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Bike Maintenance

Bicycles are simple things, and most maintenance and repair can be performed by an owner with moderate mechanical ability.

Richard Ries Star correspondent

There's little room for error in servicing a bike; do it wrong and the results can be catastrophic. And don't expect to save money, especially if the task requires special tools, which many do.

Start with a good instruction manual, such as Bicycling Magazine's Complete Guide to Bicycle Maintenance and Repair (Rodale Press), The Haynes Bicycle Book (Haynes North America) or any of those to which Lennard Zinn has contributed.

Decide which tasks you are willing to tackle and get the proper tools. Start with a good work stand. Then shop for bike-specific tools, required for all but the simplest maintenance chores. Park makes a full line. Pedro's has a good selection, and its Master Tool Kit 2.0 is a cost-effective solution if you are starting with zero tools and need to buy a bunch. Trek has scaled back its Wrench Force line to just the basics. Campagnolo components often require Campy tools. Shimano makes tools for its components (pedals, bottom brackets, hubs). For wheel work, Minoura makes good owner-quality tools.

Regarding lubricants, go with bike-specific products such as those from Park, Pedro's, Phil Wood or Finish Line.

Here are some common bike maintenance and repair projects, along with notes on complexity:

- Tire pressure. This is the easiest and most overlooked maintenance task. Buy a good gauge and floor pump and check tire pressure at least weekly.

- Wheel truing. You can true wheels well enough on the bike, using the brake pads as guides. All you need is a spoke wrench.

For better truing and for building wheels, you will need a stand. Professional stands have dishing tools built in. With budget stands, you need a separate dishing tool. While truing wheels can be done by most, building them is only for those with lots of patience and skill.

- Rebuilding hubs. New bearings and fresh grease restore hubs. Front hubs require only cone wrenches. Rear hubs need cone wrenches plus a chain whip and a cassette removal tool. High-end hubs and those with cartridge bearings may require special service techniques.

- Replacing brake pads can be done without special tools, but a third hand tool, which holds the pads against the rim while you tighten things, is helpful.

- Replacing cables calls for new cables, housing and ferrules. You will also need a cable cutter. Wire cutters are not acceptable.

- Cleaning the chain can be done with a brush and solvent.

- Replacing the chain requires a chain tool. Skip the cheap seat-bag models and get a shop-quality tool. If the cogs and chainrings are worn, replace them, too. This requires a chain whip and cassette removal tool and a crank extractor.

- Pedals need new bearings and fresh grease occasionally. Older models can be rebuilt with homeowner tools. Many clipless styles require special tools.

- For suspension items (forks, shocks, linkages), consult the owner's manual.

Ries' cycling column appears monthly. Questions and comments can be directed to him at

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