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Spring for a Better Bike

Why a little lube goes a long way


To the guy riding around town on a bike that's so loud it sounds like you're toting a backpack full of angry mice: Get some chain lube, for the love of pete.

Ah, springtime, when every bicyclist's fancy turns to thoughts of open road, smooth trail and a bike that maybe, just maybe, has forgotten the abuse of last fall.

Or last winter.

Or last week.

Too many riders (present, thank you) are in the unfortunate habit, it seems, of hauling the old two-wheeler out of the garage as soon as it's halfway decent and jumping on it, forgetting that many cold, dark rainy months have passed. Then we wonder why the thing sounds like hell and rides like it's going there.

It could be so simple. If we only took the time to take care of our bikes before we put them away for a few months, we wouldn't have so many problems in the spring. Foolish thought. No, the majority of riders are prone to tossing the bike in a musty corner of the garage and hoping the gritty, dirty junk that's on the chain will somehow flake off, leaving you with a fresh, gleaming drivetrain come spring.

Dream on, partner, and consider instead a few things you can do right now to make your spring riding less of a grind.


It's as simple as a tube of chain lubricant, and it's on the shelves of every local bike shop in town. That guy riding around town with the angry mice in his pack? Just needs about 10 drops of chain lube administered to his bike (OK, maybe 100 drops) and the rest of us can stop gritting our teeth like someone just dragged fingernails across a chalkboard.

Jim Powers, the owner of Hyde Park Cycle Sports, says chain problems are the start of many a woebegone cyclist's problems. Oh, but it's only the beginning.

"The chain needs more than just lube," Powers said.


The sad fact of the matter is you may just need to pony up for a new chain this spring. As you wear out your chain from months of use, you wear down the metal that makes up the little bushings within the chain. Wear them down, and you create space in the actual links themselves. Create space and you are effectively stretching the chain. Voila, the chain you put on your bike months ago is now effectively longer.

That's no big deal except that it's pulling and straining on your bike's chainrings and derailleurs in ways that it didn't before. You now have the potential to do some harm to the really expensive parts of your bike.

"That's the biggest thing that I see," Powers said. "We can't make their bike work because everything's changed."

So get a new chain. No big deal. Plus, they make your bike look snazzy. They're less than $20 in most cases. And no matter how much you spend on a chain, it's cheaper than the several hundred dollars you'd have to spend on the new set of cogs, sprockets and chainrings it would take to make everything right again after you've used an old, worn-out chain.

"It's a lot easier to put on a $15 chain than a $300 drivetrain system," Powers said.


Maybe you're one of the desperate few who rode your bike this winter. The Ada County Highway District isn't shy about putting de-icer chemicals and sand onto the roads in the winter, especially one as snowy as the winter we've just finished. So if you were out there, tough guy, you probably filled your bike with grit and grime that's not so nice to your frame's fancy paint job or your gears.

So wash the bike already. Mechanics and bike aficionados will tell you that you should never, ever direct a hose at high pressure at your bike's gears or your wheels' hubs. You can force water into those sensitive spaces and lose valuable grease that's keeping your wheels rolling round in a smooth fashion.

To the bike aficionados reading this article, skip this paragraph. You won't kill your bike to hose the thing down.

But what you really ought to do is get a bucket of warm, lightly sudsy water (a light concentrate of dish soap will do the trick) and soap up the bike with a big sponge or a soft brush. Scrub that dried-out Boise Foothills sand and mud that's coated your bike from your late-fall or mid-winter foray, and rinse the thing down afterward. If you're going to use a hose, then put it on a light spray setting so you don't fire a harsh stream of water into the gears.

All done? Bike looking shiny? Good. Now get some lube onto that chain.


Tempting as all the springtime trails might be, plenty of Boise's best riding is still yet to come. While certain trails are very rideable, lots of them are not ready to see a herd of riders leaving deep ruts in the still-wet dirt. Those of us who have tried to get out too early into the Boise Foothills are doing no favors to the riders who will come in the later spring and summer. Give the trails some time to dry out. Thank you. Sermon ended.

As for the roadies out there, don't go pretending you're Eddy Merckx in the spring classics in Europe. Sure, it's cool to get out earlier than most when you've got the cold-weather gear to do it, but your bike will pay for it. And then you'll pay for your bike. See how this works?

If you're going to ride regardless of conditions, well, we understand a little desperation. But you'll need to go to the beginning of this article in a month and start over.