Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Be a Bicycle Vampire Hunter this Halloween

Happy Halloween!

In the spirit of the season, and with all due respect to Roman Polanski’s classic 1967 spoof The Fearless Vampire Killers, I'm sharing some simple tips to help you hunt for, find and terminate your bicycle vampires.


Unlike the fanged variety, two-wheel ghouls constantly suck your energy by making your bicycle harder to pedal. And like Dracula, they’re apt to appear at any time and can be hard to find. In fact, it’s rare that cyclists ever notice a vampire while riding or even rolling their bike.

To help, here’s an easy and fun 4-step check to perform about every 90 days during riding season (or a few days before any major ride or event; which gives you time to mend problems). Finding and fixing a vampire is one of the most satisfying repairs you can make. Start with the drivetrain since that’s bicycle vampires' favorite hiding place.

Note: I’m assuming your bicycle and components aren’t abused or worn out. If so, more inspection and repairs will likely be needed than covered here.

1. Chain check
Perhaps the most common energy-sucker is a dry chain. Few lubes last long if you ride regularly and in all weather conditions. And many roadies end up with not enough lube and a chain that’s stiff and dragging. 

You can identify a dry chain by its shiny rollers and metallic sound when turning the pedals. Don’t let the chain ever get like this. Keep it adequately lubed for how and where you ride. I'm partial to Pro Gold Pro Link chain lube. Another favorite chain lube is Boeshield T-9.

Park Tool's article on derailleur pulleys
2. Pulleys check
The two pulleys on the rear derailleur are the second hardest working wheels on your bike. Even if you keep your chain nicely lubed and apply a little to the pulleys, too, moisture can make its way inside and bind or even freeze one or both pulleys. 

Check for this by lifting the chain away from each pulley and flicking them with your finger to see if they spin freely and smoothly. If not, you can usually restore them by simply disassembling, cleaning and lubing all the parts.

Bottom brackets require special tools
3. Bottom bracket check
The bottom bracket (BB) is the bearing mechanism that the crankset spins on so it influences every pedal stroke. To check yours, shift onto your smallest chainring and then lift the chain off the ring and rest it on the frame. 

Now, hold one crankarm (not a pedal) and gently and slowly turn the crankarm feeling for tightness, roughness and smoothness in the BB. It should turn freely with a slight hydraulic resistance from the grease inside. If it’s tight, dry or rough, you probably need a new bottom bracket (or a bottom bracket overhaul if yours can be serviced). Follow this link and first figure out what type of BB you have and then look up the service procedure.

A cartridge bearing hub
4. Wheels check
Like the bottom bracket, the wheels spin on bearings, which when bad become vampires. It’s almost impossible to feel bearing issues with the wheels in place on the bicycle. So, to check if yours are failing, remove both wheels. 

Then hold each wheel’s axle (not the quick release - wheel clamping mechanism) between your fingers and turn it. Like the BB check, the wheel axles should turn freely and smoothly with a slight resistance from the grease inside the bearings. If the bearings feel tight, rough or dry, you need the hub bearings serviced. Follow this link and first determine which type of hubs you have and then look up the service procedure.

Here's hoping these tips are like garlic for your bike - and they keep those vampires away. Trick or treat!
All photos courtesy of Park Tool.

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