Bike Hacking 101: Learn to Maintain and Upgrade Your Ride

Shops across the country have been doing their level best to stock up on bikes this holiday season. But the increased demand compounded by Covid-related supply-chain issues may mean Santa comes up empty-handed in the shiny new toy department this year. And while a bike under the tree is the best kind of thrill, there are other ways to keep the joy alive, like learning how to better maintain, upgrade, and fix the one you have in your garage. Your body could do with some fine-tuning as well; there’s no substitute for keeping fit enough to fire on all cylinders throughout the year.

We asked some of the most trusted brains in performance cycling how to make the most out of whatever two wheels you have underneath you. Here’s what they had to tell us.

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Become a Better Mechanic

“When you start working on your own bike, you start learning a sense of the mechanics and physics that are going to make you a better rider,” says Calvin Jones, a former US National and Olympic Teams mechanic who’s now the director of education at the St. Paul, Minnesota–based bike tool company Park Tool. “Once you get a sense of being a mechanic, it’s really going to make you appreciate the ride more and diagnose issues that you are having.”Even if you have problems you can’t fix on your own, Jones adds, “if you can go in and have an intelligent conversation with the shop, they are going to see you know and care about your bike and they’ll do a better job.”Before you start blindly meddling, invest in Park Tool’s Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair, written by Jones himself. Currently in its fourth edition, the book starts out with the basics and, by chapter 19, has covered everything from internal gear systems to suspension. You’ll also need a good set of bike-specific tools. The company’s new Home Mechanic Starter Kit ($160) offers 15 basic tools and products that beginners need to clean, maintain, and repair their bikes. It includes the special tools for repairing a chain or removing a gear cassette, plus simpler tools like an 8-millimeter hex wrench and a basic #2 Phillips screwdriver for making adjustments. Added bonus: The tools come in their own box and, best of all, it includes a copy of the Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair.
To keep your bike working as long as possible, it’s also imperative to clean it—not necessarily after every ride, but definitely after one in which mud or grime gunks up the drivetrain. Invest in Muc Off’s 5X Premium Brush Kit ($35) and a bottle of Dawn dish soap, which is great for bikes. If you want to really blast the dirt off, go big with the company’s Pressure Washer Bicycle Bundle ($260).To properly fix or wash your bike, a repair stand is a great convenience. It holds your bike off the floor at shoulder height, so you don’t have to bend over to work on it, and so it doesn’t roll around while you’re going at it with a wrench. For shop-level tinkering, Park Tools’ electric Power Lift Shop Stand ($2,196) is the Ferrari of its line. But the company’s portable Team Issue Repair Stand ($324) is good enough for World Cup mechanics, so it’s probably good enough for you.