it's gone a bit colder today, and this brought to mind that all those expensive machines sitting in the bike sheds all over the country (world?) are likely to need their post summer check, if only to make sure that they can still be ridden through the less than promising weather that pervades the winter months. (if, by some strange quirk of fate, you are reading this in australia, then i'm sorry, you should have been reading this about six months ago.)
while i realise that my reader will have carried out all the normal maintenance to his pride and joy, the possibility exists that it hasn't seemed quite so necessary to others. this is one of those washingmachineposts that actually has some practical value because, while i can drone on for hours about colnagos and the like, i am lucky enough to have the skill to fix them when they go wrong. since many of the two wheeled wonders that wend their way to me on islay have seen very little of the care and attention that should be lavished on any bicycle - well, i can think of some real cheapies advertised in the national dailies that don't really deserve the epithet 'bicycle' that probably no amount of tlc will keep in the land of the cycling - and every mechanic i know has a total lack of enthusiasm for a bicyce that its owner has shown little enthusiasm for.
i presume that the roads department of every council throughout the land, feels honour bound to dump large quantities of grit on our roads over the next few months to keep them free of ice etc, and not always without justification. we have the bizarre state of affairs on islay, that the sending out of the gritters depends on a mainland weather forecast or actuality, and we have often had gritters out in the evening throwing large quantities of bicycle unfriendly stuff all over the roads when it is either bone dry and not freezing, or chucking it down with rain.
this means that when the colnago and i take a weekend break, all this yuk has made its way to the roads edge where it will live until about april of 2003. since the colnago and i are want, if not actually forced, to cycle at the edge of these very same roads, we tend to bring much of this stuff back to the bike shed with us. and if the weather during said outings has been less than clement, then the desire to clean it all off the colnago on return is not necessarily the major priority, cause i'm wet and cold. (i realise this will come as a great shock to some of you but even colnago owners are human).
if you take the time to follow the logic of this sequence of events, much of the aforementioned road crap will have attached itself with great gusto to the lower parts of the bicycle. by lower parts i include the chainrings, chain and sprockets on the rear wheel, all of them bearing grit attracting lubricant - they have been lubricated haven't they?
since these three parts are interacting with each other (good phrase that - i may use that one again), the chain acts as a conveyor belt to move the grit around and have it scrunched between links and teeth. now, aside from wincing at the very thought (can you imagine having spent over 160uk pounds on a campag titanium cassette and having this done to it?), this process causes wear, a situation that tends to be much more prevalent on mountain bikes used offroad than it is on road bikes. the end result, however, is exactly the same. just the timescales vary.
now as the chain wears during this process, so do the sprockets and chainrings but at a slower rate. thus, it becomes incumbent on the cycle owner to replace the chain with a suitable degree of frequency. personally, i change my chain at least every six months, but i'm willing to do so every four months if i feel it's necessary. if you're on a mountain bike, please consider changing your chain every three months if you regularly cycle offroad. chains cost around 10uk pounds and presumably much the same in other currencies around the world, so if you put a new one on every four months (for the sake of argument) then it'll cost you about 30uk pounds. and your transmission will thank you for it by repaying with continued smooth changing in the gear departments front and rear.
if you neglect probably the most important component on the bicycle, you will eventually be faced with a bill for a new cassette/freewheel and/or set of chainrings. on better quality chainsets, the rings are individually bolted to the chainset and you often need only change the offending, or most used chainring. however, since i recently replaced the 39 inner ring on my campag chainset at a cost of 29uk pounds (yes i know there are cheaper versions, but i'm a stickler for campag and that's my problem) you can see that one chainring has equal value for a year's worth of chains. in this case the chain and ring had both to be changed. in this case i forgot to practise what i preach.
unfortunately, on the sub 200uk pounds mountain bikes and similarly priced road bikes (if such animals do exist), the chainsets often have the rings riveted on to the chainset and the only option is to replace the whole chainset. granted such chainsets don't cost the earth, but if you can't do you own maintenance - hands up, how many of you have the know how and the tools to remove and replace a chainset? thought not - then you will have to pay the local bike shop to do it for you. and if you bought your bike mail order from an ad in the paper, don't be surprised if they're none too keen to carry out the work, or charge the earth to do so.
similarly the freewheel/cassette. cassettes are relatively easy to replace, though not necessarily cheap to do so, but a remover and chain whip (not half as bad as it sounds!) are a definite requirement. if your bike has a freewheel, i'd be inclined to try the bike shop, since brute force and ignorance, and a very large vice are a prerequisite.
which incidentally, requires me to digress. many folks in these here parts put the bike in for a rear wheel puncture repair. this is because it involves removing the wheel and that means taking the chain off the gear sprockets and that might foul up the gears and that's all too frightening to contemplate. actually it's not. the gear mechanisms on modern bikes are complex, but mechanically very simple. pop the chain on to the smallest sprocket and remove the wheel. after you've fixed whatever is wrong, put the wheel back in and place the chain back on the smallest sprocket. couldn't be simpler. i would like to go on record here and now as saying that removing the rear wheel on a multi gear bicycle, road or mountain bike, will not affect the gears. so you can safely remove the wheel, fix a puncture or replace the tube or tyre and pop the wheel back in place without causing any other problems. honestly.
anyway, back to our preventative maintenance. i am hoping that all the above droning will have persuaded you of the efficacy of replacing the chain before it wears out anything more expensive. because, believe me, if you leave it too long and fit a new chain on worn sprockets, the chain will skip all over the place and the normally exhilarating joy of the daily pedal will turn into into sheer frustration.
obviously there are other parts of the bike that require a good going over to prevent them being immovable at a later date, but words about those will follow in due course. since bicycle maintenance is actually a lot of fun (who said 'sad git'?), it may behove you to rush to amazon.co.uk (metaphorically of course) or the nearest bookshop, and pick up a decent cycle maintenance volume, before heading to the local bike shop for a basic toolkit. one of these days, when things are a bit quieter, i may well produce thewashingmachinepost guide to successful cycle maintenance. as a pdf of course.
Remember, you can still read the review of 'the dancing chain' the utterly excellent book on the history of the derailleur bicycle by clicking here
any of the books reviewed on the washing machine post can probably be purchased from amazon.co.uk or amazon.com
as always, if you have any comments on this nonsense, please feel free to e-mail and thanks for reading.
this column almost never appears in the dead tree version of the ileach but appears, regular as clockwork on this website every two weeks. (ok so i lied) sometimes there are bits added in between times, but it all adds to the excitement.
on a completely unrelated topic, ie nothing to do with bicycles, every aspect of the washing machine post was created on apple macintosh powerbook g4, ibook and imac computers, using adobe golive 5 and adobe photoshop 7. needless to say it is also best viewed on an apple macintosh computer.