7 Basic Bike Maintenance Tips for All Cyclists

Jan Poshenko
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Here are the 7 basic bike maintenance routines I reckon every cyclist should know.

While it’s possible to ride on a dirty chain for a while, lubricating it every few rides will make things smoother and last longer. A squeaky clean chain is also more trouble-free, so cleaning it regularly will save you a lot of headaches. To clean the chain, first remove it from the bike (i.e. derailleur or single speed) and then soak it in degreaser (containing crude oil) or soap solution to remove gunk. You can use a toothbrush to scrub the chain. While scrubbing a dirty chain, remember to scrub the inside and the outside of the chain. After scrubbing a soapy chain, rinse the chain thoroughly. Dry off the chain with a towel and apply a light coat of lubricant.

Check the Tire Pressure

Proper tire pressure will save you a lot of leg and your money. You can pressure check the tires by either putting the bike on a bike stand and checking the pressure, or by holding the bike with one hand and slowly rolling the tires side to side. If you’re rolling the tires, you’ll feel a little movement if there is any air leak in the tires.

Be sure to check if the bike is equipped with a gauge (most quality bike are these days) to check the pressure on the tires.

Keep the Bike Clean

It’s easy to overlook cleaning the bike as you go out on your ride. But if you don’t keep the bike clean regularly, it can lead to a buildup of crud.

The first step in getting your bike clean is to wipe off the bike with a rag. If you have a chain that’s black on top, then you might want to wipe a bit of chain oil on this.

To properly clean your bike, you’ll want to bring it inside. It’s usually not possible to do a thorough job cleaning a bike outdoors, especially when you’re trying to clean drive-train parts and things like the brakes. You’ll also need a place to hang the bike when you’re cleaning it.

Next, give everything a good wipe-down with a mild detergent.

You can also use a cleaning solution intended for bike parts. If you have any rusty parts, the scrub them off with a wire brush.

Give the bike a good rinse after giving it a good scrub.

Keep the Drivetrain Clean and Well Lubed

No matter how good you are at watching your tire pressure and keeping your maintenance schedule on time, eventually your drivetrain is going to need a good cleaning.

One of the easiest ways to make sure that your drivetrain is clean is to wipe everything down after every ride. While part of this process should involve lubing your chain and derailleurs, you can also use rubbing alcohol and a clean rag to clean out the cassette.

Just be sure to wash everything off after you’re done.

Check the Tire Pressure

Tire pressure is the most often performed, but most often neglected bike maintenance. Many avid cyclists check the pressure and then just walk their bike to a bike rack and park without performing another tire pressure check.

If you are more than 20 miles away from your bike rack, you probably want to check the air pressure every day. You should also check your tires before every ride to make sure they are at the proper pressure and that there are no leaks or punctures. To determine if your tires need air, check to see if you hear any hissing sound from the tires.

If you pull the valve stem by hand and you feel resistance, then you know your tire is over inflated. Take the valve cap off and let some air out. On the other hand, if your tire is under inflated, then take the cap off and add more air.

Ensure Nuts and Bolts are Tight

One of the most basic bicycle maintenance tips is also one that’s more commonly overlooked than anything else. You can’t ride with a loose handlebar or stem or a wobbly wheel. And if you’ve been riding a bike with loose nuts and bolts for a while – like a few months or so – you can wind up damaging the part.

Check your bicycle every week for any loose parts, such as handlebars or wheels. If you’re too busy to perform this basic bike maintenance, you might want to consider making a point of performing this simple bike maintenance task at least once a month.

Lubricate Chain

A clean, well-oiled and properly lubricated chain won’t wear out as quickly as one that isn’t regularly lubricated. And a properly lubricated chain not only extends the life of your chain, but it can also make it easier to pedal and shift gears.

Check the Brakes

Looking for that extra push to hit that next curb or pothole? Make sure your brakes are in working order. Regular and thorough checks of your bike’s brakes will save you a lot of worry and stress if you were to ever need them in an emergency.

Take a look at the rubber brake pads. Brakes should grab the wheel rim easily, but at the same time, you shouldn’t be able to pull it off without putting a lot of effort into it.

If the brakes are grabbing too easily, they’re probably cracked or worn out. You’ll need to replace them. If, on the other hand, they’re not grabbing easily enough, the brake pads may be too worn. If this is the case, remove the brakes and adjust as needed.

If the braking surface is too rusty or slippery, wax will need to be applied to make it grip again.

The calipers may also need to be adjusted. Calipers, particularly at the rear, need to be easy to squeeze, while also providing enough force for the wheel to stop fairly quickly.

Inspect the wheels for anything unusual, such as cracks or missing spokes. Also, inspect the tire tread and sidewalls. If there’s wear, you’ll want to replace the tire.

Index the Gears

Listen to your chain, if it doesn’t squeak, it is safe to say your chain is in good working order and doesn’t need servicing. You will need to lower your rear wheel and also remove the back wheel.

Check for Tension

Pull on the rear derailleur to ensure it is not slipping. There will be a screw at the gear channel that will loosen/tighten the tension in the derailleur.

Examine the Brakes

Pull the brake levers to ensure that they are in working order. You will be able to tell if the brakes are slipping by the sound they make. There may be a squeal or a rough feel when you pull the brake lever.

Look over the Wheels

Take a look at the tire, tread wear, and rim. If you don’t have a pressure gauge, a tire will usually need to be pumped up when there is 1/8” clearance between the rim and the tire. Make sure that the tires have the same amount of pressure in them.

Look over the Frame

Confirm that all bolts are still in place and tight.

Check the Shifting System

Examine the derailleur and shifters to ensure that they are in working order. Tighten the bolts or dial in the gear shifters to position them right.

Replace Wear and Tear Components

Lubricate your chain regularly and regularly tighten the nuts and bolts of your bike. During these and other routine and needful routines related to bike maintenance, make sure that you inspect the condition of your bike regularly. Do not ignore rust, improper tire inflation, loose chains or pedals. These may seem to be good for now, but it will just serve to cause damage later.

Chain

Chain lube plays an important role in bike maintenance. It’s easy to overlook lubing your chain while cycling. Unexpectedly, your bike will not move. Chain lube can also protect you from getting too much friction from your bike chain. Too much friction will wear out your bike chain.

Do not forget to lube your bike chain every couple of weeks or every 40 miles of cycling. To lube your bike chain, apply the lube to your bike chain and slowly turn the front sprocket clockwise until you feel each links is lubricated. When you lubricate your bike chain, you should dismount the bike.

As a tip, make sure you don’t apply too much lube on your chain. You might create too much lube making your bike look messy.

Cassette

Cassettes are the ones with more teeth and are referred to as freehubs. A knob on the side of a freehub allows you to remove the hub from the wheel by pushing it to the right and then spinning the wheel to take it off.

To remove the cassette from the freehub you will need a 12mm wrench. To remove or tighten it you will need a 15mm wrench. The spacing of the gears is small so it is important that you do not use a crescent wrench or adjustable wrench for this operation.

Keeping the cassette clean will help prevent premature wear that will lead to a need to replace your cassette early. Cassette cleaning is best done with a degreaser and a toothbrush.

BMX bikes, road bikes, and mountain bikes use single-speed hubs. No cassette is needed. A BMX bike may have a freewheel threaded onto the hub instead. These are interchangeable, although threaded freewheels are less common these days.

The freewheels involved with shifting utilize a ratcheting mechanism to allow the cyclist to shift gears while pedaling. This mechanism utilizes a set of gears that, when not in use, are held in place by pawls. These pawls are located within the gear body.

Tires

Here are 7 Basics of maintaining your bicycle to keep it functional. As a rule of thumb, inspect your bike at least once a week for any problems and also to check the air pressure levels. If you are a commuter, it is recommended that you perform a basic safety check before each ride.

Brake Pads

  • Brakes are the most important parts of your bike. If your brakes are not working properly, you are likely to be in danger at every corner.
  • To check whether the brake pad’s performance is good enough, ask someone to ride while holding onto the handle. You should have enough time to stop.
  • If you hear the sound of metal on metal when you press the brakes, that’s a sign that the brake pad is worn out.
  • If your brakes are squealing, wipe the brake pad with a wet cloth and apply a little mineral oil onto it. This will keep your brakes quiet.
  • You should change your brake pad when it is worn out.
  • You should apply grease at every junction of the brake lever and the brake pads to keep the pads in optimal condition.
  • Make sure that you grease your pads regularly. Don’t wait until they start to make noise or scrape on the wheel.