Cycling is an inexpensive way of getting around the city; just one reason it is so popular. Fortunately, bicycles are relatively simple, and little can go wrong with them if they are well looked after. By taking proper care of your bicycle, you can reduce the number of times you need to visit a bike shop and prolong your beloved bike’s life. Although getting a regular bike service is recommended, you do not need to take your bike to a professional mechanic every time something goes wrong.
Bike parts and components
➡️ Frame and fork
➡️ Handlebars, including grips/bar tape and levers for your brakes and gears
➡️ Wheels and tyres
➡️ Groupset, made up of the front and rear derailleur, rear cassette, crankset, and brakes
➡️ Gear and Brake Cables
These are the main parts that once put together, create a bicycle. This is not an exhaustive list, and the seasoned cyclists may be questioning why certain parts have not made the list, such as bottom brack, stem or seat post. However, this list is of the parts that beginners can identify and potentially fix if they come across a problem. If there is an issue with your bottom bracket, take it to your local bike shop.
Top 3 most common bike problems, and how to fix them yourself!
☑️ Flat Tyre
As a cyclist, you need to accept that no matter how prepared you are or how much you spend on puncture-resistant tyres, you will get a flat at some point. Do not let it be a day-ruining experience and teach yourself how to replace an inner tube in the comfort of your home so that if it happens while you are out on a ride, you know what to do.
You will need a spare inner tube (or puncture repair kit), tyre levers and a pump. If you are commuting or going far from home, buy a portable pump and carry this stuff with you at all times (while on the bike obviously).
Replacing the inner tube is more reliable than using a puncture repair kit. Rather than bore you with an in-depth description on how to fix a flat tyre on your bicycle, have a look on Youtube as there are plenty of helpful how-to guides.
☑️ Squeaky Chain
A grating or squeaky chain is typically your bike telling you that you are about to have a problem. This is a warning sign that should not be ignored, and following the below maintenance routine can be avoided altogether.
Your chain is put through a lot of strain and is exposed to the elements every time you go outside. If it is making a noise, it has either started getting rusty, has stretched or has just collected a lot of grit and dirt. One or all of these problems could cause your chain to snap mid-ride or if left cause irreparable damage to your chainrings, which can be expensive to replace.
By simply keeping your chain well lubricated and clean, you can prevent any more serious problems. Try to lubricate it once a week test if the chain is worn once a month.
☑️ Loose brakes
Throughout their use, all the parts of your bike will need some TLC. Your brakes can start to feel loose. That is to say; when you pull on the lever, it seems to take quite a while for your brakes to engage and bring you to a stop.
Most brake levers will have a screw-like mechanism where the cable is connected. You can try loosening this to tighten the cable. If that does not work, check if the brake pads are worn. You may need to take your tyre off to get a good look. Your brake pads should have indentations in the rubber, and if they are very shallow or now non-existent, you need to buy a new set of brake pads. Replacing the brake pads is relatively easy with of Allen keys, just make sure you test your handy work before taking it out for a ride. You do not want them to come loose or cause an ear-splitting scratch every time they are engaged.
If you are confident the pads are not worn and using the screw on the lever has made no difference, you can shorten the cable. To do this, you will need a spanner and some pliers. The brake cable is connected to the brake system, and you will notice a little bit extra cable sticking out. You need to undo the bolt keeping the cable in place and using the pliers, pull the cable through.
You should only need to make minor adjustments. If you pull too much cable through the brakes will be clamped to the rims. Once you are comfortable that the brakes are now a bit closer to the wheel without touching them when you are not pulling on the lever, tighten up the bolt again (make sure this is secure as you do not want the cable slipping out when you next go to use your bike).
The above applies to the most common Caliper Brake/Cantilever Brakes/V-Brakes. They are easy to identify as the brake system is at the top of the tyre and pinches the rims when in use. If you have hydraulic disk brakes that are not working properly, you may have air in the system and need to bleed your brakes, or the pads need replacing. These are generally more complex to fix, so you are best taking it to the bike shop to get fixed properly.
What to check on your bike before you ride?
Before embarking on your cycling adventure, there are a few checks that you should carry out. It is best to do these checks before the time comes to leave the house.
Check the tyre pressure is not too low (depends on your bike and tyres that you are using, the tyre should have a suggested PSI embossed onto the tyre wall)
Test that both brakes are responsive
If you have quick-release wheels, make sure they are tight
If you are riding at night, ensure that your lights are working and have enough battery
What’s the right maintenance routine and how often should I carry that out?
This depends on how often you are riding your bike and in what conditions. For example, you need to be prepared to spend a lot more time cleaning your bike if you are getting muddy and spending a lot of time off-roading.
☑️ After every ride
• Dry your bike and all the components
• Do a visual check of your tyres to make sure there is no glass or sharps that could cause a puncture down the line
Generally taking 5 minutes once a week is enough to keep your bike reliable and ready to ride when you need it.
☑️ Weekly Checks
• Lube your chain and clean the drive train
• Check the tyre pressure is not too low
• Make sure your wheels are true (simply lifting the bike and spinning the wheels is a good test if you can hear the brakes rubbing at specific points you need to tighten some spokes)
• Test your brakes and do a visual check to make sure the pads are not too worn (more difficult with hydraulic brakes)
If you have the time and want to prolong your bike’s life as long as possible, then there are some further checks that you should carry out each month.
☑️ Monthly Checks
• Completely clean the bike. If you have a pressure washer, this is perfect if not a sponge and some hot soapy water will do the job (just make sure you dry your bike afterwards)
• Check the Chain and Drivetrain for wear. Measure the chain to see if it has stretched and replace it if necessary
• Check your tyres to make sure that they are not too worn
• Inspect and lubricate brake and gear cables and levers
• Do a once over of all nuts and bolts to ensure that they are all tight enough and not loose
What tools do you need to carry out your bicycle maintenance?
Bike pump, with a built-in pressure gauge (some may argue this is not a tool, but as a cyclist, it will be the one you use the most). To be best equipped get a stand-up floor pump with an inbuilt pressure gauge for use at home and a small portable pump to take with you for emergency repairs
Adjustable spanner or wrench set (you may need two if you do not have quick-release wheels)
Allen key set
A rag or piece of cloth that you do not mind getting dirty. This is mainly for applying lube and cleaning your chain. You can, of course, get a chain cleaning gadget, but an old rag does the job
Get yourself a multi-tool. They are relatively inexpensive, portable and have most of the common tools you will need.
What does a basic bike service in a bike shop include?
A basic service at a bike shop will look at the main things that can go wrong with your bike. The bike mechanic will check that the tyres are not worn and inflated correctly, the brakes are working and the gear changes are smooth.
During their checks, they may identify that certain parts on your bike need replacing, such as your brake pads, chain, rear cassette or tyres. These are the parts on your bike that get the most use and wear the quickest. Although a basic bike service will not include the parts, they will offer you the option to buy the additional parts for them to fit for an extra cost.
It is recommended for regular use (daily commuting) to get your bike serviced every 6 months or every 12 months for light use (occasional rides). With a regular maintenance routine, you can reduce bike shop visits, but there is no denying that some things are simply best left to the professionals.
By taking good care of your bike, you can save money and prolong your bicycles life. Buying a multitool and everything you need to repair a puncture (from your local bike shop) is a worthwhile investment. You will find that you can fix many “problems” yourself with a little know-how and the use of your favourite search engine.
Although bicycles are relatively simple, you will sometimes have no choice but to take them to a professional bike shop to get them repaired or serviced. However, if you carry out regular checks, keep the tyres inflated, chain lubricated and take the time to clean and dry off your bike regularly you will be able to keep trips to a bike shop to a minimum.