Like all the best parts of life, cycling requires a little bit of maintenance. Without basic bike maintenance, your bike will start to gradually fall apart, and you'll be much slower without you even noticing. It takes work to get the most out of cycling and basic bike maintenance to keep your bike fully functioning.
We're here to provide a simple bike maintenance guide for beginner cyclists.
This article won't have any complicated fixes of highly technical terms. We're sticking with the basics, including lubing your chain, fixing a flat tire, and ensuring all your bolts are tightened.
Beginner's Guide to Basic Bike Maintenance
This post will cover the most basic tasks you need to complete to keep your bike in working order. Some of these are weekly checks, while others happen every couple of months. Throughout this guide, we'll let you know the exact tools you need (if any) to complete these tasks and where to get them.
At the end of this post, we'll wrap every up in a simple timeline for beginner bike maintenance. Keep that chart handy, and your bike will ride smoothly for years.
Here is everything we'll cover in the rest of this article on basic bike maintenance:
Basic Bike Maintenance
Maintaining a Clean and Functioning Bike
- How Often Should You Clean Your Bike
- Give Your Bike a Proper Cleaning
- Lubing Your Chain
- Pumping Up Your Tires
- Checking Bolts and Fit Measurements
- Brake Check
- Brake Pads
Quick Fixes For When Things Go Wrong
- Bike Repair Kit
- Community Repair Stands
- How to Fix a Flat Tire
- Derailleur Adjustments
Complete Guide to Beginner Bike Maintenance
- Daily Checks
- Weekly Checks
- Monthly Checks
Basic Bike Maintenance: Clean and Functioning Bike
How Often Should You Clean Your Bike?
In normal and dry riding conditions, your bike will build up a bit of dirt and grime. However, wet conditions can cake your bike in road grit, dirt, and mud in just one ride. We recommend cleaning your bike at least once every couple of weeks.
After a filthy ride, we recommend cleaning your bike right away.
Give Your Bike a Proper Cleaning
A quick bike cleaning can be done in just a few minutes with the following items:
- Dish soap
- Chain lube
- Bonus: chain cleaner and chain brush
In summary, you'll want to begin your bike cleaning at the chain, then the wheels, frame, and drivetrain. Wash and scrub each part individually before going back to the chain for one final cleaning.
Dry off the chain and then apply chain lube. And that's it!
See the video above for a demonstration and further details for cleaning your bike squeaky.
For a more thorough bike cleaning, you'll need to move up to the advanced section of beginner bike maintenance tips. This cleaning involves some disassembly and reassembly of a few bike parts, which is not ideal for beginners learning the basics.
We recommend a thorough cleaning at least once yearly, and more often if you frequently ride in the rain or dirty weather.
Lubing your chain is one of the most common pieces of beginner bike maintenance tips. After pumping up your tires, chain lubing is probably the second-most often occurrence in beginner bike maintenance.
With modern chain technology, our chains still get dirty the second we ride out the door. Road grit and grime seep into each chain link, creating friction and dirtying the entire drivetrain. As a crucial piece in moving the bike forward, we can lose significant power through a dirty chain.
Lubing Your Chain
Keeping your chain clean is not only about going fast. It's also about protecting your chain and drivetrain from long-term wear and tear. The longer you leave your chain dirty, the faster it will rust and degrade. And if you leave it for long enough, a simple clean won't be enough to save it.
The best practice is lubing your chain at least once per week, or every 3-5 days if you are riding outside every day.
The more often you ride outside, especially in wet or dirty conditions, the more often you should lube your chain.
In other words, lube your chain immediately after a wet or dirty ride. Lube your chain once every 3-5 days when you're riding in clean and dry weather. And lube your chain once every week or two if you're exclusively riding on the indoor trainer.
Lubing your chain is a simple process that can be done in less than a minute. First, use a rag to wipe off excess dirt and grime from the chain. Hold the rag reasonably tightly around the chain as you spin the pedals backward.
Next, apply chain lube to each link of the chain. You can run the lube through the chain quickly, but the best and most thorough application comes from putting a drop of lube on each link individually. In our experience, even the most thorough method will take less than two minutes.
Finally, leave the chain to dry. For extra cleanliness and a sparklingly clean look, lightly wipe off the outside of the chain once the lube has dried, removing excess lube from the chain's surface.
Pumping Up Your Tires
Inflating your tires is the most common form of bike maintenance. It is recommended that you do it before every single ride. Different tires and wheel setups will lose air at different rates, but it's always best to double-check your tire pressure (psi) before every ride.
All you need to pump up your tires is a basic floor pump, which can be found online or at bike shops for $30-50. Make sure your floor pump has a valve that matches up with the valve on your bike's tube. There are two main types of tire valves: Presta and Schrader. The former is most common on modern road bikes, while the latter is commonly found on older and cheaper mountain bikes, kids bikes, and hybrids.
At the bare minimum, it is best to pump your tires once per week, but we highly recommend checking your tire pressure before each ride. The process takes less than 30 seconds and could easily save you from getting a flat tire.
Checking Bolts and Fit Measurements
Once your bike is properly set up, you shouldn't worry about checking your bolts or fit measurements for a while. However, nuts and bolts can loosen over time, so checking them at least once per month is best.
We recommend checking your bolts after a long-haul trip where your bike has been packed away in a car, plane, or carrying case. After many hours of moving and rattling, nuts and bolts have an easier time coming loose.
The most crucial bolts to check, and the most likely to loosen, are at your stem and headset. You should also check the bolts on the front of your handlebars and ensure you are not missing any bolts from your front chain ring.
Regarding fit measurements, your saddle height is where a bolt will most likely come loose. After many hours in the saddle, your stem bolt can come loose under your body weight, causing your seat post to slip down.
I'm guilty of this, as one time, my seat post slipped 5cm over the course of two weeks without me noticing. Needless to say, I check my saddle height before every ride now.
Once you've dialed in your saddle height, we recommend putting a piece of black tape (or whatever color matches the color of your seat post) just above the top of the seat tube and exactly where your Seatpost enters the bike's frame. This piece of tape will serve as a reminder of your correct seat height. If the tape begins to disappear, your seat post has started to slip.
A brake check is one of the most important, albeit rare, maintenance checks. This is simply squeezing your brakes before your ride starts to ensure they still work. Something will rarely go wrong with your brakes overnight. But it's still important to check because a brake failure can be catastrophic.
Most modern bikes come with disc brakes which may need to be adjusted more often than rim brakes. Hydraulic rim brakes, for example, need to have their fluid refilled over time, or they will lose their stopping power. Almost every mountain bike will have disc brakes as well.
It's also a good idea to check your brake lever for disc brake rubbing, which can occur when the disc brake rotor has been slightly bent. This is a common occurrence while traveling when a disc brake rotor gets pushed up against an object during travel. In most cases, you can bend the rotor back into place. But if you're still having trouble, a mechanic at your local bike shop will be able to correct your disc brake in minutes. And they'll probably do the quick fix for free.
In addition to the brakes themselves, you should also be checking your brake pads. These pads are often made of rubber that makes direct contact with your rim (rim brakes) or your disc brake rotor (disc brakes).
Brake pads will wear down over time, but it typically takes several months to go kaput with normal use. However, brake pads are known to wear down quickly in wet conditions. So we recommend checking your brake pads after a wet ride or race.
Loud screeching or rubbing is the tell-tale sign of worn-out brake pads, but many pads include their markings to let you know it's time for a change.
If you're unsure, look up the manufacturer's instructions for your specific brake pads, or bring your bike into the local shop, and they would be happy to take a look.
Basic Bike Maintenance: Quick Fixes for When Things Go Wrong
Like any piece of technology, bikes are not flawless. From time to time, bikes will experience a mechanical malfunction or failure that requires some quick fixing. The most common is the flat tire, which we will cover in detail below.
The best way to save yourself (and your sanity) from these minor mechanicals is to carry a bike repair kit.
Bike Repair Kit
A bike repair kit (also called a flat kit or patch kit) is a small collection of tools and parts that can be easily stowed in your pockets or accessory bag. Most cyclists keep their repair kit in a saddle bag, a small accessory bag that fits under the tail of your seat.
We recommend stocking your bike repair kit with the following items:
- Tire levers
- CO2 cartridge(s) (with an adapter, if necessary)
- Spare tubes (for clincher tires)
- Spark plugs (for tubeless tires)
These bits of kit will help you repair a flat tire in minutes. You can also carry a spare hand pump with you, though you'll probably need to carry this larger item in your jersey. Many cyclists put spare pumps on the bottom of their top tube, wrapping it tightly with a secure strap.
Community Repair Stands
We live in a fantastic time where cycling is becoming better supported worldwide. You can even find public repair stands along bike paths, trailheads, and throughout cities in North America. These stands offer many tools you'd carry in a saddlebag, such as a set of Allen keys, a spare pump, or other basic bike tools.
How to Fix a Flat Tire
A flat tire is the most common mechanical incident you'll experience on the bike. If you are getting flat tires every week or two, there is likely a hole in your tire or something wrong with your setup, causing you to flat. But with good tires (and avoidance of potholes), you shouldn't be flatting more than once every couple of months.
If you get a flat tire during a ride, you need just to open the quick release to remove the wheel, and then you'll need a few tools to fix it. All those tools are listed above in the Bike Repair Kit section, but we also have a video tutorial on how to change a flat tire, which you can find here.
Don't worry; we're not going to dive into a Bike Mechanic Training Class. We'll keep it simple when we talk about derailleur adjustments.
If your gears begin "clicking," you can probably spot your rear derailleur jumping or twitching as you switch gears. This means that your rear derailleur isn't adjusted perfectly, so it is having trouble deciding which gear you are trying to be in.
Basic rear derailleur adjustments can be made with the barrel adjuster, a knobbed piece around the derailleur cable where it enters the rear derailleur. All it takes is a few simple barrel-adjust turns to make significant adjustments to your shifting.
The best way to fix your rear derailleur adjustment is to put your bike on a stand and shift into your lowest gear (e.g., shift into the 11-tooth sprocket). Shift up once, from the 11 cog to the 12, and see if there is any clicking. If there is clicking, then rotate your barrel adjuster one-quarter turn at a time until the gear shifts without clicking.
It takes some practice to learn this technique, but it makes even more sense when making the adjustments yourself. You can always find help at a local bike shop for quick derailleur adjustments like this. A mechanic would be happy to help, and they probably won't charge you for rotating your barrel adjuster.
Complete Guide to Basic Bike Maintenance
We've covered so much in this article that it's time to narrow it down to a focused list. This is your complete beginner bike maintenance guide, including daily, weekly, and monthly checks.
It won't take long to complete these checks, but it will take you longer to buy and replace worn-out parts.
These daily checks should take 1-2 minutes, the weekly checks may take about 5-10 minutes, and the monthly checks should take less than 5 minutes.
Before every ride, there are a few key safety checks to make:
- Tire pressure
- Brake check
- Bolts and fit check
Even if you don't pump up your tires, it is best to check the pressure to make sure they haven't lost too much air overnight. You can sometimes get a tiny puncture in your tire that results in a small leak, and suddenly lost 35psi overnight. While you can't always spot these small punctures with the naked eye, a quick tire pressure check will reveal the damage.
One of the simplest yet most important safety checks is a brake check. All you have to do is squeeze the brakes and make sure they're functioning. On rare occasions, a snapped cable could lead to brake failure, or perhaps your hydraulic disc brakes need a fluid refill.
Lastly, we recommend checking the bolts on your seat post and handlebars before each ride. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to pull out the Allen wrench, but make sure to check the height and position of the saddle and handlebars before heading out for your ride.
If something seems off, then you can take out the wrench and put everything back in place.
Below are a few maintenance checks that we recommend making every 5-7 days:
- Lube your chain
- Check your brake pads
The best practice is lubing your chain at least once per week, if not every 3-5 days. For maximum performance and efficiency, and minimal chain wear, some experts recommend cleaning and lubing your chain before every ride.
But we're here to discuss basic bike maintenance, so lubing your chain every 5-7 days will be adequate. However, you should always clean and lube your chain after a wet or muddy ride. If you spent all day on wet roads, shredding muddy trails, or riding through wet gravel, then your chain will have picked up tons of debris and dirt.
It's crucial to clean and lube your chain after these wet and dirty rides, as not doing so will drastically accelerate your chain wear.
Finally, the last weekly check to complete is your brake pads. Specifically, check the wear on your brake pads to ensure that you have plenty of padding remaining. Again, wet or dirty conditions can exacerbate brake pad wear, so make sure to check them immediately following a muddy ride.
Finally, here are a few monthly checks that we recommend for keeping your bike in working order:
- Check your chain wear
- Adjust your derailleurs
- Cleaning your bike
While cleaning and lubing your chain is a weekly occurrence, checking your chain wear should occur about once per month. Chain wear refers to the stretching of the chain, which occurs in tiny increments during every single ride. After a few months of riding, your chain will have stretched to the point that it needs replacing.
You can typically spot the signs of chain wear in sub-optimal shifting or chain slipping. This can become dangerous if left untreated, so make sure to check on your chain wear at least once a month.
A few small chain tools can help you check your chain wear, or you can take your bike to the local shop and have them perform a quick chain check.
If they're set up perfectly and left untouched, your derailleurs should never need any adjusting. However, this isn't reality as your cables may stretch over time, your bike may fall over (more than once), or your derailleurs may get knocked around in transit.
That's why it's best to check your derailleurs at least once per month to make sure that everything is shifting correctly. Dropping your chain is an obvious sign that adjustments are needed.
As we discussed above, you can make small adjustments to your rear derailleur using the barrel adjuster. However, you'll need to move past basic and into advanced bike maintenance to make more significant derailleur adjustments. But once again, your local bike shop will always be able to help out.
Lastly, your bike deserves a good cleaning at least once per month. This timeline is ideal for typical use, but you should always clean your bike right away following a wet or muddy ride. Don't listen to those who tell you that the rain has already given your bike a wash. Your bike will have picked up a lot more road grime and dirt during a wet ride compared to a dry one.
Follow these steps, and you'll have a sparkling clean bike that looks professional, maximizes efficiency, and functions perfectly for a long time.