|Gravy's Seven Commandments of Bike Maintenance
LAW 1. "SUDS ARE YOUR FRIEND."
"During a race I clean 20 to 30 bikes a day Each takes about 15 minutes. I
tell beginning mechanics, 'Don't spare the brush' and 'Suds are your friend.'"
Put the bike in a repair stand and apply degreaser to the chain, cogs and
crankset. Open the brakes, shift to the small rear cog and remove the wheels. I
install a dummy rear axle but you can stick a long screwdriver through the rear
of the frame to support the chain.
Fill a bucket with warm water and a tablespoon of dishwashing soap. While
pedaling, scrub the chain, crankset, derailleurs and pulleys really well with a
small brush (Park's GSC1 is a great one and it only costs about $5). Brush the
cassette and clean between the cogs with the other end of the Park tool. Use the
big brush on the wheels, tires, rims, spokes and hubs. Then clean the frame from
the top down with the brushes and sponge - whatever works. Rinse.
Tip: It's much easier to spot frame cracks or corroded parts when they're not
hidden in mud and grime.
LAW 2. "A WHEEL A DAY KEEPS GRAVY AT BAY."
"Even the lightest racers can ruin wheel - Tammy Jacques wrecks a wheel every
couple of weeks. And downhillers waste 'em all the time. At the Mr. Snow,
Vermont, NORBA race, Missy Giove and Myles Rockwell flatted and finished an rims
with no tires. But amazingly, the wheels were still true."
Eyeball the tires for cuts, bubbles where the tube is popping out, frayed
spots in the casing and worn tread. Replace them if they're shot. Spin the wheel
and look to see that the tire is seated correctly on the rim. There's a little
line on the sidewall that should sit just above the rim. If it dips out of sight
or bulges, deflate the tire and pump it up again until it seats properly. Go
around the wheel squeezing the spokes feeling for loose ones.
Inspect the rim for dings and the brake pads for wear. If the rim is damaged
have it repaired or replaced by a shop. Check the hub for play by wiggling the
axle. If there's play or roughness when you turn the axle, have the hub
overhauled. Make sure quick-release springs are on right - the small ends face
in. Check that the cassette cogs are tight by wiggling them. If they're loose,
tighten the cassette lockring with a lockring tool.
True the wheel by putting it in a stand or back in the frame and make small
adjustments to the nipples. To correct a wobble to the left, loosen the spokes
on the left and tighten the spokes on the right in half-turn increments until
the section is straight. Then repeat on the next wobble until the wheel is true.
Tip: Put a drop of oil on aluminum nipples at the rim to prevent corrosion.
LAW 3. "DON'T SPARE THE LUBE."
"A day doesn't go by that cross-country riders don't ask fir new cables and
housing - it's the cure-all. If they've got an upset stomach, new cables will
make them feel better. Could just need an adjustment, but the first thing out of
their mouths is, 'Cables and housing!' "
Usually you don't need new cables - you can just lube them. Do this regularly
and you can get a couple of seasons from them. Use light oil. I like Finish Line
Cross Country. To get at the cables, use your hand to push the rear derailleur
in and front one out. This will create slack allowing you to release the housing
from the frame stops. Then you can wipe the cables clean and apply oil.
Brakes are easier because there's plenty of slack once you release the link
wire. Check for frayed cables where they meet the levers or run under the bottom
bracket and replace them if necessary. Check for cracked or mangled housing and
replace bad sections. While you' ve got the lube, apply it to the pivot points
on the brakes and derailleurs. Tip: Use a thicker lube for muddy or wet
conditions and a thinner lube for dusty, dry conditions.
LAW 4. "SUSPENSION TUNING IS A SCIENCE BEST LEFT TO THE EXPENSES."
"Funny thing is, these days cross-country racers want their forks set so
harsh they might as well be riding rigid forks."
Start by checking for play in the headset. Hold the fork and push and pull
while holding the lower cup. If you feel movement, loosen the stem bolts and
snug the allen bolt atop the fork until the play is gone, then tighten the stem
bolts. Sometimes you'll feel play but when you try to adjust the headset, you'll
find it's OK. The likely source is fork-bushing wear - something to be checked
by a shop.
One fork job that's easy to do is lubing the stanchions (the sliding part of
the legs). When they're dry, the fork won't feel as supple. Just lift up the
boots with one hand, smear Rock Shox Judy Butter on the stanchions, move the
fork up and down, smear a bit more on, and pop the boots back in place. Check
the top caps on the legs with a wrench to make sure they're tight - ditto for
the brake studs and arch screws.
Tip: The best way to learn about your fork? Read the owner's manual!
LAW 5. "BRAKES ONLY SLOW YOU DOWN."
"Missy won the worlds, and I found out later that her brakes were fading. She
comes into the pits all like, 'Gravy, it's the one time I didn't worry about my
brakes. You know, brakes only slow you down.' "
If there are loose pivots and your Shimano V-Brakes rattle, you can add a
Shimano shim kit to remove the play. But if they're XTRs, there' s a cool
adjustment to remove the play. Flip the rubber boot up and you'll see two nuts.
Using cone wrenches, hold the inside one while backing off the outside. Lock the
nuts against each other when the arm freely pivots, but there's no play.
Check the brake pads, too. If the grooves are gone, replace the pads. Make
sure they strike the rim flat and can't hit the tire or dip below the rim.
V-Brake arms should be vertical. Adjust the position by flipping the spacers on
the brake pad, putting the thin one on the inside and the thick one on the
outside or vice versa.
Lots of people set brake levers tilting down. But this means you have to bend
your wrists. Wrong. Set them so they're in line with the plane of your hand. As
for the reach adjustment, the smaller the hand, the closer the lever should be
to the bar. Tip: Even though you can adjust V-Brake leverage inside the levers,
leave 'em alone because all you' ll do is make it more powerful and it's already
LAW 6. "GOOD SHIFTING IS EVERYTHING TO RACERS."
"The hardest test for mechanics is trying to make incompatible stuff
compatible. That's my art. I've had to make Grip Shift work with Sachs
derailleurs on Shimano cassettes and chain rings. I did it by re-filing grooves
in the derailleurs. My racers won world championships on bikes set up this way.
The moral of the story is, 'there's always a way.' "
I always put rear-derailleur return-spring tension at the highest setting by
tightening the screw beneath the parallelogram clockwise. This keeps tension on
the cable, preventing it from popping out of the frame stop, which happens on
really rough courses. Pulley bolts always come loose, so check them, too. On
downhill bikes I like to drill the tip of the pulley cage and wire it. This
keeps the chain from popping out - a little glitch that can toast the derailleur
when a racer's really jamming.
I take Grip Shifts apart and use a high-silicone grease inside - it lasts
forever, isn't affected by water, is really smooth and won't eat the plastic. I
use the CODA Mountain Extreme bike grease. That' s my favorite for all purposes,
period (besides the Royal Purple, which is just too pricey at $50 a tube).
Tip: Don't throw your bike down - you'll trash the rear derailleur.
LAW 7. "CHECK EVERYTHING TWICE OR YOU'LL BE SORRY."
"We have what's called the 'Tinker screw' - a tiny bolt that holds the front
derailleur cage together. Tinker was in the lead of the Vail world cup and his
damn chain came out of his cage plates. Low and behold, the screw was gone. And
after it ruined his race, Tink says 'You know it wasn't my fault, Grave.' That
was the one mechanical I had in two seasons (the only one I'll cop to). I was
Grips can loosen on rainy days. I lock them on by wrapping them in three
spots with wire. Wrap it around once (or twice for really thin- gauge wire).
Twist the ends a few times to hold, then grab with pliers, pull down and twist
to tighten. Clip the end with diagonal cutters and push it into the grip so
nothing sharp is protruding.
I always check every nut or bolt with a wrench to see if they're loose. Check
the seat bolts and under the saddle for bent or broken seat rails. Check the
handlebar, stem and bar-ends to ensure they're tight. Tighten the cable anchor
bolts on the derailleurs. Check the chainring bolts, the pedals and the crankarm
bolts. On an XTR crank, check the bottom bracket lockring to see that it's
tight. When I'm putting in a bottom bracket, I put a drop or two of blue Loctite
on the adjustable cup to make sure it doesn't come loose. Plus, I always check
the condition of the screws inside clipless pedals.
Tip: Get a drop of red Loctite and lock that stinkin Tinker screw down.