, i.e.  fight friction instead of making the bike go forward.

Where are the main friction points? Let’s follow the chain:

  1. Pedal axles: maintain the pivots clean, free of sand, and greased
  2. Chainring axle: same cleanup as for pedal axles
  3. Chain rings: every few hundred kms, clean with kerosene using a brush, dry with paper towel, and lubricate every single chainring with chain oil as you turn the chainring.
  4. Wheels on their axles: undo the quick release axles, spray oil inside bores and grease axles (not with oil)
  5. Tyres on the road: inflate to the right pressure (see #167;Tyre pressure above)

There exist secondary friction zones that are not involved in rolling, but only in use: shifter and brake cables.  At mounting time, grease them on all their length to allow smooth movement within their cases.

Aesthetic checkpoints

  1. Handlebar ribbon: change it every 2000 km
  2. Frame cleanliness: wash with hot soapy water (carwash is ok).  Avoid filling your bottles with soda: it runs down to the bottom bracket and leaves ugly sticky traces.  Carry soda in small 25cl plastic bottles in your bumbag or back pockets.
  3. Rims and spokes: wash with alcoholic water, like window spray.
  4. Groupset, kerosene for the chain, soapy water or window spray for metal parts.

Don’t use carwash or high pressure hoses too often, as water may enter parts that should remain oily.  Cleaning the chain using high pressure is ok as you will lubricate it thoroughly afterwards.  After washing, remember to remove the excess water with paper towel.
Tour de France team techies use soapy water propulsed by high pressure hoses every evening after each stage.
They deliver a spotless bike the next morning for the professional who will use it, after addressing a possible todo list left by the rider orally.

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created 10 September 2012
revised 10 February 2017 by
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