Thursday, 15 December 2011

How to service a bicycle

I'm about to sort out the Concept Excelsior hybrid bike, which let me gloat again, I bought for only £15 (see my previous post on that). I thought it may be useful to jot down a checklist of things to do. Now, there's no real need to do these all at once. Actually, I see this exercise as a fact finding mission, so as to understand every part of the bike. I then prioritise the areas to service first. In this particular case, I do not want the bike to look pretty, as it's going to be used for commuting and parked in various locations in town. So with that background, here's the full list:
  1. Frame - external: Inspect it all over, look for cracks, dents, corrosion, twists, bends, any defects really. Special care around the fork areas. It may be convenient to do this while washing the bike with a sponge and soapy water. Do ensure that it's rinsed well with clean water though, as most soaps contain salt that encourages corrosion. At worst, you may have to get something welded if steel, or end up chucking the frame because of a previously unseen crack.
  2. Frame - internal: Look inside, where ever possible - down seat tube, look at drain holes in the forks and stays, inside the head tube. When bike is completely dry, spray frame saver inside, or at least Waxoyl. Remove bottle cage bolts to get the spray tube into the down tube.
  3. Saddle and seatpost: Is the saddle tatty, comfortable, or hurty? Loosen the seat post bolt, take the post out. Hopefully, that will be easy, but sometimes it's jammed. In which case, spray some WD40 or Plus Gas around the top of the seat tube, allow to penetrate, then try again. Once out, clean the inside of the seat tube with a rag using a stick as a ram rod. Clean and grease the seat post, bolts and nuts, apply a bit of grease inside the top of the seat tube too, then re-assemble and adjust to the right height and angles. In a year's time, you'll be thankful you did this!
  4. Steering: For a quill stem, do as for the seat post, ensuring especially that you grease the long bolt. I also grease the faces of the stem and the expander wedge where they slide together and very sparingly around the post and in the tube. The idea is that it should not jam later, when you want to remove it, but also, should not slip when you tighten it up. For Aheadset type systems, you need to check that the bolts at both ends of the stem are tight - but rather than stripping them by overtightening, it's probably much better to loosen them all, grease and then tighten up. The bars should turn fully and freely in each direction.
  5. Headset: May well be fine. Stand over the top tube, bend over the handlebars, put the front brake on, and rock back and forth, with your weight on the bars, checking carefully for play in either top or bottom bearing. Turn and feel for roughness. It may be easy and perfectly sufficient to wind the lock rings up a few turns, squeeze some grease into top and bottom bearings and tighten it all up. A more thorough service may be fairly easy - dismantle it, clean, grease and rebuild, and you may have to change the ball bearings or races. It's up to you! At worst, you have to change the headset, which can be a pain if you can't seat the crown race or top and bottom cups easily, but in that event, your LBS should be able to help you out if it needs a full replacement.
  6. Wheels: Loose, or much worse, broken spokes should be sorted out sooner rather than later. Check condition of the rims - how worn are they, how much life is left in them? Never risk running rims that are wearing out - look for wear lines or other indicators. Examine the hubs carefully, especially around the spoke holes. Any cracks or signs of imminent breakage? Are the bearings ok? Waggle the wheels - is there any play in the hub bearings? Again, you may need to strip and rebuild, but a quick tighten up of the axle nuts may be enough for now, the full service not being urgent. Next time you get the tyres off, check the rim tape and the spoke heads too. It may be worth oiling them, to make tension adjustments easier in future. Is it too obvious to say that you must check that the wheels are firmly fixed to the forks?! Track nuts, quick releases, whatever. Grease and lube wherever you see fit!
  7. Tyres: Check for cracks, splits, holes and general wear and tear. Nowadays, I tend to make a washer out of an old inner tube, and put that on the valve before fitting it in the tyre. This stops the edges of the valve hole in the rim cutting into the valve base. But these things can wait until the next time you take the tyres off.
  8. Brakes: Very important area this. Pads must have some decent thickness to them. Old pads can be revived with a file, or just rub the face on a cement floor or brick side. Need to get any bits of metal that may be embedded in them out! Oil everything that has a pivot - including the brake levers. I also oil cable entry points. Adjusting angle of the pads and ensuring that they move uniformly and hit the rims evenly can take time, especially with cantilevers, but it's well worth it. Toe in if you have to eliminate squealing. I use a bit of card at the back of the pad while tightening it up.
  9. Pedals: Ensure they spin freely and aren't mangled up. Angle them and try to dribble some oil in the bearings. Do they suit your shoes!?
  10. Bottom bracket: Grab hold of the crank arms and wobble them, holding the frame still. Do it while riding the bike too, with your feet on the pedals. Examine rings and cups to check they are tight. At best, it'll be fine, especially if it's a cartridge type. If not, either change the cartridge or service the axle and bearings.
  11. Chainset: Clean, inspect the teeth for wear. Are rings bolted on securely? Check the cranks for cracks, especially around the pedal axle area. Are the cranks well secured to the bottom bracket axle? It's worth releasing them, cleaning, and re-fitting them securely. This will stop you cursing later when you want to get them off but can't.
  12. Chain: Clean, inspect, lubricate (see my earlier post for full details).
  13. Front and rear mechs: Clean and oil, ensure they move back and forth smoothly. It's very important to ensure that the L and H settings are adjusted properly, for safety. Otherwise the chain can come off and jam somewhere, causing injury possibly.
  14. Shifters: Clean, and lubricate, but with care! Putting oil in the wrong places on some shifters can cause problems - e.g. slipping. Seek expert help for tricky things like STIs or Ergos. Check condition of cables, replace if necessary, and lube or grease cables at entry points. An easy one is the under bottom bracket cable guide - clean it and oil it.
  15. Freewheel/Cassette: Remove debris, clean up, inspect for wear. Are teeth worn down or fresh looking? Try to lubricate freewheels with a good quality oil - need to exercise some gymnastics to make it dribble around inside to get to the moving parts.
  16. Make notes: I think this is worth doing, and easy as you go over the above items. Frame number, dimensions, gear teeth numbers, all useful information that you may need to refer to later. A few years ago, I started to log my maintenance work in a spreadsheet document on a pc. I've found it more useful than expected - like informing me as to spoke breakages on a particular wheel, and creaking noises - information that gave me clues about other matters that needed to be fixed. 

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