This page was last updated 21 August 2018.

Bicycle Maintenance Guide

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Finally, after all that maintenance, we might actually want to ride the bicycle to have a chance to get it dirty and do the maintenance all over again. This chapter is even more subjective than the others; it contains some rules I have found useful but that may not work for everybody. I rode in many places in the world and have found some basic rules that work for me.

Riding in Town

Now this depends very much on the town, but I have found that it is safest to ride assertively but not aggressively. This means:

The best front lights I know are made by Lupine. They are massively expensive but I consider my health more important, and these guys really know what cyclists need. Among other things they manage to put a three-level menu structure into a penny-sized control panel sporting one button and four LEDs that lets you program light levels and battery control. They are now called "camping lights" because they seem to violate some traffic regulation, and Cateye has sued them. One thing is certain, I won't ever buy Cateye again - a company that must rely on its lawyers rather than the technical quality of their product to push competitors out of the way isn't someone I'd trust when buying equipment!

When buying a rear light, pick a red high-intensity LED light with a flashing mode. Avoid lights that hold their batteries merely with metal tabs; make sure they use spiral springs instead. Tabs lose tension, and you can never trust the light to stay on at night. Also make sure that the on/off button does not stick out too far, and cannot easily be pressed inadvertently when you carry the light in a pocket or backpack.

Bicycles have the advantage of being able to go anywhere and be parked anywhere, unlike cars. 30% of the car traffic in downtown Berlin is looking for a place to park, and the average speed between entering and leaving a car is 17 km/h (which isn't even bad as big cities go, in Paris it's 11 km/h), for example. While a stolen bicycle is usually less of a loss than the damage done when a car is broken into, a bicycle is much easier to steal unless properly locked.

Forget spoke locks, cable locks, combination locks, or simple chains. I prefer motorcycle locks by Abus or Trelock that consist of a steel cable protected by interlocking rings. The idea is that you need two sets of tools, a saw for the rings and a bolt cutter for the cable. Of course, you need to lock the bicycle to something that is at least as solid as the lock. Some of those bike racks are ridiculously easy to disassemble. Those motorcycle locks reach around most lampposts, and they can comfortably be worn around one's waist. U-lock holders rattle. The keyhole of the lock should face down if it's on one side to make it harder to reach for people with drills, and it should not lie flat on the ground so that a hammer could be used.

Riding Long Distances

The key to long-distance riding is preparation. You will need: Another key to long-distance riding is to deliberately ride slowly. It's enough to ride two or three km/h slower than you would ride normally. This takes constant conscious checking because your legs will want to go back to your "regular" speed. It's surprising that such a small speed reduction makes such a big difference, but 3 km/h less than normal extends your range enormously while 3 km/h more than normal will render you comatose.

Riding in a Group

With group I mean a peleton, a tight group of riders that follow some rules to optimize efficiency. A group achieves a much greater speed than a single rider with the same effort. It does require that all riders are in roughly the same shape. Small differences can be compensated by letting stronger riders spend more time in front, which takes the most strength because they are the only ones who feel the full force of the headwind.

When I ride in a group we ride in two columns. Everybody keeps a distance of about 1/2 wheel diameter to the rider in front to catch as much of the draft as safely possible. When the riders in front get tired, they accelerate a bit, go to the sides (one a bit ahead of the other to avoid having four bicycles side by side), and let the group ride through the gap. (Obviously this works better if there is an even number of people.)

Some groups regulate how long people stay in front, and some use a rotating peleton where the left column is slightly slower than the right. The right rider in front shifts over to the left column after a (very short) time in front and falls back. This makes it hard to talk though.

When I started riding I was always puzzled how good riders seemed to be completely unaffected by short hills - they just kept riding at the same speed while I was slowing to a crawl. Today I know how it's done: riding longer distances is done with low effort, leaving plenty of reserves for short sprints. Low effort can mean only a few km/h or mph less than usual because wind drag increases so sharply with speed.

Finally, we must address the important question why some cyclists shave their legs (but not their arms or head). This has been vigorously discussed to death on various lists and newsgroups. The conclusion is that there are three reasons:

  1. The official one: it significantly reduces air drag by a factor X, where X is very very close to 1.

  2. In case of a crash, no hairs will mess up and infect the wound. (The infection will be taken care of by the dirt on the road instead, or by the unshaved arm wound.)

  3. Elitism. That guy with the hairy legs is obviously an amateur who cannot be taken seriously. He sticks out like an AOL address on a Linux kernel mailing list.

Personally I think only one of the three explanations holds water.

Tell me if you found this information interesting or useful, or if you have comments.