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Make Your Bike Road Ready

Immel Bike Center
Immel Bike Center

March 19 marks the first day of Spring. For some Pittsburghers, the date can’t come soon enough. Winter has its moments, but there’s nothing quite like feeling the wind in your hair and the sun on your face while biking along a favorite trail.

The arrival of warmer weather means dusting off the bicycle that’s hibernated all winter and getting it ready to hit the roads and trails again. Before you strap on your helmet and fill your water bottles, bike enthusiasts and bike shop owners agree that it’s important to take a few minutes to make sure your bike is road-ready.

Inspecting your bike for wear and tear and performing some other routine maintenance can mean the difference between an enjoyable first ride and careening down a hill without brakes that work properly.

“If you haven’t ridden your bike in a while, it pays to check the tires,” said biking enthusiast John Hinderliter. The Bethel Park resident said to examine how much tread is left and look for worn spots and dry rot cracks. “Then, check your tire pressure. Underinflated tires can make your ride a lot more work.”

Hinderliter started long-distance cycling in high school during the mid-1970s. He gave it up when he moved to Pittsburgh to attend art school. He eventually picked it back up again in the 1980s and has gone strong ever since.

For him, there is no such thing as a bike riding season. He and most of his friends ride year-round. “Which, of course, means even more maintenance issues since winter conditions can be hard on the bike’s components,” he said. “Especially the grit from the trails. When that limestone is wet, you’re basically spraying cement onto your bike.”

Depending on the season and terrain, Hinderliter spreads his riding across multiple bikes. Switching out his cycles means he doesn’t have to replace parts as often as someone who uses only one bike all year long.

He doesn’t prefer to do it in the winter months, but in January, Hinderliter replaced his bike’s shift cables, housing and handlebar tape. He checked on his brake pads as well. “That grit really eats brake pads alive,” he said. “Also, keeping the drivetrain, chain and cogs clean can really extend (your bike’s) life.”

Allen Kinkead, owner of Immel Bicycle Center in Gibsonia, agreed that bikes exposed to the weather need special scrutiny of the drivetrain and cables. “A bike that sits all winter long probably has flat tires or almost-flat tires,” Kinkead warned.

Hinderliter agreed, recommending regular riders pay close attention to their brake pads, tire pressure and drivetrain lubrication. “I can’t tell you how many riders I pass with squeaking chains.”

If it is stored someplace damp, the bike’s cables can get a bit rusty, making the brakes difficult to squeeze and therefore less responsive. “Some lubrication may be necessary,” Kinkead said. “That may be easier done by a shop than yourself.”

Kinkead said one of the most common bike issues that his customers experience is gears that need tuning up. “Not because they’re not working, but because they aren’t working as well as they should be. Bikes that have gears can always be adjusted.”

He advises bike riders to not wait until the last minute to inspect their bikes. Kinkead said every time he moves a bike in his shop, he checks for potential issues. He encourages bike owners to do the same. “The last thing you want is to get out on the road and find the brakes don’t work.”

His shop can do a quick checkup to make sure everything is functioning properly. Kinkead said he usually charges just $20 for the inspection. “If there’s real work to be done, my labor rate is $95 an hour.” He advised checking the rates of any bike shop you plan to use when booking an appointment.

Hinderliter said he prefers to do his own wrenching to keep his bikes in tip-top shape. Originally, he performed his own maintenance to save money. Now he does it because he simply enjoys working with mechanical things. “Plus, being familiar with how the parts of my bike work has enabled me to make mid-ride repairs that have kept me from walking home.”

If there’s one thing Hinderliter has learned over the years, it’s that bike parts break when you least expect it. Flat tires are one of the most common mishaps. That’s why he recommends carrying a basic patch kit, spare tube and pump on your bike during rides. “Even if you don’t know how to fix a flat, there will be someone who will help you,” he said. “Cyclists are cool that way.”

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