Bicycle Maintenance for Beginners
When you get on your bicycle to go for a ride, you create a connection between yourself and your vehicle. And you can further get in tune with your beloved bike by handling some of the maintenance and even minor repairs yourself.
Every cyclist should know how to do a five-minute pre-ride inspection or safety check without exception. That’s a must before every single ride.
Those five minutes can save you time and frustration once you hit the road or trails. You’re trying to catch potential problems and loose components before they cause a dangerous situation.
Speaking the Language
It’s essential to know the name of most of the many parts of your bike and what each does. Plus, it’s fun to learn cyclist lingo if it’s all new to you.
Whether it’s what you need in your kit before you head out on two wheels or what to bring in case of a quick stop when you’re on the open road: Check out these alphabetised vocabulary words all about bikes.
Most issues you find during the pre-ride inspection can be fixed using a simple bike multitool. It’s an all-in-one wonder piece of kit you’ll want to keep with your bike for at-home or mid-ride repairs.
The pre-ride safety check is as simple as remembering your ABCs. Literally, it’s “A” for air, “B” for brakes, and “C” for chain.
A tyre that is low on air is at risk of going flat while you’re riding. See this handy tyre pressure calculator, and bookmark it, so you have it handy for your next pre-ride check-up. Take along a patch kit and pump if possible.
Make sure your brakes are engaging smoothly. You check this by squeezing your front and rear brake levers.
Check out your chain then all of the bike’s gears. Keeping the chain lubricated and free from debris is so important to be sure your bike shifts gear easily. You’re also extending the life of your drivetrain; the front chainrings and in the rear the cassette and derailleur.
Check out this video on how to do a five-minute pre-ride check.
Many consider spokes a bit too dodgy for DIY work. Here’s what’s involved in adjusting bicycle spokes from the simplest evaluations to more complicated adjustments.
Give your spokes a little strum, like playing the harp. Do this often, so you know how your spokes feel and sound. When one feels wonky or the usual tone changes or one is a different pitch than the rest, you know a loose spoke is to blame.
The diagnosis is pretty simple; it’s the repair that can get too complicated for some cyclists because another tool is needed in the toolbox, plus the potential to do damage.
If a spoke goes wobbly, you’ll need to put your bike on a stand and use a spoke wrench to add tension back.
Need a Pro?
Don’t feel bad about turning to a bicycle shop with a mechanic for help. Experts recommend regular professional maintenance in addition to your DIY work.
If you regularly take your bike out for a spin, it’s best to take it in for a professional tune-up every six months. A mechanic is trained and experienced in assessing complex bike components that can be hard to evaluate. Nevertheless, they’ll give a thorough inspection and make necessary repairs.
It’s what keeps you riding smooth and clean. Don’t overdo it though; too much oil leads to damaged parts and attracts dirt and grime. There should be a sheen but no excess.
Lubrication protects all the moving parts that make up your bike. It defends against your bike’s enemies, including friction, corrosion, and rust.
There’s wet lube and dry lube specifically made for bikes. Depending on the environment and conditions, you pick wet or dry where you ride your bike. Wet lube is best if you ride in the rain or similarly wet climates. It sticks well on the drivetrain, so it holds on better in water or mud.
Dry lube is less sticky. So there’s less chance of getting dirt and grit stuck to components while riding in a dry or dusty area. However, if you wind up under a heavy rain shower, use caution because dry lube rinses off easily.
Once you pick the brand and type of lube, it’s a good idea to get in the habit of consistently applying lubrication to the various parts in the same order. For one, you’re less likely to miss a spot. Secondly, the time it takes to apply to the five sections gives the lubrication a chance to soak in until you’re ready to give it a good wipe down.
Here’s a list of the areas in need of lubrication to keep your bike in good shape:
- The chain
- Front chainrings and rear cassette
- Brake and derailleur levers
- Brake and derailleur cables
- Brake and derailleur assemblies
Keep It Clean
See this article for a list of bike cleaning supplies you need on hand, plus some how-to guides for giving your bike a spa day.
You don’t want to skimp on washing it because you’re not just getting it sparkling clean you’re performing some maintenance.
Especially the drivetrain and the chain. Those are the top two dirtiest components on a bike which cuts down both lifespan and performance. In addition, the chain will wear faster and chain links will lose flexibility over time.
Dirt is also hard on drivetrain cogs and derailleur assemblies, making it harder to shift gears. That’s why you first clean your bike and then carry out any maintenance or repairs.
Once you have your supplies on hand, it’s time to decide which tools you choose to buy. It’s a fairly long list because your bike is made up of a lot of parts, both small and large.
You don’t have to rush out and buy everything on the list. Instead, you can trim it down based on the types of maintenance and repairs you plan to tackle for yourself. Some items you may already have on hand such as wrenches, screwdrivers, and sharp shears.
Other bike-specific tools and specialised tools are necessary to do the work properly. If willing to learn how it’s estimated, cyclists can perform around 80% of all repair and maintenance work on their own.
The following items are considered the bare bones tools that are a must if you ride:
A bike tyre pump is essential, and opt for one with a built-in pressure gauge. This has a couple of options, from CO2 canisters filled with compressed air for a quick top-up to a dual charger which will be the most expensive option but also the easiest to use with the fastest results.
As previously mentioned, a bicycle multitool packs a lot in a small package. It’s best to pick one with a chain breaker. A replacement tube plus a patch kit is quite convenient. Plus torque wrenches and regular wrenches, tyre levers, lubricant, and a few extra links.
Additional tools that may be considered optional but great to have if you can afford to get them:
Consider buying a repair stand. Never stand your bike upside down because you can easily damage components while trying to fix it. The most at-risk parts include the cables, your saddle, and any accessories you’ve added.
If you don’t care to buy a repair stand, you’ll need a way of hanging your bike so you can do the required tinkering while it’s suspended off the floor.
A chain checker is an important tool to consider, but you can also go more low-tech with a simple ruler! Twenty-four links of your chain should stay under 31 centimetres.
Longer than that, rivet to rivet means your chain needs replacing and possibly your cogset. A set of metric hex wrenches is a big help for bolts and fittings.
You can drill down to tools specifically for your bicycle chain:
- Cable cutters and shop shears
- A chain whip
- Star-shaped Torx bolts are common, so a Y-wrench helps with chaining and stem bolts.
Just Like Riding a Bike
With practise and persistence, a beginning cyclist can quickly learn skills that can last a lifetime of peddling for pleasure.
From across the pond in Central Park comes this guide on DIY maintenance, plus how often a rider should do each task.
In addition to the satisfaction of caring for your own trusty ride, you’ll also have more confidence to tackle riding in the busy city or far-flung trails in the countryside.
Each time you strap on your helmet and hop on your bicycle, you can be sure you are ready for any adventure!
Happy Riding Bobbin bikers!