Howdy Fat-bike Family! It’s that time of year again… the days are getting longer, the sun is packing some more btu’s, and the snow is turning to slush. For most of us in the Northern Hemisphere, Spring is just around the corner… can you feel it?!
Speaking of feeling it, do you feel that extra crunchiness when you pedal? How about that strange groaning sound? Is your chain orange? Is that the bottom bracket? Do your brakes sound like there’s a flock of angry geese stuck in them, honking angrily at every opportunity? Even if your bike isn’t giving you these obvious cries for help, the coming of Spring and the end of the snow and slush is the perfect time to give your fat-tired friend a good delousing.
In this post, we aim to toss you some good tips and home care practices that will not only keep your fatty out of the shop during the Spring rush, but also keep it spinning happily into the next season. For full disclosure, some photos were taken in the bicycle shop where I work, as my un-finished, dimly lit basement doesn’t lend very well to good photos. All products used are of my own personal choice and not endorsed or imposed upon by anyone other than myself. (Except for Coors – If you read this Coors Brewing – send me beer!)
1.) A dedicated workspace.
This in no way has to be elaborate or expensive, just a space where you can easily hang your bike in an easy to work on position. Obviously, a home repair stand is nice, but I’ve seen PVC pipes, ropes looped around rafters, etc. employed here, and if it gets your rig off the floor and is somewhat stable, then game on. If your spot is in the house, having some old carpet squares or old towels underneath to catch melt off is nice, as is having an air compressor handy to help blast some crud out of hard to dry off places (please take care not to force water and other shit into bearings, freehubs, suspension, etc. with direct blasts). Have a small complement of tools, rags, degreasers and cleaners close at hand; Finish Line’s Speed and Citrus degreasers, Super Bike Wash and Pedro’s Bike Lust are among my favorites.
A convenient, dedicated space with a few supplies will make that quick wipe down even quicker, and bigger tasks like removing the chain, dropping the wheels out and giving your bike a good clean easier and faster.
Nothing fancy. Work stand, some tools, a few cleaning supplies and a Coors. (Lance poster in the background to serve as a reminder that I used to be a roadie).
2.) A clean bike is a happy bike.
Taking into account everything from the previous suggestion, use that space and those things to give your bike some love! My O.C.D. fairly dictates that I detail my bike after almost every ride, which can be exhausting. I will say that, without a doubt, bikes that are more routinely cleaned and cared for by their owners perform better and more quietly, and that potential issues are usually identified when cleaning, before it becomes a failure.
3.) A master-link + master-link pliers.
Further to keeping your rig running tip top, the drivetrain should be the apple of your eye. Keeping your chain, cassette, chainring(s) and derailleur pulleys as devoid of excess gunk as possible, the smoother it will run, and the longer it will all last. Nothing makes this process easier than having a master-link in your chain, and a Park MLP 1.2 in your toolbox. Before I even take my wheels off, I pop the chain off and either spray it off in the sink or plop it into a little container of citrus degreaser to soak while I work on the rest of the bike. Rinse with warm water and dry completely by wiping it off or blasting dry with air before re-installing.
4.) Honky tonk brakes.
What to do while that chain is soaking? Well, this is a great time to drop the wheels off the bike; this makes cleaning the frame easier, as well as giving better access to clean up the chainring(s), front derailleur (if you still have one), and run a rag through the cassette while the rear wheel is out of the bike. Winter seems to bring out the worst in brake noises, so while you’ve got your wheels off the bike, why not pull the brake pads out quick? Use a new rag or clean paper towel, put a bit of isopropyl alcohol on there and give the pads a wipe off – use a fresh part of the rag/towel for each pad. Afterward, put a piece of sandpaper on an even, flat surface and slide the pad across it a few times; just until you’ve gotten the glaze off and down to a “fresh” surface. Wipe the rotors off with the alcohol in the same way, then give em a good scrub with some of the “for metal” brown Scotch Brite pads.
5.) Find your bearings.
This is a harder one to do at home. Winter riding brings a lot of temperature fluctuation, moisture exposure and the like. If you’ve got the wheels out of the bike, grab that axle and give it a spin. Same with your crank & bottom bracket, headset and any suspension parts. If the bearings are all smooth and quiet, you’re all good! If your bearings are loud (as in, the grease is gone!) or feel notched out, it’s probably time to replace those.
6.) Cables, housing and hydro.
It’s true… the future is here. There are lots of bikes out there with zero cables. Electronic shifting and hydraulic brakes!? It’s really only a matter of time before the machines become self-aware and take over. Most fat-bikes are going one-by, and regardless, our drivetrains remain mostly cable actuated. After a Winter of use, less than ten bucks in parts will get you new shift cables & housing, and it’s the easiest, fastest way to make your bike feel more lively. You got one of those seatposts that go hooody doot doot? Maybe replace the cable and housing on that, too. If you’re all hydro, cool. If it hasn’t been bled in a year or two, you might want to do that.
7.) The Devil’s in the details.
Let’s say you rode the piss out of your bike all Winter, and it seems fine… nothing to see here, folks. Well, there are a few things to do “just to make sure” things stay that way; like luring in Radon with raw mystery meat. Pull your seatpost, h2O bolts, QR or TA’s, stem/handlebar bolts, etc., grease and reinstall. We don’t need a repeat of Uncle Gomez’s seized seatpost!
8.) Confidently sally forth into the next season.
In the amount of time it took me to write this post, you probably could have done everything listed above! A little bit of TLC after a hard winter will see that your fat-bike will carry you through the rest of the year; the part where we don’t have to worry about snow, slush, -20 degrees, etc. Fat-bikes quickly transcended the “snow bike” moniker, and now that so many of us use them all year ’round, a recovery from the hardships of Winter will help all of us and our two-wheeled pals roll toward another blissful Spring and Summer.
While working on your own bike is rewarding and cost saving, you may still occasionally run across something during steps 2 – 7 that is confusing, janky feeling, bent or broken. In this scenario, don’t hesitate to take your rig to your nearest friendly bike shop, where it’s a solid bet your mechanic enjoys coffee, La Croix and/or beer… wink wink.