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We've been repairing, maintaining, and upgrading all types of bikes here at Dutch Bike since day one, because while we love the somewhat exotic (here in the US, at least) mechanical aspects of the bikes we import, one of our core beliefs is that the best bike is the bike that you ride, whatever it is. Whether we're installing custom fenders on your 90's Bianchi racer or overhauling your 1976 Schwinn cruiser, we love keeping bikes on the road.
Particularly in the past two or three years, I've seen a massive upswing in the numbers of bikes being brought out of storage, bought used, or restored for everyday use. All types of reasons – economic, practical, or ethical – bring these faithful steeds back into harness, but my favorite of all is that it just seems to have become cool. With increasing numbers of bicycles on the road – many of them seeing their second tour of duty – every shop is seeing an increase in repair traffic and, more relevantly, more people are becoming acquainted with the world of bike repair.
For many, getting a bike repaired can be even more intimidating than “taking the car in.” I will be the first to admit that bicycle service shops do not have a stellar reputation for friendliness or customer service, and even though a bike is less complex than a car it can still be an opaque and mysterious opponent when it's not working properly. For these very good reasons, a large number of my service customers don't come to the shop for anything as specific as wheel truing or derailleur hanger alignment, but rather for a general tune-up. It might be every few hundred miles or every few years, depending on where and how you ride, how your bike is designed, and how it's stored and cared for. Whether your mechanic calls it a “tune-up” or a “general service” or a “maintenance package,” the basic idea is the same: make my bike work so I can keep riding it. You drop your tired, creaky steed at the shop, and a day or two later you pick it up shiny and ready for another ride. What actually happens to the bike, though?
As you've seen in previous posts, I enjoy few things more than deflating the fear and mystery around the technical side of bicycles, and so today we'll walk through exactly what goes on during a tune-up. Different tune-ups will include a variety of different operations (wheel truing, adjustment, part replacement, etc.), and different shops will provide a sometimes bewildering variety of options and levels of detail. The tune-up you'll see here is our “Comprehensive,” usually best for older bikes or commuters with medium to high mileage. If the bike requires less I'll suggest a less in-depth “Standard” or “Basic,” or simply perform a few adjustments a la carte.
First, I'll remove the wheels to make cleaning the bike easier and because I'll be working on them individually later. I'll spray and wipe down the frame and components with a weak cleaning solution (I like Simple Green), because it's much more pleasant to work on a clean bike.
Now for the wheels: cleaning first, then truing and balancing spoke tension.
Next I'll open the hubs to check the bearings and inject fresh grease. When I put them back together, I'll be sure to adjust them so that they'll spin smoothly when they're installed.
Back on the bike, I'll do the same to the headset and bottom bracket bearings if they can be serviced. Before I reinstall the wheels, I'll sand and pick debris out of the brake pads for stronger and quieter braking.
Now that the pads are clean and grippy, I'll adjust the pad position and spring tension of the brakes so they'll work powerfully, quietly, and drag-free.
With the brakes “dialed,” I'll move on to the derailleurs; adjusting the cable tension and limit screws, and the position of the derailleurs themselves to optimize the speed, smoothness, and above all the accuracy of each gear change.
Finally, I'll check the tire inflation and take the bike for a test ride to make sure everything is working perfectly!
As you can see, there's no mystery and no magic here, but the proper tune-up should have your bike riding like new – or at least close to it – and keep you going for plenty of rides. Having your bike tuned may not be the most glamorous, but the cumulative positive effects of a smoothly functioning bike can be far-reaching!
Some of us bought our bikes because we wanted to be mobile. Some because we find them so very pretty. Some because they're so comfortable. For whatever reason you purchased your Dutch- or Dutch-type bike, if you got even a reasonable imitation of one you benefit from how little they demand in terms of maintenance. In previous posts we've walked through repair operations that you (or your trusted mechanic) might have run into in the course of owning the bike (tire and tube repair, shifter troubleshooting, etc). In this post, I'll walk through a large component of simply caring for your bike: lubrication.
In many ways, the chaincase defines the proper city bike. It makes them compatible with any wardrobe, and it's one of the main reasons why these bikes essentially don't have to be treated like a bike. They can be left outside in the rain and snow (and salt, if you're our Chicago shop bakfiets) every night of their lives, and won't punish you for it. That said, since your bike can last your lifetime, you'll want to take care of it to the minor extent it requires. Chain lubrication won't quite be your most frequent maintenance operation, but it's extremely easy and takes very little time. Once every nine months will be enough under even the most adverse conditions.
First you'll want to pick a chain lubricant. The thicker and stickier a lube is, the longer it will protect the chain, but stickiness attracts dirt. This leads to a constant dilemma when maintaining an exposed drivetrain; balancing how much grime covers my drivetrain and legs with how quickly my lube washes off when I ride in the rain or mud. Because the conditions inside a chaincase are so much cleaner and drier than the world outside, we can get away with using an extremely sticky, persistent lube that would attract a large amount of dirt and grime were it exposed. It will take a little longer to soak into the spaces inside the chain links (the only area where it actually does anything), but since we're only doing it once a year or so...that's okay. On a city bike, the tiny, tiny bit of extra drag introduced by a heavier lubricant will be imperceptible to even the most sensitive rider. For the most persistence, I recommend Finish Line Wet; a heavy, sticky synthetic formulated to stick to exposed chains through the nastiest conditions. It's also a beautiful shade of dark green. Dumonde Tech Original (the blue one) can be a fair substitute. Inside a chaincase, you can expect a heavy application of one of these lubes to last most of a year!
Lighter lubricants are just fine, but won't last quite as long or protect as thoroughly. That said, lighter oils and oil suspensions like good old Tri-Flow or Dumonde Tech Lite (the yellow one) can be quite useful for lubricating and providing a water barrier for your cables. Spending a few minutes letting the handy principle of capillary action pull drops of well-shaken Tri-Flow into your cable housing can not only substantially reduce drag and improve performance, but when applied thoroughly enough can also prevent the unfortunate wintertime disorder known as “Chicago cable freeze.”
Isn't physics great?
While they have some handy benefits, wax-based formulas and solvent-suspension “dry” lubes don't have much of an application on the mechanical systems of your city bike. Because they don't protect the chain as effectively, and because their dirt-shedding properties aren't necessary within the protected environment of the chaincase, wax lubes shouldn't be used. Neither type will work at all well within cable housing, so best to save them for your sporty bikes...if you must use wax at all.
Once you've chosen your formula, all that's left is applying it! The vast majority of you won't need any tools for this, except you bakfiets and Secret Service owners. You'll need a one euro coin, large flathead screwdriver, or other prying device to encourage the lower rear section of your plastic chaincase to pop loose.
All you with fabric chaincases need do is simply unsnap the snap.
Now that your chaincase is open, you can inspect your chain's lubrication and tension (refer to the rough guide in the last post for tension). If you cannot see lubricant on the chain – or if you see any corrosion – you should apply some. Nose the dropper tip or extended straw/noodle of your bottle into the chaincase until it's just touching the rollers on the inside of the chain. Carefully spin the pedals backward while gently squeezing the bottle enough to run a bead of lubricant along the chain, letting it soak into the spaces within the chain and coat the moving parts.
Continue this process until your chain is thoroughly soaked in lube. Congratulations, you've lubed your chain! This would also be a good moment to lubricate the shifter cable as it leaves the housing.
Close up your chaincase, and you're finished!
Welcome back, class! Now that you've adjusted your Shimano Nexus hubs, we'll dive into the next most interesting operation on one of these bikes: rear wheel removal. Mastering this will allow you to replace tires or tubes that are worn out or damaged beyond patching. This will get a little more technical than the previous post, so it's very important to make sure you're comfortable using tools and that you have the time and energy to safely put everything back together. Please read through the entire post before tearing apart your bike, and be sure you're comfortable performing all the operations described (especially tensioning the chain!). Troubleshooting and adjusting your hub didn't require any tools, but this will, so get out that toolkit and polish up your:
Now that your tools are prepared, set your bike on its center stand (or clamp the seatpost in a work stand if you're lucky enough to have one).
We will remove the rear wheel first because it's a more complex operation and many of the steps will be duplicated in removing the front. As an overview, we're going to disconnect the brake, open the chain case, disconnect the shifter, disengage the chain tensioners, and remove the wheel. Then we will reinstall the wheel, engage the tensioners, tension the chain and center the wheel, reconnect the shifter and brake, and close the chain case.
To disconnect the brake, first loosen the cable fixing nut several turns. Pull or clip off the cable tip, and pull the cable out of the brake.
Now once we've removed the torque arm clamp bolt the brake will be completely disconnected.
After that, move back to the right side of the bike and open the chain case, starting by unhooking the tension wire running along the bottom of the case.
Once the wire is unhooked about 3/4 of the way down toward the front, unsnap and unclip the rear section as we did in the previous post.
Now loosen the axle nuts about three turns (Don't worry, the chain tensioners will hold the wheel in place) and yank the rear section of the chain case frame straight back and out of the bike.
Shift the bike into first gear, and poke the long end of the 2mm hex key into the tiny hole in the back of the cassette joint.
Pull downward on the wrench to give yourself some cable slack, and then use your pointy tool to pop the cable and cable stop out of the cassette joint.
Pull the cable housing out of the housing stop, being careful not to kink the cable.
Now that you've disconnected the brake and shifter cables from the hub, all that's left is removing the wheel itself! Loosen the chain tensioners until the nuts are even with the end of the threaded section, and loosen the axle nuts until the colored non-turn washers (yellow on the right, brown on the left) can completely clear the frame.
Lift the chain carefully off the teeth of the cog and set it down on the plastic of the cassette joint.
Now you'll actually remove the wheel: pull it straight backward until both chain tensioners are loose enough that you can flip them downward so that they hang from the axle.
The wheel will now be free to slide forward and out of the dropouts, and you're free to replace tubes, change tires or just marvel at your accomplishment.
To reinstall the wheel, you will essentially be reversing most of the steps you've just completed. Set the chain on the cassette joint -- next to the cog but not on it -- and then slide the wheel back into the dropouts. This may take some wiggling, and possibly even some fiddling to make sure that the chain tensioners are inside the dropouts, and the non-turn washers (brown and yellow) are outside. Gently pull the wheel as far back into the dropouts as possible, giving yourself enough slack to flip the tensioners back into place. Now that the wheel is held in place by the tensioners, you'll be able to reattach the shifter and brake cables, the chain, and the chain case.
Set the chain back on the cog and carefully turn the cranks a few revolutions to make sure that the chain is fully set on the chainwheel (front gear) as well. To reconnect the shifter cable to the cassette joint, first slide the cable housing end into the housing stop.
Now repeat the trick with the 2mm hex key to wind the cassette joint back to a point where you can slot the cable stop into its cradle, making sure that the cable sits cleanly along its channel. Shift up and down the range a few times to make sure that everything is working smoothly, and also use this opportunity to check the adjustment of your hub (just like you learned to do in the last post!).
Pass the brake cable through the housing stop and into the cable stop, tightening it down at at its original setting. Make sure the housing is fully inserted in the stop. At this point you can crimp a cable end cap onto the cable, then test brake function by pulling hard on the brake lever.
Slide the rear section of the chain case frame into place, carefully pushing both top and bottom ends into place in the main chain case frame. Be sure that the chain tensioner is outside the chain case frame on the axle.
Now that everything on the axle is in place, you can tension the chain. This step is going to be the most technical that you'll perform during the operation, so shake the kinks out of your hands and get ready! Tighten down the axle nuts until the tabs of the non-turn washers are fully inserted into the dropouts, but not so tight that you can't shift the wheel. Throughout this step, you'll be keeping the wheel centered in the frame by watching the distance between the (ideally fully inflated) tire and the chain stays. Tighten the chain tensioner nuts evenly as you bring the wheel back toward its original position. On Workcycles bikes (especially if you are using the original cog size), you'll frequently be able to find this spot by the indentations left by the non-turn washers in the frame powdercoat.
Ideal chain tension can be an art and a science, but the easiest gauge will be this: at the tightest spot in the rotation of the cranks (because there will be tight spots and loose spots) you should still be able to move the chain slightly (<1/4") up and down with your fingers. You should NOT hear a crackling sound as you spin the pedals through the tight spots, and the chain should not be so loose as to hit the bottom of the chain case.
Once you've got the chain at a nice tension, double-check the centering of the wheel and then reattach the rear brake's torque-arm clamp on the chain stay.
Now you can tighten down the axle nuts! Make sure these are solidly tight, really get your arm behind the wrench (unless you're some sort of giant burly guy, in which case you'll want to exercise some restraint).
Now that the wheel is reinstalled and the chain case frame is reassembled, most of what's left should be familiar from the last post: closing the chain case. Gently (because these are fabric parts, after all...) slide the rear section of the cover over the frame, keeping the chain tensioner outside. Pull the edges of the inside slit (between the wheel and the chain case) together and slide the prongs of the clip into their pockets inside the chain case. Snap the snap on the outside, and hook the wire back and forth across the hooks on the underside (don't miss any!).
...And you're done. Go for a ride!