Wheel Maintenance 101

The Winter can be a hard time on the bike, grit gets into the mechs, rust seeps in on the screws and bolts, your lovely summer bar tape has turned an unwanted colour. Then you start to hear that noise, that rattling from below your legs, it's the bearings. Then you hear you a hissing sound from the rear, you've rolled over the smallest piece of flint and it's so embedded in the tyre, you can't find it and realise you have used up your 2 spare tubes already and have to walk the remaining 3 miles to work...that's not far fetched, that actually happened to us the other week! Anyway, if someone had taught me maintenance all those years ago when we first took up cycling, we would of saved a bucket loads of money on servicing every few months! If you're still in that position, Ben Sharp from Sharp Precision Wheels has kindly offered his top tips in maintaining your wheels and it's parts this Winter and we confess, we're guilty of some of his no no's...!

Winter is tough. Out in the freezing cold and rain busting your lungs on potholed roads which wouldn’t look out of place in a war movie, your bike and kit are subjected to equally harrowing stresses. When I started Sharp Precision Wheels it was an immediate priority to produce a set of care instructions to accompany my wheels. There are plenty of problems which can be prevented from ever occurring, and during the winter months when riders are cleaning bikes more often, it pays dividends to look after your kit properly. Here are some top tips on caring for your wheels year-round:

1. RIP Jet Washer

Using high-pressure water on your wheels forces water inside rims through the spoke drillings, and into hub shells and bottom brackets that need to stay dry. It also forces out the grease which is needed to keep these parts running smoothly. Even in the winter, a damp microfibre cloth is often the best way to clean your bike after a mucky ride. A dry microfibre cloth works wonders on your chain and does a great job when flossed between cassette sprockets. If you do need more water, then make sure it’s low pressure.

2: Ditch the Chain Cleaner and get a quick link.

Using a chain cleaner filled with degreaser is a quick and easy way to clean your chain and sprockets, but frequent use can play havoc with the rest of your drivetrain. Degreaser quickly runs from your chain into jockey wheels, down the cassette into the rear freehub, and towards the bottom bracket area, where it sets to work stripping the grease these parts need to function correctly, causing premature wear. For the same reason it’s never a good idea to spray degreaser directly onto the cassette when it is still mounted to the wheel. Try to remove wheels from the bike for cleaning and invest in a quick link so that you can easily remove your chain when it needs a deep clean, or a frame mounted pulley so that you can use a chain cleaner without the wheels in the bike. If your cassette needs serious attention, remove the sprockets from the wheel before you get to work with the degreaser.

3: Find a pH neutral cleaner.

Salty roads have a devastating effect on alloy bike components over the winter, eating away silently at your pride and joy. However, some of the worst corrosion cases I have seen have been accelerated by the use of aggressive bike cleaners which have not been rinsed off thoroughly. Cleaner tends to accumulate in hard to reach areas: under spokes on hub flanges or inside rim cavities and speeds up corrosion when you’re trying to prevent it. There are pH neutral cleaners out there like Autoglym Car Shampoo, or Duck-Smart “Earth Mover” which do a great job and are less harsh.

4: Grease your freehub body splines.

Always grease freehub body splines when putting a cassette back on. Not only will it help protect the alloy from corrosion, it also helps to reduce friction between the splines and the sprockets, helping to reduce gouging or damage to light alloy freehubs.

5: Changing wheels? Check your mech.

Whatever your reason for swapping out a set of wheels, double check the high and low limit screws on your rear mech before riding. Modern drivetrains with narrow chains run at very tight tolerances and it only takes a small difference in rear hub design to cause your rear mech to be out of alignment. Worst case scenario: you shift up into your spokes on the first ride out.

6: Pothole damage? Get it checked by a professional.

If you’ve clattered your wheels hard on a pothole and they are out of true, there may also be problems which are harder to see. Give your wheels a clean and inspect the hub flanges and rims closely for tiny cracks. If they are out of true, especially in the case of carbon rims, get them to a wheel builder or a mechanic who does a lot of wheel work ASAP. If a carbon rim is left in a deformed state for extended periods of time, it can be much harder for the wheel builder to bring it back to life. The most important thing is to make sure that the wheel is repaired with due consideration for even spoke tension. If the rim has been physically fatigued by the impact, it may well be impossible to return it to adequately true without using excessive and imbalanced spoke tension: something which will only lead to a rapid deterioration of the wheel in future riding. A good wheel builder will be able to evaluate how bad the damage is, advise you on the durability of their repair, and in the worst-case scenario advise on a replacement rim or hub.

7: Be mindful of servicing needs.

Always take some time to critically evaluate your own riding. How many miles are you doing? Are you out there in the rain and cold every weekend training? How dirty are the roads you ride? Preventative maintenance is almost always less expensive than trying to repair something which has been run into the ground. Check your brake pads and tyres for embedded debris occasionally, get those hubs serviced before the bearings expire to prevent further damage to the freehub, it all helps.

8: Save the race wheels for the summer.

I’m constantly amazed by the number of riders running lightweight race wheels on their bike year-round. Crucifying Dura Ace C24’s through the winter months is not an economical option. Rim-brake riders in particular should consider a more traditionally designed wheel for use in the bleak winter months. Even most off the shelf wheels which are thought of as “training wheels” are essentially just cheap race wheels, with low spoke counts and proprietary lacing patterns which will do you no favours if you have a problem 50 miles from home on a rainy Sunday. A proper training wheel is reassuringly solid, so that when do you put the lightweight race wheels back in your legs feel stronger. It should be easy to service, tough and reliable, with the option of an economical rebuild after hard miles in the grime or a crash.

For most of us time is a luxury in short supply. Winter is a great time to take stock of your habits on and off the bike and make small improvements which will hopefully prevent unnecessary problems and keep things running smoothly for as long as possible.


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