Caring for your wood bicycle
Taking care of your wood bicycle shouldn’t be much different from caring for any other really nice bike. It’s protected with a marine spar varnish — like what’s used on sailboats– so it’s fine out in the elements. It’s fine getting wet but like anything else you don’t want to leave it wet for long periods of time. Keep it dry, wipe it down with a soft cloth after you ride and park it somewhere clean. The big don’t s are: don’t let it stay wet for long periods of time. Avoid large humidity swings. Don’t leave it outside in the elements year round. Don’t park it right next to your wood stove, radiator or air conditioning vent. Don’t leave it closed in your car in the sun on a 100 degree day. Keep it happy and it will last a lifetime.
When you first receive your bike it likely came in a large box. If it was an AirCaddy box, save it since these boxes are nice and expensive and you can use it in the future to travel with your bike. They can be used for shipping and even can be taken on airplanes. You’ll probably have to put the seat post, pedals, handlebars and front wheel back on. Hopefully you know how to do this. If not get your local mechanic to do it since it’s not terribly expensive and nice to have done by a pro. The only thing that might be different is putting on the handlebars if they are my wood ones.
The wood handlebars compress a bit in the stem. If you find that after you’ve put them on and initially ridden with them and they later feel a little loose, re-torque the stem bolts that clamp the handlebars in place. You may need to do this a couple times progressively tightening them. Don’t worry, the wood compresses and compacts until it won’t move any more and they’ll stay nice and tight.
Chips and Scrapes
Little chips and scrapes are normal and they happen. It’s kind of like when your new car gets a scatch on it, it’s a bummer but it’s OK. A little scrape won’t damage the bike long term. I find that if you’re doing a lot of riding on loose roads etc, it’s nice to put a piece of automotive clear bra or clear ski top protector on the areas of the down tube and chain stays that get beaten up. This will repel dings and keep things looking nice. If your finish is really showing wear after some years, send it back to me and I’ll put a fresh coat of varnish on for you.
Soap and water with a soft rag work great for the frame. I use Simple Green for degreasing the drive train and then just hose it off or rinse with a wet rag. A nice cleaning will keep your bike looking great and don’t worry about the hose or getting it wet. Just dry it off when you’re done. I sometimes polish the bike frame and spray the tires with Pedro’s Bike Lust when I want the bike to look show-ready.
Maintaining proper tire pressure is key to the enjoyment of your ride. Too hard and you’ll bounce around. Too low and you’re dragging. These big tires I run on most of my bikes don’t require much pressure. I typically run around 25 psi in them and they’re just right. I might put them up to 30 if I’m really doing some mileage or drop them to 20 if I’m riding lots of bumps. Keep it in this range though and experiment for what feels best. You’ll know it when you feel it.
Some of my bikes come equipped with leather Brooks Saddles. To many these appear uncomfortable at first glance but they are one of the most comfortable saddles out there if given a try. If you have a brooks saddle and are having trouble with making it comfortable try this. First adjust the saddle angle either up or down depending on where you may feel pressure or rubbing. A subtle change in angle can make a huge difference. You can also try to adjust the tension of the saddle. The nut at the front of the saddle can be turned to adjust the tension on top of the saddle. Loosening may make things a little more comfortable. Finally caring for your saddle requires very little maintenance. Brooks sells an oil that you can rub into your saddle to condition and protect the leather. If your saddle stays out in the sun or gets wet a lot you might want to use this every 6 months or so. Generally they’ll be fine for years with no maintenance at all.
Gates Belt Drive
If your bike has a belt drive on it it shouldn’t require much maintenance. To change a rear tire, you’ll first need to loosen the belt. This is done by loosening the 4 mm hex bolt on the eccentric bottom bracket. This is accessed on the non-drive side. Loosen the bolt and rotate the bottom bracket to relieve the tension on the belt. If it has an internal gearhub, disconnect the shifter cable from the hub. Then loosen the wheel nuts and take out the tire. Installation is the reverse but you need to tension the belt.
Tensioning the belt makes it run properly. Too loose and it may come off, too tight and it wears things out — including your legs. In order to tension the belt – get it lined up on both cogs (front and rear) and rotate the bottom bracket shell forward so the spindle moves away from the hub. This will increase the distance between the cranks and rear axle and make the belt tight. You do this initially with your hands, but to apply the final torque to it you may need a pin spanner (like the old bottom bracket spanners). Insert the pins into the holes on the eccentric bottom bracket shell and rotate it just until the belt is tight. In a pinch you can tension the belt so that if you press it down in the center with your finger about 1/2″ (12mm) before your finger tip turns white. There is also a special tool and an app for this which you should use or have your shop use to get the tension right, but so long as it isn’t drooping off or taught as a violin string you’re probably gonna be fine for the short term.
If the belt ever starts making noise it’s probably a little unhappy. There are two main causes for noise. First is if the belt is out of alignment. This will sound like a growling noise since the belt teeth are catching on the center spline. If you put your hand on the belt while rotating the cranks you’ll probably feel a bit of vibration it – a mechanical ticking almost. This is fixed by changing the alignment of the front and rear cogs for the belt. In your case it probably just requires that the eccentric bottom bracket be shifted in left or right about 1 mm or so to fix the alignment. Try this and you’ll be back in business.
The second reason for belt noise is just dust and wear. This usually sounds like a squeaking or the squishy sound of walking in wet sneakers. Clean off the belt and apply spray silicone lubricant to it. DO NOT USE CHAIN LUBE! Other dry lubricants might work but the Gates folks tell me spray silicone is best. This should fix things right away. Sometimes you go through a period of needing to do this a bunch of times and then it stays happy.