Q&A / FAQS
 

 

Frequently asked questions from our viewers
Department store bikes:   What is the difference between a bicycle shop bike and a department store bike?

If you want a bicycle, go to a bike shop. That says it all. Department store bikes have one advantage over bike shop quality bikes... price. You can get a bike for less than $150. That's where the advantage ends. If your objective is to save money, then a bicycle shop bike is still cheaper in the long run.

Once you roll your new, poorly adjusted, non-warranted bike home, then the real expense begins. The first stop will come when you have to take the bike to the local bike shop to have it adjusted properly. The local shop will not do this for free as they do with the bicycle you buy from them.

The next expense will come steadily as you bend and break the various components on the bike. This is not a prediction, it is a guarantee. Bicycle shops repair department store bikes 10-1 over quality bikes. The parts are made cheaply and of sub-par materials so they can attract the first time buyer with a low price.

Please note; Some department stores are now offering slightly better quality bicycles but it's still 'buyer beware'.


Helmets:  
My friends say I should replace my trusty 10 year old helmet. Why?

Old, yes. Trusty, NO! You should replace your helmet every 5 years or so because the shock absorbtion materials can degrade over time. By now your helmet probably has the absorbtion factor of 3 slices of lunch meat. Besides, the new ones are lighter, cooler and fit much better.


Helmets:  
Which helmets are the safest?

Helmets made for U.S. sale after March 10, 1999 must meet the US Consumer Product Safety Commission standard, so look inside the helmet for a CPSC sticker and for the Snell\'s B-95 and/or N-94 sticker. Proper fit is also an important safety issue. Also consider replacing your helmet every 5 years or so because the shock absorbtion materials can degrade over time.

And remember, the safest helmet is the one you wear EVERY TIME YOU RIDE. Murphy's Law wise, the one time you don't wear it, could be the one time you need it the most.


Lights:  
Why do I need lights in Chicago? I can see just fine using the street lights.

First of all, it's the law. You are required to have a headlight and a rear reflector (we recommend a flashing rear light). Secondly, although you can see where you're going on most streets, not all the drivers can see you.

Flashing lights demand attention. so you'll be seen. And since most cycling lights now use LED's, you won't have to spend part of your life savings replacing batteries all the time.


So many speeds:  
I have like a gazillion speeds on my bike. Why do I need so many?

The more speeds your bike has, the easier it is to ride over different kinds of terrain. More speeds also mean easier transitions between speeds when you shift gears allowing you to maintain a comfortable pedaling rate and pressure without having to 'catch up' as much after each shift.
Select Tech Center in the Service link on the top of this page for expanded information.


Quick release wheels:  
I'm not sure I'm using the quick release on my wheels properly. Can you help?

That's a pretty common question and one that needs to be fully answered for safety reasons.
Select Tech Center in the Service link on the top of this page for expanded information.


WD40:  
Can I use WD40 to lubricate my bike?

No, nein, nyet, nope, no way Jose. Get my drift? WD40 is NOT a lubricant, it's a solvent, and it can loosen frozen nuts and bolts. It can also stop squeaks, but then so can butter. For external surfaces such as chains, pivot points on gears and brakes, and for cables, etc. use a good machine oil, a lightweight motor oil or one of the synthetic lubricants.


Air pressure:  
How often should I check the air pressure in my tires?

If you ride your bike regularly, you should check your air pressure once a week. If you only ride once in a while, you should check it before each ride because tires can lose air just sitting around.


Oiling chain:  
How much oil should I put on my chain?

As little as possible. Too much oil causes a buildup of oil and dirt on your chain which can cause excessive wear on the chain and other parts of the drivetrain. You should be able to see the chain links clearly and they should leave just a little bit of oil on your fingers when you touch them. If your fingers come away all blackened and/or with a thick greasy 'paste' on them, it's time to clean your chain.


Oiling chain:  
What kind of lubrication is best for my chain?

Talk to 10 people and you'll get 5 or more different answers. As a rule, a good quality 'machine' oil is the best. It provides a durable surface coating and it's natural capillary action allows it to penetrate deep inside the chain to the pivot points where it's needed the most. A lightweight motor oil will also work quite well and has good penetrating qualities. Some of the synthetic spray lubricants on the market today are a bit easier to use and also work quite well but make sure they contain some kind of penetrant so they will soak in like natural oil does. And remember, don't over lubricate. A thin coating of lubricant on the outside of the chain is enough to protect the surface and usually indicates that there is enough lubricant inside.


New Chain?:  
A friend said I might need a new chain. How do I find out?

Just bring your bike in and we'll check out your chain for you. It's important to replace your chain when it gets worn. If you don't, you can cause excessive wear on the crank chainrings and the teeth on your freewheel (the cluster of gears on your rear wheel). Replacing a chain averages $25 - $40, a new frewheel or cassette, $40 to $60, and chainrings, ouch ... you don't want to know. As you can see, it's more economical to replace a worn chain then the other items plus the chain.


Seat cables:  
I have a quick release seat and am afraid it will get stolen. What can I do?

You can take the seat with you. That's the safest way, but it's a pain. You can also replace the quick release mechanism with a binder bolt (a nut and bolt) or you can buy a seat cable. Seat cables are permanently fastened to the seat and to the frame to secure your seat and still allow you to raise and lower your seat if you chose.


Fixing a flat:  
Can you tell me a good way to fix a flat?

We get this question a lot, so we made a special section for it.
Select Tech Center in the Service link on the top of this page for expanded information


Brake squeal:  
When I apply my brakes, they make a loud squealing sound. Help, it's embarassing.

That squeal is caused by the brake shoe(s) vibrating against the rim. Sometimes cleaning the rim with rubbing alcohol helps but toeing in the shoes works best. Whatever you do, don't put oil on the rim (yes, people have actually done that).


Brake squeal:  
A friend suggested I put a very light coating of oil on my rims to stop the horrible squealing sound they make. Any other suggestions?

With friends like that, who needs enemies? While it's true that putting oil on your rims will stop that squeal, unfortunately it also means your bike will not stop when you apply the brakes. I wouldn't ask that friend for any more cycling advice.


Wheel truing:  
My wheels wobble from side to side and hit the brake shoes. What can I do?

If your wheel is out of true or in other words moves from side to side between the brake shoes and maybe rubs against them, take it to your local bike shop. That wobble can be the result of one of several problems but can usually be repaired by adjusting the spokes, but that isn't something you should tackle yourself since it's a relatively complicated procedure. But if it's an emergency repair and you have no choice, click on the MORE button to see a basic solution.


Shoes:  
Is it okay to ride in sneakers?

Sure. They're great for casual riding because they're comfortable, stylish and ideal for walking when you're off the bike. The more you get into cycling, the longer distances you'll start to ride though, and you'll probably discover why riders prefer shoes made for the purpose. What happens with regular tennis shoes and sneakers is that the flexible soles and cushioning materials allow the pressure points on the pedals to stress the feet as you ride. This causes two problems: a loss of pedaling efficiency and worse, on rides over a couple of hours, it can lead to a painful condition called hot foot.


Aerodynamic Spokes:  
What is the advantage of aerodynamic spokes, if any?

When a bicycle is rolling, the spokes at the top of the wheel are moving at twice the bike's forward velocity. Bladed spokes produce much less turbulence and offer less wind resistance than round spokes.


Sealed hubs:  
I have sealed hubs on my wheels. What can I do for maintenance, if anything?

To maintain your hubs, use an X-Acto knife to carefully remove the seal on the end of the unit. Be certain not to damage the seal seats. Flush the entire unit with solvent. Let it dry completely, apply grease and replace the seal.


Chain slaps the chainstay:  
My chain slaps the chainstay when I stop pedaling, especially when it's on the small chainring. What should I do?

Your freewheel is probably sticking. When you coast, it continues to turn, which causes the chain to sag until there's enough tension to stop it. The large sprocket uses more links, so the chain doesn't sag as far before snapping back. Flush your freewheel with a solvent such as WD40, allow it to dry, then lubricate it with a light oil. Make sure to flush the oil through the freewheel until it comes out the other side to assure that the oil fills the freewheel completely.


Cleaning your bike:  
I clean my mountain bike at a car wash. Is there anything I should be careful of?

Don't point the spray hose directly at the hubs, bottom bracket (crank), or headset because you can displace the grease in the bearings. Also, since some seatposts are open on the top, be careful not to spray water up under the seat since it could seep down inside the frame and cause rust.


Handlebar stem:  
I loosened the bolt on my handlebar stem but I can't move it. What am I doing wrong?

They are tricky little buggers, however the solution is usually quite simple. Select Tech Center in the Service link on the top of this page.




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helmets
Need One? Yes!!
Experienced, careful bicycle riders crash after 4,500 miles on the average. Nobody expects to fall, but in time you will too. When you do you must have head protection, since head injury causes 75 per cent of our 800 annual deaths from bicycle crashes. Road rash and broken bones heal; scrambled brains may not. Medical research shows that 85 per cent of cyclists' head injuries can be prevented by a bicycle helmet. There are other benefits. Car drivers see you better and give you more respect. So do other riders. And helmets may be required by law in your area.

How Does a Helmet Work?
A bicycle helmet reduces the peak energy in a sharp impact. This requires a layer of stiff foam to cushion the blow by crushing. Nearly all bicycle helmets do this with expanded polystyrene (EPS), the white picnic cooler foam used to protect eggs and computers. Once crushed, the foam does not recover. Spongy foam is added inside for comfort and fit. Another foam, expanded polypropylene (EPP), does recover, but its use is spreading slowly. It may have some undesirable "rebound." A stronger EPS called GECET appeared in 1992 and is widely used now. A third foam called EPU (expanded polyurethane) is used for helmets made in Taiwan. It has a uniform cell structure and good crush without rebound, but is difficult to manufacture and not used much in the U.S.
The helmet must stay on your head even when you hit more than once--usually a car first, and then the road. So it needs a strong strap and an equally strong fastener that cannot be jiggled open. The helmet should sit level on your head and cover as much as possible. Above all, with the strap fastened you should not be able to get the helmet off your head by any combination of pulling or twisting. If it comes off or slips enough to leave large areas of your head unprotected, adjust the straps again or try another helmet. Keep the strap comfortably snug when riding.

Comfort Requirements
Coolness, ventilation, fit and sweat control are the most critical comfort needs. Air flow over the head determines coolness, and larger front vents provide better air flow. Most current helmets have adequate cooling for most riders. Sweat control can require a brow pad or separate sweatband. A snug fit with no pressure points ensures comfort and correct position on the head when you crash. It may take a half hour of wearing to feel pressure points. Weight has not been an issue with today's thin shell helmets.

When Must I Replace a Helmet?
Replace any helmet if you crash. Impact crushes some of the foam, although the damage may not be visible. Helmets work so well that you need to examine them for marks or dents to know if you hit. Most manufacturers recommend replacement after five years. We think that depends on usage, and most helmets given reasonable care are good for longer than that. But if your helmet dates back to the 70's, it's time to replace it. Replace the buckle if it cracks or a piece breaks off. No one ever complains about the cost of their second bike helmet.

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Air Pressure
How often should I check the air pressure in my tires?

Back when bicycle tires (the inner tubes, actually) were made of natural rubber, they held air for a relatively long time, but were more prone to flats. Now bicycle tubes are made of synthetic rubber, which is less prone to flats, but (here it comes) they tend to lose air faster. A fair tradeoff when you consider it's easier put air in your tires than it is to fix flats. If you ride your bike regularly, you should check your air pressure once a week. If you only ride once in a while, you should check it before each ride because they lose air just sitting around.

Why is air pressure important?

Correct air pressure extends the life of your tires and gives you the best ride. Under-inflation can cause excessive wear on the sidewalls of the tire and if you hit a pothole or other obstacle, you can damage or ruin the tire, tube and worst of all, the rim. It can also slow you down and make your ride less pleasurable. Consider a day at the beach. Riding on properly inflated tires is like walking on a sidewalk. Riding on under-inflated tires is like stepping off that sidewalk and walking in the sand ... much more work. Properly inflated tires offer much less rolling resistance which gives you a faster ride with less effort. They also lower the risk of getting a flat since they tend to 'kick' foreign objects away rather them absorb them.

What is the right air pressure?

All tires have their suggested air pressure molded on the side of the tire. This is usually a range of pressures such as '45psi to 65psi'. The rule of thumb is to keep your tires about 5 psi under the highest listed pressure. There is also the 150 lb rule. If you weigh less than 150 lbs, you can keep them near the lower pressure and vice versa. Another consideration is the type of riding you do. If you ride on smooth paved roads, you can use a higher pressure for a faster, easier ride. If you venture off the beaten path, you can use a lower pressure to get a softer ride with more control due to a wider 'footprint' on the trail. Experiment a little. See what pressure gives you a comfortable ride with out having to overwork yourself. Just remember to stay within the pressure range recommended by the tire manufacturer.

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Chains and Lubrication
How much oil should I put on my chain?

As little as possible. Too much oil causes a buildup of oil and dirt on your chain which can cause excessive wear on the chain and other parts of the drivetrain. You should be able to see the chain links clearly and they should leave just a little bit of oil on your fingers when you touch them. If your fingers come away all blackened and/or with a thick greasy 'paste' on them, it's time to clean your chain. The main thing to remember is that if there is a nice thin coat of oil on the outside of the chain, that means that the 'inside' of the chain, where the lubrication is most important, is well lubricated. Adding more oil only causes an excessive buildup on the outside.

When should I oil my chain?

New chains come with a combination of lubricants on them. When these start wearing off, you will notice 'dull' areas on the chain as the bare metal begins to show. That's the time to oil your chain. If the chain is fairly new or you have been keeping it properly oiled and there is no buildup of black 'gunk' on the surface, spin the chain backwards as you slowly apply fresh oil. A couple of revolutions of the crank should let you cover the whole length of the chain. Once the chain has a light coat on it, hold your fingers around the chain as you continue to spin the chain backwards. This will distribute the oil over most of the surface. Some people like to take a rag soaked in oil and hold it around the chain as they spin it. Once you've done that, wipe off any excess oil with a rag till your whole chain has a nice thin coating of oil.

How should I clean my chain?

The best way is to remove the chain and soak it in a container of solvent (degreaser). This cleans the chain inside and out. After you've soaked it, make sure to hang it up somewhere for a day or two so as much solvent drains off (and out) as possible. If you put a lubricant on your chain and there is still some solvent on or in it, the solvent will dilute or destroy it. Once it has dried, soak it in a container of oil so the oil has a chance to seep inside where it's needed the most. Wipe the chain off thoroughly so only a light coat remains on the surface. The 2nd best (and unfortunately messiest) way is to put some solvent on a rag and spin your chain through it. This way mostly cleans the surface but is acceptable if your chain isn't too dirty. (You can also use a good quality synthetic solvent spray) Make sure to wipe the chain off thoroughly when you're done. Apply a thin coat of oil to the chain as is explained in the answer above.

What kind of lubrication is best for my chain?

Talk to 10 people and you'll get 5 or more different answers. As a rule, a good quality 'machine' oil is the best. It provides a durable surface coating and it's natural capillary action allows it to penetrate deep 'inside' the chain to the pivot points where it's needed the most. A lightweight motor oil will also work quite well and has good penetrating qualities. Some of the synthetic spray lubricants on the market today are a bit easier to use and also work quite well but make sure they contain some kind of penetrant so they will soak in like natural oil does. And remember, don't over lubricate. A thin coating of lubricant on the outside of the chain is enough to protect the surface and usually indicates that there is enough lubricant 'inside'.

How do I know when I need a new chain?

All chains stretch with use and a certain amount of stretch is ok. The rule of thumb is to lay a ruler against the chain and measure it's length. Hold the left edge of the ruler against the center of a pin on one of the links. If the 12" mark on the ruler lines up with a pin or the pin is no farther than 1/8" beyond the 12" mark, you're good to go. If not, it's time for a new chain. The other consideration is dirt. If your chain is covered in a black 'gunk', and there is a lot of grit (especially if it's sand) in the mix, toss it. The damage done by the grit and the particles of dirt held by the 'gunk' will have scored the surfaces of the metal so even if you tried cleaning and lubricating the chain, it's effect wouldn't last long. And remember, the chain contacts all the surfaces on your drivetrain. It's a lot cheaper to replace a chain than a freewheel or the crank/chainrings which will be damaged by stretched or scored chain.

If I have to replace my chain, which one should I buy? (ask,and ye shall receive)

It's best to replace an old chain with the same one that was used by the bike manufacturer. But that's not always possible. And since the decision depends on several factors such as the type of bike, the drivetrain components, and the number of speeds, etc., it's best to bring your bike to a bike shop so they can recommend the best chain for you.

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Brake Squeal
Brake squeal is caused by the brake shoe(s) 'chattering' against the rim as it passes through them. It is sometimes caused by a buildup of foreign material on your rim, a problem which can easily be solved by cleaning your rims with rubbing alcohol. It can also be caused by brake shoes which have become solid and shiny on the braking surface which can be treated by sanding down the surface of the shoe to reveal the original rubber surface. However the normal cause is a combination of both these problems compounded by the surface of the shoe hitting flush with the rim. This allows the shoe to skip across the surface of the rim causing a vibration (chatter) much like fingernails on a blackboard <shudder>. The solution is to toe-in the brake shoes.
  
Brake shoe toe-in To toe-in the brake shoes means to adjust them so the front tip of the brake shoe hits the rim before the rest of the shoe as seen on the left. This reduces or eliminates the vibration.

Brake shoe adjusts


You can adjust the toe-in on most brake shoes by loosening the mounting bolt and positioning the shoe as you want it since the hardware is designed to allow this kind of adjustment. On older style brakes where the brake shoe is mounted in a fixed position, you have to bend the brake arm itself. If the brake arms are made of steel, this is not a problem. If they are made of alloy, you have to be very careful and bend them as little as possible so as not to stress the alloy material. Another option is to sand a front to back taper into the shoe to avoid stressing the alloy arms.

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Wheel Alignment
The spokes on your wheel are what give it strength and keep it in alignment (in true). Damage to the wheel, stress on the spokes of just plain wear and tear and age can cause the wheel to go out of alignment. When this occurs, the wheel needs to be aligned (trued) by adjusting the spokes. Adjustment of the spokes has only so much effect in this procedure, but if your wheel is not damaged or stressed beyond a point where adjusting the spokes will do the job, it's possible to get your wheel running true to form. However, we strongly recommend you not make these adjustments yourself. If you don't know what you're doing you can actually make the wheel worse than it was when you started.

However, if you're out on the road and break a spoke or cause some other damage to your wheel, you might not have a choice but to adjust the spokes to a degree. If a wheel goes out of true a small amount and is rubbing on the brake as you ride, you can loosen the brake slightly (by loosening the brake cable or maybe undoing the brake quick release if you have one) so you can get home and then take it a bike shop to have it repaired at your leisure. If you have to loosen the brake so much that the brakes will no longer work effectively, then you need to make a spoke adjustment.
  

Brake shoe guide

The basic idea behind adjusting the spokes is simple. Use the gap between the brake shoes and the rim as a guide. If the wheel is rubbing on the left hand brake shoe (see the drawing at the left), you need to tighten the spoke(s) on the right side of the wheel to pull it back into shape and vice versa. Normally, you want to tighten the spoke(s) but if the spoke(s) in question are already tight you can get the same results, although to a lesser degree, by loosening the spoke(s) on the opposite side if the wheel. If the spoke(s) on the side you need to tighten are already super tight, and if the spokes you have to loosen on the opposite side are already super loose, that means that your wheel is 'sprung' and your only choice is to call a cab or disconnect the brake completely and ride home very carefully keeping in mind that you only have one functioning brake. If you have actually broken a spoke, your only choice is to tighten the spokes on the opposite side of the wheel in the area of the broken spoke and hope for the best.
  

Spoke tensioning

You can use a spoke wrench if you have one in your tool kit, or you can use a small adjustable (crescent) wrench. Think of a spoke as a bolt and nut. The spoke represents the bolt and the nipple (that thingie that pokes through the rim) represents the nut. Just as with a standard bolt, to tighten a spoke you turn the nipple clockwise and to loosen it you turn it counterclockwise (looking from the top of the wheel in towards the hub). The easiest way to determine which way to turn the wrench is to look at the wheel from the side instead. If you want to tighten the spoke work the wrench towards you. To loosen the spoke work the wrench away from you. The most important thing to remember is to only tighten (or loosen) the spoke a half of a turn at a time. Then check to see if you got the desired result. If not, keep repeating these two steps until you get the rim the way you want it. Just make sure you don't over tighten the spokes. By that I mean don't round out the squared off surfaces on the nipple to the point where the wrench no longer has any effect. And also make sure you don't loosen the spokes so much that there is no tension left and they just 'float'.

Again, I want to stress that you should only make these adjustments in an 'emergency'. Even though it may see easy to adjust your spokes as I described above, there are other factors involved. For example, for a wheel to be properly aligned and stressed, all the spokes need to be within a certain tension range. Each time you adjust a spoke you must compensate for this adjustment to maintain the proper tension range for that wheel. Also, each time you make an alignment adjustment to one area of the rim, you are also effecting other areas. If you overdo these adjustments you can end up with what looks more like a pretzel than a wheel and in some cases you might actually end up having to replace the wheel.

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