10 Ways to Save Money on Bike Repairs
The Thrifty Way to Maintain Your Bike
Mountain biking is a gear-intensive sport. To get the most from the expensive equipment that helps you pilot trails, you must maintain it. And those maintenance bills can add up in a hurry. Taking a bike to the shop for repairs can be like going to the dentist when you know it’s been way too long. There’s probably not going to be any good news, and the bill is probably going to be more than you want to spend. We’ve all been there, holding a credit card that’s still hot after a full overhaul.
Thankfully, there are some helpful tips that can keep nasty repair bills at bay. Here are a few of our favorites.
INVEST IN A BASIC HOME TOOL KIT THAT’S MORE THAN A MULTI-TOOL
The best way to save money on repair bills is to do the work yourself; however, this involves a bit of an investment on the front end. First, you must buy a tool kit that can handle the basics. Don’t look for something too extravagant, because you’ll likely be buying tools you won’t use. Instead, look for a kit that has a full Allen wrench set and specialty tools like a cassette, bottom bracket and spoke tools.
BUY TUBES OR SEALANT IN BULK
Buying in bulk to save money doesn’t only apply to staples at the grocery store. Whether you ride tubeless or with tubes, you are guaranteed to need new tubes or sealant at some point. Buying in bulk saves money. For example, you can buy a single-use 2-ounce bottle of Stan’s sealant for about three bucks. You can also buy a 32-ounce bottle for about $23. This brings your per-tire use cost down from $3 to about $1.43. As long as you store it right, a bottle of sealant will last for a year or more. Similarly, you can find bulk deals on tubes (we’ve seen 10 tubes for $30) rather than buying them individually from the shop at top dollar. These items are ones you know you’ll use at some point. Stock up and save.
BUY BULK CABLES AND SHIFTER HOUSING
Fresh cables and housing can make a big difference in your drivetrain’s performance. Sometimes that’s all it takes to resolve shifting issues. Most shops use spools of bulk cable and housing that are less expensive than the pre-measured kits. When you’re looking to freshen your cables, simply go to the service department and request the bulk stuff. The mechanic will cut your housing to length for you without the added cost of the pre-packaged kits.
HAVE YOUR SUSPENSION SERVICED ONCE A SEASON
Changing the oil and seals in suspension components is an up-front cost but will save you money in the long run. If you run your forks and shocks into the ground before servicing them, you’ll not only lose performance but also grind away the smooth coatings that keep oil in and dirt out. A well-maintained fork will run for many seasons. A fork that’s neglected will be spilling oil like a BP well in the Gulf after just one season. And like that spill, it will be very expensive to fix.
REMOVE THE HEADSET AND BOTTOM BRACKET AFTER WASHING
A clean bike is a happy bike, but water can be corrosive if you allow it to sit on bearings in the bottom bracket and headset. Wash your bike and wash it often, but when you do, take care to not spray directly at any bearings, which can force water in. When you’re done, remove the headset and bottom bracket to allow trapped water to evaporate.
APPLY GREASE, ANTI-SEIZE OR THREAD-LOCKING COMPOUND TO EVERYTHING
Bolts love to be torqued, and they also love to know they can be un-torqued. As a general rule, if a bolt doesn’t need to be treated with a thread-locking compound like LocTite, then it should be greased. Proper torque will hold the bolt in place, and the grease will ensure the bolt won’t “cold-weld” or rust into place. Most thread-locking compounds also work as lubricants, believe it or not. They add friction to the bolt to prevent it from backing out, but also prevent it from corroding and seizing in place.
USE DISH SOAP AS AN EFFECTIVE DEGREASER IN A PINCH
There are a ton of great chemicals out there for degreasing parts and cleaning your machine. One that’s frequently over-looked, however, is Dawn dish soap. The stuff is formulated to cut the greasy mess in the pans that were used to cook those chicken wings you burned last night, and it also cuts through most lubricants a bike uses. If you’re out of degreaser and really need to clean your bike, ordinary dish soap will get the job done. We personally know professional mechanics who swear by this stuff, despite being sponsored by other chemical companies.
BUY THE GOOD STUFF, BUT NOT THE RACE STUFF
When we make a recommendation about buying a bike, we typically advise that you look at the one you can afford, then save your money and buy the next one up in the line. That’s not to say the less expensive bike wouldn’t work great, but it’s in our nature to upgrade as riders, and buying a complete bike takes advantage of economy of scale, allowing us to buy more when we buy complete. That said, it’s important to understand what you’re getting into when it comes to upgrading components. Unlike family heirlooms, fine wine, diamonds or vintage race cars, the most expensive bike parts don’t get better with age. In fact, the most expensive parts wear out much more quickly. You might feel like you’re investing in your bike by buying a high-end tire, but that tire was most likely built for the guy who can afford to use it once on race day and then discard it. Most riders are better off buying the stuff that’s not only built from high-quality materials, but is also built to last.
USE DRIP LUBRICANTS INSTEAD OF AEROSOLS
Lubricants are critical to keeping a bike working properly; however, a spray can of oil in the hands of a novice mechanic is like a loaded gun in the hands of a toddler. Drip lubricants are the best because you can apply them more precisely. You can put one drip on every chain link and the oil will stay on longer than if you spray it on with an aerosol can of chain lube. More important, you will avoid having to replace brake pads that have been ruined by overspray on the calipers or rotors.
USE PARK TOOL’S WEBSITE
Park has built a site that offers riders specific tutorials for the most common bike repairs. It’s easy to use and gives step-by-step instructions for everything from truing a wheel to replacing a bottom bracket. If you don’t want to take your bike to the local shop for paid service, try this free site. It’s like the “Garage Files” column we do every month, only you get to choose with a click of the mouse which repair you want to learn to do.
THERE ARE SO MANY WAYS TO GET MOUNTAIN BIKE ACTION
Mountain Bike Action is a monthly magazine devoted to all things mountain biking (yes, that’s 12 times a year because we never take a month off of mountain biking). It has been around since 1986 and we’re still having fun. Start a subscription by clicking here or calling (800) 767-0345.
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