There are a few housekeeping tasks and tips which will help you get the best from your bicycle. Naturally, this includes the metronomic rhythm and enviable physique that’ll propel the vehicle. Keeping your bike in good nick will help you to avoid costly repairs and replacements, and make life in the saddle just that little bit safer.
To help you in this ongoing task, you’ll need to gather a few key bits and pieces. Don’t worry, our list isn’t terribly extensive; we’re not calling this a beginner’s guide to bike maintenance for nothing, and you won’t have to convert your garage in to a workshop to prosper. Moreover, you won’t need to take these with you every time you head out on your bike (though you might end up grateful that you did); just keep them around for preventative repairs.
Let’s take a look at some of the more important items for mountain and road bike maintenance, starting with some bike maintenance tools.
Ball-End Allen Keys
What Bike Maintenance Tools Do I Need?
‘Allen’ keys were created more than a hundred years ago by a Connecticut-based company, who’ve made it clear that they don’t like the term being used to describe generic hexagonal keys. Consequently, you might find that your local cycling store avoids the brand name in
favour of the ‘hex key’ moniker.
Whatever you call it, this is an incredibly useful and inexpensive device. Hex bolts are used extensively throughout the average bicycle, holding everything from the brakes to the water bottle into place. Typically, it’s 4 or 5mm hex keys that you’ll need – but select one that matches your bike and take it with you everywhere you go.
‘Ball-End’ Allen keys are slightly different in that they allow the key to be turned even when it’s been inserted at a slight angle. Since you’ll probably be doing your work in less-than- ideal conditions, the forgiving nature of these keys will surely be welcome.
A Screwdriver (or Three)
Since you’ll be needing several different sorts of head, investing in a screwdriver with an
interchangeable one would surely be wise. Nowadays, all sorts of ingenious solutions are available – from tiny heads that stow away within the handle to shafts that can be reversed depending on whether you need a flat head or a cross-shaped one.
Spanners (8mm, 9mm, and 10mm)
Unless you’ve led a tremendously sheltered existence, you won’t need us to explain what a spanner is. The ability to tighten (or, more rarely, loosen) the nuts and bolts that hold you bicycle together is essential. Without it, your vehicle might fall to bits with you on it!
This is a specific spanner developed especially with bicycle pedals in mind. It’ll allow for their removal and, and provides several features that’ll make the job easier. It’s typically very slim and comes with a long, rubberised handle that’ll grant the required leverage and grip.
To ensure that the mechanical parts of your bike can move freely, you’ll need to lubricate them with a suitable oil. We’ll touch more upon that a little later!
A bicycle pump is so crucial that your bike probably came with one thrown in – but not all of them are created equally. Yours might have had a built-in pressure-gauge; if not, consider buying a separate one especially for the job!
Getting your tyre pressures right is critical to having a good ride. Whilst your standard hand pump will do the job, a floor pump will allow you to get your tyres up to their correct pressures quickly and with less strain on your wrists that a traditional pump.
A tyre lever will allow you to remove your tyre to repair or replace it. It’s typically a thickstrip of plastic with a narrow edge that’ll let you get underneath the tyre and prise it away from the wheel.
To the non-cyclist, a cable puller is a very strange looking device. It looks a little bit like a tin opener crossed between a pair of pliers. Its function, as you might have guessed, is to tighten brake cables. It’ll allow you to do so with precision and care; it’s therefore an investment that’ll more than pay for itself in avoided stress and improved longevity, and one that’s crucial for proper bike maintenance and care.
Can I Carry Out Bike Maintenance Without a Stand?
A bike stand is a device that’ll lift your bike apart from the surface you’re working on, allowing you to rotate the various mechanisms without fear of the entire contraption rolling away while you’re not looking. Bike maintenance without a stand, while undoubtedly trickier, isn’t impossible.
When making adjustments, many cyclists can safely turn their bike upside down, so that the seat and the handlebars sit at the bottom. Having said that, this might not be entirely stable. You might also elect to use the bike rack on the back of your car. DIY solutions, like a set of hooks hammered into the ceiling of your garage and a suitably rugged strap, can also do the job. Ideally, this should be a stop-gap solution until you put down the cash for a proper stand.
Having assembled all your tools, you’ll want to put them to proper use. Several tasks stand out as crucial; you’ll want to perform them regularly, depending on how much use you’re getting from the bike. Bike maintenance for beginners typically starts with these key steps.
Essential Bike Maintenance Tasks
Check Tyre Pressure
Tyre pressure makes a crucial difference to your bike’s performance. Inflate them too muchand you’ll lower their lifespan and make life in the saddle uncomfortable. Inflate them too little and you’ll slow considerably, as your pedalling won’t be transferred to the road anywhere near as effectively. Over time, air will be forced from your tyres – and thus topping them up is essential.
Tyre pressure is usually measured in pounds per square inch. Your rear tyre is often expected to absorb more weight, and thus should be granted greater pressure. Mountain bikes should sit between thirty and fifty psi – with a ten-psi difference between front and rear being common. Road bikes, on the other hand, can vary considerably – some of them require more than a hundred psi!
First, remove the dust caps and put them somewhere safe. If your gauge is built into your pump, then you might need to pump a bit of air to take a reading. Whilst you’re pumping, be sure that the valve is kept still – the action could easily damage it if you’re not cautious. Valves come in two different sorts: Presta and Schrader. The former is long and thin and comes with a nut near the top, which you’ll need to undo before pushing in the pump’s stalk. The latter comes with a flat top, and require no additional interference after you’ve removed the cap. If your pump doesn’t match with the valve, then you’ll need to secure a suitable adaptor.
Tuning Your Gears
The chain is moved between the various gears of your bike via a device called a derailleur. It’ll sit just above the gears. Examine it while the bike is stationary; work your way through
the gears while slowly turning the cranks. All being well, the chain should smoothly move between the cogs.
To tune your gears, you’ll make use of something called a barrel adjustor. This is a ridged, cone-shaped device that sits between the derailleur and the ferrule leading to the gear cable. Locate the troublesome gear and begin unscrewing the adjustor. This will decrease tension until the chain is able to sit smoothly. If the chain is too tight, then shifting downward might become a problem. Find a happy compromise.
It’s worth considering that certain combinations of gear shouldn’t be used, as they’ll place excessive diagonal strain on the chain. Two small cogs, or two large cogs, should generally be avoided. Don’t bother adjusting the gears for such arrangements!
Check Your Cables and Chain
Among the most important and fragile components of a bicycle are the gears and chains which transfer the energy from your legs into the wheels. Friction is their worst enemy – if they grind against one another as they move, then they’ll quickly wear themselves down to
the point that they become effectively useless. Wet weather will also take its toll, stripping away protective coatings and accelerating rust and corrosion. For this reason, it’s crucial tocoat your chain in oil, which will be transferred to the gears as you cycle from place to place.
The same is true of the cables leading from your gear and brake controls to the relevant parts of the bike. Be sure that they’re nicely taut and that they’re responding. When you’re done, give the wheels a quick spin; they should rotate evenly and with a satisfyingly muted sound.
Cycling demands a little investment - if you’ve read this far, then you might already have put down a modest amount on the bike itself. With that in mind, spending a little more on tools, and taking the time to learn to use them, might seem a step too far. But in almost every case the small amount of money you spend on the items we’ve discussed will pay dividends in the long run. It’ll save you money that you’d otherwise spend patching up your bike, and it’ll allow you to get the best possible experience every time you saddle up. Besides, maintaining your bike can be a pleasure in and of itself – so why not embrace the practice?