Mountain Gear

Tech FAQ: Clean and No Freakin’ Squeakin’

A reader is concerned concerned about not making things worse by washing out lubricants or by washing dirt into bearings, or overlubing. Singletrack.com's mechanical master, Lennard Zinn, has some pointers.

Dear Lennard,
I recently requested and received Zinn & the Art of MTB Maintenance for my birthday. I am especially concerned to improve the general maintenance, cleaning and lubing of my own and my family’s bikes.

“Do not expect parts to work by washing them and then not lubricating them. They will get dry and squeaky.”  4th Edition, p.36 Section ii-17b.

What I am wondering about is what else to lubricate after washing the bike and how to do it without making things worse. All the small moving parts (levers, cables, bearings, bushes, derailleur mechanisms, brake mechanisms, shocks and forks, wheel bearing seals…).

I think some of these may be mentioned in the relevant sections, but certainly having it all together in the cleaning and maintenance section would be really helpful to me.

I am concerned not to make things worse, by washing out the lubricants, by washing dirt into bearings, by overlubing. Somewhere I saw, the book says NOT to overlubricate, it just attracts dirt etc, and a few places it makes similar warnings, but doesn’t seem to give good instructions on what to do.

Most of the lubricants available in bike shops seem to be sold in bottles designed to spill as much as possible over the entire area.
— Laurence

Read LZ’s answer below his video.

Dear Laurence,
I recommend wiping the area after dripping oil on things and then again after you ride and dust has stuck to it. Lubing is always better than not lubing, even if you leave excess around.

And you’re right, I should have what, how and when to lubricate your bicycle’s parts to keep it in optimal condition all in one place, in addition to where they already are in each chapter. So here you go. These recommended time intervals are based on the assumption that you ride your bike on trails around four hours/week for six months out of the year. If you ride more or in exceptionally wet and muddy or sandy conditions, more maintenance and lubrication is required, and the converse is obviously true as well.

While these rules are by no means written in stone, they are good guidelines. Feel free to offer feedback on these suggestions.

CHAIN

Wipe and lube the chain after every time you wash your bike (wipe the chainrings, cogs and jockey wheels while you’re at it). I also recommend lubing your chain after every ride or two, and after every ride during which it got wet. And since I will get a lot of letters about what chain lube to use, I will simply say that I use ProGold ProLink. And yes, I lube my chain after every ride (I keep dish gloves, lube, and a rag next to where I hang my bike). I find time to shower after every ride, so I can find a couple of minutes to wipe and lube my drivetrain as well.

Check your chain’s wear with a chain wear indicator or ruler (as described in Ch. 4 in your book) and replace it when indicated.

CABLES AND HOUSINGS

A half dozen times/season, and more if you ride in wet conditions and/or wash your bike frequently, pop the housings out of their cable stops, slide them up the cable, lube the cable with light oil, and slide the housings back in place.

Wherever I mention light oil, I use Pedro’s Syn Lube.

Once every season or two, replace the cables and housings.

DERAILLEURS AND SHIFTERS

Every time or two that you wash the bike, drip light oil on the derailleur pivots and spring ends.

A couple of times a season, overhaul your jockey wheels if you have the standard bushing type. With cartridge bearing jockey wheels, peel off the dust covers and add grease once per season and more if the wheels become noticeably harder to turn.

Squirt spray lube inside trigger shifters a couple of times per season. Overhaul twist shifters whenever they get sticky.

WHEELS

Lubricate the freewheel mechanism a couple of times per season (more in wet conditions).

Overhaul loose-bearing hubs once/year (more in wet conditions).

Lubricate or replace hub cartridge bearings every couple of seasons or when they make noise or become harder to turn.

BRAKES

Pull cantilever and V-brakes off of their pivot bosses and re-grease them every year or two and whenever they get sticky. Drip light oil on lever pivots and the arm pivot on mechanical disc-brake calipers after every time or two that you wash the bike.

Clean and lubricate (with the brake fluid for your brake) the outside of the hydraulic-disc pistons in the caliper whenever they get shoved out too far and you have to push them back in to get them to clear the rotor.

Bleed hydraulic brakes whenever they become mushy and require pumping the lever due to air inside; otherwise bleed them every season or two and more if brake performance drops off or if the fluid in the reservoir looks dirty or dark.

BOTTOM BRACKETS

Once per season (more in wet conditions), peel the bearing covers from bearings on integrated-spindle cranks and other bottom brackets with cartridge bearings you can get at, and add grease. Overhaul loose-bearing bottom brackets a couple of times per season (more in wet conditions). Replace closed-cartridge bottom brackets as indicated by turning resistance or noise.

PEDALS

Drip light oil on the springs after every time you wash the bike. Also after every washing, drip wax-based (dry) lube (i.e., White Lightning or Pedro’s Ice) on the cleat-contact areas.

With Shimano and other loose-bearing pedals, pull out the axles and overhaul them once per season and more under wet conditions. Do the same with other pedals with bushings inside. Lubricate the inboard bearing on pedals with cartridge bearings and no bushings inside perhaps once every couple of years, unless you pedal through water crossings, in which case do this every season or more.

SADDLES

Lube the edge of the saddle where it contacts the rail or seatpost clamp whenever it squeaks.

SEATPOSTS

Pull the seatpost out and re-grease it monthly. Turn the bike upside down overnight and let the seat tube drain with the seatpost out after every wet ride or washing.

FORKS

Wipe clean suspension-fork stanchions and dust wipers with a rag after every ride. Drain and replace the oil bath and replace the seals and wipers any time your fork pushes down in a sticky stair-step fashion rather than smoothly and every season or two and more frequently if the stanchions are scratched or excessive oil comes out of the fork on every ride.

FRAMES

Wipe clean the rear shock body and dust wiper with a rag after every ride. Overhaul the air can twice per season.

Lubricate pivots that have Zerk fittings with a grease gun after every few rides. Drip oil on bushing pivots monthly and after every time you wash the bike. Peel pivot cartridge bearing covers and grease the bearings (or replace the bearings) every season or two and whenever they get noisy or loose.
—   Lennard

Technical writer Lennard Zinn is a frame builder (www.zinncycles.com), a former U.S. national team rider and author of numerous books on bikes and bike maintenance including the pair of successful maintenance guides “Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance” – now available also on DVD, and “Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance,” as well as “Zinn and the Art of Triathlon Bikes” and “Zinn’s Cycling Primer: Maintenance Tips and Skill Building for Cyclists.”

Zinn’s regular column is devoted to addressing readers’ technical questions about bikes, their care and feeding and how we as riders can use them as comfortably and efficiently as possible. Readers can send brief technical questions directly to Zinn.

Follow Lennard on Twitter.