Routine maintenance is the key to optimal bike performance

Matt Whitaker works on the bike of downhill dual slalom specialist before a race  Credit: J.P. DeLauri/
Whether you ride once a month or every day, regular bicycle maintenance will pay off in easier pedaling, crisper shifts, increased efficiency, and more cycling enjoyment. You'll go further, faster, and have more fun doing it.

Routine bicycle maintenance is easy, fast, and can actually be fun. There are many products on the market today for cleaning and lubing your bike. In this series of articles I will begin with a discussion of the various lubes available for various riding conditions and how to maintain your drive train to optimize the life of your bike.

Lube it up

Lubing a bike is quick, easy, and if done regularly, will result in a smooth, quiet riding bike. It will also shift crisply, making it a real joy to ride. For maximum lubrication benefits, apply fresh lube to clean parts.

Where to lube:

  • Chain: on each link's joint and side plates
  • Derailleurs: on the pivots and internal springs
  • Brake arm: pivots and cables
  • Brake levers: internal pivots, springs, and cables

    Choose a lube type:

  • Wet lube for wet, rainy, long distance rides
  • Dry lube for clean performance, dry or normal conditions
  • Wax lube for the cleanest, driest lube performance.

    Cleaning your chain:

    Keeping your chain clean is important. Dirt, grime, and sand can accumulate and turn into a grinding paste. In short order, your chain will wear itself and other drivetrain components to a point of no return. These expensive components are key to your cycling enjoyment and efficiency. Keep the chain clean and it will last a long time.

    You should clean your chain every 5 - 7 rides or more often if you ride in muddy conditions. The easiest, and some say the best way to clean your chain is with a chain cleaner that clips onto the chain without need for its removal. This approach takes less than five minutes. You can also clean your chain by spraying it with bicycle degreaser and wiping it down with a rag.

    Lubing your chain:

    A well-lubricated chain will deliver crisp shifts, quiet riding and maximum cycling efficiency. Chains require a shot of lube every 2 - 3 rides or more often if you ride in wet or muddy conditions.

    Lube your chain by back-pedaling and dripping lube onto the chain before it passes over the smallest rear gear. This will help prevent over-spray from building up in the rear gears.

    Cleaning your derailleurs and gears:

    Pay particular attention to the derailleurs pivots and springs. Bicycle degreaser and a brush will remove any grime and dirt from inside the derailleur. Clean between the gears, front and back, by using a brush or by "flossing" between them with a rag.

    Derailleurs should move smoothly through their full range of motion without any stiffness. For maximum lubrication benefits, cleaning should be done before relubing the chain or derailleur. The cleanliness factor of your derailleurs is key. Your derailleurs hang out where they pick up all kinds of debris. Keep them clean and they will perform better and last longer.

    Lubing your derailleurs:

    Your derailleurs are just as important as your chain, in helping to deliver those crisp, exact shifts that make cycling a true joy. The derailleurs shift your chain by using a system of springs and pivots. It is important to keep these springs and pivots well lubricated. They will require a shot of lube every 5-7 rides or more often if you ride in wet or muddy conditions.

    Lubing your derailleurs is easiest when you flip your bike upside down. This provides better access. Gears (front chainrings and rear sprockets) do not require any special lube application.

    The gears receive sufficient lubrication from the chain, as it runs through them. Excessive lubricant on the gears will attract dirt and eventually degrade the performance of your drivetrain components.

    Next: Cleaning and lubing your cables, breaks, hubs and bottom bracket.

    Find and register for a bike tour or race in your area!

    Got a question for Dr. Burke? Send it here.

  • Discuss This Article