Having a well-functioning bike is what every cyclist desires, but it takes a little work to stay on top of all the maintenance that ensures your bike is always running smoothly. With these tips, you can make sure your bike is silky smooth and always in good working condition, which could save you money in the long run because your bike and components will last longer.
This one seems obvious, but it is all too easy to neglect cleaning your bike when you return from a wet and gritty ride and can't think of anything but a hot shower.
Leaving your bike wet and covered in dirt is, however, a guaranteed way to make it deteriorate faster than you'd like. Especially in the winter when roads are gritted, it's better to at least hose your bike and wipe the drivetrain with a rag.
Even when it's not wet and horrible, your drivetrain accumulates dust and all sorts of dirt that you should clean off to keep everything running smoothly. A simple GT85 spray on your chain and a wipe-down with a rag is more than sufficient and only takes a couple of minutes.
If your bike is making an odd sort of creak, rattle, or squeak, it might mean that one or multiple parts are in need of servicing or replacement.
Common signs of your headset or any other bearings being completely worn are rust leaking from your headset or hubs. If that happens, you are really beyond servicing and looking at a full replacement of the parts.
Some parts might become fragile without you even noticing it and brands frequently issue recalls on one part or another. This is why checking the cycling tech news frequently is helpful, as you'll be amongst the first to know if, for example, your cranks are in danger of cracking.
Your bike's drivetrain is the one place where things wear out quickly, and the sooner you replace your stretched chain or worn-out cassette, the smoother your bike runs, and the less money you will spend in the end. Replacing one worn-out part will prevent the others from prematurely wearing out.
Other parts that you should check are brake pads and disc brake rotors, or if you're still committed to rim brakes, your rims should get a regular clean and once-over.
Even if you have enough pads left to stop the bike effectively, every once in a while it's good to check that the pads are wearing out evenly on both sides. If they're not, you might want to look at re-aligning your brake callipers. The same applies if you've noticed your brakes make rubbing noise consistently.
If your gears aren't shifting smoothly, your ride is guaranteed to be less enjoyable. If you have cable-operated gears, clicking or slow gear shifts might be due to inappropriate cable tension. Adjusting this is an easy task, and you can find hundreds of YouTube videos showing you exactly how to do it.
If a simple turn or two on the barrel adjuster doesn't do the trick, it might be your gears need indexing. Again, this is a job that can easily be done at home even if you're not an experienced mechanic. You might want to check your front derailleur is correctly aligned, too.
If the gears, despite indexing and tightening the cables, don't work properly, it might be time to replace the cables altogether.
Having a whole mechanic's toolset at home can be a hefty investment. You don't need to get the 300-part Park Tools workshop bundle to be able to take care of the basics at home, but you do need some key ones to be able to work on your bike.
That said, even if you cannot afford the most premium tools, make sure you invest in quality rather than quantity. Simple tools such as hex keys differ a lot in quality and if you buy very cheap tools, you will possibly damage your bike bolts.
We've reviewed plenty of tools and tool kits, so it's worth checking out those write-ups if you're on the market for one.
Your bike is assembled with many different types of bolts, and even if you have tightened them to the required torque, they can loosen over time.
One of the most common rattles on a bike is a loose bottle cage, so whenever you are servicing your bike, take a moment to go through all the visible bolts and check that they are tight. Loose bolts can not only cause an accident but also damage the threads of your bike.
Similarly, you don't want to have your bolts overtightened and fracture your carbon fibre parts. Investing in a good torque wrench is important here; it may cost a little, but in the long run, it's worth it as you will get every bolt to the right tension.
Loose spokes, nipples, or worn-out hubs will make an annoying noise, but they are also a safety hazard.
You don't need to take off your wheels and put them on a truing stand every time you want to check them - the easiest thing to do is to spin your wheel and look for any wobble while it spins. If it seems to be true, you can then check the tension of the spokes by gently pressing two of them toward each other at a time. You will notice if there is something very loose by doing this and if you do, you will either need to tighten the culprit, or replace a spoke.
Then, check over the nipples for any corrosion or cracking around them.
Beyond the wheels, inspecting your tyres for any cuts, wear or tears should be done before every ride. Most tyres have a wear indicator on them, and if you run them beyond this point, you risk the casing becoming exposed and getting yourself potentially really hurt if the tyre decides to tear apart. So, check over the tyres regularly and swap to new rubber when necessary.
Lubing your chain and keeping your bearings greased up is essential for a smooth-running bike, but when it comes to the amount of grease or chain lube you apply, don't go crazy overdoing it.
An over-lubed chain will only attract muck and dirt, making it harder to clean and definitely won't make you any faster. Get into the habit of applying a drop of lube to each roller on the chain, even though it takes more time. Once you've done this, rotate the chain, and if it looks overly wet, run a rag through it before heading out.
Make sure you also choose a lube that is best suited for your riding style and the conditions you are facing. In the wintertime, it's good to put on some wet lube that stays on the chain even through the puddles, but in the summer you want to use dry lube that is lighter and doesn't get gunked up with dirt as quickly as wet lube.
And if you so wish, you can even consider waxing your chain to save you from using chain lube at all.
As fun - and helpful - as it is to get to know your bike better and fix small issues, sometimes it's good to accept that you don't have the tools or know-how to service or update your bike!
Trying, for example, to install a whole new groupset only to realise you don't know what an olive and barb are is going to end up causing you a lot more problems than what it would cost to take the bike to a shop. Even if you're good with basic maintenance, it's helpful to book your bike in for a proper service every once in a while.
If you've decided that caving in and booking into the bike shop isn't for you, and you really want to master bike maintenance, we're not stopping you! There are lots of cycling groups that offer bike maintenance classes for beginners, which are great for getting an expert to help you get started on working with your bike. Often it's a lot better to learn from an expert in person rather than relying on YouTube videos.
That doesn't mean that you shouldn't research and learn about maintenance on the internet, or from books, though. We're lucky to have access to such a vast amount of information about every possible cycling topic you might think of, but when you're looking at bike maintenance tips or repair tricks, it's wise to take the advice with a pinch of salt. Preferably, ask a professional at a local bike shop you trust for advice to make sure what you've seen on a forum is actually correct.
Is there anything we've missed? Let us know your quick bike maintenance tips in the comments below.
Suvi joined F-At in 2022, first writing for off-road.cc. She's since joined the tech hub, and contributes to all of the sites covering tech news, features, reviews and women's cycling content. Lover of long-distance cycling, Suvi is easily convinced to join any rides and events that cover over 100km, and ideally, plenty of cake and coffee stops.