Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Winter Overhauls

'Tis the season when virtuous cyclists rip their trusty steeds apart to cleanse and anoint them with fresh lubricants.

Yep, time to regrease all the bearings we can get at.

Yep. Sure is.

Back when I had one racing bike, high ideals and no job to speak of, I devoted myself religiously to bike maintenance. As with so many things, like weight training or dental hygiene, I didn't really love the work, but I loved the result.

In the era of cup-and-cone bearings you could actually open up for maintenance, experts advised a full overhaul after any long ride in heavy rain. Want to keep those expensive parts in perfect condition? You know what you must do.

Picture me ignoring my half-dressed, sunbathing girlfriend while I dutifully completed a radical greasectomy on my racing bike, the sunny day after a race in a downpour. She was a rider, but she questioned my priorities in that instance.

Mountain biking ushered in the new age of sealed bearings for the masses. But no bearing is perfectly sealed and some of the so-called sealed units can still be opened for overhaul. Sometimes you find that the seals hold water in as well as out. But things generally run smoother for longer these days.

Long experience from the road had already shown that there were people who rode bikes really fast and there were people who maintained bikes really well, but they were rarely the same people. Unless you are completely subsidized you don't have time to do a thorough job on bike maintenance and a thorough job on training. That's why teams have mechanics.

People who fix bikes may ride more mileage and perform better than the average person, or even the average rider. I still know a number of amateur racers who do their own work. There are also top-quality mechanics who chain-smoke and eat nothing but garbage.

These days I only do a complete overhaul on a bike if its owner has paid me to do it. On my own bikes I do spot overhauls of whatever has become crunchiest. I use Shimano's disposable bottom brackets because I've never scraped together the coin for Phil Wood's immortal units. Nothing else on any of my bikes uses bearings I can't dig into whenever I find the time.

Needle-bearing headsets have eliminated the annoying center notch that ball bearing headsets typically develop. They still need to be opened and cleaned occasionally, but that's easy enough. Needle bearing sets don't spew out all over the floor the way loose ball bearings do.

Putting it that way, it's really only hubs and headset. Okay, okay. Maybe I'll do it. Next week.

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