Spring fever? Here's how to get your bike road ready
For the proud year-round pedalers, some bikes endured — knock on wood — a frigid winter with enough salt brine, grime and street sludge to cake rides and fill boots.
As the great melt-off draws near, most bikes call for a basic tuneup, at the very least, whether they're emerging from the basement or the icy streets and trails.
Thanks to some tips from veteran cyclist and Des Moines Bike Collective maintenance instructor David Mable, that tuneup doesn't require a trip to the bike shop, or even access to a garage and fancy tools.
With time, grime and dirt buildup can become a top threat, leading to rust and binding on all exposed metal and moving parts on your bike.
Several quarters with the pressure washer wand at your local car wash can hit the basics for a quick rinse. But proper vigilance calls for a few minutes with Simple Green (biodegradable cleaning solution) and a brush (the one used to clear snow off your car last year should work fine).
Saturate your bike with the bottled cleaner, paying close attention to the chain, gear cogs and derailleur. Scrub all components vigorously with the brush. Buff out the frame with a cloth or rag.
Identify wear and tear during scrub down
Look for red flags (major ones may call for a trip to the bike shop) during cleanup: Frayed cables connected to brakes or gear shifters; tears in tires (exposed cords through tread or cuts in sidewalls means it's time for new tires); broken or bent spokes; cracked or twisted links in chain.
Make sure the brake pads or blocks are not rubbing against the wheel or significantly worn down and unbalanced.
A wheel that rubs against a brake pad can often be fixed by re-centering the wheel using the quick release near the hub on the frame. If that fails, try manually twisting the brake itself or adjusting the screw on the cable.
Lube the chain
This should be done regularly, roughly once a month in normal conditions, and more frequently when exposed to water and dirt. Lightweight chain lubricant is available at any hardware store — Mable prefers something Teflon based, like Tri-Flow.
Watch tire pressure
Proper air pressure is crucial to maximize the lifespan of tires and overall performance. A quality pump with a tire gauge should be used about once a week, depending on how often you ride, to match tire pressure with the P.S.I. recommendation on the side of the tire.
Be sure to identify whether your tires have a Presta valve (slender with a screwing nut component, requires special locking pump) or Schrader valve (more robust and universal with a spring enclosure, like a car tire).
For more advanced maintenance techniques, Mable offers a four-week course every month at the Des Moines Bike Collective in the East Village, 506 E. Sixth St. For $80, the course covers the ins and outs of maintenance, from fixing flat tires, gear shifters and broken chains to learning how to adjust brakes.
For cyclists in search of a workspace or an expanded bike community, the Bike Collective offers annual memberships for $40 a year or six volunteer hours.
Membership benefits include access to a large workshop and tool collection, free use of a large bike trailer, discounts on refurbished bikes and specialized parts.
Most area bike shops also offer tuneups and basic maintenance for less than $90.
Cyclist's toolbox essentials
On the trail and road:
• Multi-tool (including small mm hex wrenches, screwdrivers, spoke wrench, chain fixing tool)
• Tire levers
• Spare tire tube
• Patch kit
• $1 bill or boot for tears in the tire
• Pump or Co2 cartridge
• A phone (worst case scenario)
• Good screwdrivers, medium and small, Philips and straight
• Set of metric wrenches: 8mm-15mm
• Set of hex wrenches: 2mm-8mm
• Small adjustable crescent wrench
• Simple Green cleaning solution
• Needle-nose pliers
• Channel-lock pliers
• Quality cable cutters (bike specific — PEDROS, Shimano, Park Tool)
• Spoke wrench
• Lightweight lube (like Tri-Flow)
• Tube of grease
• Small hammer/rubber mallet (good for pounding stakes in on RAGBRAI, too)
Barr Bike & Fitness
, 1710 N.W. 86th St., Clive, 223-6111
, 2701 Beaver Ave., 274-9626
, 825 E. First St., Ankeny; 964-5623 Ichi Bike, 311 E. Walnut St.; 274-0397
, 2401 Hickman Road, 277-1335; 6600 Douglas Ave., Urbandale; 255-7047; 5950 Village View Drive, West Des Moines, 222-1880
, 4211 Chamberlain Drive, 255-8433
Kyle's Bike Shop
, 1840 S.W. White Birch Circle, Ankeny, 965-0333
Rasmussen Bike Shop
, 307 S.W. Eighth St., Altoona, 967-4414;301 Grand Ave., West Des Moines, 277-2636