Cycling - Knowledge

Bike Maintenance: Basic Guidelines Every Cyclist Will Need

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If you are passionate about cycling, chances are your bicycle too is dear to you, and you strive to keep it in good condition. After clocking miles of cycling, your bike just needs that TLC (Tender Loving Care!) at regular intervals. Periodical bike maintenance by professional bike mechanics notwithstanding, your bike needs some basic maintenance after the wear and tear of everyday cycling.

By keeping your bike in top condition, you can cut down significantly on costs that are incurred because of service of components or replacement of parts by professionals. Bike maintenance becomes even more crucial if you ride on surfaces filled with mud or snow. So, here we help you understand your bike and give you expert advice on basic maintenance tasks, use of the right tools, cleaning and lubricating your bike, and a few helpful tips.

Here’s something interesting for beginner cyclists: Check your cycling lingo score.


Basic Bike Maintenance Guidelines for Cyclists

Inspection Before a Ride

As a part of your pre-ride preparation, a quick bike inspection is recommended to increase the safety, comfort, and enjoyment of your ride. This is a kind of a checklist you must pay attention to and it acts as a pre-check for bike maintenance.

  • Give the front and rear brake levers a strong squeeze to ensure that the brakes firmly grip and engage properly.
  • Check the air pressure in the tires with a pressure gauge. Under-inflated tires will expend more of your energy than otherwise required to pedal the bicycle. Inflating them appropriately will absorb any shock impact and protect the wheel from damage. Make sure you are carrying a patch kit and pump to deal with emergencies.
  • Cleaning and lubricating the chain helps in shifting gears easily and the drivetrain gets a longer life. You can use a chain checker tool to inspect your bike chain for any wear and tear. You can also check manually by lifting the chain from a section of the chain ring. If it exposes three-four teeth, it indicates the need for either repair or replacement.
  • Ensure screws, nuts and bolts are properly secured. They should neither be loose nor be over tightened.

Bike Tools

Buy good quality bike tools such as a multi-tool with a chain breaker, a hand pump or CO2 tire inflator, a patch kit or tube, and a cable cutter – the basic tools for bike maintenance. A set of Allen keys to adjust your handlebars and seats and a bike repair stand are other important tools used in bike maintenance. Also, learn how to use a torque wrench. Keep your threaded tools greased.

basic bicycle repair
Basic bike tools.

Bike Maintenance: Cleaning and Lubricating

You sure want to ride a squeaky clean and well-maintained bike each time, don’t you? Clean and lube your bike as suggested, and always remain a proud owner.

Make use of a bike stand to position your bike at a comfortable height while you clean and lube it. Most bikes components can be cleaned by wiping them with a damp or dry cloth or sponge while some may require periodic brushing, scrubbing, and re-lubrication. Here’s when degreasers and surfactants will come handy. Pay particular attention to your drivetrain.

basic bicycle maintenance

A basic bike maintenance rule – clean all bike parts including the frame, chain, chain rings, pedals, brakes, cassette, derailleurs, and seat. You can wash your cycle with a car shampoo, rinse it clean and then dry it.

Don’t ignore any noises made by your bike. It is most likely that your bike requires lubrication. Opt for a chain lubricant that best suits your riding conditions. Backpedal for a few seconds and then wipe off the excess lubricant on the chain with a clean, dry cloth. This settles the lube in the rollers and between the plates. This prevents the excess oil from attracting dust and grime.

If a crank is loose on the spindle, remove the bolts, lubricate the threads, reinstall and tighten using a torque wrench. Choose a light lubricant for the rear derailleur pulley wheels. Oil the rail where it connects to your saddle and the clamp where it grips the rails. Use anti-seize lubricant or grease for metal seat posts and frames and friction paste for carbon seat posts and frames. Use of grease on carbon parts will cause them to slip. Never clean the factory grease off a new chain. It usually takes two-three rides for it to wear off.

For more on oiling and lubricating related to your bike maintenance read:
Bicycle Maintenance and Oiling – Learn the Basics

Bike Maintenance: Fix a Flat Tire

Wondering how you can fix a flat tire yourself? It is advisable to carry a tire patch kit, a hand pump, one or two tire levers and a brand new tire tube, in case you have to deal with a flat tire during your ride. Fixing a flat tire is easy. When you get a flat tire, remove the wheel from the bike and then deflate all the air from the tire. Stick the tire lever between the rim and the tire, and use it to take the tire off.

basic bicycle repair
Patching the tube. Source

Take the tube out, and check for sharp objects on the inside of the tire that caused the puncture. If the puncture on the tube is visible, patch it up using your tire replacement kit. Otherwise just replace the punctured tube with a new one, get on with your ride and work on the flat tire when you are back home.

Bike Maintenance: Wrapping Handlebar Tape

Wrapping the handlebar with tape becomes easier with practice. Firstly, remove the old wrapping and check if the cables and the housing need to be replaced. Clean the handlebar and secure cables and housing with adhesive tape before re-wrapping. Handlebar tape may be available in padded vinyl, cloth, cork or other synthetic materials.

Plan where you want to end the tape and start wrapping at the end of the handlebar and work upwards. Wrapping the right side of the bar in a clockwise direction and the left side in an anti-clockwise direction is recommended. This is to match the direction of the tape with the torque that riders tend to apply on the bar while riding and prevents the tape from loosening.

basic bicycle repair
Wrapping the handlebar. Source

Start the tape at the bottom side of the bar end and keep overlapping the tape as you move upwards. Push the extra tape into the bar end and close it with the bar end plug. If there are gaps around the clamp and brake area, cover them with small tabs of tape or rewrap. You can also use finishing tape or electric tape to complete the wrap.

Bike Maintenance: How to Replace a Broken Spoke

Spoke breakages generally happen because of load and fatigue, and also if they have not been tensioned enough. Make sure the replacement spoke matches the ones on your wheel. A bike shop can help you identify the perfect match. Spokes, generally break at the elbow at their entry point into the hub or at the threads in the nipple.

basic bicycle repair
Replacing broken spoke. Source

Insert the spoke head through the hub and the threaded end through the wheel rim and secure the spoke nipple; remember to match the sequence of the existing spokes. Thread the spoke up through the other spokes, again following the existing pattern, on the way to the nipple. Use a spoke wrench to secure it into place. Tighten it so that its tension matches the other spokes. You can do the guitar string test to determine its tension. It should neither be too loose nor too tight.

Bike Maintenance: Replacing a Chain

Before removing the old chain make a note of how the chain is installed on the bicycle because a new chain must be installed exactly the same way. Open the chain’s master link by pulling out the retaining clip with needle-nose pliers and removing the straight side plate. Open chain at any link and use a chain rivet extractor to push out the chain pin rivet.

Replace the chain around the rear sprocket and the front chain wheel, exactly as it was before removing it. Attach the master link to the loose ends; replace the side plate and the retaining clip. Use a chain rivet extractor to join the ends of the chain, loosen the screw pin, align the pin over the loose rivet where the ends of the chain meet and secure the screw pin. Adjust the rivet in such a way that it’s exactly flush with both sides of the chain.

road bicycle chain
Replacing a chain. Source

Adjust the chain tension by placing a measuring scale across the sprocket and chain wheel. At its midpoint, the top length of chain should hang half an inch below the scale.

You may seek professional advice on buying a new chain at any bike repair shop to ensure that you buy a chain that best fits your bike

Bike Maintenance: Replacing Brake Pads

It is important to replace worn out disc brake pads from a safety standpoint. First, remove the wheel and use a pad pusher tool or a large flathead screwdriver to push the old brake pads into the caliper. Remove the pad retention system; use needle-nose pliers to remove the pads and springs. You can remove dirt build-up on the inside of the caliper and rotor with a degreaser and a paper cloth.

regular bike maintenance
Replacing brake pads. Source

Place the new pads along with the retention pins and clips and re-install the wheel. Ensure the rotor is running parallel and central to the caliper body and adjust the disc accordingly.

Bike Maintenance: Replacing Brake Cable

Seek professional advice while buying replacement brake cable for your bike because it is important to have a correct match.

Use an Allen key to open the pinch bolt where the cable is housed. Do not allow the rubber to fall off the cable as you’ll need to put it back again. Remove the screws from the adjuster next to the brake lever on the handlebar and separate the cable. Measure and cut the correct length of the new outer casing with a wire cutter, and slide the new cable into the casing.

regular bike maintenance
Replacing brake cable. Source

Reinstall the brake cable in the same way you removed it and don’t forget to slide on the piece of rubber. Clamp it with the Allen key but don’t tighten it now. Reconnect the brake by pulling it across and slotting it into the hole. After loosening the Allen key pull the cable through tightly and tighten the bolt. Pull the brake lever to ensure the cable and the housing is seated properly.

Stretch out the new cable by pulling the brake lever several times till the tension is adjusted. Leave about 3 inches of cable hanging from the brake clamp and cut the end. Use a cable end cap or squash it into place with pliers. Check if the brakes are working properly.

After-Ride Maintenance

If you want to keep your bicycle’s derailleur gears in good condition, store your bicycle vertical by hanging hooks in your garage.

A mountain bike’s foam rings under the seals will stay well lubricated if the suspension fork legs are pointed up; this makes the oil flow down.

regular bike maintenance
Keep your cycle vertically stored. Source

Place a cardboard underneath the tires if you have to store your bicycle on the garage floor, especially if it’s a damp concrete surface, to prevent dry rot decay in the casings. You can touch up cracks and scratches on your carbon fiber frame with clear nail polish.

Bike Maintenance: Helpful Tips for Every Cyclist

  1. Make a note of the order in which you disassemble bicycle parts. It gets easier during reinstallation.
  2. If you need to pack your bike for travel, shake the box to check for any loosely fitted parts before you do the final packing.
  3. Riding on surfaces that are wet, muddy, or snow-filled calls for frequent and diligent maintenance.
  4. Never use a pressure washer or high-powered hose to wash your bike; always use a bucketful of soapy water and a sponge for cleaning purposes.

Becoming a great cyclist entails making your bike also perform well. Investing time in regular bike maintenance will not only ensure you have great ride each time but also make you look forward to the next one. Practice the above skills and keep your bike running, but remember to get your bike maintenance or periodical service or repair done by bike mechanics. Here are simple yet effective tips for troubleshooting your bicycle.

Here’s wishing you and your bike good health!