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3 Essential Bike Repairs Every Cyclist Should Know

By Mark   /  Last updated - December 28, 2022   /  Advice, Blog, Guide, Maintenance

Basic Bicycle Repairs

If you have a brand new bike, the excitement of getting out there and hitting the open road can be hard to resist. However, before you jump on, there are a few important bicycle repair skills that you should know.

Even if you’re not new to cycling, you may have gotten by on luck so far and escaped a mechanical issue while riding. However, at some point, every cyclist falls foul to the inevitable roadside emergency.

In this article, we look at the essential bicycle repair skills that every cyclist should know before leaving the house. 

The 3 Essential Components That Keep You Moving

The three key components that keep a bicycle going are the wheels, drivetrain, and brakes. Every cyclist should know the basic repair skills to keep each of these components operating smoothly.  

1. Puncture Repair

bicycle puncture repair

A flat tire is probably the most common issue that cyclists are faced with, so it’s vital that you know some basic puncture repair skills.

Fixing a tire puncture can be dirty, annoying and time-consuming, but it’s the very least that any cyclist should know.

Bicycle puncture repair differs depending on the type of bike you have, whether it’s a road bike or MTB, and more specifically, if it’s tubeless. Most road, city, and hybrid bikes traditionally use the standard tire and tube system, while newer mountain bikes and gravel bikes have embraced tubeless tires. 

Standard Tire Repair with Tubes

To repair a puncture on a standard tire with tubes:

  1. Slip a tire lever under the rim and, being careful not to pinch the deflated tube, pry the tire out and over the rim. 
  2. Holding the first lever in place, use the second tire lever to pry the rest of the tire off the rim. 
  3. Only do this on one side of the wheel.
  4. You should now be able to remove the deflated tube from the side of the tire that’s loose.
  5. Find the puncture by pumping up the tube slightly and listening for escaping air, or running the tube through water until you see bubbles.
  6. When you’ve located the puncture, rub the tire surface around the hole smooth with the metal repair kit grater or sandpaper. 
  7. Once smooth, seal the hole using a patch and glue and wait to dry.
  8. Ensure no thorns are left on the inside of the tire and then replace the tube and pop the tire back on.
  9. You needn’t remove the entire wheel from the bicycle unless you want to put in a new tube.

Tubeless Tire Repair

tubeless tire repair kit

Muc-Off stealth tubeless puncture plugs. | Image source: Jenson USA

With tubeless tires, rather than an inner tube the tires contain liquid sealant that blocks punctures as they occur. If you get a flat, usually you just need to: 

  1. Stop and rotate the tire a few times to mix sealant around.
  2. Wait for the sealant to harden in the hole.
  3. Pump the tire back up.

If the puncture doesn’t repair itself, either the damage is too severe or you may need to add more sealant.

On the rare occasion that the tire is too damaged to repair with sealant, you’ll need to use a tubeless repair kit to plug the hole or replace it with a completely new tire.

Plugging a Tubeless Tire

To plug a tubeless tire, you’ll need a tubeless repair kit that consists of a tubeless repair plug tool and tubeless plugs. Then, just follow the easy steps below:

  1. First, remove the sharp object that has caused the puncture, if it is still lodged in the tire. 
  2. Use the tubeless plug tool to enlarge the hole slightly and make enough room for the plug to enter. 
  3. Be careful not to go too deep with the plug tool and damage the rim or the rim tape. 
  4. Thread a plug through the tool and insert it into the tire. 
  5. Twist the tool carefully and slowly remove it so that the two ends of the plug are sticking out of the tire. 
  6. Inflate the tire to the desired air pressure and ensure there are no air leaks. 

Replacing a Tubeless Tire

tubeless tire installment

Carefully pour the sealant into the tire once the majority of the bead is set in. | Source: YouTube screenshot — Park Tool

In case you’ve been so unlucky that your tubeless tire is damaged beyond repair, you will need to replace it with a new one. Here’s a simple step-by-step guide on how to do it:

  1. First, clean the rim thoroughly.
  2. Ensure the rim tape is blocking all spoke holes in an airtight fashion.
  3. Install the tubeless valve by screwing in the knurled nut with your fingers.
  4. Place one side of the tire on the rim.
  5. Using a tire lever, force the opposite side on while ensuring the bead locks into the rim.
  6. Pump up the tire.
  7. Some people use an inner tube to secure the tire more easily, and then remove it later.

2. Keeping the Chain and Gears Turning

adjusting bicycle gears

A misplaced chain is only a slightly annoying issue that requires no tools and is much easier to fix than a flat tire. You might get your fingers a bit oily but fixing it simply requires the following:

  1. First, put the chain on the smallest rear cog.
  2. Then, pull the chain under the front cog and turn the pedals backward so it slips on. 

This can happen if your gearing is not tuned correctly or if you hit a hard bump and the chain bounces off the cog. 

Tuning the Gears

In case the chain keeps falling off the largest or the smallest cog of the rear cassette, you’ll need to tune the rear derailleur.

  1. If the chain is falling off the largest cog, with a small Philips screwdriver turn the H-limit screw clockwise and test again until the chain stops falling off.
  2. If the chain is falling off the smallest cog of the rear cassette, turn the L-limit screw anti-clockwise and test until it stops falling off.
  3. The front derailleur uses similar adjustment screws.

However, if the chain is damaged and keeps slipping off or breaks completely, it’ll need to be fixed or replaced. This is a far more complex procedure that requires spare chain links and a chain tool.

If you plan to do a lot of long-distance cycling, it’s a good idea to get the correct tools and learn the process of replacing a chain link. Chains can differ slightly by brand, so be sure to check that you have the correct tool and links for your chain.

3. Replacing Brake Pads

replacing bicycle brake pads

Disc brake bicycle pads. | Image source: Jenson USA

Puncture repair might be the most common repair issue but brakes are probably the most important. Fortunately, brake pads last a long time so you shouldn’t need to replace them very often, but it’s important to check them frequently for wear.

Rim Brakes (Caliper, V-Brakes, Cantilever)

Rim brakes are the standard, inexpensive brake type found on most road, hybrid, and commuter bikes. They come in various styles but all have a similar method of changing the brake pads.

  • Using a spanner or Allen key (depending on the screw type) simply unscrew the old pads and screw the new pads into place.
  • If the pads are not worn out but the brakes still feel weak, you can tighten the brake mechanism using the adjusting barrel on the brake levers or tightening the brake cable at the assembly.

Disc Brakes (Hydraulic or Mechanical)

Unlike rim brakes, disc brakes stop the wheel at the hub, providing better braking power. If you have disc brakes, the process of changing brake pads is a bit more complex but the concept is the same. 

  • First, you should remove the wheel and then remove the retainer pin that holds the worn pads in place. 
  • Being careful not to touch the rotor or get any contaminants on it, slip the new pads in place and replace the retainer pin.

When buying spare brake pads, always ensure you get the correct type for your specific brakes.

Basic Tools and Spares All Cyclists Need

Park Tool bicycle repair kit

Park Tool’s PK-5 professional-level repair kit. | Image source: Jenson USA

You should always carry the following tools and spares with you on any ride that is further than walking distance from your house:

  • Spare tubes/tire sealant
  • Puncture repair kit
  • Multitool for cycling (hex, Torx, and screwdrivers) 
  • Mini-pump
  • Tire levers

Other items that are good to have for longer rides:

  • Spare brake pads
  • Chain whip
  • Spare chain links
  • Spoke wrench
  • Multi spanner/wrench tool
  • Lubricant

Bonus: Pre-ride Checklist

You should check each of these things before each ride, especially if you’ve done any repairs or upgrades:

  • Ensure your tires are inflated to the correct pressure, as indicated on the tire. 
  • Once inflated correctly, lift the bike and spin each wheel one at a time to check the alignment is ok. If one part of the rim hits the brake pad on each rotation, the wheel alignment is out and should be fixed at the first convenience.

Basic Bike Maintenance for Beginner Cyclists

If you want your bicycle to last as long as possible and run smoothly for every ride, you must perform basic ...
  • Now, holding the handlebars, jerk the bike forward and check that both the front and rear brakes are working correctly.
  • Lift the rear wheel by the saddle, spin the pedals and change through a few gears to ensure they are changing smoothly. 
  • Finally, check the wheel axles are sufficiently tightened, the handlebars are fixed in place, and the saddle is secure.

If all is good, you’re safe and ready to ride!

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