Simple Bike Repair & Maintenance Anyone Can Do
When I decided to start doing maintenance on my own bike at home I wasn’t sure what a derailleur did or what truing my wheels meant and, I always thought that a cassette was something my parents threw on in the car on a road trip to keep us kids from fighting. But, slowly and surely, I have taught myself through videos, online tutorials, and lots of trial and error how to complete regular maintenance on my bike. I have even ventured into the territory of replacing cables (which turned out to be very simple), adjusting derailleurs and, trying to true my wheels (which I have found to be very tricky).
I want everyone to know that with minimal tools and equipment you can do regular maintenance on your own bikes at home. You can just start with something as simple as washing your bike and cleaning and lubing your chain, to swapping out parts such as cassettes and shocks (if you have a mountain bike). Since bike maintenance and general upkeep can be a pretty broad topic I would like touch on some basic upkeep items. You can complete much of these with basic tools and equipment:
Allen wrench set or a bike multitool
Shop rags or recycled t-shirts
When you would like to expand your skills further you could purchase an at home bike repair tool kit as I did, which I purchased off Amazon for $80, Super B bike tools, which is not available anymore. Below is a photo of my tools I have accumulated over time.
A bike repair stand (I use the Park Tool PCS-10) is very handy and makes it easier to do more elaborate repairs or maintenance on your bike, but not necessary. I have tried inexpensive versions and the tubing can be solid, but the components such as hinges as clamps always wore out and broke on me. So if you are to buy a stand go with a good quality one, it makes a difference.
The best defense against any bike hazard is a pre-ride inspection. This will protect you from potential problems turning into a safety hazard. Everyone knows their ABC’s (or so I hope!) so let’s start with those:
Air: Check your tires to be properly inflated, the sidewalls should say the max psi. Flat or flattish tires will have a greater chance of wearing out and going flat on you. While checking the tire pressure, examine the tread closely for wear.
Brakes: Squeeze both the front and rear brake handles to make sure there is proper tension and contact with the rim or disc.
Chain: Make sure the chain is clean, or at least relatively clean. More dirt and grime on the chain, the quicker it will wear out.
Check out REI’s video on the ABC’s of Bike Maintenance
Learn how to fix a flat tube/tire:
One of the most important things you can learn as a bike rider is the ability to change a flat tire. It’s a simple process that just takes practice to learn.
There are many books and videos you can watch or read to learn how, I like Park Tool’s video on How to Fix a Flat Tire on a Bicycle
Clean and Lube your bike
Another simple thing you can be doing with your bike is cleaning and lubing it. All you need for this is some diluted soapy water or just water and rags. But make sure you wash your frame first before degreasing and re-lubing any components. Otherwise you could wash off that new lube and the components could dry out, creating more wear on those parts.
Give the bike a good spray and wash, then wipe down with some old rags or microfiber towel, either way make sure it gets dry. After you washed the frame it’s time to degrease and lube your components.
The parts of a bike that need cleaning and lubricating:
Your drivetrain is what requires the most attention, the drivetrain consists of the front chain ring, rear cassette, rear derailleur, and chain. Here are some tips on cleaning each of these parts:
Chain: this is the most important to keep well maintained as its function affects the rest of the components. For this all you need is a rag and a degreaser, rotate the chain getting degreaser on all of it. Let it soak for a minute, then spin the chain, holding the rag around it wiping the grease off. If it is really dirty and full of grime, a chain cleaning device works better.
Brake and derailleur levers: Simply add a drop or two of lubricant to the barrel adjusters and lever points occasionally so they maintain smooth operation.
Rear Cassette and Front Chain Rings: Take an old toothbrush or bike cleaning brush and degreaser. Put degreaser on parts and scrub with the brush while rotating the pedals. For really dirty and grimy ones use a rag to wipe off and get in between cog pieces.
Brake and Derailleur Cables: Make sure to fully inspect brake and derailleur cables for frays and wear, test to make sure transitions are smooth between gears. You can re-lubricate the lever points to keep the operations smooth.
This video from REI gives a great quick view of cleaning your drivetrain
Lastly you can check your bolts throughout the bike to see if any are loose. But if you tighten them, check for the proper torque specs so they can be properly adjusted for peak performance.
Following these simple maintenance tips on a regular basis, and depending on how much you ride, will keep your bike riding at peak performance and allow you to have a safe and reliable ride.
It’s easier than you think!
Don’t be intimidated, it is worth giving it a shot, there are so many options out there for learning to do your own maintenance either through classes, books, and YouTube tutorials. And yes, you can absolutely cry mercy and bring your bike into a shop if you want to. But, don’t you at least want to try and fail yourself and learn something than to not try at all?
Steve is a professional archaeologist who believes strongly in cultural and environmental stewardship. He’s a full-time husband, father, and jack-of-all-trades. He enjoys working with his hands whether it is servicing his bikes or making his own longboards to ride and sell on Etsy. He loves spending time outdoors with his family camping, hiking, or going for bike rides, and always is taking his kids outside to play. You can follow him on instagram at @blondearchaeologist and check out his longboards through his Etsy shop NorthWoodsWoodshop.