Basic Bike Maintenance
Keep your tires properly inflated.
It’s best to have a good pump at home to keep your tires at the right pressure. The side of most tires will indicate the recommended pressure – look for the P.S.I. (pounds per square inch). For example, most mountain bike and BMX tires can take in the range of 40 – 65 P.S.I., while road tires are often 100 – 120 P.S.I.
Bike tires are inflated with either Schrader or Presta valves. Schraders are short and squat, and look similar those you see on a car. Prestas are skinnier, with a little valve at the tip, and are most commonly seen on road bikes. Any good pump will have a pressure gauge and will be compatible with both Schrader and Presta valves.
Depending on pressure, tire size, and use, you should add air to your tires anywhere from every ride to every couple weeks. If your tire goes flat in a week or less, you have a slow leak. It is normal for many tires to drop to a low pressure within a couple months if not maintained — just like car tires, air escapes the valve. Because bike tires hold less air and are typically at a higher pressure than car tires, they need air added more frequently. Give your tires a squeeze before every ride to make sure they feel right.
P.S. Your valve stems should be coming out straight – your rim will dig a hole into a crooked valve stem.
Clean and lube your chain.
As your chain wears down, it wears down your cogs and chainrings more. To maintain the health of your drivetrain, it is important to keep your chain clean and lubed. A bike chain should be lubricated using a product formulated for bike chains. At least every hundred miles or so (depending on exposure to dirt and water), apply some lube to every roller on your chain. Then, spin the pedals a bit to move the chain and get the lube worked in and out of the inside of the chain. Finally, using a rag, wipe off the excess lubricant, being careful to not pinch the rag or your fingers in the cogs. Repeat as needed.
Most chain lubes are decent solvents and will serve as a medium for cleaning your chain. Wiping off the excess lube is important not only to remove grit and grime, but also to reduce the oil on the chain. Most lubricants hold on to the crud that gets thrown at them, so they are basically magnets for material that wears your chain down faster. The lube is mainly needed inside the chain, not on the outside, so wipe it down. Read the instructions provided with your lubricant for any variation from this procedure.
It can be prudent, from time to time, to do a thorough cleaning of your chain, depending on how filthy it gets. This can be done using chain cleaning contraptions or by removing the chain and soaking it in degreaser or solvent. Re-lubricate your chain after intensive cleaning. Also, if properly maintained, you can usually go through two or three chains before needing to change your whole drivetrain; at tune-up time you want to check your chain for wear and have it replaced if needed.
P.S. Single-speed chains — whether fixies, cruisers, children’s bikes, or BMX bikes — need proper chain tension. If the chain hangs loose, it is prone to falling off. The chain can usually be tightened by moving the rear wheel back a bit.
LISTEN TO YOUR BIKE
Listen for noises. Bike noise is generally caused by friction. Friction means something is wearing down. Friction is the enemy. You may hear a little vibration coming from the chain and the ratcheting sound of the freehub or freewheel (the mechanism that allows coasting of the rear cogs). Bikes are usually meant to be delightfully ninja-like in their silence. So if you hear squeaking, creaking, grinding, clunking, or any other unseemly noises, your bike probably needs attention.
Are your brakes getting a bit loose and sloppy? Try tightening your hand brake barrel adjusters. This applies to cable-actuated braking systems; that is, most brakes that you use by squeezing a lever with your hands. Over time, new cables stretch out and brake pads wear down. This makes the brakes less responsive and weaker. Tighten up your brakes by screwing out the little bolts on the brake levers through which the brake cables run. Test the brake responsiveness by squeezing the lever. Spin the wheels to be sure they’re not rubbing on the tighter brakes. If they are, the brakes may need to be centered and/or the wheels may need to be trued (meaning aligned, centered). For disc brakes, the disc may need to be aligned.
Looking for more in-depth resources on bike repair? Go to our Books and Online Reading page.