There are many bikes out there that are really suffering. Whether they’ve got rusty gears, ancient chains or are just in need of a good scrub, the typical bicycle commuter doesn’t usually feel as though they have time to meddle with maintenance.
This guide aims to show that bike maintenance isn’t just for the hardcore bicyclists who can assemble a passable recumbent from the contents of a recycling bin. Anyone can carry out these simple procedures, and they take little time and even fewer resources!
In general, if you can follow these five procedures at least once every few months, your bike will last longer and you’ll get much more enjoyment out of it.
You can also remain confident that your bike will be much less likely to get involved in a bicycle road accident if it’s well-maintained.
5. Clean your bike
Bikes benefit from cleaning because it slows salt corrosion. This is not a big issue, as salt corrosion will only cause surface rust in almost all cases, and shouldn’t make your bike any less useful.
The bigger issue is that you may find that your bike’s performance is reduced as moving parts (such as brakes!) are impeded or otherwise hindered by dirt and mud.
Cleaning a bike properly also enables you to inspect the bike more thoroughly.
You could look into bike cleaning kits, and degreasing substances. However, you may find that you are able to use water to clean the bike, depending on how dirty the bike is. Steer clear of harsh cleaning products and any cleaning products which contain abrasive salts.
A soft rag and warm water should be enough for most bikes, but be sure that you dry the bike off thoroughly afterwards to prevent risk of rust.
4. Clean and lubricate your chain
The chain is one of the most abused parts of your bike. Every day it goes through immense pressures and stresses in order to perform its function. If your bike has gears, it also has to cope with forces acting on it from side to side.
Cleaning the chain from time to time is important to remove all the bits and pieces that get in between the parts of a chain, causing additional wear. Lubricating the chain is also important to prevent wear that occurs as the parts naturally interact.
Washing a new bike chain before it’s particularly dirty is often a bad idea because the factory lubrication that comes on the chain is generally very good.
Cleaning a bike chain is sometimes intimidating to new bike owners because many guides claim you have to remove the bike chain in order to either soak it in degreaser or use a bike brush on it.
This is overkill for most cyclists, who just need to clean the chain in place with water.
Once clean, swiftly drying the chain and applying lubrication is very important.
If you are using your bike in dusty conditions, you should usually use dry lube, while if you are using your bike in very clean conditions you can use wet lube. This is because wet lube can attract more dirt.
3. Replace Your Chain
As mentioned before, chains see a lot of abuse. This will inevitably cause wear eventually, even if you clean and lubricate the chain frequently – cleaning the chain often slows down the rate of wear, but does not stop it completely.
If the chain starts skipping and slipping, this is dangerous – you should replace the chain as soon as possible.
Alternatively, if the chain has ‘stretched’ noticeably, it will also need replacing. Stretched chains are not actually stretched – instead, the pins which link the chain together have worn and become smaller, enabling each chain link to move more. Once the chain has stretched, it can cause additional wear and damage to bicycle cogs and chainrings.
To replace a chain, you will need a chain breaker. These can be bought in any decent bike shop and shouldn’t cost too much.
Move the chain to the lowest gear for easy removal, then find the joining pin of the chain. The joining pin will often be a different colour from the rest of the links to distinguish it, and will have a slight dimple on one side and a slight protrusion on the other.
If you intend to discard the old chain, you do not need to worry about the joining pin – simply break the old chain and discard it. Otherwise, use the breaking tool to break the chain at the joining pin.
Take your replacement chain. The outer plates on many chains do not have holes in while the inner plates do. Use this to guide you when you’re trying to work out which way round you should hook up the chain.
Feed the chain over the top of the bottom pulley, then loop it back round the top pulley in the direction it came from. After this, loop it around the lowest (smallest) gear on your bike. Pull the chain gently through towards the front chainring of the bike.
At this point, you need to identify the derailleur, a curved mechanism usually located towards the back and top of the front chainring, and carefully feed the chain through the derailleur. Connect the chain to the lowest (smallest) chainring on the front as well, and loop it around to meet itself.
Make sure the chain is not too long, or it will be very loose. Shorten the chain by breaking it in the appropriate place with the chain breaker, then pull the two ends of the chain together and slide the joining pin into place (you should have received a joining pin with your new chain).
If it’s damaged in the process, don’t try to ride on it – it will eventually fail, probably at the most inconvenient moment possible.
2. Check up on your tyres
Well, bad tyres can easily result in punctures or direct loss of control. Under-inflated tyres lead to punctures, while bald patches and excessive wear contribute to loss of control.
Underinflated tyres simply require use of a pump. Identify your tyre’s valve type. A narrow, long valve on an expensive road bike is probably a Presta valve, for which you should use a smaller opening, a ‘smart pump’ with one opening which adjusts based on the type of valve, or a dedicated Presta bike pump.
Unscrew the dust cap and loosen the small ‘cap’. If you push on the stem of the valve, you should be able to hear air escaping. Attach the pump to the valve, and pump, keeping an eye on your PSI. When finished, detach the pump and quickly tighten up the brass cap and replace the dust cap.
A larger, shorter valve on a cheaper bike, American bike or mountain bike is probably a Schrader valve, for which you should try a larger opening or a dedicated Schrader bike pump.
A Schrader valve works differently from other bike valves, in that you can open and close them simply by removing or replacing the rubber cap that tops the valve.
A Woods valve is large and short, like the Schrader valve, but operates like the Presta valve.
Always make sure that the pressure remains between the two recommended PSI figures for your tyre. These can be found along the bike tyre in raised print, and usually feature a minimum as well as a maximum recommended PSI.
Using petrol station pumps to inflate your tyres is not recommended, as they are very powerful and could easily pop your tyres, which is frustrating and potentially painful.
Bulges or bald spots on your tyres mean that the tyres are essentially useless, and you should buy new ones.
1. Check your bicycle brake pads
This is important in case you get in an accident. Even if your worn or broken brake pads didn’t cause the accident (and there’s a high chance that bad brake pads could cause you to get in an accident), it doesn’t look good in court to have a bike that is not able to stop.
It’s also important because once the brake pads have worn down to nothing it greatly increases the chance that your bike’s wheel rims will crack under pressure. This is obviously much more expensive to deal with than a simple brake pad replacement.
To identify your brake pads easily, simply squeeze your brakes on the handlebars of your bike.
You should be able to see a component move on your bike wheels – this should show you where the brake, and thus the brake pad, is.
You may or may not have to take the wheel off to check and replace the bike pads. This is usually trivial, but depends on the bike.
It’s a good idea to replace your brake pads if the brake pad is worn flat, or close to flat. To do this, simply slide out the old brake pad from the brakes and slide in the new brake pad.
It’s very easy, but it could save you a serious accident – or it could save you from being blamed for a serious accident that wasn’t really your fault.
If you enjoy this guide, let us know in whatever way you think is best and we’ll be sure to create a more advanced guide for more complicated procedures like truing a wheel.