Maintaining your bike is your responsibility, both for your safety and that of the friends you ride with. Luckily, tuning up your bike isn’t as hard as it might seem when you first try.
Here’s how to maintain some of the components on your bike. Contact your local bike shop for books and advice on where to turn for more advanced maintenance tasks.
CLEANING YOUR BIKE
Why: Oil and dirt stick to components such as brake and gear systems, making them less effective.
How Often: Depends on how often and in what conditions you ride. Check your bike weekly and clean as needed.
What to Do: Spray the entire bike with a garden hose to remove excess mud and loose dirt. Use a degreaser on the crankset, derailleurs and chain to get rid of built-up oil and grit. Use hot water and a soapy sponge on the drivetrain, turning the pedals and running the chain through the sponge. Use a small cleaning brush to clean the cassette. Use a different sponge with soapy water on the rest of the bike. Use a silicon-based lubricant on the chain, derailleurs, cable ends, brake calipers and brake levers.
Tip: Start with the top of the bike and work your way down. That way dirt from above doesn’t seep into parts you’ve already cleaned.
ROUTINE SAFETY CHECKS
Why: Reduce the chance of mechanical failure causing an accident.
How Often: Before every ride.
What to Do: Check the frame for bulges or cracks, a sign that the tube is fatigued. Check the wheels and spokes for cracks and irregularities. Scan the entire drivetrain for worn parts. Make sure every bolt and screw is tight. Try to turn the handlebar while holding the front wheel still. If it moves, tighten bolts in the steering mechanism. Check the brakes by applying both and pushing the bike forward. The bike should stop before the brakes are fully applied. If not, see “Maintaining Your Brakes.”
Tip: Don’t overtighten bolts. Applying too much force can weaken it.
MAINTAINING YOUR BRAKES
Why: Just think about it.
How Often: Check your brakes before every ride. Maintain them as needed.
What to Do: Check the pads for wear. If they are glazed and hard, or if less than 1⁄8-inch remains outside the holder, replace the pads on both sides. Make sure the main brake cable is pulled taut and the anchor bolt is tightened. Turn the barrel adjuster to make sure both brakes are centered on the rim and that they just clear the rim as the wheel spins. Make sure the brake pads are directly in line with the braking surface of the rim. Loosen the bolt on the pad to adjust it. If you have to pull the brake lever all the way back before the wheels stop, loosen the cable-fixing bolt, squeeze the outside of the brake pads until they nearly touch the rim, then tighten the bolt.
Tip: Make sure your wheels are “true” while adjusting brakes. If a wheel wobbles while it spins, take it to a bike shop for adjustment.
MAINTAINING YOUR TIRES
Why: Improperly inflated tires can cause more expensive bike problems than just about anything.
How Often: Check your air pressure every time you ride.
What to Do: Use only a frame or hand pump to inflate your tires. Automobile service station pumps can blow out tires. Check tires frequently for cracks and worn treads.
Tip: Tires should be kept inflated within the range of the pressure recommended by the manufacturer. Look on the side of the tire for the recommended pressure.
Photographs from the “Complete Bike Book,” published by DK Publishing. Reproduced with permission of the copyright holder.
Want to learn more? For more information on bike maintenance, check out the “Complete Bike Book” by Chris Sidwells, available at www.scoutstuff.org or by calling 1-800-323-0736.