Cycling

Top tips for bicycle maintenance

8 Mar , 2013  

More bicycles are bought in the UK than cars yet almost half end up lying unused in sheds and garages. Reports reveal that the use of bikes has been on the increase in recent years yet still there are millions of bicycles languishing in people’s garages and sheds.  But with spring on the way and the promise of some fairer weather, now is the time to get your bike out the shed and back on the road. Cycling is a fantastic way to keep fit and it offers a cheaper and far greener form of transport. Cycling is also sociable and with numerous off-road routes around the UK, it’s a safe and enjoyable form of exercise for all the family.

Give your bike the once over

Before jumping back in the saddle, it’s important to give your bike a good check over. As bike mechanic Nick Green says: “A winter spent in the shed or garage can play havoc with your bike and its components. It will probably have an unhealthy rusty tinge because of the damp winter air. The tyres will have long since have deflated and parts that used to turn will be stubbornly solid.”

For those cyclists who have determinedly cycled though the winter, a bike safety check over is also vital. Nick adds: “Water, grit and salt from the roads make a grinding paste that eats through seals, washes away lubrication and turns metal components to a rough, rusty mess. Riding in low light conditions makes the water-filled potholes hard to spot and your battered wheels will be somewhat less than round.”

Spring into cycling checklist

  • Hold the bike upright and rotate the pedals backwards. Does the chain run smoothly without jumping or rattling? Are the chain and gears free of rust and accumulated muck? Problems are likely to be due to a dirty chain or misaligned derailleur (rear gear).
  • Lift the rear of the bike by the saddle (easier with a helper). Turn the pedals forwards while changing front and rear gears. Do the changes happen smoothly, or does the chain sometimes not move onto the next cog?
  • Does the bottom bracket bearing (where the pedals rotate) feel smooth? Is there any play in the pedal crank arms when they are pushed side to side?
  • Lift the front and rear of the bike so that the wheels can be spun round one at a time. Sight along the wheel as it spins, looking at the brake blocks. Is there any wavering of the wheel in the gap between the blocks? Does the wheel rub anywhere?
  • Remove each wheel and turn the axle with your fingers. Does it turn smoothly or do the bearings feel rough?
  • Are the brake blocks worn? If the grooves in the blocks have disappeared then new ones are needed.
  • What condition are the tyres in? Are there cracks in the sidewall or cuts in the tread from road grit?
  • Apply the front brake and grip the handlebars. Try and rock the bike backwards and forwards, looking for any movement in the headset bearing.

Now you have an idea where the problems may lie. Whether you tackle the work yourself or take it to a professional depends on your experience and confidence, and how well equipped you are with your own tools. Modern bikes are highly engineered and require good quality tools to do jobs properly. If you are entrusting your life to a machine, which will carry you along at speeds more than 30mph, repairs and maintenance must be carried out to a proper standard.

There are however jobs that can be done by cyclists of any level that will go a long way to keeping the bike running smoothly.

Tops tips for keeping your bike in good working order

Clean the bike with hot water and car shampoo, then rinse in clean hot water. Dry with paper towels or rags, cleaning oil and muck from the chain, gears and brakes.

  • Spray mechanical parts and bolts with a water repellent lubricant.
  • Apply oil lightly to the chain, and then wipe off the excess.
  • Clean the wheels, especially the rims where the brake blocks contact.
  • Pump the tyres to the appropriate pressure.
  • Ride the bike a short distance, changing gears and applying the brakes. Note what is not working smoothly.
  • Simple jobs, such as changing brake blocks and adjusting gears, can be done at home with tools like Allen keys. There are youtube instructional videos covering every job on every conceivable type of bike.
  • Bigger jobs such as wheel truing and bearing replacement are generally best left to a mechanic. It will give peace of mind to know that the bike has been assessed by a professional mechanic at least once a year.
  • On your first long rides, take some basic tools to deal with any unresolved problems that come to light on the road.

So if you’re planning to cycle through the spring and summer, now is the time to get your bike in good working order. Then, when the good weather arrives, you will be out on the road when everyone else is queuing at the bike shop.

Thanks to Nick Green of Hammer & Cycle mobile bike mechanics for his advice and comments.

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A journalist, web copywriter blogger and social media chatterbox, Fiona combines her love of the outdoors – especially Scotland – with a diverse freelance work life. If she's not at her desk writing about the outdoors, she'll be outside cycling, running, kayaking, snowboarding and walking Munros. She shares her outdoors passion with partner, the G-Force. Sometimes her teenage daughter Little Miss Outdoors tags along, too.