12 bike maintenance misconceptions that could cost you time and money

Some commonly held maintenance assumptions that are wrong

Here's a list of common maintenance misconceptions that I see and hear riders — and some mechanics — repeating all the time. While none of these are a cycle crime on a par with wearing socks with SPD sandals, they are easy enough to stop doing (unless, of course you disagree with the points below).

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1. Degrease that brand new chain

A new chain shouldn't require degreasing
A new chain shouldn't require degreasing

It’s often said that new chains should be degreased because the ‘packaging grease’ on a chain isn’t good to ride with. While there is some recent evidence that stock lube isn’t the most efficient, it’s still a lube that can be ridden.

If however you use solvent-based wax lubes you should still degrease a new chain to prevent contamination. But most cyclists should be quite satisfied by simply installing a brand-new one and riding away.

2. Lube those cogs

I’ve seen some mechanics do this over the years — and if they are, so are other people. The chain is the moving part that needs the lubrication, lubricating any other metal parts is just going to create grime and the issues that follow that. Keep your cassette and chainrings as clean and free of oil as possible. 

3. Clean lube is good lube

Just because you use a lube and your chain remains perfectly clean doesn’t mean the lube is any good. If you never used lube your chain would likely stay squeaky clean too.

I’m not saying that all clean lubes are bad, but just be aware that a lube’s sole purpose is to lubricate the metal on metal surfaces and reduce friction. Some ‘clean’ lubes are so light that they don’t do much more than stay liquid while in the bottle. 

4. Don’t grease carbon

Muc-Off's Carbon Gripper, like many similar products, is used to lower the torque required at carbon clamping areas
Muc-Off's Carbon Gripper, like many similar products, is used to lower the torque required at carbon clamping areas

This is partly right. You shouldn’t use traditional grease on carbon because in some cases the chemicals can affect the clear coating of carbon components.

However, there are a bunch of carbon greases on the market now designed to increase surface friction and therefore reduce tightening torque. They're good options (for alloy in some cases too) and should be used on seatposts and stem clamps where slipping is a potential issue. 

5. Power washers are fine

Unless your sponsors give you brand-new bearings, then don’t use a power washer to clean your bike. The immense pressure is likely to force water past the bearing seals and wreak havoc while you sleep.

I’m not against using a hose to wash a really dirty bike, but always be careful to not directly spray at bearings and other delicate components (like your shifters).

6. Tighten to the maximum recommended torque

Sadly, in the wrong hands, it’s still possible to go wrong with a torque wrench. Following on from the use of carbon grease and torque wrenches, this is an extremely common one. While most manufacturers provide a ‘maximum recommended torque’ as the number to tighten to, often it really is a maximum and you can easily get away with less.

If you see the word 'max' before a torque, you're likely better off going lower than this number
If you see the word 'max' before a torque, you're likely better off going lower than this number

For example, BMC used to specify a maximum 5Nm top and 8Nm bottom for its integrated twin-bolt seatclamp on the Pro Machine SLC01. While this figure was printed on the frame, those at BMC actually suggested 3Nm top and 5Nm bottom, stating that the 5 and 8 referred to absolute maximums.

Ultimately, it’s important to use your judgement. Does your carbon seatpost really need to be tightened to 15Nm? And does your lightweight stem really need the marked 8Nm to clamp a carbon steerer?

7. Grease is grease

Not all greases are the same. This is especially important if you're working on hydraulic brakes or suspension
Not all greases are the same. This is especially important if you're working on hydraulic brakes or suspension

In most cases, standard bicycle friendly grease will work. But if a component recommends a certain type of grease, it’s generally for good reason.

For example, the use of common grease in a rear freehub is likely to cause significant dragging issues due to its viscosity. Likewise, some standard greases can affect the delicate seals or react with the oils inside suspension forks and brakes.

For threaded components that are likely to be installed and forgotten for a while, it’s a good idea to ditch the grease and use anti-seize.

8. That part cannot be fixed

We no doubt live in a consumable society these days, but looking through exploded diagrams of parts or browsing a Shimano dealer-only catalogue will open your eyes to a staggering range of spare parts that aren't easily found through online stores.

Before you go about replacing that expensive component, first find out if it can be repaired cheaply — your local bike shop is likely the place to ask.

9. It can’t be the derailleur hanger

If you can’t get your shifting to work, don’t assume your derallieur hanger is in line. Many brand new bikes aren’t perfect, and if you’ve so much as bumped your derallieur against something then that soft metal hanger is likely not seeing straight.

The proper tool is near-essential when checking the derailleur hanger for straightness
The proper tool is near-essential when checking the derailleur hanger for straightness

This has even more importance as the tighter alignment tolerances with 10- and 11-speed can be affected by amounts smaller than your eye can perhaps see without the aid of an appropriate tool. A derailleur hanger alignment gauge is a very useful tool to own.

10. WD-40 is a lube 

The age-old mistake: WD-40 is NOT a lubricant (at least not a good one for cycling)
The age-old mistake: WD-40 is NOT a lubricant (at least not a good one for cycling)

After so many years of mechanics advising against its use, WD-40 remains a commonly used lubrication. While it may make a decent degreaser and solvent, it fails as a lubricant. That being said, it is now possible to buy chain lubricant from the WD-40 brand.

11. Keep those stanchions oiled

I’m all for a little silicone-based stanchion lube on the forks and rear shock after a ride. What I do is apply the lube and let it seep into the wiper seals, then I cycle the suspension and wipe away all the dirt and lube brought up.

With this being said, the seal lubrication should come from the inside of your suspension. It’s not wise to ride with visibly lubed stanchions as it will only collect crud — affecting the durability of your suspension.

12. Truck wash is great for mountain bikes

This is a common one, with many replacing bicycle specific bike washes with those from hardware and automotive stores. While they do remove the dirt without harming paint, my experience is that they also affect your disc brakes.

While not as bad as truck washes, this can sadly be said for some ‘bicycle-specific’ washes too. Whatever you use, it's best not to spray directly on to your brakes.

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