How to Maintain Your Bike: Basic Bicycle Maintenance Tips

Why Routine Bicycle Maintenance is so Important

Some of the beauty of a bicycle is that it is a very simple machine. In its simplest form you pedal to drive a chain around a sprocket and transfer power to a wheel in a very efficient way. That being said, we are now riding on lightweight bikes with gears, derailleurs, suspension, dropper posts and all sorts of other things that complicate this and require maintenance to operate properly. At the end of the day though, bicycles are still simple and some basic bike maintenance can keep you safe and your bike running smoothly for a very long time.

Essential Tools for Bicycle Maintenance

A few basic tools will go a long way in maintaining your bicycle. Here are a few you’ll definitely need.

  • Floor pump - You’re going to need to keep air in your tires! We recommend looking at the Crankbrothers and Lezyne floor pumps we carry. They’re convenient, long lasting, and have an accurate gauge to help you keep that tire pressure perfect.
  • Allen keys - It’s best to have a complete metric set. You’ll use the 4, 5, and 6mm most often. An 8mm may be used on the crank and a 2mm on Shimano rear derailleurs for making clutch adjustments.
  • Brush set - You’re going to want to keep your bike clean. A brush set will help you get into those nooks and crannies. We use the Finish Line Easy-Pro Brush Set, and you may want to check out their Super Bike Wash too.
  • Work Stand - A work stand allows you to do this work with the bike elevated and easy to reach. It’s great for both washing and maintenance, and the Feedback Sports Pro-Elite Work Stands we use will stand the test of time. 

Once you’ve graduated to bigger projects, we recommend you take a look at some of the bicycle tools we offer. We carry pedal wrenches, chain wear indicators, cassette lockring tools and chain whips, and most other tools you’ll need to keep your bike absolutely perfect. If you have a mountain bike, you definitely want a shock pump to keep your suspension correctly adjusted for your weight and riding style.

How to Maintain Your Bike

Keep Your Bike Clean

The first step to having a safe and fast bike is to keep it clean. Not only do all the moving parts function better when free of dust and grime, but cleaning also allows you the time to thoroughly inspect your entire bike for damage, worn parts, and anything else that could be an issue out on the road or trail.

We recommend rinsing the bike with a light stream of water, agitating the dirt with a mild soap and brush, then rinsing again. High pressure is a big “NO” here. A garden hose is more than enough.  Bicycle bearings are designed to be efficient and low friction, but don’t do a great job of keeping water out. Use the checklist below to ensure you hit the important parts of the process.

Steps to a Clean Bike

  • Be sure to clean your drivetrain first to prevent getting chain lube and grime on other parts of the bike after cleaning. Spray your drivetrain with a cleaner such as Finish Line EcoTech Degreaser, including the chain and everything it touches such as front chainrings, cassette, and rear derailleur pulley wheels. Even an old toothbrush can work to get in the jockey wheels on a rear derailleur. 
  • While the drivetrain soaks, prepare a bucket of soapy water. Blue Dawn dish soap works well. For quick washes requiring only a quick spray-on/wipe-off procedure, Finish Line Super Bike Wash works great. 
  • Scrub and rinse the drivetrain with a stiff-bristled brush. Once the grime is removed, rinse with a garden hose on low-flow until water runoff is clean. Be sure to avoid spraying water into wheel hubs and the bottom bracket (where crank arms attach to the frame.)
  • Scrub the wheels with a separate brush. Be sure to keep anything greasy or dirty away from disc brake rotors as much as possible!
  • Wash the frame and other parts using a sponge and soapy water. Inspect the bike for wear and damage. For smaller nooks and crannies, use a soft bristled brush.
  • Rinse the complete bike one last time from top to bottom to remove all residual grime.

We often talk to people who are stressing over how to wash their bicycle. Don’t overcomplicate things here. Just take the time to get it clean again and check over the frame and components to make sure everything is in tip top shape. It’s also a good idea to get the bike dry. You could use compressed air, a leaf blower, or rags, but getting water out of the drivetrain and those hard to reach spots will prevent corrosion and keep your bike in the best shape possible.

Inspect Your Tires and Ensure That They’re Properly Inflated

Spin the wheels and inspect your tires. You can prevent a flat tire on a road bike by finding glass, rocks, or wire and removing them before they’ve actually punctured the tire/tube. Also check to make sure the rubber is in good shape. It should be free of cracks and not seem dry and brittle, and the tread should be in good shape. Your tires may have wear indicators to help you decide when it’s time for new tires.  They’ll typically be a small round dimple near the center of the tread or a small “bar” going between two tread blocks.

Also keep your tires inflated to your desired pressure. If you’re new to cycling, you may be surprised at how much air pressure is lost each day. Keep an eye out for our upcoming post and video about choosing the right pressure for you. 

While you’re here, check that your wheels are true. Spin the wheel and pay attention to the rim. Is there a wobble? Wheels may not be perfectly true, but it’s important to notice any changes. Also check for loose spokes.

Check Your Wheel Bearings

No matter the type of bike you have, you have wheel bearings that need a little attention. To check the bearings, grab the wheel and rock it back and forth in a sideways motion. You should not feel play in the wheel. This is most important and likely to be a problem that arises on the rear wheel. Also spin the wheels and listen for any odd sounds coming from the hub. If you notice any issues, we suggest taking your bike into your local dealer for a service. Being proactive here can prevent costly repairs later.

Lubricate Your Drivetrain

You now have a nice, shiny drivetrain, but it needs lubrication. We suggest spinning the crank backwards while hitting each roller of the chain with a drop of lube. A drop on each derailleur pulley is also a good idea. Give it a good spin and then wipe any excess with a rag. Leaving excess chain lube on just attracts dirt and makes your job harder next time. You’ll know what “good” feels and sounds like. Your drivetrain should be free of squeaks and grinding. 

Ensure That Nuts, Bolts, and Screws are Tightened

After washing your bike, now is a good time to check the nuts and bolts to make sure everything is tight for the next ride. We recommend checking handlebar and stem bolts, saddle bolts, brake mounts, and either quick release skewers or thru axle tightness. Torque specs will vary on all of these parts, but a quick check to make sure they aren’t loose is a good idea to prevent a ruined ride. As you progress in the work that you do, you may want to look into a torque wrench.

Check Your Brakes

Always check to make sure your brakes are properly functioning. It’s also a good idea to make sure you did not introduce a contaminant during the cleaning process. On disc brakes, this will usually show up as a squeal. Check that the brake pads are in good shape and not worn out. If you have mechanical brakes, make sure that the brake cables move freely and are not frayed at the ends. On a mountain bike, check to make sure the brake levers are free of any damage from falls. As this is a safety issue, use caution here and try to spot problems before they show up on a ride.

Have Your Bike Serviced Regularly

We recommend having your bike serviced regularly by a qualified local bike shop. During the service, they will do things like check bearings, check that your wheels are true and spoke tension is even, lubricate any components that you aren’t regularly doing at home, and make sure everything is in good working order. It’s also always a good idea to have a second set of eyes check over your bike to find any problems before they ruin a ride and prevent a safety hazard.

    For all your bike care needs, check out our collection.

    Once you’re done, it’s time to admire your handiwork for a moment and then get your bike dirty again on your next adventure!

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