Beginners Guide to Bicycle Maintenance
Anyone who enjoys biking likely realizes the many health benefits associated with this form of exercise. But regular use of a bicycle will necessitate ongoing maintenance of the bike to keep it operating correctly and to prolong its useful life. While a cyclist should seek regular professional maintenance of a bicycle with a specialized mechanic, it's also important for every cyclist to have some maintenance skills. Knowing how to maintain a bike and how to perform some repairs will enhance safety and help keep a bicycle functioning correctly.
Safety-Check the Bike Before Riding
It's easy to jump on a bicycle day after day without thinking much about its condition. However, performing regular safety checks prior to every ride is an important step for anyone who rides regularly. After riding two or three hundred miles, a cyclist should also perform a more comprehensive inspection of the bike to take care of ongoing maintenance issues. These inspections should help increase the lifespan of a bicycle.
- Inspect tires for wear and cuts and inflate if necessary.
- Squeeze the front brake, then rock the handlebars to check for stability. Inspect the location where the headset connects to the frame. If it's possible to fit fingers into this junction while rocking or if movement or knocking occurs, tighten the junction where the headset connects to the bike frame.
- Check quick releases of both wheels, making sure that they are securely fastened. Open the quick releases and retighten, if necessary, to ensure that they are tight.
- Squeeze the front brake tightly and try to roll the bike forward. The wheel should not move. Repeat with the back brake.
- Lift the front of the bike and spin the wheel. It should move freely without touching the brake pads. Do the same with the back wheel.
Every 200 Miles or Two Weeks
- Check the chain and lubricate. The chain will squeak if it's dry, and it will sound gritty if it's dirty. When riding in especially wet or dry conditions, the chain may need lubrication more often.
- Inspect both rear and front brakes. When viewing the grooves in the brake pads from above, it should be possible to see daylight through them. If the pads are worn so the grooves are no longer visible, replace them.
- Check shoe cleats for wear.
- Remove the wheels and give the bike frame a good wipe-down. While cleaning, inspect the frame for signs of wear.
Check tire inflation of a road bike every three to four days. Correct tire pressure ranges between 80 and 130 psi; this will vary based on the weight of the rider, the tire size, and the road conditions. Road bike tires hold low air volume under high pressure. Maintaining proper tire pressure helps tires last, prevents flats, and helps keep the riding experience smoother.
Mountain bikes' tires have higher tire volume with lower pressure. Mountain bikes' tires require inflation between 30 and 50 psi with some variation depending on rider weight, tire volume, and the condition of the trail surface. Thus, these tires need less checking to maintain volume and pressure.
Gear to Pack
- Spare tube to fit bicycle wheels
- Patch kit for tube repair
- Inflation device (hand pump with CO2 inflator)
- Two extra CO2 cartridges
- Tire levers
- Money to purchase a tire tube (if necessary)
Checking the Chain and Lubrication
Maintaining the chain and keeping it clean is crucial for overall bicycle performance. A clean chain will extend the life of the drivetrain, saving money over time.
Chain Lubrication Steps
- Lean the bike up against a wall where it's OK if the ground gets dirty.
- Use a rag to clean off the chain, holding onto the bottom of it with the rag and moving the pedals backward. If the chain is very dirty, use a special cleaning tool.
- Apply a light stream of lubricant on the bottom part of the chain while moving the pedals backward for three or four full rotations.
- Allow the lubricant to soak into the chain for several minutes. Wipe the excess off using a clean rag, moving the pedals backward for three or four rotations. Sufficient lubrication should penetrate the interior areas of the links without bathing the chain fully in lubricant.
- Examine the chain: It should be glistening without showing excessive sheen.
Adjustment of Cable-Pulled Brakes and Derailleurs
The majority of bicycles on the road still feature cable-pulled brakes and derailleurs. Cables function under tension. Keeping the tension correct will ensure reliable shifting and braking.
Brake pads are likely to show signs of wear after about 200 miles. To maintain proper tension, draw in the pads every 200 miles. Turn the barrel adjuster that's on the brake caliper a quarter-turn counter-clockwise to tighten the brake cable. This will take up excess room on the cable, simultaneously moving the brake pad closer to the wheel's rim. If over-tightening occurs, turn the adjuster a quarter-turn clockwise.
Gears can change slightly in adjustment with riding. If fine-tuning of shifting is necessary, use barrel adjusters to fix the tension in the cables. Perform this adjustment on the rear derailleur, in the front of the bike frame, or in line with the cable system. It may help to hang the bike while performing this adjustment.
The front derailleur moves in the opposite direction of the rear derailleur, moving a greater distance between shifts. To adjust this derailleur when shifting to a harder gear is difficult, turn the adjuster connected to your cable on the left shifter counter-clockwise one-eighth to one-quarter of a turn. If shifting to an easier gear is difficult, turn the cable adjuster clockwise one-eighth to one-quarter of a turn. If moving the derailleur out further for shifting to the larger ring, increase the tension of the cable by loosening the barrel adjuster. This will extend the length of the cable. When moving the derailleur to the smaller ring, decrease the cable tension.
For bikes without a cable adjuster at the right shifter for the rear derailleur, the barrel adjuster can make small adjustments. Turn your barrel adjuster clockwise one-eighth of a turn at a time if the chain doesn't shift correctly to harder gears. Test shifting to see if it is smoother, and repeat the process if necessary. When adjusting the rear derailleur's cable tension from the inline barrel adjuster or an adjuster at the front of the bike frame, perform the same process. Increasing cable tension causes the chain to move toward larger cogs, and decreased cable tension causes the chain to move toward smaller cogs.
Tips for Commuting by Bike
- Riding a bike to work or school has several advantages. Not only will bike commuting provide an opportunity for daily exercise, but this form of transportation also saves energy, reduces expenses, and helps reduce greenhouse emissions that can negatively impact the environment.
- Always allow extra time for the commute to ensure an enjoyable experience.
- Purchase a safe and comfortable way to transport items on the bicycle, whether by backpack or panniers that attach to the bike.
- Install fenders on the bicycle to protect against splashes.
- Carry supplies for fixing a flat tire.
- Have a backup plan for days when the weather is not conducive for biking.
- Bicycle Safety
- Bike Safety Tips
- How to Bike Safely
- The Smart Route to Bike Safety (PDF)
- Bicycle Safety: What Every Parent Should Know (PDF)
- Ride Your Bike Safely
- Focus: Bike Safety
- Top Ten Bicycle Safety Tips
- Bicycle Safety and Laws
- Bicycle Commuting
- Bicycle Commuting Tips
- Tips for Bicycle Commuting
- Bike Tours in NYC
- Walk and Bike to Work
- Bike to Work Tips
- Bicycling Basics (PDF)
- Bike Smart (PDF)
- How Do Your Muscles Work?
- Tips for the Overweight Cyclist
- Take the Cycling Quiz
- Great Reasons to Bike
- The Many Health Benefits of Cycling
- Winter Biking Tips