Life from an outsider's perspective…

10 Quick tips to make a “bombproof reliable” bike. Part I: Wheels & Tyres

Nuke proof “bombshell” rear hubI thought I would share my knowledge on how to make your bike more reliable, starting with the wheels & tyres. Yes, the most obvious problem encoutered when riding is still the age old flat tyre. While flat tyres can never be completely eliminated, most punctures can be prevented by adhering to the next five guidelines:

  1. Maintaining sufficient air pressure significantly reduces the chances of pinch flats (the most common type of puncture). For a 23c tyre, you need to pump up the pressure to at least 100psi (7 bars), or more if you’re a heavy rider. Rear tyres carry more weight than front tyres, so you should preferably inflate these a little more than the front tyre
  2. Use premium-quality rim tape, which stops tubes from chafing against the spoke holes in the rim. I use cloth tape, similar to that made by Zéfal.
  3. Don’t skimp and save on your tyres! Cheap tyres are just not worth it – they’ll be cut to shreds long before the tread wears out. Really good tyres provide an enhanced level of flat protection in the form of a higher density casing & puncture resistant aramid belts.
  4. Use tyres with a 23c cross-section instead of 20c width. Although 20c tyres are lighter, 23c tyres give improved bike handling, an increased comfort level, and a reduced number of pinch-flats.
  5. Use standard butyl-rubber inner tubes as opposed to ones made of latex. I’ve had good luck with butyl inner tubes made by Vittoria & Continental. The great thing about butyl rubber inner tubes is that after a week, they’ll still be rideable. Lightweight 50 gram latex tubes on the other hand are generally more hassle than they’re worth; you must pump up your tires after every single ride to maintain a high pressure. Besides, it’s never good for morale when you see a bike with flat tyres…
  6. Know that broken spokes account for the majority of wheel failures. Bicycle wheels are subjected to dynamic forces during the millions of revolutions that they experience while cycling. 1000km of riding will see your wheels revolve half a million times! I won’t get all technical on you, but because of this, broken spokes nearly always fail by a fatigue mechanism. Loose spokes seriously hasten the rate of this fatigue failure, so you must ensure that your spokes have adequate + even tension!! Pay close attention to the spokes on the non-drive side spokes on the rear wheel. This is paramount to a long lasting durable wheelset.
  7. More spokes = stronger wheels. That’s right – if you want to build an ultra-reliable wheelset, choose 28, 32 or even 36 spokes. As soon as you go below 24 spokes on the rear wheel, you sacrifice durability, big time. There’s no doubt that traditional handbuilt wheels are stronger and also require less truing. To be sure, the latest-generation wheelsets with low-spoke counts and aero carbon rims look terrific; but how long do they actually last during training sessions? I can say from personal experience that in general they don’t last very long.
    •  I do prefer to use radial spokes on the front wheel (unless of course the bike has a front disc brake), if only because crossed lacing patterns are not necessary.
    • Any means of evening out the spoke tension between left and right side spokes on the rear wheel is beneficial through use of one or more of the following tricks: radial-spoking on the left hand side spokes; left hand side spokes with a thinner diameter (higher gauge number) than the right hand side spokes; fewer spokes on the left hand side (campagnolo G3 spoking pattern); rims with an offset spoke bed to account for the wheel dish.
  8. Regularly disassemble, clean and re-lubricate the freehub mechanism, especially if you cycle in wet conditions. Freehub pawls have a very tough life. They’re either constantly ratcheting over the splines inside the rear hub (1000km of freewheeling gives 12 million clicks on a standard shimano hub), or they’re experiencing the full force of the torque generatated by your pedalling action. Most hubs these days have three pawls made from high-grade steel, which share the load.
  9. Regularly disassemble, clean and re-lubricate, and finally adjust the wheel bearings… if your hub comes with loose ball bearings and cup and cone races, the cleaning & relubing step is vital. With the advent of sealed cartridge bearings, replacement should be easier than ever. In reality, I have a hunch that there are so many types of cartridge bearings out there that finding replacements isn’t so easy. They’re also pressed into the hub flanges, so you can’t replace them yourself. Luckily, they’re sealed so they should last longer (at least in theory) than standard bearings. Some of the cartridge bearings on the market can be cleaned and re-greased by carefully removing the seal on one side.
  10. Lubricate the cams on your quick release skewers. This step is often forgotten in bike maintenance courses. It allows the quick releases to function properly, increases the attainable clamp force thereby improving safety and can also prevent noisy creaks.

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