Bicycle Care: An Important Part of Racing

by Dave Arnauckas
Now that it is well into the ’92 racing season, most racers are probably at or approaching their peak fitness levels. It took a lot of racing and physical conditioning to get to this point, and many hard miles that were put on the bicycle. However, the miles that build strong legs, and strong bodies can break down even the most high-tech machines.

According to Assistant Manager National Team Support and U.S. National Team Mechanic Doug Hatfield, the wear and tear that you put on your bicycle should not be ignored. It is especially important to see how your bicycle is working this time of year. He recommends the following maintenance routine to insure optimal bicycle performance.

The first things to check are the wheels. Spin each wheel and check for trueness. Has the wheel been breaking spokes lately? If so, chances are the wheel needs to be rebuilt because of spoke fatigue. Also, on the rear wheel, drive side spokes get munched from over shifting problems or past crashes. This can also lead to problems with the derailleur hanger alignment. When was the last time this was checked?

Back to spinning the wheels. Look for cuts in the tires, tread wear and cord breaks. If the race wheels have tubular tires, try to push the tire away from the rim. If it moves, it’s time to re-glue. If the tires haven’t been re-glued since the first of the season, it might be time to re-glue anyway. After the rainy season and with hot weather upon us, a few screaming descents with some break-cooking turns at the bottom thrown in, and the tire glue becomes brittle. Pull off the tires and give the rims at least two coats of glue. Add one coat of glue to the tires, as well, before reinstalling. This should make them last until the end of the season.

After making sure the wheels are in shape, look at the drivetrain. Check for cog wear, chainring wear, and chain stretch. When was the last time the chain was replaced? Now may be the time for replacement, especially if the bicycle has been doing lots of climbing or massive sprints to the finish line. A chain that is too stretched will start to ruin the rear cogs and then the chainrings. It costs a lot less to replace the chain frequently than to replace the whole drivetrain.

How dirty is the bicycle ? Drivetrain getting kind of gummy? Head tube splattered with bugs from rooftop transport? Bottom cable guides sticking from energy replacement drink leaking from water bottles? Don’t bring your bike to the nearest high pressure spray and wash. This will clean the bike too well and wash the grease out of the bearings. It can also cause water contamination to sealed bearings. All you need is a garden hose, a bucket full of warm water and dish soap, a couple of sponges and a narrow brush for getting to the hard-to-clean places. Some solvent and 10-15 minutes of time will clean a bicycle nicely.

First, squirt some solvent on the chain, freewheel, derailleurs, and brakes around the pivot points. Then pull off the wheels. Lather up the bicycle with warm, soapy water using one sponge for cleaner parts like the handlebar tape and another for more grungy places around the drivetrain sections. While cleaning, inspect the frame for cracks and stress.

After the bike is dry, lube all the pivot points on the brakes and derailleur, etc. A drip squeeze bottle works well. Use your favorite chain lube on the chain. How do the brakes feel? How does the brake pad wear look? It might be time to replace the pads. Do the derailleurs shift okay? If brakes and derailleurs feel a little sluggish, pull the cables out of the housing and use the squeeze bottle to squirt in some lube. Check for corrosion and look at the cables for wear. This should make the brakes and derailleurs work smoothly again.

Next, move the handlebars slowly from side to side, checking for looseness or tightness in the headset. Check the bottom bracket by spinning the crank slowly, checking for looseness or tightness there also. When was the last time they were repacked with fresh grease? Check lock-nuts for tightness. Also, feel the hub axles for smooth adjustments. Again, when were they repacked with fresh grease? Water and dirt can contaminate grease during the winter months.
Finally, go over all the nuts and bolts starting at the front of the bicycle working towards the back, checking for tightness. Don’t overtighten any of the parts, just make sure that they are secure.

After everything is adjusted and working smoothly, spray some furniture polish on the frame and rub out the water spots. This will help keep dirt, hugs, road tar, etc. from sticking to the bicycle and will make the next cleaning easier. Do a test ride and make sure the bicycle feels the way it should. If it does, your bicycle should be ready to race again.


Owner of and long time professional race mechanic.