This past weekend brought out plenty of cyclists who didn’t need mitts, lights, or extra layers. And with predicted temperatures in the 70s this coming weekend, lots of people will be tempted to break out their bikes for a ride down the Mount Vernon Trail or as an easy means to brunch. While winter will almost certainly return for one last stand before spring really arrives, now is a great time to start thinking about getting the bike in shape for another season of riding.
Let's start with what “getting the bike in shape” doesn’t mean: pointing a hose nozzle at the bike for a few minutes and then spraying WD-40 on the chain. That approach is a time honored-tradition, but it’s also wrong; both will end up causing more problems than they solve. High-pressure hoses often put water inside the frame, and WD-40 strips lubrication from the chain. Instead, spring maintenance should include:
- Cleaning the bike. This can be done with a simple bucket of water, degreaser (Simple Green works fine), and rags (usually best to use one for the greasy drive train, and another for everything else). No fancy tools required.
- Inspecting the cleaned bike for any problems. Are the brake and shifting cables frayed? Has the chain rusted? Are the tires sufficiently inflated? Don’t skip the basics – are the wheels on tight?
- Tuning the bike up. Cycling is a easier and a lot more fun when the bike works smoothly and reliably. A light coating of lubrication on the chain is a start. Now is also a great time to adjust the brakes and shifting. Tires also wear out over time (and sometimes crack with age), so they might be candidates for replacement.
Of course, many Arlington residents find the above to be more work than they really want to do themselves, and take their bikes in for service. In a local bike shop like Clarendon’s Revolution Cycles, you can spend anywhere from $30 for a quick adjustment of your derailleurs to more than $200 for a comprehensive overhaul of your bike. The shops in the area get inundated with tune-up jobs every spring, resulting in long waits for the work to get done. This can be avoided by scheduling the tune-up now.
For those that would like to work on their own bike, but lack the workspace or knowledge, there are a number of great options accessible to Arlington residents. First, Phoenix Bikes (near Barcroft Park) holds monthly maintenance clinics for adults. A bit further afield – but available every weekend – is Vélocity Bicycle Cooperative in Old Town Alexandria (right off the Mount Vernon Trail). They’re open every weekend (and some weeknights), providing a social space to learn to work on your own bike.
Whether one takes the DIY approach or the open-your-wallet approach, there's just no reason to suffer through another season of riding a bike that rubs and creaks.
As of the date of publication (March 15th), Phoenix Bike’s next open shop night is April 7th. Vélocity Bicycle Cooperative, however, is currently open on Wednesday nights and during the day Saturday & Sunday.
If you have any specific maintenance questions, chances are good that someone on the Bike Arlington forums has the answer.