Whether you ride it to work or out in nature from time to time, you should regularly maintain your bike. It makes sense, especially when buying new, to keep a thorough monthly maintenance in mind. That way, you can prevent costly surprises from popping up when conditions are unsafe. However, bike maintenance doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming. Here are some simple steps you can follow to keep your bike rolling well into the future.
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How to take care of a bike as a beginner or a professional
Diverse bikes that are ridden off-road or in the rain need a little more care than one that ventures around town once a month. However, following the guidelines below will help keep a bike in good working condition. This will also help you know when it’s time to take it to a mechanic. With that being said, it is not essential to know all the resources your bike needs to live a long life. However, you can gain enough wisdom along the way to keep it in top shape and out of the shop with proper bike maintenance. Beyond that, every bike needs a little tender loving care to keep it running smoothly.
If you’re new to biking, learning how to set up and maintain your bike can be an intimidating step. The best way to protect against loose components is to perform a routine inspection before each ride. This will help you spot potential problems before they become safety hazards. You can make most pre-ride adjustments with a simple multi-function tool and get cleaning kits for your bike. Check your air, brakes and chain before each ride to feel safer and extend the life of your bike.
Tools & Accessories
You don’t need a lot of stuff to get started biking, but it’s good to know where you can access these things when you need them. Some cities, trailheads and greenways have public bike repair stations with a full set of handy tools, a bike pump and a repair rack. If there is a bike store on your normal route, you may also be able to stop there and borrow a pump or tools for quick repairs. If you are looking for your own tools and supplies, these items are recommended:
- A repair kit consisting of a small multitool, spare tube, tire levers, CO₂ cartridges and valve and/or hand pump.
- Floor pump with tire pressure gauge
- One set of Allen wrenches
- An adjustable crescent wrench or a set of crescent wrenches that fit all the nuts on your bike
- Bike washing supplies such as some brushes, rags, dish detergent, degreaser and chain lube
Maintain your bike by keeping it clean
Cleaning your bike is not just about looks. This important step could actually save you money in the long run. Even if you only ride on the road in dry conditions, your drivetrain, consisting of the chain, gears and front derailleur, will attract dirt and grime. Accordingly, a dirty drivetrain wears out faster than a clean, well-lubricated part and is not cheap to replace. Therefore, it’s a good idea to degrease and relubricate your drivetrain every few weeks, as well as clean your bike chain . Always dry your bike thoroughly, whether you just washed it or got it out in the rain. Leaving your bike wet can cause rust, which can lead to noise, shifting problems, stuck bolts and other issues.
You’ll need disposable rags, bike oil, some grease solvent, and maybe a used toothbrush and flathead screwdriver to remove the larger debris from the rear derailleur cogs and chainrings. Free the chains, sprockets and chainrings from dirt as best you can. After everything is nice and clean, slowly turn the pedal crank back while applying a drop of bicycle oil to the inside of each chain link. The more often you clean and lubricate, the less time it will take each time you do it.
Check the air in the bike tires and inflate if necessary.
The most important factor, or at least one of the top 3, that affects the quality of your bike ride is tire pressure. If the pressure is too low, you’ll have to work much harder to maintain the same speed than if the pressure is really high. You’ll get flat tires more easily otherwise, especially if you hit a curb hard. In addition, poorly inflated tires are more prone to blowouts. However, sometimes weak hand pumps are not enough, because you need a floor pump with a pressure gauge to do the job properly. Nice bike stores will also let you borrow theirs.
Look for a number on the side of your tire followed by the letters PSI. This will tell you how much air you need to put in. Nothing is worse than having to stop and change a flat tire while riding. So always inspect your tires and check their pressure with your floor pump. After making sure they are properly inflated, you should also check your tires for any other damage or wear. This is because these can cause the bike tubes to go flat while riding.
The rear tire should have more pressure because it carries more of the rider’s weight than the front tire. Check tire pressure at least every two weeks. If you don’t ride your bike for an extended period of time, such as six months or a couple of years, remember to keep the tires inflated even during the break. If this is not possible, take the tires off completely. This will help you avoid cracking the sides of the tires.
Tighten screws, nuts and bolts
Don’t let your bike fall apart while riding. You can keep things intact and maintain your bike by quickly checking for loose bolts, screws or nuts before you start riding. If you find that you’ve lost some nuts or bolts while riding, make sure you can repair or replace them right away by picking up some spare nuts and bolts. It’s annoying if you loosen the bolt that secures your fenders and have to hear rattling and banging all the way home.
However, also note that some of the newer bikes have the maximum torque listed on the parts and you can buy tools that only apply a certain torque. When tightening bike bolts, it’s best to consult your owner’s manual for the correct specifications. After all, over-tightening can cause damage or failure of components. If you’re buying a new bike, you could also ask your bike shop to give you a bag of spare nuts and bolts. You should usually get these for free because they are dirt cheap.
Check and adjust brake pads when you maintain your bike
Make sure your brakes are properly adjusted, check the brake pads and replace them if necessary. As you probably know, good brakes are essential. In addition, brake pads wear out over time, so check them between visits to the bike service center. All you need to do is take a quick ride and apply your brakes. If you feel they are soft and not holding properly, your brake pads probably need to be replaced. You can also tell wear by the fact that the grooves are barely visible. Installing new brake pads is a very cheap and easy solution. All you need is a set of Allen wrenches and some patience.
Squealing brakes are also often seen because of dirty brakes or at least dirty rims. Clean and dry both properly and in 50% of cases you will have solved the problem. If that doesn’t work, they may need to be adjusted. If your brakes have become sluggish and listless, that is, if you squeeze the brake lever and it moves more than halfway toward the handlebars, you need to tighten them. The easiest way to do this is to turn the barrel adjuster on the brake lever. If that doesn’t help, you’ll need to get out your Allen wrenches and loosen the brake cable by opening the brake nut, pulling it tight, and closing the nut again.
Other bike maintenance tips
Once a year should be fine, ideally at the beginning of spring when you have the courage to cycle through the winter. There’s no shame in calling in the professionals. Think of it as your bike tune-up. Buy a bike-specific lubricant and use it sparingly on all parts of your bike. There’s no point in oiling your chain if you haven’t cleaned it thoroughly first. Doing so will only make matters worse when caring for your bike. Here are some more simple rules you could follow in general:
- Keep your bike indoors and avoid storing it outdoors. Rain, moisture and dirt will cause your parts to wear out faster and result in higher repair and maintenance costs.
- Bikes that are ridden in the rain and/or off-road generally require more frequent and extensive maintenance. If you are a frequent commuter or long distance rider, you may find that your bike needs more frequent maintenance.
- Do not use WD40 on your chain. This stuff is made for doors and materials that sometimes move, but not for bikes that have a lot of pressure and movement. In fact, WD40 will strip your chain of oil, causing metal-on-metal grinding. Rather, use chain oil instead.
- If your bike has been in an accident or you have purchased a used bike, it is recommended that you take it in for a thorough inspection to make sure it is functioning properly and safely.
- The main purpose of a bicycle should be transportation and the enjoyment of cycling.