The end-of-winter bike inspection checklist

The end-of-winter bike inspection checklist

For many riders, the cyclocross World Championships marks the end of the season - either as a participant, or a spectator. If you've been racing and training all winter, your bike has likely taken a beating. Contaminated bearings, corrosion, chain wear... let's check for those issues now so we can prevent breakdowns on the side of the road or trail in the future. 

I've put together this guide of some must-do repairs, and split it into beginner, intermediate and advanced sections. Skilled mechanics may be able to handle DIY for everything on the list; if you're just getting started, try tackling the "beginner" tasks and ask a trusted cycling friend or bike shop to handle the more advanced tasks on your behalf. Let's take a look at the list:

Beginner level end-of-winter bike repair tasks

Frame and fork inspection

You don't need to be an expert - just visually inspect your bike to make sure everything looks OK on the surface. Broken equipment does happen from time to time. 
    1. Take a careful look at the entire frame for dents or cracks.
    2. Pay special attention to where tubes meet on welded frames.
    3. Look for bubbling paint, which could indicate corrosion underneath on steel frames.
    4. If you've scratched a metal frame through the paint down to bare metal, consider touching it up (clear nail polish can be used) to protect the exposed spot.
    5. Carbon frames and forks should have no soft spots or exposed fibers.

Derailleur Hanger

Check your bike's replaceable derailleur hanger for alignment. In the photo at the top of this article, you can see that the hanger is bent inward, toward the centerline of the bike. I discovered this damage during an inspection following a crash.
  1. Visually inspect the derailleur hanger.
  2. The pulley wheels on the rear derailleur should be parallel to the cassette cogs. If these imaginary lines aren't parallel, the hanger is likely bent.
  3. Rear derailleur hangers are commonly bent inwards in crashes. A bent hanger will cause poor shifting quality, and under extreme conditions, can allow the rear derailleur to shift into the spokes, causing catastrophic damage.
  4. Replace the hanger if needed, and don't forget to order a spare to keep in your toolbox as well. 

Remove the seatpost, inspect, and re-install

Seatposts take a beating. Cyclocross remounts add incredible stress to this component, made worse by pressure washing your bike, which can force moisture down the seat tube, starting corrosion. Here's how to prevent that: 

    1. Mark your saddle height using tape, paint, nail polish, etc. so you can easily reset it. 
    2. Loosen the seatpost fixing bolt and pull the seatpost from the frame.
    3. Wipe away old grease and moisture.
    4. Inspect the seatpost for bending or crimps, especially at the spot where the clamp holds it in place. Consider replacing the seatpost if there is a crimp or if the post appears bent. 
    5. Apply new grease or anti-seize (depending on the material of your seatpost and frame) 
    6. Re-install the seatpost to your desired height and tighten in place. 

Inspect tires for cuts, cracks, or missing knobs

Even if you're a beginning mechanic, you can visually inspect your tires for damage.  
    1. Carefully check each tire sidewall for cuts.
    2. Look for missing knobs or exposed cords in the tire casing where the rubber has worn away.
    3. Inflate and check for air retention; this is a convenient time to add sealant to tubeless tires if needed.
    4. If you have tubular (glued/taped on tires) inspect the bond between the rim and tire, on either side, and at every point around the wheel. Try to lift the tire away from the rim with your thumbs. If it moves, it's time to reglue if the tire still has life, or replace entirely if it doesn't.
    5. If you've been using "UCI legal" 33mm tires specifically for cyclocross racing, now is a great time to change them out to a wider, more versatile tire for training and exploring rides.
    6. Store your race tires in a dry place, away from moisture that can damage the rubber or glue. 


    Intermediate level end-of-winter bike repair tasks

    Remove, inspect, de-grease, and lubricate the chain

    Mud and wet causes accelerated chain wear, a worn chain in turn quickly wears the expensive cassette cogs and chainrings. Let's take a moment to ensure the chain is in tip-top shape.  
      1. You can clean the chain on the bike, but it's faster and easier to clean off the bike. 
      2. Check that your chain uses a re-usable master link (if your chain has a one-time-use link, remove and discard it.) A re-usable link makes removing and lubricating the chain a snap and is a great upgrade.
      3. If you can't or prefer not to remove the chain, clean it in place using a chain scrubber such as the Finish Line Chain Cleaner Pro.
      4. Remove the master link using master link pliers. 
      5. Completely clean and degrease the chain. Strategies include using an ultrasonic cleaner, elbow grease, shaking the chain in a water bottled filled with solvent, and so on. 
      6. Lubricate the chain with your preferred method. I prefer hot melt waxing for the cleanest possible chain that doesn't attract dirt.
      7. Re-install the chain using the re-usable master link. 

    Inspect and replace brake pads

    Brake pads on both disc and rim brake bikes can wear much quicker when ridden in mud and wet. Doublecheck that the brake pads are in good shape with plenty of life left. 
    1. On rim brake bikes, worn pads can travel further when you squeeze the brake lever. Make sure that when you pull the lever, the pad hits squarely on the braking surface and doesn't "dive" toward the spokes. You may need to reset the pad angle. Some pads have a wear indicator that shows you when they require replacement. If yours do not, check carefully that there is plenty of life left, and the brake pad carrier is nowhere near touching the rim (metal-on-metal contact).
    2. For disc brake bikes, remove the pads and check for even wear. As with a rim brake, make sure that the brake pad itself has plenty of thickness left, and the carrier is nowhere near to touching the rotor. 
    3. Now is also a great time to inspect the rotors. Rotors wear during braking, which causes them to get thinner over time. Check the thickness using a caliper against the published thickness specs for your brand and replace if needed. 

    Advanced level end-of-winter bike repair tasks

    Remove and inspect the bottom bracket bearings

    One of the "problem areas" that crop up on bikes ridden in the wet and mud is the bottom bracket bearings. Rain, mud, and water from pressure washing can run down the seat tube into the bottom bracket.

      1. With the chain off the bike, spin the crankset. It should turn smoothly with minimal resistance. Check for side-to-side play as well. 
      2. I recommend removing your crankset entirely to expose the BB. The procedure will vary depending on your make / model. The common Shimano Hollowtech II type can be removed using only a hex key (but do note that you'll need a torque wrench for the re-install)
      3. With the crankset removed, clean the spindle of old grease or grit; check the spindle for wear or corrosion. Apply a light film of grease to prevent future corrosion. 

    Remove and inspect the headset bearings

    As with the bottom bracket, headset bearings can become contaminated from riding in the rain or pressure washing. You can reduce this by being careful not to blast the bearings directly during washing, but it can never be entirely eliminated. 

    Symptoms include "notchy" or "indexed" steering, a clean and properly adjusted headset should not click and should turn smoothly throughout the range of rotation. 

      1. Remove the headset top cap
      2. Loosen the stem clamp bolts so the stem turns freely on the steerer tube; remove
      3. Remove any headset spacers, headset top cap, and compression ring.  
      4. Drop the fork out of the bottom of the frame (depending on your bike, you may need to remove the front brake caliper or cable to create slack)
      5. Carefully inspect the top and bottom bearing. They should be free of rust and should turn smoothly in your hands. Wipe away any contamination and apply a light film of grease, or replace bearing if needed. 
      6. Clean the top and bottom headset cups or bearing seats in the frame, as well as the crown race on the fork.
      7. Re-assemble, adjust preload, and check for proper operation.

    With some time spent on maintenance, you can avoid having a let down when you experience an unexpected failure while out riding in the Spring. A rainy winter day is a perfect time to invest in an inspection and required repairs.


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