With bike technology moving on apace, 21st-century workshop mechanics are faced with a multitude of issues that can really ruin a rider's day out.
Gone are the days when everyone was their own mechanic, gluing their own tubs to rims and replacing bottom brackets with a mallet and some elbow grease; we all demand convenience in our lives, with the complexity of bike and component design meaning the services of a professional workshop are called upon by many riders.
However, there remain some common problems that bike shop mechanics encounter almost every day that can be solved with a little knowledge, attention and due diligence.
We’ve spoken to Dan Braid, head mechanic at Sigma Sport’s workshop in Hampton Wick, London, and Alex Griffiths at Cadence Cycles in Bath, to get the lowdown and advice on how to keep your bike in top working order.
When bikes hit the service stand, it emerges that one of the most common problems to occur is an issue the rider might not even have noticed – but can develop into a really serious problem further down the line.
“Seized seatposts are something we discover when we get our hands on bikes. It might not seem a big issue if it’s in the right place, but the problem is that they can become stuck fast to the frame, compromising the quality of the frame if it’s become chemically bonded," says Braid.
“The answer here is to make sure that components are regularly greased with the correct agent."
Griffiths says cable snapping is also something common too. Often when the entries to cable routing ports aren’t sealed properly or cables aren’t greased, excess wear can occur.
“We see snapped gear cables, where cyclists perservere with cables that aren’t working properly and are probably frayed at a bend in the routing. Eventually they snap, becoming totally useless.
“Leftover shards can be a nightmare to remove too – I’ve had may a strand of cable lodged in my finger, and it’s not pleasant!
Disc brake maintenance
While technology moves inexorably forward – even in the notoriously stagnant world of road cycling – knowledge about said technology also has to catch up.
Where before cable-actuated rim brakes were one of the jobs even a new home mechanic could try with relative success, newer hydraulically-actuated disc brakes are another story.
“Currently, there’s a lack of knowledge around how disc brakes are operated and serviced," says Braid. “We find that mountain bikers understand it better because they’ve been using the tech for a lot longer, while roadies tend not to.
“Issues can range from rotor contamination with things like chain oil, where the oil can get into a porous component like a pad, to people choosing the wrong kinds of brake compounds.
“The solution here is that care are needs to be taken when lubing other areas of the bike, while learning to bleed and adjust your own disc stoppers to specification is an almost essential skill," Braid says.
General component wear is another common issue highlighted by Braid, with a particular emphasis on top, pro-level kit that’s often brought by visitors to the Hampton Wick store.
“It always amazes me that people buy high-performance groupsets and parts, then wonder why the likes of Dura-Ace and Chris King hubs wear out in winter," he says.
“It’s high performance, but the other side of that coin is it’s normally more fragile. The simple answer to this is to keep your best kit for best weather, while you also need to pay attention to keeping it clean arguably more often than with cheaper, tougher kit.
Another solution proposed by Cadence Cycle’s Alec Griffiths is to stay on top of the individual component shelf life, rather than waiting for wear to mount.
“When it comes to drivetrains, you can change the chain and save the rest of the kit, instead of allowing the chain to wear the sprockets and chainrings down more.
“Often we’re asked how long a drivetrain will last, but in truth that’s as much down to how you ride your bike. If you grind around and shift under big loadings, components are simply not going to last as long."
Braid agrees, pointing out that cross-chaining is a big factor that arises: “We see many people riding around in big rings and wearing out chainrings, stretching the chain and even the capabilities of the rear derailleur.
“This is especially common with relatively strong riders using compact cranksets – most people just ride around in the big ring (while running a 34t), almost riding it as a 1x. On top of this, jockey wheels wear all the time too."
Another modern-day problem bike mechanics are seemingly having trouble with is the ever-expanding range and wider use of power meters. Chiefly, it’s a case of a lack of understanding in how they work and care in maintaining them that Braid sees on a regular basis.
“We’ve seen everything from people not keeping firmware updated on the power meters, to not updating the software on their head units, to physically changing the batteries in the wrong way and not replacing required washers in the setup," he says.
“I think, generally speaking, it’s people just not being diligent and taking the time to read instructions and understand how the power meter needs to be treated.
“We’re always having to read instructions in the shop, and it surprises me that people don’t themselves because it’s still really expensive tech."
Creaking bottom brackets
One of the most common problems we’ve all come across at one time or another is the dreaded bottom bracket creak. In fact, it’s so common, that Sigma’s Dan Braid is exasperated when talking about it. “It’s plain boring," he jokes.
“It’s hardly surprising though. Given the amount of specifications of bottom brackets, and their complexity, we wish manufacturers would lock themselves in in a dark room and thrash out a common system that’s easier to service.
“Right now, you need specific tools like a bottom bracket press to service them, and often there’s not a huge amount you can do for them even if you do have the tools – it’s wear and tear.
“We’ve even seen suppliers not fitting them properly when they arrive to us in store, which shows how complicated they can be."
Given the varying standards and complexity of bottom brackets, the best piece of advice is to constantly maintain the bottom bracket with every service. If you own the tools and have the time, then ensure bearings are cleaned and greased, especially after extended periods of poor weather where dirt and water ingress can be a bottom bracket’s worst enemy.
Otherwise, always make sure bottom bracket servicing is near the top of the to do list for your chosen bike shop, addressing any creaks or grinding as soon as they arise – don’t delay.
Wheels and tyres
Wheelsets and tyres are often positioned as one of the best upgrades you can make to a bike.
However, maintaining them properly by fixing issues as soon as they arise is key to keeping them in good condition, and avoiding potentially expensive or time consuming remedial work further down the line.
“With wheelsets and tyres, it’s generally a case of riders either ignoring or simply not spotting minor faults," Griffiths says.
“If the wheel has buckled, it’s going to need truing again, otherwise it’s only going to become more buckled.
“A spoke key is a tool you can use to stay on top of this. Likewise, if you spot a cut in your tyre, that tyre can only become more cut."
Braid concurs, pointing out that the quality of the tyres he sees, especially in winter, can be shocking.
“We see rubber cut to ribbons and ingressed with flint," he says. “I think this stems from having mudguards – you can’t see tyres, so you don’t check them; a sort of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality comes in.
“As a result, it’s a puncture waiting to happen, while it’s always good to make sure you check your pressures to minimise potential damage to the tyre."
Lack of general maintenance
Finally, no feature such as this would be complete without some good general advice, backed up by experience.
In fact, it’s a piece of advice that emerges in most of the points made here: stay on top of keeping your bike clean and in good condition.
“Keeping on top of generally looking after your bike is the best single piece of advice any mechanic can give. In short, this means regularly cleaning and lubricating it to save component wear in the first place," says Griffiths.
“In my experience, sometimes when a bike is sold, the buyer isn’t told what needs to be done to keep the bike in good condition, from cleaning to storage. Often we get bikes coming in after a month or so from date of purchase, and problems already appear.
“For example, I had a case of someone storing their bike in a drying room. Ironically, it’s often a humid environment, so it was no surprise that the chain had turned orange and become worn in such a short space of time."
Griffiths concludes by explaining that if you’re going to try to stay on top of these common issues yourself, however, you need to learn the craft first.
“Sometimes, however, the biggest issue can be home mechanics simply doing it wrong and having a go without reading any instructions or following any YouTube videos," he says.
“It can mean that even cartridge style brake pads, for example, can be fitted backwards. I encourage people to have a go, but it’s best to learn the craft – it’ll save you money and effort in the long run."