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Riding a bike regularly requires regular bike maintenance to keep your two-wheeled vehicle in top condition. While you can always take your bike to a professional mechanic for servicing, learning some basic bike maintenance skills will save you time and money, and give you confidence to handle minor repairs yourself.
This basic bike maintenance guide covers the essentials to keep your bike running smoothly for years to come.
Key Takeaways: Basic Bike Maintenance Guide
|Cleaning||Wipe down frame, wheels, handlebars with soapy water and rags/brushes
Degrease drivetrain components like chain, cassette, derailleurs
Dry thoroughly after washing
|Lubrication||Apply chain lube and wipe away excess every 300-400 km
Lube pivot points on brakes, derailleurs, pedals
|Inspections||Check tire pressure and tread wear before every ride
Inspect brake pads, replace if under 2mm thick
Check bolts and fasteners for looseness
|Adjustments||Adjust limit screws on derailleurs if gears aren’t shifting properly
Realign brakes if wheels are rubbing
Tension and true wheels if rims are warped
|Repairs||Replace worn brake pads
Patch inner tubes or replace if punctured
Fix broken cables and housing
|Schedule||Clean drivetrain every 300-500 km
Check bolts, wheels, brakes before every ride
Complete tune-up every 6-12 months
|Tools Needed||Degreaser, lube, rags, brushes
Hex keys, torque wrench, screwdrivers
Tire levers, patch kit, pump
Chain tool, cable cutters
Cleaning Your Bike
Keeping your bike clean is one of the easiest and most important maintenance tasks. A clean bike not only looks nicer but can help you spot potential problems and keep components functioning properly.
- Bucket of warm water mixed with a small amount of dish soap or bike cleaner
- Sponge or soft brush
- Old towels or rags
- Degreaser for the chain and gears
- Lubricant for the chain
- Mix warm water and soap in a bucket. Use a damp sponge or brush to wipe down the frame, wheels, handlebars, etc. Avoid spraying water directly into bearing areas like the headset, bottom bracket, wheel hubs.
- Scrub the chain, cassette, chainrings and derailleurs with degreaser and an old toothbrush. Let it sit for a few minutes before rinsing.
- Wipe down components with a clean rag. Dry the bike thoroughly.
- Apply lubricant to the chain, pivots, and derailleurs. Wipe off any excess.
Checking Tires & Brakes
Inspecting your tires and brakes before every ride takes just a couple minutes but is crucial for safety.
- Use a pressure gauge to check the PSI. Inflate to the recommended level marked on the tire sidewall.
- Inspect tread and sidewalls for cuts, embedded debris, or dry rot.
- Do the “squeeze test” – entire tire should be firm, no squishy spots.
- Pull brake levers firmly – you should not be able to pull all the way to the handlebar.
- Check pads – at least 2mm of pad should remain.
- Spin each wheel – it shouldn’t rub or wobble.
Lubricating the Chain
When: Every 300-400 km. Clean chain first if dirty.
- Apply chain lube to each link pin. Slowly pedal backwards to work lube into chain.
- Wipe off any excess lube with a rag.
This reduces friction and wear, keeping your drive train running smoothly.
Checking Bolts & Fasteners
Bolts and fasteners on bikes can vibrate loose over time. Every few months, do a check:
- Stem bolts
- Handlebar clamp bolts
- Brake caliper bolts
- Seat post clamp
- Derailleur mounting bolts
- Water bottle cage bolts
Tighten any loose bolts to the proper torque. Don’t overtighten carbon parts.
Cleaning & Lubricating the Drivetrain
The drivetrain includes your chain, cassette, chainrings and derailleurs. Keeping these clean and lubricated is key.
- Degrease the chain, cassette, chainrings using a bike-specific degreaser. Scrub with a brush if needed.
- Rinse components then wipe down.
- Apply fresh chain lube. Pedal cranks backwards to work lube into chain.
- Wipe off any excess lube.
Do this every 300-400 km or if your bike gets wet or muddy. This prevents wear and keeps shifting smooth.
Checking Wheel Trueness
Wheels can go out of “true” (become warped) from impact or stress. Here’s how to check:
- Spin each wheel and look at rim’s distance from brakes. It should not rub.
- Hold bike off ground and spin wheels – they should not wobble side to side.
- If wheels are out of true, have a shop professionally true them. This involves adjusting spoke tension.
Cleaning Cassette and Chainrings
The cassette and chainrings get coated in grime. Keep them clean for smooth shifting.
- Degrease and use a brush to scrub between cogs.
- Rinse and dry.
- Check teeth for wear – replace if hooked or shark fin shaped.
Aim to clean cassette every 300-500 km.
Replacing Brake Pads
Check pad thickness regularly. Replace when under 2mm thick.
- Loosen caliper mounting bolts and detach caliper.
- Remove pad retaining pins and old pads. Insert new pads.
- Reinstall caliper and tighten bolts to proper torque.
- Spin wheel and press brake lever to center pads on rim.
Headset, wheel hubs, bottom bracket and pedal bearings should spin smoothly without binding.
How to check:
- Headset – Apply front brake and rock bike forward and back, checking for clunking when you change directions.
- Hubs – Grab wheel and wiggle laterally. There should be no play or grinding feeling.
- Bottom bracket – Pedal cranks should turn smoothly without noise. No side to side play.
- Pedals – Spin pedals – should turn smoothly without play.
Adjust or repack bearings annually or anytime binding, play or roughness is felt.
Cleaning & Lubricating Suspension Forks
Suspension forks require regular cleaning and lubrication.
- Clean stanchions with mild soap and rag.
- Lubricate bushings and seals with suspension oil or grease.
- Change oil bath per manufacturer’s recommendations.
This prevents binding, stiction, and premature wear. Consult owner’s manual for full service details.
Frame Inspection & Protection
Inspect entire frame and fork periodically for any cracks, dents, or paint damage that may indicate more serious issues.
To prevent damage:
- Use protective tape on down tube and chainstay where cables rub.
- Apply helicopter tape on fork stanchions.
- Touch up paint chips to prevent rust.
This keeps your frame looking great and ensures long-term durability.
Wheel Removal & Installation
Knowing how to remove and install wheels is useful for fixing flats and transporting your bike.
- Open brake quick-release lever.
- Loosen axle bolts.
- Raise wheel off ground and tap axle out.
Reverse steps to install. Close brake lever and check centering in caliper.
- Shift into smallest cog and open brake quick-release.
- Pull derailleur body back and release chain.
- Loosen axle bolts.
- Lift bike and tap axle out.
Reverse to install. Check derailleur adjustment.
Practice this skill before you need to use it roadside!
Cleaning Disc Brake Rotors
Disc brake rotors easily get oily and dirty. Here’s how to clean them:
- Remove wheel from bike. Don’t pull brake lever!
- Clean rotor with isopropyl alcohol or disc brake cleaner.
- Wipe down rotor with clean rag.
- Reinstall wheel. Check brake operation before riding.
Do this whenever braking feels inconsistent or squeaky. Avoid cleaning agents that leave residue.
Pedals should spin smoothly without play or squeaking.
- Remove pedals from crank arms.
- Apply several drops of oil where spindle enters body.
- Spin pedal and wipe away excess lube.
- Reinstall pedals.
Do this every 6-12 months to prevent premature wear.
Checking Spoke Tension
Loose spokes can cause a wheel to go out of true.
How to check:
- Give each spoke a squeeze with your hand around the rim. They should feel evenly tensioned.
- Tap spokes with a screwdriver – they should all emit the same tone.
- If any spokes feel loose, have the wheel professionally tensioned.
This will help your wheels stay true and prevent broken spokes on the trail.
Adjusting Derailleur Limit Screws
The limit screws on the front and rear derailleurs control how far the derailleur can move.
- Shift to largest cog/chainring and turn in outer limit screw until derailleur stops moving outward.
- Shift to smallest cog/chainring and turn in inner limit screw until derailleur stops moving inward.
- Fine tune adjustment and check smooth shifting across all gears.
Do this if gears aren’t shifting cleanly or you removed the derailleur.
Securing Loose Ball Bearings
Some bike parts like pedals, headsets and bottom brackets use loose ball bearings. If these come loose, resecure as follows:
- Hold part level and add 2-3 drops of thread locker to bearing race.
- Spin part to distribute thread locker around bearings.
- Let dry for 30 minutes before reinstalling and riding.
This will help hold bearings in place while still allowing them to spin freely.
Handlebar Tape Replacement
Fresh handlebar tape provides cushioning and a sure grip. Time to replace when old tape is worn or slipping.
- Remove old tape. Clean handlebars.
- Apply new tape starting at the ends. Overlap by half the tape width.
- Finish by wrapping electrical or handlebar tape on top.
- Cut tape and secure end with tape or plugs.
Take your time for a smooth professional wrap job!
Fixing Squeaky Brakes
Squeaky disc or rim brakes can be annoying. Try this:
- Clean rotors with alcohol or pads with sandpaper.
- Toe pads in slightly so leading edge contacts rotor/rim first.
- Apply brake quiet compound to pad backing plates.
- Replace pads if worn out.
- Adjust caliper alignment if still squeaking.
This should quiet down noisy brakes and get you back to silent stopping power.
Removing Stuck Seat posts
Stuck seat posts can be freed without damage:
- Loosen seat post clamp. Apply penetrating oil around post.
- Gently tap top of seat post with mallet. Twist saddle left and right.
- If stuck fast, remove saddle and spray more penetrant down into seat tube.
- Let penetrant soak 15 minutes. Repeat tapping/twisting.
- As a last resort, use a seat post clamp tool to gently, evenly loosen.
Be patient and do not force. Scratched frames may need professional repair.
Fork Steerer Tube Cutting
Cutting the fork steerer tube allows proper stem fitment.
- Mark height – stem clamp plus 5mm minimum.
- Remove fork and use hacksaw to cut steerer. File inside edge smooth.
- Install star nut for stem compression.
- Reinstall fork and set stem height.
Measure twice or you’ll be buying a new fork! Leave some length for adjustment.
Maintaining your bike doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. With some basic tools and a routine checklist, you can keep your bike running smoothly for years.
To summarize, here are the key points to remember for basic DIY bike maintenance:
- Clean the bike regularly by wiping down the frame, wheels, drivetrain components etc. Use degreaser on dirty areas.
- Check tire pressure before every ride. Inflate to the recommended PSI.
- Inspect brake pads often. Replace when under 2mm thick.
- Keep the chain clean and lubricated every 300-400 km.
- Periodically check bolts and fasteners for looseness. Tighten as needed.
- Adjust derailleur limit screws if gears aren’t shifting properly.
- Clean brake rotors with alcohol to prevent squeaking.
- Lubricate all pivot points like pedals, derailleurs etc.
- True wheels and tension spokes if the rim is warped or spokes are loose.
Learning basic bike maintenance will save you money on costly tune-ups and repairs. You’ll gain confidence working on your bike and prevent issues before they become serious. Routine maintenance also enhances performance and safety.
Q1. How often should I clean my bike?
You should aim to clean your bike every 1-2 weeks during the drier months, and after every wet or muddy ride. Regular cleaning keeps components functioning properly and prevents premature wear. Focus on cleaning the drivetrain parts like the chain, cassette, derailleurs etc.
Q2. What basic tools do I need for DIY maintenance?
Some essentials are hex keys, a chain tool, tire levers, pump, lubricants, degreaser, rags, and brushes. Invest in quality tools – they’ll last longer. A bike stand also makes maintenance much easier.
Q3. How do I lube my chain properly?
Apply a chain lube and let it soak in for a few minutes. Then wipe off any excess lube with a rag – you want a light coating on the chain. This reduces friction and prevents wear.
Q4. How often should I check my tire pressure?
It’s good practice to check your tire pressure before every ride using a quality floor pump with gauge. Low pressure causes more rolling resistance and can lead to pinch flats.
Q5. What are signs my brake pads need replacing?
Replace brake pads when they get worn down to about 2mm thick. They will start to lose braking power. Inspect pads periodically – you’ll notice when the grooves start disappearing.
Q6. How do I fix a flat tire on the road?
Carry a spare tube, tire levers, and mini pump/CO2 inflator. Remove wheel, pry off tire, swap tubes, reinstall tire and inflate. Replace tire fully when you get home.
Q7. How often should I get a professional bike tune-up?
Most riders should get a comprehensive tune-up every 6-12 months. This allows a mechanic to inspect and service components you can’t easily service at home.
Q8. What cleaning/lubing should I do after wet rides?
Clean and dry the bike fully, relube the chain, inspect brake pads for debris, and check bolts for looseness. This prevents corrosion and keeps components operating smoothly.
Q9. How can I learn more complex bike maintenance?
Take a class at your local bike shop, watch online tutorials, invest in a bike repair book, or join a bike co-op. Start with easier repairs and build your skills up gradually.