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I have owned a bike for many years, it's a cheap one but it's perfectly fine. Recently, I've bought a bike for my girlfriend, second hand from someone quite clueless about bike maintenance.

  • Mine is 26" front and rear suspension 2.125 tires, 3x7 gears.
  • Hers is 26" hardtail 1.95 tires, 3x6 gears

When I bought her bike I had to ride it home, a 15km ride, and after that I was exhausted. I trued the wheels, aligned the brakes, did a little test ride and it was fine.

My girlfriend said it was much harder to ride than mine. I felt that too, but was not sure if it's just because it's hardtailed and the ride is much stiffer. Rode it today again, and it's really much more exhausting than riding mine.

Wheels spin freely and don't have significant play.

Any ideas what should I check ?

Update: About geometry and fit, I can feel almost instantly that something is not right with the ride, but can't put my finger around it.

Brakes are V-brakes. Both tires are chunky mtb tires. As I'm 35kg heavier than my girlfriend mine are pumped to 55 psi while her's to 45 psi. When the bike is upside down everything is as smooth as butter. Crank, chain, freewheel, spinning freely. Wheels are spinning for a long duration of time. All bits and bolts aligned and tightened so nothing moves, rubbing, catching under load.

As more testing was done, it seems the bike won't roll quite well as mine, while on my bike I can pedal some and roll some, on the same bit of road, on the other bike I won't stop pedaling in order to continue going.

Another clue is weird knocking sound with the rhythm of a car turn signal relay.

I now guess it's the hubs, but I hope its fixable by just overhauling and without replacing, have to get some cone wrenches to check them.

Fixed: It was the rear hub, whole assembly was loose, and the most shocking thing : there was one ball bearing missing on one side, 8 of 9 balls, I don't know how much it affects the performance but i'm sure its not recommended (ordered new bearings), even more, the freewheel assembly itself was loose as well, so I overhauled it too, it was a bit hard, lots of tiny balls but I managed it quite well.

  • I'm guessing that there is a difference in geometry. – Daniel R Hicks Sep 9 '14 at 17:14
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    Is there any difference in tire tread between the two bikes? Are the tires properly inflated on both? Is there a significant difference in weight between the bikes? 3x6 gears sounds like a pretty low end bike. How old is it, and what brand is it? Is the slow one from Walmart? Did you check to make sure the brakes aren't rubbing? – Kibbee Sep 9 '14 at 17:21
  • bottom bracket, chain? – paparazzo Sep 9 '14 at 18:22
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    Assuming that both bikes are adequately maintained, the only things that will make any difference are geometry, posture, gearing, tire pressure/tread, and (to a very minor degree) aerodynamics and weight. – Daniel R Hicks Sep 10 '14 at 0:14
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    I don't quite understand -- if the "whole assembly was loose" why didn't you notice the loose wheel when you checked it? – Daniel R Hicks Sep 14 '14 at 18:15
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I can see 3 possible causes for the bike being more exhausting than it "should" be:

1: Lack of (or incorrect) previous maintenance.

Particularly you mention you bought it from a "clueless" person. It is likely that such person didn't knew when to take the bike to maintenance and was not very careful on how or where to keep it while not in use.

Some bikes are factory packed with such types of grease and lubricants that in short time can gum-up, and cause a seizure-like effect instead of reducing friction. This happens particularly in low end bikes, where cheap grease is used, so it lets evaporate part of the oils leaving only a paste-like residue. This may not be evident when moving parts by hand, but a tiny amount of resistance in every axle adds up when riding. When this happens in the pedals and bottom bracket, the effect on the rider is very noticeable, still the bike is felt to roll freely, but heavy to pedal.

The fix for this is a complete disassembly of the hubs, bottom bracket and pedals, cleaning completely the internals and reassembly with good, fresh grease. Of course this covers correct re-adjusting of hub cones, bottom bracket cones and pedal axle, etc. which may be currently over-tightened.

The chain may also be suffering from this. You can change the chain or deep clean and re-lube it.

2: Low end components too low

Some bikes are produced with low quality components, which are not formed properly and are made out of incorrect materials. In particular, chainrings, bottom bracket and cogs. Low end ones are made of low grade steel which is heavy and kind of soft. The heavy part has an obvious effect.

The softness of the steel is a major problem. When bearing cups or cones are made of soft steel, the balls "sink" into them because the steel flexes a bit, creating resistance. Think of it like rolling a pool ball on a bed, versus rolling it on a proper table (which would be a bearing on proper steel). This effect is very subtle and can not be noticed when moving parts by hand, but when real load is applied (i.e. actually pedalling) it is greatly increased. A similar thing happens between mild steel chainrings and the chain.

Also, poor quality components are often poorly machined, which means they do not have the right shape, just a very similar one.

This is the main difference among low end components and reputable ones: the quality of materials and machining used.

The only remedy for this is to upgrade components. It is not necessary to break the bank, there are a lot of good, affordable components made by reputable makers, which can be a good option. For example, almost any Shimano component from the basic line will perform better than a generic brand-less component from a Walmart bike.

If it was my bike and I needed to make it easier to ride, I would upgrade bottom bracket, crankset and pedals first followed by cog set and finally hubs. (And I would do it progressively, not all at once and only if the bike frame is worth the effort).

3: Geometry and fitting Issues A bike with different geometry can be more tiring to use. Besides this, a poorly fit bike makes the rider-bike system less efficient. The bike may have good geometry but be severely far from a proper fir for the rider, it may even be the incorrect size.

Do a search for "bike fit" to check some critical points like saddle height, and effective top tube length, among others. If you can't adjust the bike to get it close to the recomended positions the bike may be too small/to large for the rider.

Other factors I have left this apart because it is kind of obvious but:

Check if tires are properly inflated and in good shape. Tires at lower than recommended pressure generate more rolling resistance. A good tire can safely go up to the max pressure labelled on its side. If it doesn't seem to be able to hold up, then it may be too old and must be changed.

Check for rubbing brakes, or tire rubbing on frame.

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