Basic bike maintenance essentials

Keeping your bike clean

Looking after your bike doesn’t have to be difficult, and if you clean it regularly it’ll reward you with many more years in the saddle. To look after your bike properly, there are a few stages to consider.

  1. Degreasing. First thing’s first, you need to get the grease, mud and dirt that’s bound to build up on your bike’s drivetrain off. If you skip the degreasing stage any other cleaning will be ineffective you’ll just be moving mud around. Do this at least once a month.
  2. Cleaning. The second stage clean will seal the deal on all the hard work you did degreasing and makes everything shine. Make sure you do this once a month too to keep your bike in tip top condition, and because it looks good!
  3. Lubricating. Lubricant increases the lifespan of your drivetrain by reducing friction. This isn’t an aesthetic thing, it really does need to be done to make sure your bike moves in the way it should, so do it every two weeks.

Regularly check your bike pressure

A crucial part of bicycle maintenance, as a slight difference in tire pressure can drastically affect your bikes handling and comfort, and it’s one that needs to be done using a good foot pump. You’ll want to be doing this 3-4 times a week, as tires do let out a surprising amount of air pressure. It is often highly dependent on your type of tires, your body weight, the conditions you’re riding in and the road surface. As a general rule, the wider the tires the lower the air pressure, although it’s wise to stick to the prescribed air pressure given by the makers suggestion. The common PSI (pound per square inch) amongst cyclists is 80-120, so if your bike is at that level, you should be good to go. 

Check over your nuts and bolts

They hold the whole bike together, so why wouldn’t you regularly check their tightenness? The alternative is your bike falling to pieces mid cycle, which wouldn’t be good for even the most skilled riders. Not only that, but having a bike with loose parts can both affect your cycling performance and provide serious damage to the whole setup. The most efficient way of staying on top of your bike's tightness is to give it a weekly check. This can be done by simply bouncing it off the ground and keeping an ear out of any loose nuts and bolts. Again, it’s never a case of one size fits all , so when giving each specific part a tight fit, it’s wise to follow manufacturer’s instructions, especially when it comes to torque specs. If certain parts haven’t been tightened enough, you may hear a squeaking, whereas over tightening can result in injury.

Watch the brakes

Possibly the most important aspect of cycle maintenance, as leaving your brakes unchecked could have disastrous consequences, especially if you’re doing a lot of downhill cycling. 

When checking your brakes, you should do the following. Test them out by pulling and holding your brakes down to make sure they’re working appropriately. 

  1. Examine the brake pad. As a general rule, brake pads should have wear indicators. Regularly check it and make sure it has not gone below the acceptable line. It’s important also to make sure they’re touching the front section of the brake surface, and then the full section when pulled. 
  2. Clean your disk brakes. To avoid contamination and damage to your braking, be mindful about keeping your rotators clean. Make sure to buy specific disc cleaners, and never use WD40. 

Re-index your gears

Once you’ve been riding your bike for a short while, you’ll start to realise that your gears don’t operate as smoothly as they once did. But do not fear, there may be no need to start searching for bicycle maintenance courses on google. As long as your cables and derailleurs aren’t damaged, it is possible to index your gears yourself. 

Here’s how:

  1. Find the barrel adjuster. It will be on the rear derailleur, where the cable ingress is located or for the front derailleur, it’s usually by the shifters. 
  2. Check if the cable needs tightening or loosening. After mounting your bike on a repair stand and pedal the wheels around, change between the gears as you go. If the chain doesn’t move easily onto the next cog, you need to tighten the cable, and if it moves too freely, you need a looser one. 
  3. Switch up the cable tension. Once you know the issue, you can use the barrel adjust to re-index the gears. For a tighter cable, turn the barrel adjuster anti-clockwise, and to loosen, turn it clockwise. The barrel adjust will click with every quarter turn. 

If you have an electronic bike, you won’t have to change your gears at all.

Bike parts that suffer from wear and tear 

If any of these bike parts are damaged, you will need to change them as soon as possible. 

  1. The chain. Probably the bike part that needs changing most regularly. Although giving it a weekly clean will give it a little longer use, if you are to spot significant wear or stretch in your chain, it’s probably time to get a new one. There are tools such as a chain checker, which can examine the links between each chain, which will help confirm whether or not it’s time for a new one. 
  2. Brake pads. These don’t need replacing too often, but as previously mentioned, it’s imperative you regularly check them, and once it is time to change (which should be a little before maximum wear) you don’t ride your bike until it’s done. 
  3. Tyres. This all comes down to the type you use. If they aren’t particularly good, they can wear out quicker than the chain and the cassette. In most cases, bike tyres should last up to 3000 to 4000 miles, although this is less for racing tyres. All in cases it’s good to give them a look over after a long cycle. 
  4. The Cassette. It’s a common view that for every two chains, you should replace your cassette. If you take good care and maintain your drivetrain, your cassette can last up to three chains. If the gears start skipping, even after you’ve changed your chain, it means a cog has been worn out and the entire cassette needs to be replaced.

For a rundown of the essential bike maintenance tools, this PLAY article will have everything you need. 

Top tips for road bike maintenance

Although there is unsurprisingly a fair amount of crossover between basic bike and road bike maintenance, it has its own particular issues to focus upon 

Here are our essential bits of information on the matter. 

Don’t neglect your pedals

They’re often the last bike part cyclists look at, sometimes to the extent where old pedals will be transferred to a new bike. Keep an eye out for loose bearings and especially worn out cleats, as although pedals can be kept spinning smoothly through tightening or a servicing, worn out cleats cannot be replaced and can lead to injury. 

Listen to your freehubs

If they’re getting louder, it’s very likely they’re dirty and have dried out, and will need a clean. Providing you have the instructions and tools that are specific to the brand of bike or freehubs, it shouldn’t take too long. It’s also compliance for brands to recommend what bike lube to use, but if in doubt, go with a thin grease or thick oil, as standard grease often causes drag and sticking. 

Check up on your Derailleur Hanger 

Due to the design of modern road bikes, it's pretty easy for a soft alloy derailleur hanger to get bent out of shape. If your bike does happen to fall down on the derailleur side of the bike, it’s worth giving it a check, regardless of whether or not you were sitting on the bike. Failure to do this could lead to spokes getting caught in the chain scenario, which is something that no one wants. 

Be mindful of loose & rolling parts

They often sound like your road bike is falling apart, but in reality it’s easy to find the cause of loose and rolling parts. First off, check your saddle bag for loose parts. It’s amazing how often bikes have a loose bottle cage. Other causes include the previously mentioned loose cassettes, as well as hubs, headset. 

Mountain bike maintenance that’s a must

Although keeping any bike maintained is important, the heavy impact nature of mountain bike riding makes regular check ups imperative. 

The basics x10 

Whether it’s keeping your mountain bike with a healthy amount of lubrication, checking the drivetrain, giving the tyre pressure a thorough examination, it’s worth following every single piece of previous advice religiously when looking after your mountain bike. 

Create your own mountain bike maintenance area 

Doesn't matter whether it’s done in a space with removable apparatus or a shrine dedicated to mountain bike servicing, having a place to work on your mountain bike will put you in a better position to make thorough checks. What you will need though is a storage space for your tools and a bike stand, and maybe a sink to clean the grease off you afterwards. It may sound like a lot, but will make looking after everything that much easier. 

Care for your fork 

When it comes to fork issues, it’s about spotting a minor problem before it turns into an expensive one. After every ride, test your fork’s movements by pressing down on it. If you can feel it either sticking or not rebounding as easily as it should, there may be a build up of grime and dirt. To keep the fork moving smoothly and without friction, use a special oil based lubricant that’s different from chain lube. It isn’t hard to find, but certainly worth checking on the can before you buy. 

Dictate your damping

Additionally, your bike has clickers on the suspension for compression and rebound damping. These provide the ultimate performance tweak. They control how fast the shock returns once engaged. The type of riding you do will dictate the setting. For rough, bumpier trails it’s best set for a slow response and a more in-control feel. However for flatter, smoother riding, a harder response is what is required. Experiment based on the nature of the trails you tackle.

For more on cleaning your mountain bike, click here.