How to avoid the most common mechanical problems for road bikes

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You’re just seconds away from slamming your house’s door and hitting the road. Every kilometer carries you farther and farther from your worries, the sun is smiling to you and everything seems a-ok. Except for those days when Murphy is on call. If you don’t carry a spare tube with you, you’ll puncture. If you have one, you’ll puncture twice. Bring along two spare tubes and your chain will break. All in a bad day’s work! What begins on the wrong foot ends worse, but there are a few measures we can take in order to avoid some of the most common mechanical issues that occur during a ride.

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Before getting to the actual problems, let’s get a look at the bigger picture of mechanical problems. Basically, there are a few guidelines that, when respected, will keep the rolling mechanism called “bicycle” running smoothly, regardless if you’re competing, training or just riding for the sake of riding.

Firstly, it’s about keeping your bike clean, because a clean bike facilitates the activity known as “observation”. When the bike is clean, you can check for cracks of the frame, especially at critical points such as the lugs, welds or other joints, that can often lead to the unhappy event of crashing. Likewise, when the drivetrain is clean and greased it offers better traction, a smoother functioning of the derailleurs, and prevents the timely wear of the components that make it up (chain, cogs, chainwheels, derailleur pulleys). When the rims have no filth on them the calipers can ensure maximum grip when pressing on the braking surface, and after you wipe the mud off the tires you can check them for different debris that can cause a puncture.

Then, it’s good to remind yourself that lubricants and the bike go hand in hand. A set of calbe housings with enough lube, a chain having the appropriate amount of grease on it, as well as a headset and some hubs in the same situation help the bicycle reach its maximum potential, designed by the people who engineered it. Keep in mind cleaning all the parts that need lubrication, as dust, mud and filth stick easily to the grease.

Last, but not least, in order to prevent mechanical breakdowns of a bicycle, it must be used in the way it was designed to be used. Expect awful experiences if you plan on taking a “not for actual mountain biking” mountainbike across the trails in the Alps, or a “not for racing” road bike on the roads of the Dolomites. Respect the guidelines the manufacturer offered, otherwise you’re in for some nasty rides. As a comparison, it’s like trying to shoot magazine cover photos with your mobile phone, except that camera won’t break underneath you when your descending at 80 km/h.

In the following, we wrote down the most common mechanical issues you will probably encounter during road riding, and also ways to prevent them.

Tire puncture – Probably the most often mishappening and, in most cases, the easiest one to avoid. The causes can be several, from hitting an obstacle (pothole, elevated sewer cover etc) with your wheel, to the oh-so-familiar shards of glass, thorns or other debries that are commonly found on the side of the road, or even a tire explosion. In professional cycling, puncturing is mainly considered a “piloting error” since hitting one of those obstacles implies that you weren’t paying attention to the road. So, as long as you keep your eyes on the road, avoid shards, inflate the tires to the recommended pressure, and replace at least annually your tires and tubes, you should considerably reduce the odds of having a flat. Also, replace your inner tube if it had more than a couple of punctures. That leaves the situation when your tire explodes, in which case there is little to do other than carry with you a replacement tire (only foldable ones can really be taken along on a ride) or a clincher tubular. And yes, always check your tires before heading out for riding.

Broken chain – As cassettes grew more and more sprockets, the chain became subject to increased wear and got thinner. Subsequently, chain maintenance got more important, as well as properly using it, which you can see below, with the mention that the smaller chainring of a double crankset takes the role of the lower two of a triple crankset. Bottom line – don’t put the chain in a cross position, because this will lead to faster wear and bigger chances of breaking it.

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Powerful strokes when accelerating can also lead to busting your chain, and also links that have minor defects. If you detect (and you should, if your bike is clean!) any issues with it, first solve them, then go riding. You wouldn’t want to be left without a chain 50 kilometers from home, would you?

Derailleur malfunction – Lower tier components, especially derailleurs, must be regularly adjusted if they are used on a frequent basis, even more so when outside conditions like rain, mud or even dust occur, as they can interfere with their functioning. So besides properly lubricating the derailleurs, you can also adjust them during riding from the jonction point between the housing and the frame.

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Don’t forget about the screws – Before starting to ride, check the mounting screws of the chainwheels, of the derailleurs and of the cockpit components if they’re tightened enough. Otherwise, various parts may come off or come loose resulting sometimes in injuries.

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