Top Ten Training Tips #6: Is Your Bike in Shape?
by Coach David Ertl
So far these training tips have focused on getting your engine (you) in shape for RAGBRAI. But you don’t do it alone. Your bike needs to be as fit as you are if you expect it to go the distance. It’s frustrating, inconvenient and potentially dangerous to be riding on a bike that isn’t properly tuned up and cared for, and breaks down at the farthest possible point from home. Here are some tips for getting your bike in shape for the ride.
- Don’t wait until the week before RAGBRAI to get your bike tuned up. If you do, don’t be surprised if the bike shop tells you it will be ready the week after RAGBRAI is over. That’s a very busy time for bike shops being in the heart of the summer, and especially true here in Iowa as shops get ready to go on the road to support the ride. It is best if you get your bike tuned up right now, so you can enjoy a well running bike during your training as well as on the ride itself. Once your bike has been tuned up, it is quite easy to keep it running smoothly and you shouldn’t need to have it tuned up again during the season if you do some routine maintenance on it.
- Before each ride, do the following: Check the air pressure in the tires. Pump them up if low. Tires have pressure ratings imprinted on the sidewalls. Most pumps these days have built in pressure gauges. That will get you close enough to the desired pressure. Also, spin the wheels to make sure they aren’t rubbing on the brakes. Brakes and gears are the things that tend to need periodic adjustments. If you don’t know how to do that yourself, see #6.
- After each ride, do the following: Spin the wheels and wipe off the tires. Do a quick inspection of the tires to make sure there are no cuts, bits of glass or other damage to the tires. You don’t want to wait until the next day to check. A great way to ruin a ride is to get ready to go and discover you have a flat tire. If you noticed anything on your bike that wasn’t quite working right during the ride, take care of it right away. Otherwise you won’t think of it again until you are ready to hop for your next ride (another great way to ruin a ride). Although not necessary after every ride, at least every few rides you should clean the grime off your chain. I do this by holding a rag around my chain and pedaling backwards. Doing this frequently will help keep the chain, and you, cleaner. Depending how often you ride, you should lube the chain every week or every couple hundred miles, whichever comes first.
- If you ride or get caught in the rain, be sure to lube your chain. As soon as you get home, dry off the chain with a rag and apply chain lube. It is amazing how fast a chain can turn orange with rust (literally hours), so don’t delay. Wipe down the bike and keep it looking nice. No one will want to ride with you if you have dried up worms on your bike frame (yes it does happen) and the chain is squeaking.
- Tires. You will want to treat your tires well if you want them to treat you well (and you do!). Tires are the thing on the bikes that receives the most wear and tear – and you thought it was your body! The tires roll across all sorts of pavement (and sometimes off) and run over gravel, glass, sticks, holes, cracks, nails, dead animals, etc. They can get nicked up and pick up all sorts of treasures. Even the tiniest bit of stone or glass can give you a flat. If you notice a cut in the tires, either in the tread or sidewall, it is best to replace it right away. You can ignore it, but these are vulnerable and may force you not to ignore it at a more inconvenient time.
- Always carry some tools, spare tube, source of air or CO2, and tire levers. If you are out on the road, you may need to change a tire or make an adjustment. Even if you don’t know how to use them yourself, if you have the tools and tire changing equipment, other people are usually happy to help. And while cyclists tend to be very helpful, they won’t be quite as happy to help if they have to use their own tube and CO2 cartridge to get you going again. Even if you don’t need these yourself, if you ride enough, someone you are riding with will need tools at some point. It surprises me how often experienced riders find themselves without a spare tube. And it is always a good idea to carry some cash and/or credit card in case you need more significant parts or repairs, or to pay someone for a tube in case you didn’t read my advice above.
- If you aren’t mechanically inclined, make friends with your local bike shop. It’s been my experience that the more you frequent the store and as you develop a good relationship with the staff, that could come in handy when you find yourself in need of an emergency quick fix. You can also make friends with someone who is mechanically inclined. To experienced cyclists, what may seem like a huge problem to you can often be fixed in a matter of seconds with a quick adjustment.
Once your bike is in good condition, it is quite easy to keep it there with some minor maintenance. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much true of your own fitness as well.
Keep those wheels rolling!
Coach David Ertl
David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 Coach. He coaches the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team, JDRF Ride To Cure Diabetes and individual cyclists through the Peaks Coaching Group. He also provides cycling training plans and ebooks at his website: http://www.CyclesportCoaching.com . He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.