Buying a bike is a great investment. However, when it comes to bicycle ownership, many of us overlook the importance of bike maintenance. Of course, when it comes to complex bicycle repairs, taking it to a qualified mechanic is the best course of action. But as a bike owner, you should have a basic understanding of simple checks and repairs. This will help you carry out simple bike maintenance at home.
In this guide, you will learn the following:
- Basic bike parts
- Basic safety checks
- How to fix a puncture
- Cleaning and lubrication
- An introduction to brake set-up
- An introduction to gearing set-up
- Bike tool kit
Basic Bike Parts
Before we begin, it's a good idea to get yourself up to speed with the names of the parts you'll find on a standard bike. Take a look at the diagram below and refer to it if you need to.
Basic Safety Checks
Planning to go on a bike ride? Great stuff! But just wait one minute before you hop on that bike of yours. First, you need to carry out the following safety checks.
- Do the wheels move freely? Move your bike forwards and backwards and listen out for any grinding noises coming from the hub. The wheels shouldn't rub on the brake pads or touch the frame or fork of your bike.
- How's the tire pressure? If you have a road bike and you want to check the tire pressure without a gauge, squeeze both sides of the tire. If there's quite a bit of give, you'll need to inflate the tires until they feel firm. If you have a mountain bike, be aware that it is possible to overinflate your tyres. Relieve some of the air pressure if your tyres feel rock hard.
- Do the brakes work? Push your bike forward and gently squeeze the front and back brake lever independently of one another. As you do this, check your brake pads are not worn and that they grip the rim of the tire evenly on both sides of the wheel.
- Inspect your bike chain. It's important to make sure that your bike chain isn't worn and that it is kept clean and lubricated. Read the cleaning and lubrication section for more detail.
- Are your gears working properly? The rear derailleur should shift evenly and smoothly between all the gears on the cassette.
These are the basic checks you should do to minimise the chances of anything going wrong with your bike when you are riding it.
But what happens if your bike doesn't pass your safety checks and requires your attention?
How to Fix a Puncture
A bike repair shop is no stranger to fixing punctures. But with a little bit of practice and patience, you can easily learn how to do it yourself.
First thing's first, you may need the following items:
- A replacement tube
- Tyre levers
- A small screwdriver
- A puncture repair kit
- A pump
- A pen
- An old cloth
- If your tyre still has excess air, rotate the small nut at the top of the valve and press it to release.
- Hook the tip of one tyre lever underneath and anchor it into position using the spokes. Use the second tyre lever to gently run around the inside of the tyre until you can remove it from the wheel and see the inner tube.
- Then, remove the valve from the rim and take out the inner tube. Use the pump to inflate the inner tube to locate the puncture. Mark the puncture area with a pen.
- Line valve with the valve hole in the rim. Next, line up the inner tube and check that the offending object (glass, thorns, gravel etc) isn't caught in the tyre. Remove any object that has penetrated your outer tyre.
- Slightly inflate the repatched or replacement inner tube. Now, refit the tyre on one side, ensuring that the tread on your wheel is pointing the right way. Match up the valve with the valve hole and then feed the inner tube into the space between the tyre and rim.
- Fully refit the tyre by twisting it back into place. Start at the valve and work your way around the wheel- checking there are no bulges.
- Lastly, pump up the inner tube and attach the wheel back onto the bike.
Cleaning and Lubrication
Clean bikes ride better and maintain a good condition for longer. So, it's important to clean your bike regularly, and especially after a muddy ride, to avoid any corrosion.
You will also need to lubricate your bike chain at least once a month if you are a frequent bike rider. This helps to reduce the build-up of dirt which can speed up the rate of wear and tear.
To thoroughly clean your bike you will need the following materials for specific parts of the bike:
- A bucket filled with soapy water and a sponge to clean the main frame
- A bottle brush or toothbrush to intricately clean the chainrings
- Scrubbing brushes to scrub the wheels clean
- Hosepipe to rinse off the soapy water
- Rags or cloths to dry off the bike frame once it is clean
- Degreaser to clean the chain and apply lubricant once the chain is clean and dry
An introduction to brake set-up
Adjusting your bike brakes is simple if you have the basic tools to get started. All you need is 4mm and 5mm Allen keys. You can also use a torque wrench for accuracy, but this isn't necessary to adjust your caliper brakes.
- Make sure the wheel is lined up properly against the frame.
- Use the 5mm Allen Key on the side of the caliper to loosen the bolt so the brake cable can move freely. If the cable is frayed, you will need to replace it.
- Loosen the retaining bolt which attaches the brake to the frame. This is usually between the seat stays or behind the fork. Pinch the caliper so the pads grip the rim and tighten the retaining bolt to 8-10nm.
- Centre the brake pads on the rim of the wheel. If the pads touch your tire they could rub, creating tension and causing a puncture. So, you should move the brake pads down as low as you can as they will naturally move up as the pads wear down.
- Next, you should centre the wheel so there is an equal distance between the pads and the rim. This means the brake pads should wear down evenly.
- Adjust the cable tension and pull the brake around 20 times to check it is working efficiently and has no chance of slipping. If there is any slack in the cable, use a barrel adjuster to tighten it.
An introduction to gearing set-up
If changing or staying in gear is proving difficult, it's likely you need to set your gears up properly. All you need is some patience and the right tools and it's simple to adjust your gears at home.
- Start by raising your bike up on a platform. You can do this by turning it upside down or by using a bike stand so the wheels can be spun freely.
- Find the derailleurs on your bike. There should be one mechanism at the front and one at the back of the chain and they stabilise the chain while you shift gears. Make sure there is no debris blocking the derailleurs and clean any dirt from them with a damp cloth.
- Pedal the bike slowly with your hand and move up and down through each gear, starting with the gears on the back derailleur and leaving the front derailleur on the middle gear. As you are doing this, you should look for places where the gears are sticking, have trouble changing or you have to try and change gear more than once.
- From the gears on the handlebars, follow the cable to the derailleurs to locate the metal knuts around the cable which can make small adjustments.
- Move through your gears to the one you have found difficulties with whilst pedalling the bike and stop when you reach the problem gear.
- If you're struggling to move the gears down, turn the adjuster slowly anti-clockwise until the chain falls into gear. With issues changing to a higher gear, then you should slowly tighten the adjuster by turning it in a clockwise direction until it falls into gear.
- When the gear is back in place, move down to the lowest gear then make your way through your gears a few times until you're satisfied everything is working as it should. Then, you should get on your bike and ride it around slowly in a safe, secluded space to test the gears are working well when you're on the bike.
Bike tool kit
Whether you're a frequent bike rider or you enjoy long family bike rides every once in a while, every bike rider should have a tool kit. You should have a full repair kit at home for ongoing maintenance and a portable kit you can take on your bike rides. Ideally, you should take this with you on every bike ride because you wouldn't want to be caught with a puncture 10 miles away from home.
What should you have in your portable bike tool kit?
- Spare inner tube and patch kit for punctures
- Bike pump in case of a flat tyre
- Multitool including Allen keys, Philips screwdriver, flathead screwdriver, a chain tool and an adjustable wrench.
- Tyre lever to get your tyre out of the rim to repair a flat tyre.
To keep your bike in good working order, and ensure it's safe to ride, you should always maintain it regularly. If you're riding your bike a few times a week then you should service, clean and maintain it on a monthly basis. The more you take care of your bike, the longer you can enjoy riding it safely.
Planning a biking adventure further afield? Take a look at our selection of bike racks and transport your bike safely.