Riding your bike may be the fun part of being a cyclist but bike maintenance is essential for your safety and if you want your bike to continue working to its full potential for years to come. Maintaining your bike properly means that you will spend less time feeling frustrated with a broken bike when you could be out on a ride. Instead, you will be able to take pride in your prized possession and have confidence that everything is exactly as it should be.
Too often, we hear stories of bikes that have fallen into disrepair and been consigned to the garage for years to come. Their users become disenchanted and fall away from cycling for months, possibly years before investing heavily in a new bike and starting the cycle again. But it doesn’t have to be this way, nor does bike maintenance have to be expensive.
In this article, we will share some of our top tips and tools for bike maintenance, some of the common issues you should look out for and other ways that you can get help when a simple fix isn’t doing the trick.
Why maintaining your bike is important
Maintaining your bike is a must if you are serious about cycling. Spotting the early signs of wear and tear on your bike and doing something about it means that those problems won’t snowball and you will be able to continue riding without worry. In time, you will learn to spot the signs that your bike needs a bit of work before things become problematic on a ride.
Good bike maintenance will also impact your performance if you plan to use your bike in a race. Knowing that your components are performing as they should can give you the confidence you need to perform to your best on race day.
The saying ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ is relevant here too. By acting at the first sign of a problem, you may be able to perform a minor repair or adjustment that prevents you from having to shell out for a more significant one further down the line.
A bike that is in good working order, that is clean and adjusted to your needs will also be more comfortable to ride. If you have paid good money to invest in a bike, there is no benefit in covering your bike over in your garage and never taking it out on the road, where it truly belongs. Regularly maintaining your bike and making any necessary adjustments for your own comfort will likely mean that you will ride it more which is, in turn, better for your health.
Common Issues When Cycling
Now you know why maintaining your bike is important, there are a few common issues that you may encounter. Knowing what to look out for is the first step to rectifying any issues that you experience.
Perhaps the most obvious place to start is the dreaded puncture. If you are racking up the miles on roads and trails then you are likely to suffer a puncture at some point or another. Punctures are frustrating but they are easily fixed if you know how. Carrying the right kit is important as it ensures that you can repair your bike before carrying on, instead of heading straight home. If you’ve never repaired a puncture before, take a look at this video for a video guide.
Another common issue that you may encounter is a broken pedal or cleat. This can happen at any time and will likely happen when you are out on a ride, miles from home. Unfortunately, this is an issue which will leave you reaching for your mobile to ask for a lift back home but the issue can be protected against by keeping your pedals and cleats clean and in good working order. Checking your pedals and cleats before every ride can help you spot any problems.
A poorly adjusted bike can lead to injury. If you have not set up your bike to suit your body then you may find yourself with knee pain, discomfort in your lower back or cramping. Your saddle height & tilt and your reach to the handlebars are crucial for your comfort. This video from Global Cycling Network gives you a quick rundown on how to set your bike up to your needs. Of course, the best way to make sure that your bike is the right size and fit for you is to consider what size bike frame you need at the buying stage. Whilst a good bike set up can prevent these problems from ever occurring in the first place, they are surprisingly common. Check that your bike set up is right for you before you head out on your next ride.
Other common issues include a snapped chain, issues with changing gears (particularly on new bikes) and rubbing brakes.
How to maintain your bike – things to consider
Maintaining your bike is an ongoing process. You should aim to give your bike a quick check over between each ride and you should regularly check on your tyre pressure and give all the components of your bike a good clean, especially if you have been riding in wet or muddy conditions.
The first and possibly the most significant thing you should do is check your tyres. Properly inflated tyres impact both your performance and comfort and can protect against flats and punctures. There is no such thing as the perfect tyre pressure. That figure depends on whether you have wide or narrow tyres and whether you are riding off-road or on tarmac. A breakdown of the different things you need to consider can be found here.
After a few rides, or when you are cycling in muddy conditions, you may notice that your bike starts to creak. This can be disconcerting but is easily fixed. The creaking will likely be caused by your bike chain and this can be remedied with a quick oil. If you have never oiled your bike before, take a look at this tutorial for some guidance. Your bike will be back running smoothly in no time.
Preparing your bike for winter by fitting mudguards (link to prev article – not yet published) helps deflect some of the mud and debris away from the working parts of your bike. Take a look at our article on preparing your bike for winter for some of our ideas on how you can ride safely through the winter months.
Best Tools for Bike Maintenance
So now you know what common issues you need to look out for, you will need to buy some basic tools to make sure that you can effect those key repairs. The idea of buying tools can be off-putting due to the cost implication but we really do recommend buying some basic tools and there are some relatively cheap starter kits available if money is tight.
We have talked about kit needed to start cycling before, a bike pump and puncture repair kit are essential for even the most casual cyclists. A pump allows you to inflate your tyres to the correct pressure and a puncture repair kit can help you if you do suffer a puncture on the go. Spare tubes are a must in the event that you do suffer a puncture as they will allow you to do a quick change before continuing your ride.
Having a set of wrenches and chain lube is essential to keep your chain running smoothly with a regular oiling. If you have never oiled your bike before, there are plenty of great tutorials on YouTube which we would recommend checking out.
A simple cloth can be used to wipe your bike down after each ride. Make sure you clean your handlebars and your saddle to ensure that they don’t become smelly and unhygienic. You should also keep your bike free from dirt and mud and regularly removing any debris that lodges itself into any component on your bike is an important part of any maintenance regime.
If you are not sure what you might need, or are keen to source a cost-effective maintenance kit, you can pick up a useful, 12pc bike tool kit from Halfords. The tool kit packs all the tools that you need for basic repairs that include punctures, adjusting your handlebars, saddle position, gears and brakes.
Finding Help For Your Bike
Of course, there may be times when you don’t have the know how to perform the repair yourself. In these circumstances, there are a number of places that you can go for help. But, even if you don’t feel that you know how to fix your bikes, you can delve into some free resources before turning to someone else to perform the repair.
Before spending money, try searching YouTube for a tutorial for the type of bike repair that you need. There are 1,000s of useful videos that you can learn from, saving you money in the process. YouTube is a brilliant, free resource with lots of bitesize videos giving you the information that you need to keep your bike on the road when you are short on time.
For a more sustainable and structured way to learn how to do-it-yourself when it comes to bike maintenance, you may want to book onto a bike maintenance course which teaches you a range of skills that you can use time-and-again to keep your bike in top condition. Courses aren’t expensive, with some subsidised courses starting from as little as £5 per person. Courses teach you the essentials for roadside fixes such as mending punctures but also go into more depth about adjusting your bike to suit your needs and the key things you should know about each bike component. Long term, these bike courses can provide you valuable insight that you can use for years to come.
If all else fails, ask the experts. There is no shame in taking your bike to a specialist bike shop for a repair if you do not have the time or know how to get your bike back on the road. Whilst there are plenty of bike repair shops out there, knowing what repair you need the maintenance shop to perform will arm you with the knowledge you need to know whether the price they are quoting you sounds realistic. Halfords have a store finder tool that can help you find your nearest repair shop. Alternatively, you may find a local shop with a good reputation which gives you the confidence you need to trust them with your favourite set of wheels.
Before you hand over your bike, know how much you should expect to pay and research the reputation of the shop. This will give you the confidence that your pride and joy will be treated with the respect and expertise that it deserves.
Your Takeaway Message
Bike maintenance may be the boring part of being a cyclist but it doesn’t always have to be expensive. By committing to a regular bike maintenance schedule you can prevent many of the issues that you might otherwise incur. Through arming yourself with the knowledge of how your bike works, you will be better equipped to deal with any issues that do emerge.
Creating an approach that is proactive and informed is more effective than dealing with issues as they pop up. It will improve the longevity of your bike and allow you to enjoy cycling for years to come. Happy cycling.