How many times have you been riding with someone when a preventable mechanical, like a puncture to a worn tyre, turned a great morning into a less great one?
How often have you jumped on a mate’s bike, squeezed their brakes, glanced at their drive train, and wondered how on earth they’ve let their bike get into such a state? Sure, the wheels still spin, and the bling carbon frame looks beautiful when it's plastered all over instagram, but the bike is nowhere near as nice to use, or as reliable, as it should be.
This series explores the many different factors that contribute to speed, performance or form on the bike. And a well looked after machine is a big one.
This week I got in touch Toby Shingleton, who is the brand manager for Shimano Australia. Like many people in the bike industry, Shingleton works in several areas at once. He also spends a lot of time on planes, working with Shimano supporting riders, media and participants at events in addition to various marketing roles and working on bikes with the company's team of mechanics. If you’ve ever thought about working in the bike industry, Shingleton’s job is one that might encourage you to think outside the square.
It’s fair to say that Shingleton is more than qualified to comment on the maintenance habits of a broad cross-section of riders. We discussed some of the most commonly overlooked areas of bike maintenance that pass through the mechanics’ tent at events. Given Shimano will be out supporting riders at L’Etape Australia, I also took the opportunity to ask Shingleton for advice specific to that event. Having said that, you could just as easily apply his insights to any long and challenging ride.
You see a huge number of bikes come through the mechanic tent at road, mountain bike and triathlon events. What are some of the most common, avoidable issues you see with bikes?
The most common problem I see across all the different events relate to problems with shifting, and very often this is caused by a bent or misaligned rear derailleur hanger. A lot of people fly to events and have to pack their bike into a bag or a box and the hanger gets bent in transit. Even a small weight on the bike on this side can result in damage to this item if the rear derailleur is left in place.
I would encourage anyone when packing their bike to remove the rear derailleur and place it under the rear of the bike, inside the bag or box. With Shimano Di2 this is easier as you can simply unplug the derailleur, however, you should always use the plug tool for this task as it ensures you don’t damage the connection.
This type of damage can also occur from a crash or your bike falling over on that side when at the café.
What about cleanliness?
A common saying in the bike business is “a clean bike is a happy bike” and having a clean bike can help you identify potential issues before they happen. It’s also a courtesy to anyone who might need to work on your bike that it is reasonably clean and not covered in months of road grim and chain lube.
Another upside of keeping your bike clean is that if or when you get a flat tyre, you won’t end up with filthy hands from touching the parts as you pull your wheel out.
Apart from giving their bikes a good clean, what else would you suggest riders do in terms of basic maintenance and preparation before a big event?
Chains are cheap and easy to replace. I would always stick a new chain on a bike before a big event. Likewise, bar tape and perhaps a fresh set of tyres. When you are spending a long day on the bike it’s a lift to have these contact points renewed. Maybe just a psychological help but those little things can make a big difference on the day.
I would encourage riders to check their brake pads, run through all the gears and look at chain wear a couple of weeks before the event. That way your local bike shop can fix any issues before you head off to ride.
On chains, can you quickly explain how much lube is enough lube? What are the negative effects of being a little too enthusiastic in the application of said lubricant?
Probably 90 per cent of chains I see at events have been over lubricated and are covered in black grimy dirt and lube. The result of this is an increase in gunk build up around the jockey wheels and to the chain which affects efficiency. Also, your poor mechanic will end up with filthy hands.
Applying wet and dry lubes is pretty much the same process but always read the instructions on the bottle before applying. The general idea is to only apply it one drop at a time to the inside area of the chain rollers/pins and wipe off any excess afterwards.
I am a fan of wax type chain lubrication for riding in most Australian dry conditions because they attract less dirt, but if it is wet I always apply wet type lube.
The course profile for L'Etape Australia, has a stack of climbing in the 126km 'ride', while riders entering the 157km 'race' finish with a final 23km pedal up the Col de Kosciuszko. What would you advise the average rider in terms of gearing for an event like this?
Over the last decade, road cyclists of all levels have been moving to a gearing combination that makes it easier to spin rather than grind your legs. I supply a lot less 25 maximum tooth cassettes to sponsored riders than 28 or even 30 tooth ones now.
The gear combination you feel comfortable riding with comes down to your fitness and strength but it’s nice to start the day with some insurance in this area.
Switching to a mid-compact (52/36) combination [on the front] is very popular when paired with a 28 or 30 rear cassette sprocket. This will allow you to maintain a high speed on the descents but also give the legs a break on the uphills.
In terms of bike set up more broadly, can you suggest any other options worth investing in that could have a big impact on the enjoyability factor of the day or the experiences of riders who haven't been able to fit in all the training they'd hoped for ahead of the event?
Being comfortable and efficient on the bike is going to make a huge difference to your enjoying of an event like this one. Simple things like the adjusting the brake lever contact point so that you can stay in the drops when descending can make a huge difference to your day.
Upgrading to a high-quality tyre will make a big difference to the way it rides and having fresh rubber generally reduces your chances of having a flat.
I wouldn’t be running anything less than 25mm and my preference is for a 28mm tyre. These should be run at slightly lower pressure than a narrower tyre and will give you a higher level of grip and control.
If someone does need to visit Shimano for mechanical support at an event, what can they expect? And what can they do at their end to make your job as easy as possible if everyone's under the pump?
Our job is to get everyone to the finishing line and we will do whatever is needed to help you and your bike reach this goal. The team will prioritise jobs needed to be done on the day so that everyone can enjoy the experience.
We recognise that riders are all important regardless of how new or expensive their bike is, but if you show as much pride in your bike as we do fixing it then that will give our team a lift.
If you need us come and see us.
I’m kind of hoping not to see Shingleton at L’Etape, at least not in an emergency, unless that emergency involves post-ride celebratory beverage.
If you are training hard for this event, or any challenging ride, there’s no time like the present to give your bike a thorough clean, inspect it for wear and tear, and give it the care and attention it deserves. A bike that is well cared for bike takes excellent care of you as well.