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 maintenance regularly.
Poor maintenance leads to faster wear of many components, which can be costly to replace. For example, something as simple as a dirty, stiff chain can drastically reduce the miles you get from your drivetrain.
There is also a cost to riding efficiency. A poorly maintained system will require extra effort to get the same movement as a well-maintained one.
By following these tips provided below, you will:
- Limit the number of professional services needed
- Save time
- Save money
- Learn new skills
How often do you need to perform basic maintenance?
The frequency depends on the following factors:
- Duration (miles)
- Trail or road conditions
- Level of components
Before the Ride
Before each ride, check your bike briefly to ensure it is road-ready. Doing so will help prevent any issues from arising while you are riding.
- Check tire pressure to make sure it is within the recommended pressure range. Too much tire pressure makes a bike more uncomfortable to ride. It also reduces grip on the road, making handling more difficult (especially in corners). On the other hand, too little pressure slows you down through increased friction. In addition, the likelihood of a pinch puncture increases.
- Check the chain with a quick spin to ensure it is ready to ride on. If it sounds stiff or creaky and you are in a rush, you can apply some bike chain oil quickly to prepare it for your ride.
- See how the brakes are working. A poorly functioning or broken brakes can easily cause an accident. Brakes are the most important thing to check before you set off. Spin each wheel and check the corresponding brake is gripping appropriately. Also, ensure that the brake pads are not touching the rim if you use rim brakes. You can adjust these easily with a multitool.
- Ensure the lights are either charged or have sufficient battery before you head out. If your lights run out of battery while you are riding, you may be unaware that you are not visible.
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To Perform The Basic Maintenance – You will need the following tools, all of which you can find at any bike store and many of which are included in bike tool kits:
- Hand pump and foot pump (with a gauge, if possible)
- Tire levers
- Inner tubes
- Puncture repair kit
- Chain oil (wet or dry)
- Degreaser/soap and water
- An old toothbrush, and rags
Related: 11 Essential Bicycle Accessories
Five Basic Bike Maintenance Procedures
Chain Care / Tire Pressure / Puncture Repairs / Cleaning the Bike / Overall check
1. Chain Care
Chain is what makes the wheels spin, right? So clean and lube the chain roughly every three or four weeks. You can purchase dry or wet chain lube based on where you live and ride.
- Using a rag or an old toothbrush, clean the chain with a degreaser or warm soapy water to rid the chain of old oil and dirt.
- Once clean, apply oil slowly with the dropper steady over the chain. Make sure to put one drop on each link, turning the pedals to ensure the lube spreads on the whole chain.
- Once fully lubed, wipe away excess oil to prevent any splashing.
- Make sure to clean the front cog(s) and rear derailleur sprockets too!
Consider replacing the chain every 2,000 miles or so due to regular wear. If you fail to do so, you might damage the cassette and chainrings, which would be costly.
Make sure to also read our full guide on how to clean and lube a bike chain for the best results.
2. Tire Pressure
Make sure to check a bicycle tire pressure regularly for optimal performance.
The target pressure range (PSI) is written on the tire wall. Keep your back tire a few PSI higher than the front one. Use the bottom end of the range to gain more traction for wet-weather riding.
- 30 = Lighter person, off-road trails
- 60 = PSI heavier rider, maximum speed
Every two weeks, check your tires for any holes or objects stuck in them. Things can get stuck in the tire and eventually cause a puncture. A damaged tire with large holes or many smaller ones will significantly increase the risk of a puncture, so in that case, it is wise to consider a replacement soon.
3. Puncture Repair Process
Follow this step-by-step process to repair any puncture. For a step-by-step visual guide of the process, check out this WikiHow.
Remove the wheel
Most bikes have quick-release or thru-axle skewers, which makes removal fast and easy. However, you may need your multitool if your bike doesn’t have either of these.
Remove the skewer or wheel nuts. You may need to release the rim brakes by pushing the two sides together and lifting the cable through the hole at the top. If removing the back wheel, shift the gears to the smallest chainring first.
Remove tire with tire levers
Wedge one or two levers a few inches apart and underneath the tire to gain space. Leave the one or two levers in place. Then, wedge another lever alongside, and use it to release one side of the tire wall over the rim by moving it in a circular motion around the wheel.
Let out all remaining air from the tube. Once empty, feed the valve through the rim to be able to remove the tube from beneath the tire.
Find puncture on the tube and tire
Take care to find where the puncture occurred and the corresponding area on the tire, using the valve as a point of reference. If using a repair kit, mark or take note of the location.
Doing this will allow you to remove any sharp objects left in the tire so that they don’t puncture the new tube.
Replace the tube or use your puncture repair kit
Replace the tube with your spare, starting with the valve through the wheel rim, feeding the tube underneath the tire wall with your fingers.
If using a repair kit, check the instructions to note any steps not specified below. Then:
- Take the sandpaper from the box and rub it over the hole and the area around it
- Apply some glue over the hole and when it has started to set, place the patch over the hole with the correct side down (see instructions to know which side)
- Apply pressure for the time indicated on the instructions. Don’t let the patch move while it sets
- Ensure the patch is completely stuck before you remove the plastic cover from the patch
- Replace the tube
Refit the tire
Don’t use the tire levers for this step, as they can easily pinch the tube.
Push the tube up into the tire to get it out of the way. Then, begin by pushing the tire wall over the rim equally on both sides until you reach resistance. Next, move the opposite side of the tire wall towards the middle of the wheel rim to give you extra space to get the last section over.
Use the force required to push the remaining tire section over the rim with your fingers (this may be difficult for tight-fitting tires).
Once the tire is over the wheel with the tube inside, you can begin to inflate the tube partially. Check to see that the tire is fitted correctly before pumping fully.
When you have checked that everything is fine, inflate the new or repaired tube back to full pressure and place it back on the wheel back on the bike in the reverse order to how you took it off.
4. Keep it Clean
General cleanliness helps prevent more severe repair jobs by preventing rust and the build-up of dirt on and within components.
A clean bike (especially the drivetrain) will run more efficiently and quietly, making your ride more enjoyable.
- Full guide: How to Clean and Lube Your Mountain Bike
To clean the bike, use some warm soapy water and old rags. To rinse, use a low-pressure hose to remove soap. Finally, dry it thoroughly, paying particular attention to any areas with metal screws or components.
After you’ve cleaned the bike, dry the chain as well.
5. Check the whole bike
After some time, checking all the bolts, nuts, and wheels is worthwhile.
- Front end – Hold the front brake and move the bike back on forth. Do you feel anything loose, or is it solid?
If there’s even a little play, you should take immediate action. A loose head tube can lead to serious failure. First, loosen the two bolts on the stem, and tighten the center bolt inside (generally under a cover) by a quarter turn clockwise. Then, re-tighten the two bolts on the stem and see if it is still loose.
*Make sure not to over-tighten the stem. Otherwise, the front end won’t move as freely as it needs to.
- Check pedals – Do the pedals turn freely when you spin them? If not, replace pedals, or get them greased. Pedals make thousands of turns, and by replacing the pedals, you can improve the average speed noticeably.
- Gears – Does each gear work properly when shifting? If there is a rattling noise, you may need to adjust the rear derailleur (and possibly the front one).
- Cassette – Move the cassette side-to-side. If there’s a noticeable movement, get it re-tightened (it requires a special tool).
- Check the wheels – Quick-release hubs might move from their original spot over time. You can hold the bike up, loosen the quick-release hubs, and re-tighten the wheel.
Even if you are not a regular at a specific bike shop, we’d recommend getting the bike checked by a professional now and then.
Bicycle maintenance can be easy and quick when you keep on top of the process. With this checklist of maintenance tips, you can easily extend the lifetime of your bicycle, saving you effort and money and making your bike riding more enjoyable.
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