Sunday, January 13, 2008

Winter Bike Maintenance

I'm pretty happy with my Surly Cross-Check that I bought from Mighty Riders. It's an off-the-shelf cyclo-cross frame that Ed at Mighty Riders fitted out to my specs. I notice the difference riding a bike that was bought after I was measured and the frame was chosen to fit me, not the other way around.

The other nice thing is that my primary spec was to be a low-maintenance, year-round sporty commuting bike. We've achieved that. All the bearings are cartridge bearings, even through that meant that the wheels are more expensive than most bikes I've bought in my life.

Now that all I have to do is clean and adjust the chain and derailleurs, I do it. It's a lot more fun to ride a bike that's always working nicely, even in Vancouver's winters. I'm finding that at this time of year, if I clean the derailleurs and chain every two weeks they work fine. The last two weeks that wasn't enough, as the weather was so bad that shifting was getting a bit slow by Thursday.

A good tip I got from Mountain Equipment Co-op is to buy a chain wear measuring tool and change the chain when it gets slightly worn. I was able to keep using the same rear cassette after one change of chain. Unfortunately, the second time I changed the chain I had a little bit of slip on the cassette and had to change it, but I'm still using the original front chain-rings. I'll have to look into buying individual cogs for the cassette, because the reality with commuting riding is that I'm mostly using the same cogs every day.

The only thing I don't like about the Surly is the brakes. They're cantilever brakes, and the rear brake always squeals. Also, I eat pads like crazy in the lousy Vancouver winters, and the cantilevers with their five degrees of freedom are a pain to adjust or set up to new pads.

To their credit, Mighty Riders is going to work with me to make the brakes work. I just have to pick a week when I don't want to ride. But I always want to ride!

I can't say enough good things about Mighty Riders. For me, they've gone beyond what you usually get for "free adjustments" after you buy a bike. They're happy to help you if you want to do the maintenance yourself. What other bike shop these days puts the mechanics out front in full view of the customers? I've heard of people being turned off because of the "attitude" of some of the staff, but I've never felt intimidated by them. If you're going to buy a bike called "Surly", what do you expect?

Anyway, the attitude comes partly from knowing their stuff. I finally bought a floor pump because they insisted it made a difference, and they were absolutely right. I used to ride 700X25c tires. Now I can commute on 700X23c tires with Kevlar belts and I get fewer flats than I did with the 25s. The pressure keeps me from getting impact flats, and the Kevlar keeps me from getting punctures (not all of the time, of course, but better than before).