While bicycling is simple in its essence, it does require more than just the ability to ride. Knowing basic maintenance skills is an absolute must if you want to keep your bike in prime condition in between rides, while also being equipped to handle certain component failures while out on your ride.
Although it’s true that some situations are best left to the experts at your local bike shop, there are a number of skills you can easily employ on your own, making you not only more self-sufficient, but allowing you to ride more with the confidence that comes from having a well-maintained bike — and the ability to not have your ride ruined midway by an unexpected flat tire, for instance.
Below, I’ll go over the — most critical maintenance skills you need to master, along with a few easy ways to ensure that your bike is always at its best.
All of the skills listed below can be either during a ride, or in between. Some are obviously easier than others depending on the situation, but essential nonetheless.
Wrapping Handlebar Tape
We’ll start with something very easy. This one’s for all the avid road cyclists. out there. Anyone that’s had a fresh tape job on their handlebars knows the like-new feel this can give your bike, making your handlebars more comfortable as well, and improving aesthetics.
It doesn’t matter whether or not you wrap from the outside in or vice versa, what matters is keeping everything even and uniform. The overlap should be approximately half the width of the tape as you go. This is vital to keep the handlebar tape’s thickness even.
Right before completing one side, stand in front of the bike and pulling towards you, cut the tape in half to make sure you can cover the ends with finishing tape. Electrical tape will work fine for this. Apple the bar end plugs when you’re done.
Your chain is what drives your bike, so it’s extremely important to give it a quick inspection before each ride.
This can be done by lifting the chain from a section of the chain-ring, and examining how many teeth are exposed. If there’s three or four, you have excessive wear, and you’ll need to change it out.
Is you chain dry, or have you neglected to lube it for awhile? Time to get the chain oil out.
Start by wiping the chain by turning the cranks and holding a rag on the chain, then wipe the teeth of the cogs as the hub turns. Now wipe the derailleurs and the front chain-rings while cranking the pedals.
Now it’s time for the chain lube. Drip the lubricant on each of the chain’s links and rollers as you turn the cranks, holding the bottle just a little above it. Continue until the chain is lubed.
I’ve already said that the chain is vastly important, but the ability to stop is just as paramount — unless you’re one of those fixed gear. people. In that case, just skip this.
If you have caliper-style brake pads, you can check the pads by taking off the wheel and looking inside the pads. If the pads look smooth and glazed, take them off the calipers and use sandpaper to scuff them up a bit. Be sure to not touch the pads with your bare fingers.
If the pads are less than 3mm thick, they’ll need to be replaced altogether.
As for disc brakes, things are a little different.
Inspect the brake rotors for debris and mud, and then make sure they are still straight, avoiding any rubbing against the pads. If the rotors are dirty, you can clean them with rubbing alcohol, and then rough them up lightly with your sandpaper.
Take this time to check the nuts and bolts on the rotors, and tighten if necessary. If your handles are feeling off, and either require too much pressure to stop, or are too sensitive, you’ll need to take them by your bike shop for a quick adjustment.
Changing/Patching a Tire Tube
Perhaps the most common issue you’ll encounter on your bike, knowing how to change and/or repair a tube is a minimum requirement prior to riding.
If you have a flat, you’ll need to turn your bike upside down, and then remove whichever tire it is. Using a tire tool remove the tube and set aside.
If you know the source of the flat, use your tube repair kit (which you should already have on you). Clean the puncture area, smooth the surface with your sandpaper, apply the patch, and allow to set.
Partially inflate your tube, and then reinsert it back into the tire. Once it’s positioned correctly, continue inflating the tube until you reach the right psi. Place the bike back on its tires, and you’re good to go.
Clean Your Bike!
One of the easiest and most helpful things you can do is simply keep your bike clean in between rides. The best part? You don’t need any expensive tools or anything. Just a bucket of soapy water, and maybe a sponge and an old toothbrush.
Using some degreaser is helpful if you’re having trouble cleaning the cogs, or any other bothersome area near your gearing. Remember to lube your chain afterwards.
Your derailleurs are responsible for shifting your gears, and they’re also the most complicated part of the bike. Keeping them inline will go a long way.
With the chain on the inside chain-ring, remove excess slack in the cable by turning the barrel adjuster on the cable stop (right outside of the shifter) counterclockwise.
Make sure the cable is loose enough to allow the chain to shift smoothly to the inner chain-ring. Do this a few times.
You’ll also want to check that the cable has been tightened enough so the derailleur moves as soon as you move the shifter. You can fine-tune this while you’re riding the bike.
Advanced rear derailleur adjustments will need to be made by your bike shop, but you can at least ensure that the derailleur doesn’t get caught up in the spokes by moving past where it should stop.
The low-gear limit screw in the derailleur stops its inward movement. The screw labeled “L” and is usually the bottom screw, and this is the one you’ll use to adjust this
Shift the chain to the inner chain-ring on the front, then shift the rear derailleur to the biggest. If the derailleur either touches the spokes, or pushes the chain over the largest cog, tighten the “L” screw until the derailleur ceases to get too close.
If for some reason the derailleur cannot move the chain to the largest cog, loosen the screw one-quarter turn until it can.
Basic bike maintenance is actually fairly simple, and takes just a little practice and familiarity. Once you’ve practiced each of these a few times, you’ll be just fine, and always ready to perform your own maintenance and fixes in a moment’s notice. Happy riding!