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5 Common Bike-Maintenance Mistakes

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Even the most basic repairs can go badly—sometimes comically—wrong. Here are 5 common rookie-wrenching mistakes and our expert’s instructions for avoiding them.

Too much chain lube

After you clean your bike, lube the chain. Add about one drop per link, aiming for the pins that hold them together. “Make sure to wipe off the excess; otherwise you’re spraying lube all over the place as you ride,” says mechanic Sara Jarrell. As with cleaners, be sure to use lube made for bicycles. The same oil you use in your car will not work for your bike. “Motor oil is the worst!”

Overtightening and rounding off bolts

A lot of the bolts you’re likely to regularly adjust – stem bolts, seat post clamp bolts – are pretty crucial to you maintaining your position on the bike. Therefore, it’s obvious that you don’t want them to be overly loose, as this can result in a sudden thud. However, far too often people over tighten these out of fear – and this can be just as bad.

At the worst case scenario, overly tight bolts can put too much tension through the components, causing cracks. Best case scenario, they can be so hard to remove that you’ll end up slipping, and rounding off the bolt.

Most parts state the required torque in ‘Newton metres’ next to the bolt. Invest in a torque wrench so you can always be sure you’ve got it just right – or ask a mechanic to show you what 5 Newton Metres feels like.

Using tire levers to install a tire

Sometimes a particular rim/tire combination can lead to a very tight fit. The tightness of the fit is mysteriously amplified when you suffer a puncture in the pouring rain, freezing cold and in the middle of nowhere.

It may be tempting to use a tire lever to prize the tire’s bead onto the rim in the final little bit that you seen stretching across the rim, but don’t. Instead, try seating the bead of the tire into the ‘valley’ in the middle of the rim, and work it around slowly with your fingers rather than using brute force.

Many a new tube has been pinch punctured by using tire levers to get it back on, leading to any amount of frustration, bad words and possibly an awkward phone call to a friend/partner/relative to ask them to pick you up in a car.

Too much tire pressure

Getting your tire pressure right can be the difference between a comfortable ride and a tooth-loosening bump fest. “If you just pump your tire up to the maximum pressure printed on the tire, it’s not going to be a good ride experience,” Jarrell says. Experiment with a range of pressures and adapt to the terrain. As a general rule, lighter riders will likely want to ride a lower tire pressure than heavier riders. “The most common error I see is people running way too much pressure and getting bounced around,” Jarrell says.

Not properly closing quick releases

Quick release skewers are a common item in cycling, but are rarely seen elsewhere. With this, it’s common to see them used incorrectly. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is Trek’s recall of over a million bikes due to the potential danger if the quick release skewer is used wrongly.

Put simply, quick releases have an open and a closed position. Before riding the bike, you need the quick release in the closed position. After tightening the opposing nut, the quick release lever should be locked into position with enough tension that it leaves a slight imprint in the palm of your hand. Ensure that it’s tight enough that you can’t flick it open with your finger tips alone.

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