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Top 5 Bike Maintenance Tips for DIY Dads

We love spending a leisurely afternoon tinkering away, listening to the buzz of a freewheel or the satisfying click of a smooth shift. If you've ever taken something apart and put it back together, you've learned that mastering smaller systems makes it easier to fix little problems before they turn into big repairs. Just a few minutes working on your own bicycle means you'll get more out of your rides by keeping everything in top condition. Read on for our top 5 maintenance tips to master at home:

1. Pump it up...the tire, that is. When your tire pressure is too low, you run the risk of of the dreaded pinch flat. This type of flat often looks like a snakebite, with two small holes where the rim pinches the tube hard enough to create a puncture, most commonly when you hit a pothole. You'll also end up working harder overall to maintain speed if the tire is under the recommended air pressure, or PSI (pounds per square inch). Your tire's PSI is usually printed on the sidewall, and a good pump with an easy to read gauge is your best bet for staying in the correct range. Make sure your pump head and valve are compatible, or buy an adapter for a quick conversion- Presta valves have a tiny screw-on nut connected to the valve pin, and Schrader valves are thicker overall with a recessed valve that looks like an X or a dot inside a metal stem.

2. Before you get going, make sure you can stop when you need to. Squeeze your front and rear brake levers to make sure both sides of the brake and brake pads engage smoothly and at the same time. If you have to pull your brake lever all the way back against your handlebar, or if one side makes contact before the other, you'll need to adjust the brake pads to be closer, or to make even contact against your wheel's rim. Most brakes will have a barrel adjuster in the brake lever or brake arm. If your brakes are too loose, unscrew the barrel adjuster and lockring. Turn the barrel adjuster counterclockwise (usually a turn or two is enough), and then tighten the lockring back down so that the adjuster stays in place. If your brakes are too tight, you'll want to spin the barrel adjuster clockwise. This is also a good time to take a look at your brake pads to see if they're in good shape, or need to be replaced. Make sure the brake's quick release is closed, and you should be ready to roll! If you need clarification, or if you're a visual learner, there are some great tutorials and videos online that can help. Disc brakes often require a little more finesse, so it's a good idea to have a mechanic check your work or maintain those until you're comfortable working on them.

3. Cleaning and lubrication: A dirty drivetrain is no fun for your bike. Dirt and other particles are abrasive, and over time, can damage your components if left unattended. To clean your chain and cassette, use a degreaser or mix up dish soap with water- the grease-cutting properties will work the same way on a dirty chain as on a pot or pan. Grab a rag or non-metal brush to scrub with, and wipe away residue with a damp rag or spray lightly with a hose. The key is to lightly rinse away the product without power washing away any grease packed into bearings and components. Let the drivetrain dry for a minute or two, and use lube sparingly, as too much will attract dirt and dust. A drop of lube per chain link is the right amount, and be sure to spin the pedals backwards to coat the chain and cassette, shifting a few times to distribute evenly. Wipe away any excess with a clean rag. You can also take this time to use a chain wear indicator tool to see if the links in your chain are wearing out and need to be replaced.

4. Fix a flat in record time. Practice makes perfect when it comes to bike mechanics, and there's no better time to practice fixing a flat tire than at home. You'll become familiar with the process in a no-pressure situation, instead of standing on the side of the road trying to learn on the fly as the rain pours down. Practice taking your wheel out of the dropouts and using a tire lever to pop the tire bead off of your wheel's rim. Get comfortable sanding, patching, and gluing a punctured tube, or just swap in a new one and practice putting the tire back on. Road tires can be tight and tricky, so find a method that works for you. Shifting into the smallest cog will give you more chain slack to put your wheel back on. For bonus points, be sure to line up your tire label with the valve stem on your tube. It's a small trick, but it can help you easily locate debris or cuts in your tire, based on the tube's puncture and its distance from the valve stem. For example: if you're patching a hole an inch or two away from where you lined everything up, you'll know not to waste time checking for glass all the way across from the tire label.

5. Pick it up and drop it down. Lightly pick up your bike and drop it an inch or two (hold on while you do this!), listening for any rattling or parts that shake loose. Tighten up any loose nuts and bolts, and give your wheels to check for a wobble side to side, or a "hop" up and down. If everything looks and sounds good, you're ready to ride! If not, pick up those tools and keep tinkering, and by the way...did we mention we've got everything you need to be a master mechanic at Western Bikeworks? Come by for a coffee and a chat, and grab all the specialty gear and tools you could ever want to outfit your home repair station.

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