Zen and the art of…oh screw this! Can I ride my bike now?

Some people are into bicycle maintenance. They get a kick out of lubricating derailleurs and messing with thingamabobs. (See ecovelo) These are the same people who spend pretty Saturdays waxing their cars, if they own them. I am decidedly not one of those people. Quite the opposite. I neglect maintenance even when I know it’s wrong.

Sparkling Clean Oma and Betty

Sparkling Clean Oma and Betty

Today Oma and Betty Foy both got their first real scrub-downs since I adopted them. Yes, that means Oma has been through nearly a year with me, including a grueling winter, without a thorough cleaning. Betty has gone through a milder four months. The process was simple: I used Seventh Generation lilac dish detergent (gentle on the earth), a pan of water, a washcloth, special chain goop, and an iPod pumping sweet jams.

Very different bikes

Very different bikes

Oma’s cleaning took only five minutes. Betty’s took an hour and a lot of scrubbing. *&%$#@ grease. *&%$#@ derailler. &%$#@! chain. Words cannot express how much easier it is to maintain Oma. Everything is neat and enclosed. Failure to clean her will not affect her performance at all. For people like me, who simply want to ride their bikes and need reliable everyday transportation, Oma is perfect.

Betty Foy is gorgeous, but I really need to say on top of her maintenance. Heart lugs are not so pretty caked with road mess. Sometimes I worry that I’m not an appropriate guardian for such a nice and finicky bike. If there were a social services for bicycles, someone would have reported me by now!

Clean but slightly chipped frame (boo)

Clean but slightly chipped frame (boo)

How do you keep up with bike maintenance (or not)? Do you have a schedule that you follow? Any tricks of the trade or motivational words you’d like to share? :)

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60 thoughts on “Zen and the art of…oh screw this! Can I ride my bike now?

  1. Gordon Inkeles says:

    I got this cleaning routine from of one of our local cycling gurus & have used it for a few years:

    Clean frame with soap and water. Dry. Polish with LEMON PLEDGE.

    The results? Good beyond hope!

    When it comes to the chain and gears, you’re on your own. I use Obenauf’s goop on my Brooks seat twice a year, per Rivendell’s suggestion.

  2. I repair my bike when it breaks or gets broken for me, but it doesn’t break often so mostly I just ride it. The rain cleans it well enough for me. I do occasionally swap parts in order to test them: headlamps, brakes and rims for example… but that’s my job.

    I just replaced the rear tire after riding it every day for four years without a single puncture. The original tire wasn’t actually worn out but it was UV damaged from outdoor life. Now I have one white and one orange tire. I cleaned and adjusted the chain while the chain case was open.

    I wrote a blog post about my bike and its maintenance about a year ago: http://www.bakfiets-en-meer.nl/2008/10/23/henrys-own-daily-ride/

  3. cupcakerator says:

    They look so lovely!

    I’ve never scrubbed down my darling bike…yet. Maybe I’ll do that for the Tweed Ride. Make her sparkle.

  4. Mamavee says:

    I never knew people cleaned their bikes. But I will say I do want to wash the Sorte. Keep the fenders shining. I often bike past the High school on days they are having a car wash. I’m always tempted to have them wash my bike. I mainly don’t b/c they might mess it up. I think I need to do it myself…

  5. My Schwinn cruiser looks like I’ve used it to do a bit more than just road cycling. I’ve thought of cleaning it, but just haven’t. I think the Red Beast revels in its dirt; like a badge of honor.

    My wife’s Electra Amsterdam (Willow) has the same advantages as Oma, though we also take her every so often to the bike shop for a proper tune-up and re-greasing. In fact, she’s due for a visit soon.

    I’ll see if Red Beast wants a bath at some point. I figure one day we’ll get caught in the Miami ninja rain (it falls on you out of nowhere then it’s gone!) and that’ll be that.

  6. Deb says:

    I ride in all weather, but I think it is car crap that ends up all over my bike. I don’t do much maintenance – I clean and lube the chain about once every 2 weeks. I don’t have a strict schedule, but when I start to hear the chain, I have to clean it, it drives me crazy to start to squeak like that. (I have one of those chain cleaning tools, which reduces the mess, though it doesn’t eliminate it.)

    I’ve had the brake pads replaced (by someone else, I don’t know how to do these things), and I’ll likely take it in for a full service in October, when it’s off season and they can do it faster. It’s been a bit over a year since I got my bike and started commuting, and there are things that need adjustment, but mostly it just keeps on trucking.

    Sometimes I read about these other bloggers who do their own bike maintenance, and I’m sort of jealous. I just don’t know how. Nor do I have the tools or a place to do the work. But they also seem to get some enjoyment out of it. I think it is like gardening. If you enjoy it, it’s time well spent. If you don’t, it is just a chore.

  7. 2whls3spds says:

    Most of my vintage rides get wiped down with a lightly oiled ragged after a decent ride (British bikes). My daily rider gets cleaned when I get around to it. When I first get a bike I break them down completely repack all the bearings, oil, replace parts and thoroughly clean (even brand new ones). Then it is whenever something needs attention, typically in the winter when I have a bit of down time.


  8. Yvette (Slow Bike Miami wife contingent) says:

    Yeah, what he said, only it’s been almost a year since my Willow got any attention. Still rides perfectly, tho, so… I just feel like I *ought* to take her in for a tune-up and regreasing (and I guess a wash), but I don’t know that she needs it…

    Husband it right that the Amsterdam affords many of the same advantages as Oma. Course, Willow’s not quite as Euro-loverly as the Oma (me wants, me wants!) but I’ll never ever tell her that, of course! :D

    Love the blog, btw. Glad I stumbled upon it (thank you, Husband dear…)

  9. dukiebiddle says:

    The paint is chipped on the Betty Foy? *gasp* From cleaning? *gasp gasp* Or from a tumble? I’ve heard that some of the higher to medium end bicycles that are using Chinese/Taiwanese built frames, although otherwise great, are recieving sub par paint jobs at the factory. Apparently Kogswell is being upfront with their customers about it and telling them to get a professional powder coat before building their bikes up. I researching for a possible new bike and trying to decide between Rivendell, Kogswell or Velo Orange, and all three use Chinese built frames.

    • dottie says:

      There are chips in the spot where the grease built up below the chain and a couple small random chips on the top tube from every day use, I guess. The powder coating on Oma seems like it might be tougher, but maybe I am simply much more accepting of scratches and chips on her (plus they show up much less on the black frame).

  10. dottie says:

    Oh, and to clarify, Oma has had some maintenance by Stephan at Dutch Bike Chicago (chain lubed, etc) just no serious cleaning by me.

  11. businessman says:

    Wait a minute…you spend thousands on a fancy bike that you then refuse to clean?

  12. I do not clean my bikes, and am not even very good at maintaining the saddles with Proofide, to my husband’s dismay. The husband does oil the bikes after I ride them in the rain, which is very nice of him.

    Could you please elaborate what you mean about the Betty Foy being finicky and the paint chipping? Some of the Rivendells I have seen on the shop floor have chipped paint, and I had been wondering about that.

    • dukiebiddle says:

      I was thinking of you (and your potential mixtie) when I stumbled across a forum discussion about the Chinese frames. Kogswell, it seems, is acknowledging that the paint jobs they are receiving on their Asian built frames are sub par. Kogswell says it is a problem with all Asian frames and are recommending you powder coat your bike prior to building them up.

    • dottie says:

      No more finicky than any other “normal” bike. In fact, much more reliable than my old Jamis commuter that constantly dropped its chain. I’m just not used to dealing with grease, shifters and stuff after using only Oma for several months. The one real finicky problem is that the brake pads rub against the tire rims and no one can seem to fix it, but that’s a topic for another day.

      As for the paint, I’m not sure if the paint job is sub-par or if it’s simply a normal side effect of heavy use. There are only a few very small chips on the top tube and then a lot of even smaller chips under the chain. It is hard to deal with, though, because it’s such a pretty bike. I bought a Rivendell partially because it seemed like a good tough bike, so hopefully that holds true.

      • dukiebiddle says:

        I’m sorry. Now I feel like a big fat jerk for throwing around terms like “sub par;” a very poor choice of words. I’m slapping myself in the head right now. It is a good tough bike, obviously, and Erich below pointed handsome leather solution. Besides, what doesn’t look sexier with leather straps? Rawr! Why should bikes be any different?

        • dottie says:

          I like the idea of leather straps :) The paint job might be sub-par, at least compared to powder coating. For now I will deal with clear nail polish. It’s not a big problem, nothing I would notice without close inspection.

      • gordon Inkeles says:

        I got a small bottle of touchup paint from Rivendell to match my bike.

      • Your Betty has friction shifters, right? I can’t deal with the friction shifters on my Motobecane, so I just don’t use them and ride the bike as a single speed. I wonder whether the modern ones are easier.

        • dottie says:

          I actually love the friction shifters and shift around all the time. Great to have 24 options. For the front chain ring I have to fiddle a bit to get it placed perfectly where the chain doesn’t rub the shifter, but I’m getting better at it.

  13. Doohickie says:

    Since the average age of my four daily riders is 30 years and their running bits are mostly original, I figure my bikes were designed for abuse. Knowing that, maintenance seems pointless. If something breaks, I fix it. There. Done. Now let’s go ride a bike.

  14. Erich says:

    One of the easiest parts to chip is the chainstay on the frame right below the chain. As soon as the chain inevitably falls off, you’ve got chips. Manufacturers know this, and provide protective covers there often, but many high end bikes eschew the protection for the sake of showroom looks. I’d advise getting a protective cover for Betty, and VO has a leather one cheaply that’d look smart.

    As for maintenance, I’m not the break down a bike seasonally type, nor do I wash the commuter after each heavy ride. I lube it when it squeaks, tighten things when they rattle, and clean it when I feel like it. Paint chips are inevitable on a commuter.

  15. antisociology says:

    Usually, I tear down and rebuild my race bike twice a year. Once in the springtime when I replace wear items (usually bar tape, chain, and cables) and once in the late fall. The second tear down is mostly just to have a chance to inspect everything up close to make sure there’s nothing that needs attention and that everything is as it should be. I also just like working on the bike. It’s a sort of ritual that I look forward to.

    My commuter gets much less attention. Well, I’ve had it less than a year, so we’ll see. I don’t think it will take much looking after.

    Both bikes get their tires aired up before I take them out, and a chain “cleaning” and relubing every week (race bike) or three (commuter).

  16. Brrr says:

    I ride daily, rain or shine, so they get muddy enough that they need it. Sand in the gears is no fun, and brakes get to the point where they just don’t work.

    So, I just clean my bikes at the car wash a couple of times a year whenever the gunk builds up.$1 on the wand wash, and a couple of pain free minutes, and I’m ready to ride again.

  17. i do love all the cool biking info on your blog :)
    dottie…when i posted the pic of the pink bike, i totally thought of you and wondered if you already had one….3 bikes wouldn’t be too many, would it? :)
    thanks so much for visiting, i always enjoy your comments

  18. Dean Peddle says:

    With 6 bikes you can imagine cleaning is a chore so over the years I’ve perfected my cleaning routine making it as fast as possible. This even means using the right degreaser (Pez Orange) and chain cleaning tool (Park) and big car cleaning brushes. But the key is what you already know….ride Oma. I too never clean my Dutch bike. I rode for 2 years including a good 2 good Canadian winters and when I took the chain guard off to fly the chain was spotless!!! What you need to do is make Oma your rain bike and and keep Betty away from the rain. Also, as you know maintaining the chain is no fun….I like to just forgoe it and change the chain every 3 months. Nothing like a new clean shinny chain on the bike…$20 well spent.

  19. Dean Peddle says:

    Dottie….rubbing brake pad is no fun…extra work for no reason :( I’m sure you bike shops have tried the obvious but if cable housing is too short it will cause the brake to rub to one side. Looking at your front end view of Betty It looks like your front break doesn’t “loop” enough. Is it the front that gives you trouble? Sorry to pry but this is a maintanance discussion :) Something to try if it hasn’t been thought of.

    • dottie says:

      The rubbing brake pad problem is mostly on the back rim. The place I brought it to worked on it for a while and eventually changed out a bit of the housing to make it more flexible, but the problem remains. A reader recently recommended a particular shop, so I might swing by there sometime. Or I might take my husband’s advice and try to figure it out myself.

      • antisociology says:

        Does it rub constantly, or just at certain spots around the rim. If the former, it might just need to be centered. If the later, the wheel might need to be trued.

  20. antisociology says:

    Consider paint chips a “patina of use”. :-)

  21. I have to admit, I am a bit fixated on this. I clean my bikes. I polish them, as well. The older ones need it to keep the paint from rusting more, and my Batavus is too pretty to be road grimy. The mixte has never been cleaned properly and it is causing problems with the derailleur, so this weekend the whole thing is coming apart and I will clean out and repack the bottom bracket and the headset (both of which grind with dirt and dryness) and scrub every other part I can get my hands on : )

    I had to laugh when I saw your bikes together. My Bat and my mixte look quite similar side by side. I will have to take a picture!

  22. anna says:

    Well, I do the absolute minimum on bike maintenance, but that I try to do well. There are simply daily/weekly/monthly/yearly rules to remember on the art of cycle maintenance (scroll down): http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2007/mar/03/guardianspecial4.guardianspecial26

  23. Charlotte says:

    Hmmm, well I hate maintenance too but I hate paying the bike shop to maintain my bike even more. I rub down the enamel paint bikes with an oily rag. I wipe off the clear-coated mountain bike with a sudsy rag (Filigree – Dottie’s heart-shaped lug problem is why I’m really not into lugs for mountain bikes!) My darling husband is largely responsible for drivetrain issues while I handle my brakes on my own (though often he will help). We also do the once-yearly overhauls with bearings getting repacked, etc. What a difference that makes, even if it doesn’t seem like it in the moment.

  24. Cyclin Missy says:

    Heh heh! Hmm. That’s a good reminder! I should give my bikes a bath before they get put away for the winter. I definitely don’t clean my bikes often enough!

  25. Ernie says:

    I agree with Cyclin Missy, my bridgestone was washed when she was stolen and my riv has not been washed in who knows when. I do enjoy washing my bikes.

  26. Tad Salyards says:

    Long live the fully enclosed chain case! It truly is a thing of absolute practicality.

  27. Trisha says:

    Can I second the feeling expressed in this post title? Like a few other commenters I could have written it, with different bikes of course! The Bat never seems to get dirty (although I’m sure if I wiped it down with a rag it might tell a different story) but poor Le Peug, which went through the rainy spring with me, could use a wash. Desperately. I have a feeling the iPod pumping sweet jams will be a key ingredient in getting me to clean them up.

  28. Tad Salyards says:

    You two should start a radio show – “Sweet Jams with Dottie and Trisha.”

  29. Ok, I admit that I like my bikes to be clean.I am not OCD about it, but I cannot stand a squeaky chain or something along those lines.

    Even if it is a beautiful day!

  30. Doohickie says:

    You know, I have the rubbing brake problem on my Schwinn Varsity. I figure it’s just part of the nature of the bike. It makes noise but does it seriously slow me down? No. It makes lots of other interesting noises too. I guess it’s easier to label rubbing, creaking and rattling noises as “interesting” when the bike is 36 years old, though.

  31. Lilia Pilia says:

    I love my bikes when they are clean, but it’s only happened once. At the moment only one is in working condition which I think means I need to give the other 3 some love… and the one that works needs oil on its chain. Yup, I plead guilty!

    I also wanted to say that I love the title of this post.

  32. How are you cleaning your bike? What do you use/etc?

    That would probably be a great topic for Bike Shop Girl

  33. Elisa M says:

    I try to clean my bike once a week. Of course, I work at a bike shop, so I have down time in which to do this. Before that, I was terrible with maintenance. However, these days I can tell the difference between a well cleaned bike and one in need of a good cleaning and lubing. I ride really dirty, chudded out roads and often get road grit and car oil and crap all over my bike. If you clean it often, it only takes about 5 mine. However, I know that most people can’t and won’t do it. So I say just keep it clean enough to prevent damage.
    And sweet tunes are definitely part of the cleaning equation!

  34. Alex says:

    darn it! now I have to go wash my bike this weekend.

  35. AJ Lea says:

    Ah, I’m afraid I fall into the “Zen and the art of bike maintenence” on this one. I love the feel of a well-tuned, clean, perfectly lubed machine.
    I can feel road grime between the pins of a chain and on the tips of brake cables.

    How often do I do maintenence?… ummm … before I ride the bike… everytime…
    I felt bad when I rode my regular commuter for three days without a cleaning and chain lubing.
    But I was also a professional bicycle mechanic with customers that would demand me specifically by name. Is that an excuse? I’m really not OCD, I promise…

  36. somervillain says:

    wow, i think i am definitely in the minority here, as someone fairly obsessed with regular maintenance. i tend to distinguish maintenance from washing, as washing is generally superficial to the functioning of the bike. i do like a clean bike, but i don’t consider it maintenance. as a collector of vintage bikes, i tend to make sure that everything is properly lubed, adjusted, torqued, aligned, trued, and generally on-spec. i have only one bike out of about a half-dozen where i will neglect maintenance, and that’s on my beater bike which i ride about 50-75% of the time. this bike gets a fair share of abuse by getting rained on, snowed on, knocked over in bike racks, and loaded down with things like groceries, packages and small children. i never wash it, and i give it a tune-up about once a year. i consider that fairly lax, bordering on neglectful. however, the moment i “feel” that something is askew– a wheel out of true, a squealing brake, a rattle– i usually tackle it right away, on an as-needed basis.

    my other bikes get babied– they stay in a dry basement, and generally never see bad weather.

    on the other hand, if i didn’t have the mechanical wherewithall to do my own bicycle repair and maintenance as needed, i would probably not get my bikes tuned more than once a year (or only when things broke), simply because it costs, and there is a cost/benefit factor which must be considered. doing maintenance myself generally costs nothing beyond the initial investment in the appropriate tools.

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