A Beginner's Guide to Bike Maintenance

Updated: May 9, 2012

Sam Walker

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Have you ever thought about doing your own bicycle maintenance, but were not sure where to start? Or maybe you felt that you were not really the bike mechanic type.

If you love cycling, learning to do your own bike maintenance and repairs is worth the effort. It allows you to get to know the workings of your bike better, and you will have a better understanding on how to keep it running at tip top shape. You do not need to know how to take apart your whole bicycle and reassemble it.

Becoming an expert at home bike mechanic is like anything else, you take one small step at a time. Here are 3 simple steps to get you started.

#1: Keep Your Bicycle Clean

Sounds simple, but it is half the battle. A regularly cleaned bicycle will last longer and ride better.

Some people simply use a hose as well as an old toothbrush to get at the hard to reach places. There are a few tools that I would recommend to do the job even better though:

  • Bike cleaning brush
  • Chain scrubber
  • Degreasing Solvent
  • Chain lubricant
  • Rags and Sponges
Use all of the above with some soap and a water hose. My Dad used to always say that his car ran better when it was clean. So does our bike. Everything in our life needs a little regular love and attention to keep it working properly.

#2 Fix Your Own Flat Tires

If you ride long enough, you are sure to get a flat tire one day. If you ride long distances, you’ll want to keep a tire replacement kit in your pack.

You only need the following tools.

  • Hand pump
  • One or two tire levers
  • Brand new tire tube
If you are doing this work at home, you can also use a tire patch kit to fix the old tube instead of replacing it with a new one.

Fixing a flat is a simple thing. When you get a flat tire, you will want to remove your wheel from the bike and then deflate all the air from your tire. Stick the tire lever between the rim and the tire, and use it to pry the tire completely off.

Once the tire is off, take the tube out, and feel inside the tire (carefully) to see if there are any sharp objects still inside. If the puncture on the tube is visible, use your tire replacement kit to patch it up. If it is not visible, blow it up with the pump and stick the tube in a bucket of water. The bubbles will point out the puncture.

If you’re fixing your tire on the road, don’t worry about trying to find the hole and patch it up. Just replace the whole tube with a new one. There are plenty of demos on YouTube that can give you a visual demonstration.

#3 Check and Replace Your Chain

When the chain gets old, it starts to stretch. When it starts to stretch, it starts to wear down the drivetrain. Eventually you’ll find it slipping under pressure. It is much better to replace your old chain before this happens so you can avoid replacing parts of the drivetrain along with it.

You can use a ruler to check if your chain needs replacing. Take your ruler and place the '0' inch mark above the center of one of your chain pins. Then count out twelve complete links. By complete link I mean one inner and one outer. If your chain is fine and dandy, your chain will line up exactly with the twelve inch mark on the ruler. But if your chain is between 1/16" & 1/8" past its mark, you should look at getting a new chain.

To change a chain you are going to need:

  • a tool called a chain breaker
  • a new chain
Use the chain breaker to push the pin out of one of the old chain links so that you can remove the chain from your bike.

Ask your local bike shop for the correct chain according to how many gears are on the rear of you bike. You’ll want to make sure your new chain is the right length. If you get a chain with a Master Link, you won’t need to use any tools to put it back on. Simply reattach the chain, and use the Master Link to connect the ends of your chain together

If your new chain doesn’t come with a Master link, you can watch this video to see how to use your chain breaker to properly attach the new chain.

Other Necessary Tools

A good set of allen keys will be your best friend. They can be used to adjust your handlebars and seats, as well as many other parts of bike maintenance.

A decent bike repair stand to hold your bike solid and at an elevated level while you clean or work on it makes things a lot easier. This is a luxury tool, but if you regularly maintain your bike, you will be super glad that you have it.

There are many other tools that can help when you really get into it, but the above three are a good way to start. Investing in the health of your bike is like investing in the health of your body. It takes a bit of effort and work, but it will pay off in the long run by providing you with many years of quality cycling.


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