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Patterns of Bike Maintenance Changing as Cyclists Move Indoors

By PCG Associate Coach, Rachel Zambrano

Peaks Coaching Group

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With winter coming in the northern hemisphere, many of us are driven inside to ride on our trainers. However, with the increase in computer and app based programs to keep trainer time interesting, more and more athletes are choosing to remain indoors even when the weather is nice. While I don’t have the statistics to support it, I suspect that the demographic of our sport has shifted. The same applications that were meant to keep hard core athletes from losing their minds, when riding outside wasn’t an option, have opened the door to athletes that were not otherwise able to enter the sport. This includes parents with limited childcare options, working adults with complicated work schedules that rarely see daylight, or even students that want to participate in sports not available from the schools that they attend. 

The globalization and socialization of our sport, means that you can ride on a trainer, via Zwift or similar platforms, with people from eight or more different time zones, at the same time, or suffer with others during the Tour of Sufferlandria from The Sufferfest every spring. The possibilities are limitless, and the world has become a smaller place as we connect with athletes we can identify with half a world away in real time. But as we move indoors, our bikes are developing new patterns of use and abuse, and we need to recognize that.  Over the past year, I’ve baffled my local bike shop twice with a front brake that has seized up. 

Pssssssttt…. Here’s the gross part: I did it with sweat.

EWWWWWWW!

Yeah, I know - nothing new. We’ve all seen the pictures of rusted out base bars and head tubes due to athlete sweat. It’s toxic. That acid they used in the Alien movies to eat through just about everything? They got it from us. What is new and needs to be addressed is where our bikes are getting destroyed.

Let’s start with the front brake… My entire front brake was seized up - mainly from the collection of sweat that was allowed to dry, over, and over again. Pretty soon the spring and the moving parts could no longer spring or move anymore. Since it wasn’t something the shop was used to seeing, the next logical step was to replace the brake. I’m stubborn, AND cheap: I took the brake off, took it apart, and since nothing was rusted beyond repair, I was able to clean everything up, re-lubricate moving parts, and rebuild it. I put the brake back on and *voila* just like new. Kind of.

I put out a post on social media when I realized that what I was seeing was a new pattern of destruction, and quite a few pictures and stories started coming back.

Pedals and Shoes

With the exception of riding in a rainstorm, rarely do you see shoes full of water when riding outside. Inside, it’s an entirely different story. I recently stripped part of the sole of a pair of cycling shoes while attempting to the replace the cleats.  Sweat had rusted the cleat bolts into the nut that was molded to the sole of the shoe. Quite an expensive mistake. When looking at the pedals, they can get quite sticky, and the cleat release becomes stubborn. In this case, I was able to work the screws and use some light chain lube to get everything moving the way it should, but in the future, I’ll be paying closer attention to those details.

Headsets and Base Bars

These are the normal casualties of war. However, a problem elsewhere indicates you need to check these as well. Make sure you take the bar tape off every year and replace it; every six months if you’re a high volume cyclist. Check the headset every few months, and make sure you don’t see any evidence of rust. You’ll know if sweat is collecting inside that area if you see it - replace and grease before you put everything back together.

Front Hubs

While everything should be sealed, sweat eats everything and gets into everything. When it gets into moving parts repeatedly and dries, and the front wheel doesn’t go anywhere but the pain cave, you can expect that front hub to feel pretty awful during actual movement. Cotton swabs moistened with chain oil can help to remove grime that collects here, but make sure no cotton gets left behind.

Rear Brakes

Second verse, same as the first. This is worse if you have rear v-brakes, mounted just behind the bottom bracket. Again, cotton swabs and chain oil help, but if the brake is bad, you’ll need to remove it to clean hard to reach areas.

Bottom Bracket

This is also supposed to be sealed, but repeated applications of sweat, allowed to dry, will cause problems to develop here too.

Cables and Cable Housing

Think of this as the gutter lines for your bike - cables can wick sweat in and start corroding those all-important brake or derailleur cables. The worst part is, you can’t see it or feel it until you take the bike outside and need those cables. I’ve gotten into the habit of adding a bit of grease at either end of the cable housing when I’m running new cables, and occasionally using a light chain lube on the cables then working them through to prevent this, but if you’re a heavy sweater, this is something you’ll need to address. You may need to run new cables every few months - but safety is something that should always come first.

Moral of the story? Indoor training means more sweat on the bike, more sweat on the bike means more destruction. Clean the bike. Clean it. And did I mention CLEAN THE BIKE? Five extra minutes after every training session can prevent expensive repairs.

Bicycle race

Indoor trainer use requires extra bike care so that those rides & races are trouble-free

My favorite tools for cleaning the bike happened by accident: baby wipes and tooth picks. After getting two minions out of diapers (three years ago), my house had an overabundance of baby wipes. So what do we do with all those baby wipes? I put them in my ever-growing tool kit for bicycle maintenance. If you decide to go the baby wipe route, you’ll want to make sure they’re the lint free version so they don’t leave cotton in moving parts (bad ju-ju). The toothpicks work very well for hard to reach areas when grit and grime gets in and you can’t reach it, but they’re soft enough that you don’t scratch the paint or risk doing damage.

So here’s my personal plug for taking care of your bike: Start getting personal with your bike. Get intimate. Learn how your bike fits together and where the sweat hides. You’ll be surprised to find out just how many places the bike can be damaged by sweat. Watch a lot of YouTube videos and read the manual on your bike. Start taking the components off and cleaning them, then put them back on.  (Pro tip: take pictures every step of the way - even if you think you can remember how that part goes or if you’ve done it before - if a screw falls out you’ll want to know exactly where it went.) If the parts need cleaning bad enough that they might need to be replaced, you can’t usually mess things up badly enough that the bike shop can’t fix them. In the process, you learn. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve shown up (with breakfast tacos or coffee) when the shop opens with a bike that needs a derailleur adjusted, a chain fitted, or a bottom bracket pressed in, when I haven’t had the tools or the know-how. Learn the names of the people behind the service and repair counter, and get to know them. They’ll be your biggest advocates and teach you the tricks to bicycle maintenance you won’t find on the internet or in a book or manual. I’m happy to pay for service and parts just so that they’ll teach me. The result is that I can handle most mechanical problems when I’m away from the shop, and don’t have to be without a bike for long very often.

In closing - clean and maintain your bike. There are safety issues that can arise indoors that can surprise you when you go outside, but a clean and maintained bike is also less expensive in the long run.

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