Three Easy & Cheap Things to Improve Your Ride

MSU Bikes has been “Helping people discover the joys of bicycling!” for over 10 years now on campus and I’ve been in the trenches here all those years.  If I were asked what three things would make your bike riding way more fun and easy here’s my list:

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Example of a couple students using their bikes as chairs. Photo courtesy CATA video.

1.  Raise your seat:
After 10 years of seeing thousands of bicyclists in our shop and out on the campus roads and paths I guestimate that over ¾ of those I see are riding with their seats anywhere from 2-6 inches too low.  I’m guessing many riders stopped riding when they started drivers’ education training and then brought their bikes from home that used to (maybe) fit them when they were 14 without making any changes to the fit.

Your bike is many things but is certainly not designed to be nor should it be sized to function as a chair.  It is a great healthy, non-motorized transportation tool and when adjusted right should feel wonderful to ride when seated.  If you’re feeling the need to stand often that’s another way your body is telling you to raise your seat.

Rule of thumb:
If you can reach the ground easily from the seat at a stop your seat is about 3-5 in. too low.  If you can touch the ground flat-footed, then raise your seat 4-6 inches or better yet get a larger bike.

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Example of riding with a low seat.
Photo courtesy of Calvin’s Corner, Park Tool. Click image for detailed article re: bike fit.

When you do come to a stop simply get off the seat and stand over the frame.  If you consider that you’re spending 90%+ of your time in the seat pedaling and not stopped, it’s pretty logical that the seat to pedal distance should be the right distance for your legs to do their job efficiently.  Exception:  BMX/ urban stunt or down-hill bikes that are designed to have seats extremely low to be able to do tricks or other special types of riding; these bikes aren’t designed for traveling distances, so riders typically have to stand all the time if they’re trying to go more than a mile or so.

Caution:
Your seat is attached to your bike via the seat post; it’s only so long and can only be safely raised so high.  Most of them are marked with some lines that say “Minimum insertion” or something obscure; that means “Don’t raise it any higher than this point if you don’t want to damage your bike or your body.”  We do sell longer seat posts for pretty cheap that can help get your seat up high enough if your seat post happens to be too short.

 

2.  Inflate your Tires:

Ashley Tisdale rides her bicycle
Typical flat tire cruising. Photo courtesy of X17online.com

We’ve replaced thousands of punctured tubes at MSU Bikes, sometimes more than 30 a day during a busy fay.  Most customers want to know what caused their flat, so we’ve built up a wealth of knowledge based on all that CSI work that we charge for:  the main reason, by far?  Very soft tires are the root cause of punctured tubes or flats.  It’s called a “pinch flat”.  Basically, there’s not enough air in the tire to protect the tube from the road, so when you hit a bump, pothole, etc. the force of the impact causes two instant cuts in the tube by the edges of the rim.  Or the tube is so low of air that it starts slipping with the tire around the wheel until it cuts itself at the air valve.

Rule of Thumb:
If you simply inflate your tires every 2-3 weeks (certainly monthly) at one of many FREE public air stations around campus you’ll prevent this most common type of flat.   This map shows you where all those DIY air stations are located on campus.  Additionally, your bike will ride MUCH easier and with less effort when your tires are inflated to the proper pressure (written on the sidewall of every tire made; for mountain bike tires that give a range [typically 45- 60 psi], use the lower pressure during the winter months or riding on the trails for better traction).

Caution:
When inflating very low or flat tires go slowly and stop and inspect occasionally; some tires fit very loosely and can blow off the rim with a loud “boom!”.  Pressurized hoses like outside MSU Bikes or gas stations can inflate quickly so take it slow!

 

3.  Oil Your Chain:

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Rusty chain photo courtesy of Chicago Home Photos.

You know the sound, the screeching high-pitch squeaking of a rusty chain going down the road/ path. Those chains are crying for oil, your bike’s next-best friend to air in the tubes.  A small bottle of chain oil from a bike shop like MSU Bikes will last you most of your 4 yrs. at MSU and also come in very handy if your key won’t turn in your lock very well before you snap your key off by forcing it.  Your chain and other components will last longer if properly oiled and your ride will be much more enjoyable not to mention those around you who will thank you for not screeching!

 

Tri-flow oil - great for chains and lubricating many other parts of a bike
Tri-flow oil – great for chains and lubricating many other parts of a bike.

Rule of Thumb:
Oil your chain when you re-inflate your tires or right after riding in the rain.  A little bit goes a long way, so don’t overdo it or you’ll have a big mess everywhere.  Wipe down the chain after oiling it to keep it cleaner and from becoming a big ugly mess.

Caution:
We recommend NOT using a spray-can type of oil as you can get overspray on other parts of your bike (like your brakes) that will cause serious safety problems.

 

If you’re not sure about any of this just stop by MSU Bikes and one of our staff would be happy to answer any questions about fit, help you find the recommended air pressure, or how to oil your chain.

Happy roads!

 

 

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Author: Tim Potter

Sustainable Transportation Manager, MSU Bikes Service Center; member of the All University Traffic & Transportation Committee (http://auttc.msu.edu); founding member of MSU Bike Advisory Committee (https://msubikes.wordpress.com/volunteer-donate/msu-bac/); advocate for local & regional non-motorized transportation issues thru the Tri-Co. Bike Assn. Advocacy Committee (http://groups.google.com/group/tcatc); board member of the Ride of Silence (http://www.rideofsilence.org); year-round bicyclist of all sorts; photographer; soccer player; father of 3; married 30 yrs. to Hiromi, Japanese national (daughter of former Natl. Keirin Champion, Seiichi Nishiji); Christ follower.

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