How to Take Care of Your Road Bike

Taking good care of your bike can drastically extend it's life! Learn a few essential care tips from Cycling Expert Julien Guarniere below!

A hose sprays a bike cassette.

Photo by Jan Kopriva

Published on

Have you ever heard the saying “happy bike, happy life”? No? Well, you get the point! Your bike is a complex machine that has bearings, seals, and pulleys and chainrings in constant motion. All these moving parts eventually need to be replaced. Keeping up on simple bike maintenance and knowing how to interpret your bike’s cries for help is the key to its longevity. Regular maintenance even makes you faster!

What's That Noise?

It’s a beautiful sunny day for a bike ride. Birds are chirping. You feel refreshed and ready for the ride ahead when suddenly an ear-piercing noise attacks your senses. Oh no! You stop and pull your bike up to the curb, all the while considering going into a cheaper and less stressful sport.

Put your mind at ease. Your bike is trying to tell you something. It’s crying out for your care! Distinct noises mean multiple things. However, there are steps to take to assess what needs to be done and take care of that pesky noise!

Scrubba Dub Dub

A man sprays his bike with a hose.

Photo by Martin Pilson

Does your bike need to be washed every day? No. In fact, you can go at least a week of dry weather riding before a good soap up and rinse. However, if you’ve ridden in the rain, it’s best to wash your bike immediately. If you don’t, expect rust to form and dirt and grim to be stuck in every nook and cranny.

If you don’t wash your bike regularly, especially after riding in foul weather, you are sentencing it to a slow death. To do it properly, you need a low-pressure hose or bucket of water. Avoid high-pressure washers (or the high-pressure setting) as it forces water and dirt into places they shouldn’t be.

Use Eco-Friendly Products

Read product labels before use as they may contain harsh chemicals. Today, you can find environmentally friendly companies that make eco-safe products for every aspect of bicycle care. If starting from zero, pick up a cleaning bundle or kit. Or maybe it’s time to replace your old brushes or treat yourself to some that are bicycle-specific.

If plastic bottles aren’t your thing, snatch up an eco-friendly cleaner that comes with a bottle for life. Refills come in powder form packed with recyclable materials. Love it!

Steps to Follow

Gently rinse down your bike. Apply that eco-friendly degreaser generously to the frame and components, emphasizing the chain and cassette. Let it sit a few minutes to do its work. Rinse the bike to loosen up the grime before applying degreaser to a brush.

Get scrubbing with a bit of elbow grease. Don’t be shy. Use a specialized brush to get those tricky tight spots clean. Run a soapy sponge on the frame if worried about scratching the finish. Rinse away the dirt with fresh water and admire your work!

Great job on the wash, but the job isn’t over yet. It’s time to wipe your frame and components dry with a clean cloth before applying some fresh lube to the chain and moving parts. There is no one perfect lube. Your choice depends on the weather and riding conditions in your area (i.e. wet, dry).

Some lubes have a wax base that extends the time between applications; read those labels and decide if it’s right for you. Finish up with your favorite frame polish that is safe for use on your frame material and BOOM, your bike is squeaky clean and looking sharp.

Diagnose the Problem

Someone uses a screw driver on a bike.

Photo by Marco Verch

If the deep clean on your bike didn’t fix the noise, it's time for a closer look. When an initial examination doesn’t reveal the culprit, prep for surgery because we're going inside the guts of your bike! It runs on many small elements, and each one needs to be greased and lubed properly. Friction caused by contact between moving parts may be the cause of the noise.

Wear and tear happen to every bike. This doesn't mean you have to ditch it for a new one. In most cases, a frame is good for years. It’s the parts that take the brunt of the abuse, depending on the amount of total riding time.

Chain and Cassette

The chain needs to be replaced the most because it’s almost always moving. Enter a handy chain wear tool. It fits inside the links of the chain and shows you how much the chain has stretched. It doesn’t really stretch—it’s metal, after all—but there is an illusion of stretch from the wearing down of the inner links. A chain wear tool monitors this gap and indicates when it’s time for a new one.

As the chain wears, so does the cassette. Failing to replace the chain before it’s too worn can cause permanent damage to the cassette and shifting problems. This can be a costly repair. If your chain has already reached its end of life, replace the cassette at the same time for a fresh start.

Chainrings

Next to go are the chainrings. There's no tool for this one, but you can visually inspect the teeth for wear. Chainrings have ramps on the side of the teeth for smooth shifting. Are they worn? Regularly dropped chains or teeth that look like they belong more on a saw than a bicycle are sure signs. Once replaced, shifting improves immediately.

Headset

And how about your headset? It has bearings and seals that make noise after being exposed to dirt or the elements. How does it feel when it’s turned side to side? Is it smooth? Sometimes a dab of bike-specific grease is all you need. If there are spots where it catches as you turn, it may be pitted and needs to be replaced. Squeeze your brakes and rock the bike front to back on the ground. Do you feel any play in the headset? There should be none.

Noisy Thru-Axles or QR Skewers

If the noise is coming from the rear of your bike, check your thru-axle or skewers. They need a light film of grease as well. If that doesn’t do the trick, there may be a bigger issue going on inside the hub or the freehub body (the piece that holds the cassette to the wheel) needs to be removed and greased. Consult your local mechanic for this step if you aren’t confident in your home-mechanic skills.

The Bottom Bracket

Is the noise coming from your bottom bracket? It may just be a dry seal and bearings. Apply a smear of bike-specific grease in there to find out. Check your crank bolts as well. Sometimes they come loose and need a quarter turn to tighten fully. If the noise persists, it’s probably time for a new bottom bracket.

Wrap Up!

A road biker with a backpack.

Photo by Tomi Vadasz

So the moral of the story is don’t ride in the rain! No, seriously. It’s important to keep your bike clean and lubed for optimal performance and longevity. Basic bike maintenance is essential for a healthy relationship. You take care of it and it’ll take care of you. Knowing the signs before something goes wrong is vital. Being proactive about it will keep your bike lasting longer than me or you! If you have any questions, reach out to a Cycling Expert here on Curated!

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Written By
Julien Guarniere
Julien Guarniere
Cycling Expert
Hi my name is Julien I'm originally from Oslo, Norway but lived here most of my life.Cycling has always been in my blood, my grandfather being Norwegian national champion and my Uncle being the current womens national teams coach. I've been cycling since the age of 11 and have raced professionally f...
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