Simple Bicycle Maintenance: How to Keep Your Bike in Good Shape
As you ride your bike, it will undergo a certain amount of wear and tear, just by being outside with you. Your bike has a lot going on — chains, gears, wheels, brakes — and these systems are all working, all the time. Even if you mostly ride on fairly tame terrain, your bike has a number of moving parts that are all slowly getting worn down by doing their jobs every day.
Keeping your bicycle in good working order is an important part of being a cyclist. If your bike breaks down, it could leave you stranded somewhere or powerless to avoid an accident. If you’ve never thought about working on your bike before, it’s time to start. Having a safe bicycle is a must, and learning how to do some basic work yourself can also save you money along the way.
There’s a lot you can do yourself without having to take your bike into the shop to keep it running efficiently and safely. Here are some of the most important regular check-ins and maintenance you should be doing on your bike.
Your brakes are the most important safety feature on your bike. If they don’t work when you need them to, you could be in a lot of trouble.
That’s why it’s worth it to give your breaks a little test every single time you get on your bike. Before heading out and riding at top speed, get going slowly and try braking with both hands at once and then one at a time. If any part of your test feels like your brakes might not be gripping your wheels tightly enough to stop you, you’ll need to look deeper.
Common problems with brakes include brake pads dragging on your wheel, brake pads getting worn out, and the brake cables getting stretched out.
Every bike has adjusters that you can use to tighten loose brake cables; a quick Google search will show you where to find them on your specific model. You can make a big difference in your braking power by tightening these cables when your brakes start to feel a little soft.
If you have a pad dragging on your wheel even after you’ve released your grip the brake, this is usually caused by a wheel that is out of alignment, and can be fixed by re-centering the wheel. Usually you can do this yourself, just by loosening the wheel and making sure it is lined up with the bike frame as you tighten it back into place.
If you need to replace your brake pads, this is a job best done by an expert. In fact, any work done on your brakes or wheels that you don’t feel 100% confident to do yourself should be at least examined by an expert before you take your bike back out on the road.
Many bicycle shops are happy to demonstrate proper maintenance, if you’re interested, so you can become more expert at working with the most important safety features of your bicycle.
The steering components
Another quick check to do before hitting the road on your bike is making sure that your front wheel and handlebars are moving normally. Give your bike a little bounce on the front wheel and turn the handlebars left and right, to make sure that everything is moving smoothly and normally. You don’t want to find out that something is misaligned or locked up when you are trying to make a quick maneuver in traffic.
If your handlebars aren’t facing the same direction as your wheel (or if turning your handlebars doesn’t turn your wheel an equivalent amount) you will need to tighten your handlebars. Start by loosening your handlebars far enough for you to move them around freely (usually an Allen wrench will do the trick); then you can stand in front of your bike, line them up correctly, and then re-tighten with the Allen wrench.
If something isn’t moving normally, this is worth checking with an expert as well, so you don’t get caught unable to steer in a challenging situation.
The chain, cassette, and derailleurs
Another of the most important systems of your bicycle is this set of parts. It is literally what keeps your bicycle wheels moving forward, so you need it to be in good working order.
The biggest things you can do to maintain your chain, cassette, and derailleurs is to keep them clean and lubricated. If your chain gets too dry, it will squeak and your gears won’t shift smoothly; same with derailleurs and the cables that move throughout your bike.
On a regular basis, you should use a degreaser and a toothbrush to clean off your chain; let it dry and then lubricate it with the oil of your choice. Backpedal the bike a bit to get the oil evenly applied, and then wipe off any excess.
Keep the cassette, derailleurs, and the cables moving throughout your bike clean and lubricated as well. Wiping everything down with a rag after you’ve oiled it and backpedaled the oil through will keep both the gear system and your pant legs clean.
Your chain is something that will be replaced several times in the life of your bike, if you ride regularly. When your chain is worn down to about 25%, you should expect to replace it. Keeping your chain and these other important parts well greased and clean, however, will help extend their life and make your bike rides super smooth.
Wheels and tires
Before getting on your bike, make sure your tires are fully inflated and that your wheels are spinning in alignment with the bike.Also make sure the levers any quick-release levers you have on your wheels are fully tightened before you start to ride, and that all your spokes are solidly in place.
It’s always a good idea to carry a tire patch kit and a bicycle pump when you’re riding, in case you get a flat tire along the way. If you find yourself with a flat tire, use a flat lever to remove your tire from the rim. Feel around the tube to find the hole; if there is anything there still puncturing the tire, remove it. Clean the damaged area as well as possible (ideally with a little alcohol and an emery cloth), and the apply your patch according to the instructions in your kit. Usually you will either apply an adhesive patch by holding it firmly over the damaged area, or by applying glue and holding your patch in place.
An alternative to patching your tire is to simply carry an extra tube with you when you ride. That way, you can just replace your damaged tube on the spot and deal with repairing or replacing the damaged tube after you get safely home.
Be safe and prepared on your bike with a little maintenance
Compared with a car, your bicycle is a breeze in terms of difficulty and cost of maintenance; you’ll have to do so much less, and pay significantly less, to keep your bike in good working order. That said, regular safety checks and a little work need to be done every once in a while to keep you rolling safely on your way. But when you take good care of your bike, it takes good care of you, and helps you get where you’re going quickly and safely.