Just like your body your bike needs a similar level of TLC if it’s going to be able to do what it’s designed to do; delivering you safely, enjoyably, comfortably and efficiently from A to B. Keeping on top of basic maintenance will dramatically prolong the life of your components which in turn will save you money. It’ll also elevate your riding experience, the smooth efficient whir of the chain and gears and whoosh of the rubber on tarmac instead of the clumsy clunking of poorly set gears and the squeak of a dry chain.. You’ll also save valuable time which can be better spent spinning around the country lanes rather than being stood at the side of the road with no phone signal and a broken chain...
Keep your bike clean
A bike that is regularly cleaned will be far easier to maintain. A bucket of hot soapy water and a sponge will suffice, with degreaser applied to the chain. After a rinse dry the bike off then add a light lubricant to the gears and chain before wiping off with a cloth. A thorough wash like this is essential after a ride in wet weather, particularly in the Winter months when corrosive salts from the road coat the moving parts of your bike. Doing this will prolong the life of your components when they are at their most vulnerable and means you're ready to go from the off on your next ride. Saves money, saves time. Make it part of your ritual.
Prior to each ride check that your tyres are not overly worn and in particular look for cuts or flints/stones/glass in the tread, removing any that could possibly cause a puncture. It’s surprising what your tyres will pick up, principally when the roads are wet. It’s an easy, quick procedure and one that I carry out religiously before each ride. Also make sure they’re pumped up to a good pressure (90-100psi is ideal). Too hard and you risk pinch punctures, reduced traction and an uncomfortable ride. Too soft and you’ll feel like you’re riding through sand!
Ensure that your brake blocks are not worn down and can stop you efficiently. Take a close look to see how worn they are. There will be a point when the block is worn down so much you are in danger of braking with metal on metal or carbon. You’ll know this is the case if you feel a ‘grittiness’ to your braking often accompanied by a screeching sound. As well as not stopping you properly (or at all) you’ll ruin your wheels too.
'Creaks' and 'knocks'
Every so often it’s wise to check for signs of play (lateral movement) in the headset and cranks. These parts of the bike come under a great deal of torque and pressure and can work loose over time. However, if not addressed the parts can irreparably wear and/or catastrophically fail, so keep them tight.
To check for play in the headset pull on your right brake to lock the front wheel then rock the bike back and forth. If all is well the bike will feel ‘as one’ with no knocking sound. If loose you’ll see the headset moving independently of the head tube and knocking... the bike will feel very unstable. To check your cranks try to pull the crank away from the frame laterally; there should be no play at all. Most ‘knocking’ sounds that are emitted from your bike originate here.
Another area that comes in for a great deal of hammer is the saddle. Let’s face it, you’d start to grumble a bit if your primary function in life was to be sat on all the time wouldn’t you!? Quite often saddles will squeak, quite rhythmically, with each pedal stroke. To remedy this remove the saddle from the clamp, clean the rails then apply a couple of drops of light oil before wiping off. Then replace.
Most gears are pre indexed these days but still ensure pre ride that they properly shift across all of the gear ratios as you may get caught out on a steep climb if you can’t get your lowest sprockets. Also keep the jockey wheels moving freely by cleaning them and applying lubricant once in a while. This part of the bike is often neglected and can quickly become victim to a solid build up of oily compacted dirt as well as an annoying squeak.
Check your cables!
You won’t change gear and worse you won’t stop if the cables on your bike fail. Cables never just suddenly snap, they wear over time: wear that often goes unseen beneath the outer housing. Checking your cables isn’t something that needs to be done every ride as a well maintained set should last a long time. Every few months (depending on use) especially during the winter when corrosion is always a threat should be ideal.
Simply remove the cables from the housing and check for fraying cables or corrosion. If all is well apply a little lubricant or grease to the cables with a cloth before placing back in the cable housing. Also check the housing for splits and kinks as these can speed up inner cable wear if the cable doesn’t have smooth passage.
Ensure both are true by spinning them whilst in the bike. They shouldn’t catch on the brakes or ‘wobble’ laterally. Also, gently squeeze the spokes using your hand, tensing them against each other to check that none are loose. All of the spokes should have the same tension. If one is slack it needs tightening and will be the reason why your wheel is out of true. NOTE: Truing a wheel is a skill. Unless you are confident at it take your wheel to be trued at a bike shop.
Every once in a while It’s worth giving your bike the once over by ensuring that your handlebar stem, saddle and seat pin are tight as these are the areas that receive a high level of stress. It’s worth investing in a torque allen-key to get the tightness spot on, especially if you have a carbon set post or handlebars. Carbon isn’t keen on being overtightened as I’ve found out to my cost a few years back…
Who on earth likes a squeaking chain?! As well as being extremely annoying it won’t be doing your chain or cassette any good as the noise is the sound of friction between cassette and chain; Friction that is gradually wearing out both components. Look after your chain and win more friends by putting on some light lubricant and wiping off the excess, thus returning a soothing ‘whir’ rather that an infuriating ‘squeak’.
NOTE: If you are unsure about adjusting anything on your bike, especially larger jobs like bottom bracket removal etc don’t attempt it yourself. Take it to a local bike shop for repair and peace of mind.