SpareFoot’s Guide to Long-Term Bicycle Storage

Tony Emerson
October 9, 2013
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mountain bike rider

There are a lot of reasons a bike gets put away for months or years–off-seasons, injuries, spare bikes that go unused. And whether you’re throwing the bike in a shed, garage, storage unit or spare bedroom, there’s a right way and a wrong way to store a bike.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that the surest poison is time, and the same is true for bikes. Ever ridden an old, dusty “vintage” bike (in my experience, almost always a Schwinn) that’s been stored in some forgotten corner? Not only is it dangerous–chains break, cables seize up, brittle brake pads fail to do their job–but it’s not very much fun. A little pre-storage maintenance can ensure the bike is ready to ride months or years down the line.

Preparing a Bicycle for Storage
An advanced cyclist should use this time to do a full bike inspection. Strip everything down to the bare frame, including the front fork and bottom bracket, replacing any parts and cleaning or lubricating as they’re reassembled. Cyclists who are the most advanced (and those with the most time) would repack the bearings in the bottom bracket and headset, too.

Most people don’t have the know-how or tools to disassemble their bikes to this extent. But you can prevent most wear by:

1. Cleaning the frame, make sure there’s no water inside (rust is a killer of steel bikes) by removing the seat and turning it upside down.

2. Lubing everything up–drivetrain, brake lines, seat post and all the bolts. For the geared riders, lube your shifter lines and spray your derailers with WD-40.

3. Hanging up the bike or removing the tires to prevent flat spots from developing.

The rubber on your wheels is sensitive to UV rays and humidity changes, and your saddle may be susceptible to damage from the elements too–especially if it’s leather. If you’re storing in a shed, a garage or a storage unit that isn’t climate-controlled, you can remove things like the seat and wheels. (I remove my pedals, too, to protect the leather straps.) Store these components in your home.

This should keep your cycle ready to ride for months, depending on the storage conditions. If you’re following these steps and storing for a matter of years, you’ll want to get your headset and bottom bracket serviced before riding the bike again.

The Improperly Stored Bike
If you acquire a bike that hasn’t been stored properly, you’ll probably need to replace some parts to be able to ride safely. Expect to pay $40 to $80 if you do the work yourself, and about $150 for an overhaul at a bike shop.

At the very least, replace brake lines, housings and brake pads. These are cheap replacements that could prevent a serious accident. New tires and tubes may not be needed. Replace the tires if they’re dry and cracked, and replace the tube if it doesn’t hold air. Replace the chain if it’s seized up or in disrepair. These are the minimum things you’ll want to check on for personal safety before hopping on a bike that’s not in the best condition.

If pedaling feels gritty or if the wheels don’t move freely, you’ll need to look into replacing your bottom bracket or hubs. Same with the headset if there’s some resistance when turning the tables. At the end of the day, unless you’re an advanced cyclist who can properly assess each component, you’ll want to take the bike into a bike shop for a final tune-up. The shop will be able to make the proper assessments and repairs.

I hope you’ve read this article before properly storing your bicycle. If that’s the case, you shouldn’t need to do an overhaul or replace any parts. Do a little pre-storage maintenance–clean it, lube it, keep pressure off the wheels–and your ride should be ready when you are.


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