Bike Maintenance Expository

Dan from Neutral Cycle repairs a bike at CU Flea.

Dan from Neutral Cycle repairs a bike at CU Flea.

Knowing how to perform basic bike maintenance is something all bikers should know, whether or not they are avid cyclists. Tim Chao, the friendly mechanic at Neutral Cycle Workshop, a student run bicycle repair shop in Historic Urbana, was more than happy to share his knowledge of how to keep a bike running safely and how to maintain the integrity of the bike.

The shop is fairly small, housed in an old, renovated two-car garage, and is only identifiable by the black bike frame that is hanging on the front of the garage. Inside, there are tires and rims hanging from the ceiling, crank-sets, pedals and other bike parts on the walls, bikes waiting to be picked up, bike frames waiting to be painted, and bike accessories for sale.

Started in the summer of 2009, Chao and his three roommates opened Neutral Cycle Workshop, on the corner of Busey Avenue and Stoughton Street, in an effort to follow their own dreams of building and designing “cool bikes.” Since then, Chao has been building, designing, selling and repairing bikes literally out of his backyard.

Chao pointed to all the various parts that he was talking about on the bike that hung from a stand near the back of the shop. Starting with the tires Chao said, one of the most important things is to check the “pressure in the tube.” It’s one of the easiest things you can do, yet many people forget to do it. “You’re supposed to pump up [your tires] at least once a month,” Chao added.

The “tube” or “inner tube,” where you pump the air into, sits in between the rim and the tire. A tube that is under filled can make riding more difficult, lead to flats if left under inflated and cause structural damage to the bike itself.

Joe Debonis of Durst Cycle and Fitness and David Baker of Baker’s Bikes both echoed the importance of keeping your tires properly inflated. Baker, the mechanic at Baker’s Bikes, said the majority of the repairs he does are flat tires or flat tire related repairs on a bike. Riding on an under-inflated tire can lead to bent rims and distorted or broken spokes, Baker explained. Debonis said flats caused from under inflation are called “pinch flats,” when the tube ruptures from being pinched between a hard object, like a curb, and the rim.

The next important thing Chao explained, was applying lubrication to the bike. Put it “anywhere metal touches, the chain, brakes and brake lever,” Chao said while feeling the chain of the bike. He then made a warning against certain types of lubrication like WD40 and vegetable oil. “WD40 is oil based, which means it evaporates too fast, leaving the chain drier than it was before. Vegetable oil is too thick, attracting dust and unwanted particles,” Chao said.

The lubrication Chao used on the bike chain was a type of lubricant specifically made for bikes. By using lube specifically made for bikes, you lower the chances of attracting dust, unwanted particles and drying out the chain itself.

The point of lube is to go between the metal plates [of the chain], not on the outside Chao added while applying lube to the chain. He said to “apply lube to the chain while spinning the pedals. Then wipe off the outside of the plates several times” while the chain is moving so not to attract any dust. Debonis said to make sure the derailleur is lubed, if you have a bike with gears. The derailleur is what allows the bike to shift gears, making it a very important part to keep clean.

Other than that, Chao added, thinking of other tips, “the most important thing is that the bike isn’t afraid of rain, but it is afraid of not being dry.” He noted how many people might not be able to bring their bikes inside, causing the frames and parts to rust, ruining the integrity of the bike and possibly causing future problems. Chao recommended drying it “right away and lubing all the components to get the moisture out.”

Debonis added a safety precaution with his maintenance tips, about reflectors. He said to make sure you have reflectors, and to check whether or not they are broken or missing. Having “a rear reflector and a front headlight” is mandated by Illinois state law Debonis said.

It also depends on the amount of miles and how often you ride your bike, Baker said. Maintaining the integrity of your bike, and remembering to perform regular maintenance, can prevent more expensive problems and increase the longevity of the bike. People who put “money [into their bikes] after it is broken will spend more than those who keep it maintained,” Baker said.

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