Spring Tune Up
Friday, 28 March 2008 10:11
Written by Ian Tizzard
“They’re no different than cars, really,” says Brian Burke, owner of Olympia Cycle and Ski on St. Mary’s Road. A frame holds a drivetrain, a steering system, a seat and wheels, while a rider provides power, in one of mankind’s greatest testaments to simple engineering. “They may have many fewer parts,” says Burke, “but they still need to be serviced.”
In the workshop at the back of the store, Burke points out a mountain bike clamped in the arm of an upright work stand in for major work. With the bike held steady a foot off the ground, a mechanic makes final adjustments to the rear derailleur assembly to ensure a smooth transition from one gear to the next. “This one’s needed a complete overhaul,” says Burke. “We repacked the bottom bracket and headset, replaced the brake and derailleur, repacked the hubs, trued the wheel. To see a bike in that condition, it’s heartbreaking.”
But that’s the extreme end of the scale. Just like a car, a bike may go years without a tune-up but it still suffers accumulating wear. “You can ride a bike for years without working on it, but it catches up one day,” says Burke, getting ready for the spring tune-up season.
A season of use and a winter of storage will leave any bike in less than optimal condition. Bikes stored outside over winter need the most work before another year of riding. Even in a shed or garage, rubber expands and contracts with the temperature changes and condensation inside and outside the frame’s tubes can leave rust that needs detection.
For relatively simple machines, though, bikes do have a lot of parts that need attention. Burke says minor adjustments to things such as brake levers and calipers, front and rear derailleurs and all the cables should be made “at least once a season.” The annual check should also cover wheel truing, lubrication of all pivot points and chain cleaning.
A checklist on the Olympia invoice lists a few dozen items to check, big and small. “It’s an analysis,” says Burke, noting that his mechanics run through the listed checks and more. “It’s all second nature to them after a while.” Burke says local bike shops tend to keep experienced mechanics, with slow turnovers as the old bike store guys pass their expertise on to apprentices.
The mechanic points out some of his work on the overhauled bike and tells about the fine line between too loose and too tight for the cones on the bottom bracket. Precision is the key, and proprietary service sites give detailed technical manuals for the mechanics to check model-specific tensions for bolts all over the bike. Torque hex wrenches make them precisely tight.
He wouldn’t discourage anyone from trying to do a lot of the work on their own. The tools are simple to use, but not all familiar. “It’s mainly a matter of time and the cost of specialized tools that keep people from doing more on their own,” he says.
“There’s a lot of sophistication to the tools, even for simple things,” says Burke. Do you need the 18 mm cone wrench, or the 14 mm for $15? You can’t remove a crank arm with anything but a crank remover for about $25. A third-hand tool lets you adjust or remove and replace cables for $18. You’ll pay about $100 for a decent work stand to hold your bike steady at eye level.
On the other hand, there are parts of the bike Burke says you should stay right away from trying to work on.
“There’s an old joke that anyone who tries to true their own wheel gets charged double for us to fix it,” says Burke. In the wrong hands, a spoke key can ruin what starts as a slightly off-centre wheel. “Wheel truing is a science,” says Burke. “It gets really snaky.”
The same is true for other more modern bike parts. Mechanical disc brakes, for example, can be tuned at home, but hydraulic disc brakes need a shop to work on them. And don’t even think of servicing your bike’s suspension system. The newest are as complicated as motorcycle shocks, only with much smaller parts. “Some manufacturers won’t let a shop work on them,” and insist on shipping for factory tuning of their components, says Burke.
“There’s no magic to a bike, but the interaction of the parts is a different story,” says Burke. “When you get into things like the proper angle for brake pads so they don’t squeak, you can do it over and over without getting it right,” says Burke. “It can mean a lot of trial and error at first.
“Some of the best riders don’t have a clue about their bikes mechanically,” Burke adds. “I’m a phenomenal diagnostician – you get a feel for it after 22 years. I can say what’s wrong with a bike, but it’s a whole other thing to fix one.”
Olympia’s Brian Burke says the best maintenance work is keeping the bike clean. Wipe off the grime and wash your bike regularly with indirect spray from a nozzle. Direct spray of a strong enough hose will blast grease out of all the bearings. Lubricate all the pivot points afterwards with an all-purpose lubricant.
“There are things you should do yourself,” says Burke. Picking out the most basic tool kit, he points to tire irons, a pump, spare tube and a patch kit for fixing flats.
Basic self-maintenance can include work on brakes, derailleur, lubricant, head set and bottom bracket depending on the tools available to you. But the simplest work needs only an old cloth and a hand-sized multi-tool that includes small screwdriver heads and hex key. Use it for minor adjustments all around the bike.
The library or book store will have lots of books on bike maintenance and repair. Online, the Park Tool website has instructions for just about everything at www.parktool.com/repair.