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Basic Bicycle Maintenance You Should Know

One of the best things about cycling, especially doing it regularly, is that it doesn’t require the kind of upkeep a car does. There are no regular trips to the mechanic for an oil change or worrying about windshield wiper fluid refills, but there is some basic bicycle maintenance that you should consider adding to your routine if you aren’t already.

Keeping up on maintenance not only lengthens the life of your bicycle, it also helps keep you safe on the road. It doesn’t take a lot of time to clean and examine your bike, especially if you’re doing it regularly. 

Cleaning the Chain

Keeping your chain clean and lubricated is one of the best and easiest ways to keep your bike performing well — after all, lubrication keeps your chains moving smoothly and without it, the dirt acts like sandpaper, wearing the components down until they need replacement.

If you ride more often, plan to inspect and perform routine maintenance more often. For chains that don’t have too much dirt and build-up, just grab a rag and some degreaser. Once that degreaser is dry, you can add some lubricant to each link of the chain, removing any excess. Too much could also lead to damage and also attract more dirt, defeating the purpose of cleaning the chain.

If you’re new to the cycling world, the good news is that there are tons of online tutorials and local Bay Area organizations that are willing to teach you the ropes.

Remember your ABCs

Air. Brakes. Chains. These are a few of the most important features of your bicycle that without proper care could cause you a lot of problems. Ideally, you should be checking each of these three things before each ride. This isn’t a major check-up, but it could prevent you from some bigger problems down the road, plus this quick check will keep you safer. 

Air – You won’t get far without it. Checking the air in your tires is a pretty routine maintenance check that will hopefully keep you from a flat later on in the day. In addition to air, check your tires for any damage and that your axle is in good condition. Then, make sure you have your pump and patch kit before you take off for the ride — just in case you need them. 

Brakes – A brake failure could be catastrophic. Test your front and rear brakes before each ride. You want the motion to be smooth.

Chains – Always make sure your chain is well-lubricated and there are no obstructions. Keep in mind that the chain is the most important part to keeping your bike moving, so you’ll want to keep an eye on it and service as necessary. A quick tip: If you touch the chains and there’s black or dark residue on your finger, it’s time for a clean.

The M Check

Your ABCs are a good way to make sure everything is in proper working order before you hit the road, but to be a bit more thorough, go through the M Check, which gets its name from the shape you make by following the frame.

First, start at the back wheel and check for any damage. Inspect the spokes as well. Then, move up to the saddle (make sure it’s adjusted just right) and inspect chains. Do any maintenance, like cleaning and adding lubrication, that needs to be done. After that, check your pedals then head back up the stem of the bike to check your handlebars and brakes. Along the way look for any damage to the frame. Finally, you’ll arrive at your front wheel, where you’ll do the same inspection as the bike wheel. 

Through this method you’ll hit all the major spots on your bike. 

Bikes Need Washing, Too 

There’s no avoiding the elements when you’re out on your bike. Whether it’s rain and mud or the heat from hot city pavement, you’ll find that your environment will always play a role in your maintenance. 

Even if you haven’t encountered any harsh weather, it’s a good idea to wash your bicycle regularly. It helps dirt and grime from building up — which can be especially detrimental on the most important parts of your bike, like the chain and the bolts that hold it all together. 

For the most part, a damp rag will suffice, but for a really dirty bike, grab a brush and some soapy water for the frame. 

Pay special attention to the drivetrain for your bike (this goes beyond just your chain and includes the front chain rings, rear cassette, rear derailleur and chain). You’ll need degreaser, rags, and lubricant. A chain-cleaning device might also help, but it’s not required. 

For your cassette, grab a brush to remove any built-up dirt. Run a thin rag between the gears, kind of like floss, for a deep clean. 

A stand will also make bike maintenance a lot easier and more comfortable.. This way you can move the chain easily and you won’t have to hunch over. 

Bike Bolt Maintenance

Dozens of bolts hold your bicycle together, and if you don’t keep them clean, you may find that you have a less-than-smooth ride and a frame that creaks. Just a little maintenance can go a long way in keeping your bike in good working condition. 

About once a month, check the tightness of your bike’s fasteners. For more intense cyclists, experts recommend every two weeks or so. You’ll want to use a torque wrench to get the desired tightness, and remember that over-tightening could lead to cracks or other damage. To get it just right, refer to the manufacturer or the imprinted specs on your bike. 

Finally, if you can, replace the corroded bolts. Make sure the area around the bolt is clean before replacing. A bike shop can help you accomplish this if you don’t have the necessary tools.