Keep it clean
It might seem obvious (hey, it’s a beginner’s guide), but keeping your bicycle clean and dry really makes a difference. By getting rid of any dirt, you’ll actually be helping to extend its lifespan. All you’ll need is some soapy water to give it a good scrub down and a towel to dry it off afterwards – this will help prevent rusting. It’s best to avoid blasting off mud with a high-pressure hose as you could end up forcing in unwanted grit and getting rid of essential grease. Instead, you might want to invest in a brush cleaning kit designed for bikes to make sure you get in all the nooks and crannies.
By giving your bike a bounce test – rocking forward and backwards while pulling on the front brake – you can listen for potential problems. Any rattles might mean something is loose. To solve the issue, it’s a good idea to check over any nuts and bolts and make sure they’re good and tight.
Before you set out on a ride, it’s important to take a look at your tyres – spotting wear and tear now might save you from having to perform some bike surgery when you’re en route. It’s a good idea to inspect them for any cuts or sharp objects like stones or thorns that might have got stuck in the outer casing and could puncture the inner tube. Checking the tyre pressure before each ride is an important part of basic bike maintenance, especially if you’re heading out without a backup inner tube.
A good way to check if your wheels are running smoothly is to lift the front end of your bike and give the front wheel a gentle spin. It should move freely and not brush against your brake pads. You can then check the back wheel in the same way. To find out if your wheel spokes are tight, you can give them a light pluck. If one has a different tone to the others, it might be loose. Plus, you’ll feel like a harpist. Just stop when you find yourself playing “Happy Birthday To You”.
You can check your brakes by rolling your bike forward and holding down each brake lever individually – you’ll be able to feel how well they’re working. Each one should feel firm. If they’re soft or take a while to stop the wheel, the brake pads might need pulling into the rim, which is fairly simple to do. You can tighten the brake cable by turning the barrel adjuster on the brake caliper anti-clockwise, a quarter turn at a time. You’ll be able to tell if your brake pads are completely worn if you hear a scraping sound or you feel them stick when you brake.
Comfort when riding has to be a priority, and slipping off a loose saddle is not something you’ll want to experience. It’s worth giving your seat a wiggle from side to side and forward and back to check it doesn’t move – if it feels a little loose, now’s a good time to tighten it up. A creaky saddle can be easily sorted with a few drops of oil where it connects to the rail and on the clamp.
Wheel bearings could be something you don’t often think about, or even know what they are (they’re little metal balls, usually mounted in a container, that make contact with your bike’s moving parts and help keep them in the right position), but it’s worth giving them a check over too. To see if there’s any movement, you may want to try pushing your wheels from side to side. If they stay in place, that’s good news: the bearings are doing their job. If not, you might need to get the bearings checked by a professional or replaced.
This isn’t the thing you use to soundtrack your bike ride. It’s bike-speak for where the handlebars attack to the frame. You’ll know whether your headset needs to be tightened if you feel it vibrating at the front of your bike as you ride or if there’s a rattling sound. Another way to check if your handlebars are tight enough is to pull on the front brake while moving the bike forwards and backwards. If the handlebars move, you can tighten the four stem bolts right up again with a torque wrench.
A squeaky chain might ruin your bike ride in more ways than one. To check your chain before you set out, you could turn a pedal backwards and listen out for odd noises or clicking, which are often caused by friction. This is easily remedied by applying some wet lube in the winter months and dry lube in the summer. It’s best to let the lube soak in for a while and then wipe off any excess, leaving your chain with a nice glisten.
If your gears aren’t moving smoothly from high to low and back again or are making too much noise when doing so, they might need some TLC. You can easily fix this yourself without any tools. The barrel adjuster on the gear shifter just needs to be turned clockwise for low to high gear changes and counterclockwise for high to low gear changes. After you’ve adjusted, you can check the gears by clicking the hand gear shifter up and down one click while turning the pedals. It’s best to move the barrel adjuster a quarter turn at a time to avoid adding too much tension to the cable.
Essential bike care kit
For bike maintenance at home, these are some of the tools you might want to have to hand:
- A decent bicycle pump, preferably with a pressure gauge.
- Self-adhesive tyre repair patches for quick fixes when out and about.
- A spare inner tyre tube so you can fix more fatal punctures.
- A sturdy tyre lever, which will help lift the outer casing off.
- A multi-tool – preferably a specialist one for bikes that includes chain tools, spanners, screwdrivers and Allen keys.
With all these tools, it’s good to have somewhere to keep them, especially if you don’t want to be wearing a backpack all the time. Designed to fit neatly under your seat, saddlebags come in a variety of styles and sizes with different fittings to suit your bike.
Giving your bike the right home when it’s not in use can really make a difference. If you have space, hanging your bike vertically on a wall rather than on its side will help avoid knocking the derailleurs out of place. With mountain bikes, storing them with the suspension-fork legs pointing upwards means the oil can flow down, keeping the foam rings and seals lubricated. If you’re leaving your bike on a concrete floor, it’s a good idea to pop cardboard under the wheels to prevent dry rot in the tyre casings. To help protect bikes being kept outdoors, there’s a variety of bike storage options from all-weather covers to sheds and even tents.
Not sure what names to go with? Some of the best brands in the bike maintenance world include Topeak, Ice Toolz, Lezyne, Super B, Mottez, Park and Silca.
If you’re not sure what’s wrong with your bike or you just don’t know how to fix it, it’s best to leave it to the professionals. Bike mechanics will have the right tools for the job and can sort out your repair without causing more damage. YouTube tutorials are great, but sometimes it’s better to just give it to someone who really knows what they’re doing – even if they do have fewer views (hey, at least they’re ad-free!).