Gary Ewing’s recent article on the “if it ain’t broke don’t try to fix it” school of maintenance has got me thinking – what are the real benefits of regular maintenance? I’m not for one minute advocating taking manufacturer’s ideas of ideal maintenance to heart. Life’s too short to strip forks every 10 hours of muddy riding as suggested by some manufacturers and servicing headsets and hubs every month isn’t my idea of fun. Gary’s point that over-frequent maintenance is almost worse than none at all is a good one; fork seals get looser every time the forks are dismantled and who can say, hand on heart, that they get perfect preload on wheel bearings every time?
But while I’m not an obsessive bike tinkerer, I like things to work and I like to have an idea when they are going to stop working. The “good clean” is the heart of this. Jetwashes are the devil’s own invention as far as bikes are concerned and will knock out grease from bearings. If you doubt it, do an experiment with an old hub. A “good clean” for me means using one of those brush things that goes on the end of a hose and getting most of the muck off most of the bike, making sure wheelrims and drivechain get a thorough going-over. This way, there’s no high pressure water jets to kill bearings and you’re close enough to notice when things aren’t quite right. Little things that are easy to overlook like damage to tyre sidewalls, hairline cracks in wheelrims and loose spokes will lead to big problems if neglected. It’s also an opportunity to do things like check chain, tyre and brake pad wear, all of which are much easier to do on a clean bike.
As for a servicing schedule, a new chain every few months helps make chainrings and cassettes last longer. Cables get oiled when they start to show signs of sticking and replaced when oiling does no good.
By the time things are seizing, rattling or grinding, they have been left too long and the damage is starting to be done. Cup and cone hubs get serviced when there’s a fair bit of mud underneath the outer seals, and the wonderful invention that is the WTB Greaseguard headset gets taken apart once in every blue moon. Forks will get a service midwinter and Easter. Sealed bottom brackets get replaced when the wobble becomes disconcerting and any metal bits get replaced if creaks just won’t go away or cracks and wrinkles appear.
All this takes maybe on average half an hour after each ride and costs next to nothing. Like your granny would say, “a stitch in time saves nine”.
If only I could be so diligent with my house…