Basic Bike Maintenance

Keeping your bicycle properly maintained provides a safer and more enjoyable biking experience. While it’s a good idea to take your bike to a local bike shop for an occasional inspection, learning some basic bike maintenance can help save you money and extend the life of your bicycle.

Breaking In Your Bike

Shortly after purchasing a new bicycle—typically within the first 200 miles of riding—you may begin to experience some minor issues. Brakes can stick, spokes can stretch, and gears can slip. This is normal. Like any other mechanical device, bicycles have a break-in period. When your bike begins to feel a bit off, you can usually take it back to the shop where you bought it for free or low-cost adjustment. The bike shop will make sure your bicycle is in good operating condition and properly adjusted to fit you comfortably.

Tightening Fasteners

Bicycles are held together by a series of nuts, bolts, and screws. With regular riding, these components can loosen over time, causing poor performance, excessive wear and tear, and eventually becoming a safety hazard. To ensure your bike is properly adjusted, consider performing a pre-ride inspection before every ride, and pay attention to any potential problems that arise during your rides. In most cases, pre-ride adjustments can be made with a simple multi-tool. When tightening your bicycle components, it’s important to keep in mind that over tightening can cause as much damage as under tightening.

If you’re unsure how to fix a problem, it’s best to bring your bike in to a full-service bike shop. Certain parts should only be serviced by experienced mechanics. If you ride your bike regularly, you’ll also want to bring it in for biannual inspections of your spokes, bearing surfaces, derailleurs, cable systems, and other hard-to-evaluate bicycle parts.

Cleaning Your Bicycle

Mud, grime, dirt, and debris can get stuck in your bike’s chain, gears, and other components, causing them to wear down faster and damaging the paint on your bike. By following a regular cleaning schedule, you can prolong the life of your bike. How often you clean your bike should be based on how often you ride, and in what conditions. If you spend a lot of time riding in wet, muddy conditions, you’ll want to clean your bike more frequently.

When cleaning your bike, work from top to bottom and front to back. In most cases, you can clean dirty bike components using a dry or damp rag. If you decide to wash your bike with water, proceed with caution. Water can damage the sensitive bearing systems on your bike. Avoid high-pressure hoses. Instead, use a bucket of warm, soapy water and a soft-bristled brush. You should rinse your bicycle before washing to remove any extra debris, and afterwards to remove the soapy water. And don’t forget to dry it with a clean cloth.

Lubricating Your Bike

Proper lubrication of your bicycle keeps moving parts from freezing up or wearing due to friction. It also prevents metal components from rusting. However, over lubricating can attract dirt and other abrasive particles, leading to component damage and poor performance. To prevent over lubrication, wipe away any excess lube before riding your bike.

The type of lubricant you use depends largely on your application, as well as the weather and riding conditions. Bicycle greases tend to be thicker than oils, and are used primarily for lubricating bearing systems and large-thread bolts. Bike oils tend to be thinner than bike grease and are used to lubricate thin-thread bolts, chains, and moving parts found in brake and derailleur systems. Wet, rainy weather conditions require more frequent lubrication with thicker, more durable oils—while drier conditions require lighter oils that won’t attract as much dirt.

The following tips provide further information on lubricating specific components of your bike:

Bike Chain

Frequent lubrication of your bike chain helps slow the rate of chain wear. The type of chain lube you use will affect how frequently you need to lubricate. In general, you should lube your chain whenever it squeaks. You should also lube your chain after washing your bike or riding in the rain, as this will prevent rusting. From time to time, you’ll need to remove the chain and clean it thoroughly with a solvent before re-oiling it. However, the more frequently you spot-lube your chain, the less necessary these off-bike cleanings will be.

Brake & Derailleur Levers

Brake and derailleur levers allow you to control your brakes and shift gears on your bike. On occasion, you should apply a drop or two of oil to the lever pivots and barrel adjusters in order to keep them working properly.

Brake & Derailleur Cables

These cables connect your brakes and derailleur assemblies to the levers you use to control them. These should be checked frequently and occasionally re-lubricated.

Brake & Derailleur Assemblies

Brake and derailleur assemblies consist of a number of small moving parts. To keep your bike properly functioning, lubricate the pivot points of these assemblies, including arms, wheels, and pulleys.

Bearing Systems

Repairing hubs, headsets, and cranksets goes beyond the scope of basic bicycle maintenance. Unless you’re experienced with this type of bicycle repair, you should let a professional handle these tasks.

Additional Resources

If you’re unsure how to do something, it’s a good idea to take your bike to a knowledgeable mechanic. However, if you have the time and motivation learn bicycle repair, you can save some money and gain a better understanding of bicycles. For a quick-and-easy set of instructions on a selection of bicycle maintenance topics, consult the Bicycle Maintenance section of the League of American Bicyclists website. If you’re looking for more in-depth repair information, check out Park Tool’s Repair Help and Education Page. And if you have a specific question, you can always ask fellow bikers in the Bicycle Mechanics section of Bike Forums.