An Early Season Bicycle Tune-up

It’s only January, but the riding days have already started here in Denver. We had good weather the last two weekends, and it looks like mid to high 40s and sunny again this weekend.

This good news means I’m itching to get out and ride, and to actually put real miles on my old Trek for once. It also means that it is time to overhaul the poor thing.

The last major work I did on my road bike was years ago, and largely consisted of cleaning off years of dirt and grime that were on the bike when I bought it used back in 2007. Since then I’ve put a couple thousand miles on it and replaced the handlebars, stem, seatpost, and saddle.

Now that a new riding season is starting, I’ve decided to give the rest of the bike a good workover. I even made a list.

I’m not doing this all at once, but I hope to get through the whole list by spring.

The Bottom Bracket

I started my adventures earlier this week by pulling apart the bottom bracket. I had noticed over the past year or so that the cranks didn’t feel as smooth as they should, and this has been on my maintenance list for a while.

Other than removing the lockring on the left side of the bike, removing the bottom bracket was fairly straightforward. I spent a while cleaning up all the old grease and dirt from both inside the shell and on the bracket itself, but when I regreased and reassembled the bracket it still didn’t feel like it was turning smoothly. The bearing races looked pretty good but the caged ball bearings looked worn. I cleaned it up and reassembled it a second time, but no matter what I did I couldn’t get a smooth turn out of it, even when leaving play in the bearings.

For a while I debated buying new loose bearings and installing those, but eventually I gave up and ordered a new cartridge style bottom bracket instead. It was less than $20 to buy a basic Shimano bracket that would fit the frame and my existing crankset, and I know it will be smooth. I can live with giving up the vintage bottom bracket.

Brake and Shifter Cables

I don’t know how old the current cables are, but they are dull gray and, fraying at the ends. The brake cables have a clear plastic housing that has turned very yellow with age. It seem safe to assume that if they are not original equipment they are still at least 15 years old and it is well past time to replace them.

I’m not big on the basic black housing all cable seems to come with these days, but I’ll live if my brakes work better. Because of the way my shifter cables run I’ll actually just pull the raw cable out of its housing and give it a light coating of grease, so that will look the same as before. The Trek has a nice cable guide at the bottom of the bottom bracket shell and the whole thing is set up to have no housing.

This could be a good time to convert to bar end shifters, but the downtube ones have worked well for me for years, and I am trying not to spend a fortune on components right now.

Brake Pads

I discussed my braking options with Ron Ritz when I was in Ames over Christmas, and he is not a big fan of the original Shimano 600 brakes. He’s probably right, because I’ve never really felt like my brakes were for stopping so much as slowing down.

Still, as I’m not in a hurry to replace components right now I plan to just get a set of good, longer pads. I’ll probably buy these locally after I get the brake cables dealt with.

Wheels and Tires

For years now I have been riding the only 27x1 1/4” tires I can easily find in my local bike shops. They are cheap, maybe $12-15 each, and it shows. I often run over puncture vine thorns, and that generally means a slow leak I discover the next time I plan to ride.

Other times though, the thorns are longer, and when I pull them out I am treated to an immediate flat. I carry a puncture kit and a small pump for these occasions, but I’d rather not have to deal with it at all.

There are a number of tires better suited to the sort of road hazards we tend to see here in Denver, including the Schwalbe Marathon, Continental Gatorskin, and Specialized Armadillo tires, but try finding those locally in a 27” size.

My brakes are already at their maximum extension, so replacing the old 27” wheels with their 630mm bead diameter with 700 C wheels with a 622mm bead would require new brakes, I’m not ready to go that far yet. Instead, I ordered a set of Continental Gatorskins online. I got them installed and they seem well made and pretty substantial. I’m hopeful that the new tires will significantly reduce the number of flats I have to deal with.

Besides the tires, I’m considering overhauling the wheel hubs. I’m worried, though, as the rear hub is one of those dreaded Maillard Helicomatic units. I don’t have the tool to work on it. They do roll pretty smoothly right now, so even though the grease is probably old, old, old I might leave them.

I’ll also do some basic truing of the wheels while I’m messing about with them off the frame. The front wheel is almost perfect already, but the rear needs just a little help.

Derailers and Chain

My derailers also need some work. The front seems to be in pretty good shape, but I’d like to remove it from the frame and clean it up a bit. I’ll lube the mechanisms and reinstall it and that should be about it.

The rear derailer has been giving me more trouble. I occasionally have trouble shifting to the largest sprockets on the rear, and I occasionally get unexpected shifts or skipped sprockets. Some of this may be a combination of a worn chain and old cables, but I’ll pull it off the frame and clean it up too.

The pulleys on the derailer also need cleaning and lubrication, as the last time I rode I had a terrible squeak from the rear for the last 10 miles of the ride.

I’m also going to put a new chain on, since I don’t know the age of the current chain, but know it has at least 1,500 miles.

After all this, and some cleaning, I think my Trek will feel almost like a new bike. I’m looking forward to a smoother drivetrain, new components, and everything cleaned and degreased. And I’m looking forward to a lot of miles this year.

— Steve

Posted on 27 January 2012