Monday, May 08, 2006

Do It Yourself

A friend of mine from work bought a bicycle work stand over the weekend, and told me about some of the maintenance tasks he had already tackled. Then he asked what he should learn to do next.

I thought about that for a while and basically came up with two answers:

1. Learn what ever it is that you have the shop do for you the most.
2. Start with the basic tune-up and work your way up to a complete overhaul.

Learn whatever it is you have the shop do for you the most

When I first started bike commuting a few years back, I was on a hard tail / rigid fork mountain bike that I had purchased almost a decade earlier. It wasn't in working condition so I took it in for an overhaul, which with parts cost me about $180 (could have bought a new bike - a new bike fixes everything). I am a pretty big guy, and I was loaded with panniers full of books and clothes going each way. I also cross rail road tracks 7-9 times on my commute. Between the weight, the load, the tracks and the potholes, I started breaking spokes within a few weeks.

Now, I have a good shop, and I still rely on them for parts and emergency fixes while I am at work. But at the time I was too scared I would mess something up, and afraid that I didn't have the right tools, so I has the shop replace the spoke and true the wheel. They are good guys, so they only charged me about $12, while I have seen truing jobs go for $30 plus. Everything was great for a few weeks, then I broke another spoke. Back to the shop, another $12. When I broke the 5th spoke (this took about a year) I decided I could really save myself some cash if I learned to do it myself. I'm far from being an expert wheelbuilder, but I figure between my bikes, and the other 5 bikes that live at my house so my family can ride, I save myself easily $200 truing wheels and fixing spokes.

You may have some other problem that you have to visit the shop for - maybe you ride in the rain a lot, so you have to do a lot of drivetrain maintenance. Or maybe you travel and rely on the shop to pack and ship your bike. Maybe you wear out brake pads quickly and need to learn how to replace them so they don't squeal. Whatever it is, you can start by learning that first and save yourself a chunk of change.

Start with the basic tune-up and work your way up to a complete overhaul

Your bike deserves a basic tune-up every 3-4000 miles, or at least once a year. The typical basic tune-up costs between $40-$60 and includes services like:
  • Check bike for loose bolts, rattles, etc.
  • Clean and lube the drivetrain.
  • Lube and adjust brake and shifter cables if needed.
  • Adjust hubs, bottom bracket and headset.
  • True wheels laterally.
  • Clean and test ride.
A few of those tasks may seem hard, but if you have the skill to change a flat, you have enough mechanical ability to learn to do all the tasks in a basic tune-up.

About once a year I like to give my bikes a complete overhaul. At my LBS an overhaul usually costs between $100-$150. It typically includes all the services of a tune-up plus such things as:
  • Remove an clean all major parts and cables.
  • Replace cables and/or housings if needed.
  • Clean, replace bearings, repack and adjust hubs, headset, bottom bracket and pedals.
  • True wheels, including dish, tension and round.
  • Some shops remove, clean, grease and replace all bolts, even the minor stuff like bottle cage bolts.
When I do an overhaul on my own bikes I usually add new cables, housing and chain. I also like to replace the bar tape. It make them look and feel like new bikes.

For both a tune-up and an overhaul, the job is faster and easier if you have the right tools, but tool lists will have to wait for another post.

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