How to: Bike Maintenance
Every machine requires maintenance in order to run efficiently, and a bike is no different. Regularly performing basic checks and tune-ups can save you time and money in the long run as well as reduce the risk of injury to you, should the bike’s integrity be compromised in some way.
Bikes tools - What do you need?
The correct equipment for the job is essential to quickly perform maintenance checks and cleans. Below is a list of the essentials and tools every cyclist will find useful.
- Chain Lubricant
- Chain tool + measuring tool
- Spoke key
- Allen keys
- Pedal spanner
- Torque wrench
- Tyre Lever
- Tyre pump with gage
- Chain cleaner tool
- Bike maintenance stand
Pre ride checks
Checking your bike before every ride should be common place, doing so will alleviate any potential headaches once out in the saddle. Let’s look at some of the fundamental pre-ride checks:.
Checking tyre pressure should be done before every ride. Tyre pressure is measured by PSI (pounds of force per square inch) different tube manufactures will have slightly differing tyre pressure guidelines, be sure to check your tubes for the recommended pressure.
Note: Never go above or below manufacturer recommended tyre pressure.
Remember weather conditions, type of riding and type of tyres all impact on the optimum PSI, but below is a general guideline:
- Road Bikes 80 – 130 PSI
- Hybrid Bikes 50 – 70 PSI
- Mountain Bikes 30 – 50 PSI
Tyres can lose anywhere from 5 PSI to 20 PSI every ride, so be sure to check this regularly.
If you suspect there is a puncture in your tube, inflate the tube then rinse the entire tube with soapy water. Any holes in the tube should hiss and blow small bubbles. Mark the area for repair or replace the tube.
Skewers and axels
Be sure to check your skewers and axels are tight before riding. Nothing good comes from losing a wheel mid- ride.
Checking the brakes
- While walking with the bike slowly, squeeze the brakes until they catch firmly on the disc or rim. The bike should slow to a stop within a couple paces (if not instantly). Once satisfied repeat this process whilst pedalling slowly on the bike.
- Either using a bike stand or by lifting the front wheel off the ground, spin the wheel freely and listen for any sound of rubbing of the callipers on the disc or rim. Repeat for the rear wheel.
- Squeeze in the brake levers as far as they can go. There should be at least a two finger width gap between the lever and the handle bars. If not, re-adjust the brake lever barrels or the brake feed on the mechanism (cable brakes only.) See more on disc brakes here.
- Check that the pads evenly grip the rim or disc and are free of any debris potentially in the way of contact.
A twist of the wrist
Using an Allen key gently tighten the headset to ensure it is in place firmly.
Facing the front of the bike inspect the bike to make sure that the stem is directly above the front wheel. Loosen the bolts and re-adjust as necessary.
Squeezing the front brakes firmly apply pressure to the handle bars and move the bars left to right then forward and back. The handlebars shouldn’t move, if they do readjust to a comfortable position then tighten appropriately.
Sitting in the saddle with (at least) one foot on the ground gently bounce on the saddle, any creaking/squeaking is likely due to loose bolts. Adjust the saddle position accordingly then tighten firmly.
Most manufacturers will declare the desired torque setting for tightening bolts. Never over tighten bolts and if unsure look it up. Stripping the delicate thread due to over tightening on components often means the replacement of the whole component.
What’s a torque setting?
A torque setting is the amount of torque force applied to an object (in this case tightening bolts). Many tools come with adjustable torque settings making tightening bolts easy and stress free.
If riding at night check that all your lights are sufficiently bright and charged. Visibility is not only a legal requirement, but paramount to cycling safety and a simple light check could save you from harm.
Post ride checks
Naturally after riding the status quo of the bike may have changed somewhat. Much like the pre-ride checks, the post ride checks help to maintain your bike in tip-top condition.
Place your bike on a bike stand or lift so the wheels can spin freely. Spin each wheel and observe from directly in-front/behind the bike. Look for any wobbles to determine any damage or bending of spokes/rim. If the wheel does wobble either take it to your local bike shop for a wheel alignment.
Look over your tyres for any sharp debris that may have pierced the tyre during the ride. Remove and identify any spots that may need repairing.
Inspect the tread (if applicable) for wear and tear. A tread indicator tool is a quick and accurate way to test the depth of the tread. When the tread depth is insufficient the tyre needs to be replaced.
Using degreaser (in a spray bottle is helpful) and a plastic bristled brush, clean the cassette, derailleurs, chain rings and chain thoroughly. Most of a bike’s performance comes from having a clean and well-oiled drivetrain.
Chain cleaning tools are easy to use and get the job done quickly, investing in one will save you time.
Whilst cleaning look closely at the teeth of the cassette and chain-rings for any sign of damage. Most of the wear is gradual, look for rounded teeth to identify a cassette in need of replacement. Likewise inspect the chain whilst cleaning. Any loose links should be immediately replaced as this is the main cause for rapid wearing of the cassette/chain-rings and can lead to chain skipping. A chain wear indicator quickly determines the wear of a chain. If there’s over 0.8mm of wear it’s time for a new chain.
Now apply lubricant to the chain, cassette and derailleur wheels once they are clean and dry. Place the bike on a maintenance rack and rotate the pedals by hand whilst changing up and down the gears. The gearing action should be smooth, quick and accurate.
Check the rim where the brake pads make contact. On most rims you should see a groove/hole on the edge of the rim. This groove/hole is used to determine the wear of the rim from braking. Once the hole/ groove is too shallow or is flush with the rest of the rim, it’s time to replace the rim. Brake pads will also have grooves in the rubber again replace these when the grooves are shallow to flat. In addition look for uneven wear on the pads and replace if drastic.
Run your finger along the diameter of the disc, towards the outer edge of the disc you should feel a ridge (no ridge = perfect condition). The higher ridge the more likely your disc needs replacing. Also look for warping of the disc; this is particularly important but fortunately rarer on bicycles. If your disc is warped replace immediately.
Like rim brakes disc brakes have pads as well. The material of the pad is designed to slowly wear away. Most manufacturers will indicate the wear point by a different nub of material being revealed in the pad. If you can see something imbedded in the pad, it’s your wear indicator or it may be debris.
If you are unsure; 3mm of brake pad material is considered on its way out and 1mm of material left is in need of immediate replacement.
Lift up your bike and gently shake it left to right up and down. Any rattling in the frame is often the sign of a failed weld that’s cracking (or loose bolts). If rattling does occur carefully check the joins and welds of your bike for hairline cracks. In addition check your forks and chain stays for any signs of cracks. If detected early enough some repairs can be made to alloy and steel bikes. Carbon bikes however are particularly difficult to repair and often expensive.
Dints in the frame can also compromise the bike’s integrity. If you locate any major dints take your bike to your local bike mechanic and have it checked by a professional.
Note: Some welding debris can be left over from manufacturing and become loose while riding, this has no effect on the frame’s integrity .
Maintenance for Forks and Suspension
Often overlooked during a bike maintenance run- through is the front and rear suspension. Suspension can be costly to replace or repair, so be sure to look after it.
To begin use a damp cloth to clean the fork and shock shaft, be sure to wipe the seal edges. For grease and dirt that doesn’t come free easily use a small amount of degreaser.
Compress the suspension then repeat step one wiping free any remaining muck.
Once clean thoroughly dry all water and degreaser from the suspension. Cover your cassette, and brake rotors with a plastic bag then apply suspension lube/oil to the entire fork/shock shaft. Use a cotton bud or finger to spread oil/lube into the suspension seals.
Note: Check your suspension manufacturer’s website for recommended service and maintenance schedules, some are surprisingly short.
That’s it! A complete guide of how to properly maintain your two- wheeled machine.