Practical Bike Maintenance Tips and Tricks

I originally wrote this as an article for the site, but here is an updated version as part of the 'tips, how-to, advice' section of the site. Your bike is an important tool. Make sure you look after it.

Wheels

Truing the wheels

  • Make sure your wheels are true and there are no loose spokes.
  • If they are out of true, use a spoke-key to tighten the spokes doing quarter-turns at a time.
  • Tighten the spokes on either side of the spoke nearest to the middle of the dent on the near side and loosen the spokes on the opposite side to pull the rim towards you. Do the opposite to push it away. Remember that on the rear wheel some 'dish' is built in to accommodate the rear cassette.

Spoke Nipples

  • Make sure the spoke nipples are not rusting. Avoid this by spraying WD40 on the inside of the rim, under the rim tape and a little on the outside of the rim.
  • This stops them from rusting and breaking when you try to undo them.

Tyres and Tubes

  • Make sure your tyres are pumped up well to avoid pinch flats.
  • Go by the PSI written on the side of the tyre or pump up the tyres until you can no longer make a dent with your thumb and forefinger for how much to inflate them.
  • Make sure your tyres are not worn.
  • If you can see worn beading, flaking rubber or loose threads, you need to change them.
  • If they had tread on before and are now completely bald you need to change them!

Fix a puncture

  • Use tyre levers to prize off the tyre.
  • Take out the tube.
  • Pump it up a little and feel along for air escaping or put it in a bucket of water and look for bubbles.
  • Use a biro to mark the hole.
  • Dry the tube well.
  • Use sandpaper to rough around the hole.
  • Put a vulcanising glue around the hole and a little on the inside of the patch and wait about 30 seconds.
  • Put the patch over the hole and hold it down.
  • Once it has stuck check inside of the tyre for any thorns or anything that might give you a puncture again.
  • Pump up the tube a little and replace it on the wheel inside the tyre.

Hubs

You might need to service the front hub if you haven't ever done so and it isn't running smoothly when you rotate the wheel or there is noise coming from the hub.

  • Remove the rubber seals.
  • Use cone spanners to remove the nuts from the axle. You'll need to do this on one side first and then remove the axle, making sure that you don't lose the bearings.
  • Clean everything up with a rag and WD40.
  • Clean inside the hub body.
  • Check the bearings, you might need to change them for new ones.
  • Dry everything and put new grease in the bearing races.
  • Replace the balls.
  • Slot the axle back in.
  • Put grease in the other bearing race.
  • Replace the balls.
  • Replace the nuts with your fingers.
  • Tighten them with the cone spanners.

The process is the same for the rear hub but you will also need a chain whip and a a cassette tool to remove the cassette first before you can get at the bearings. You need to secure the chain whip onto the cogs and hold it tightly whilst undoing the cassette with a spanner.

Headset

If you buy a decent headset like a Chris King one you won't need to service it. Most modern mountain bike headsets have sealed bearings and are reliable. If you do need to regrease the headset bearings, make sure you put something on the ground to catch any balls when you disassemble.

Removing grips

Use water or a fairy liquid to remove handlebar grips.

Brakes

V-brakes

  • Buy a replacement set from a bike shop. Take the old one to make sure you buy the right one.
  • You will need a 6mm allen key to take off the v-brake pad.
  • Make sure you don't lose the various washers and remember which order they go one for when you put the new ones on.

Cables

Often if your v-brakes have stopped working it is because of the cables.

  • In the short term you can spray WD40 inside the cable outers.
  • You may need to replace them. You can buy new cable from a bike shop and make sure you get the right sort for brakes.

Disc Brakes

Disc brake maintenance is usually confined to replacing the pads and is really easy:

  • Remove the wheel.
  • Remove the sirclip pin and remove the old pads.
  • Clean up the brake caliper.
  • Replace the old pads with new ones
  • Replace the sirclip and the wheel and off you go.
  • Brake bleeding is best left to a bike shop.

Frame Care

If your frame gets a noise or starts to feel weird make sure it doesn't have a crack in it.

  • Inspect around the welds and around the rear drop out and the bottom bracket for cracks.

Drivetrain

You should clean your chain and drivetrain often when on a tour.

  • Use an old rag to remove the dirt and apply lube if required.
  • On a long tour take up to 3 chains and rotate them to prolong the life of your drivetrain.
  • If you replace a cassette or chain rings its advised to replace the chain too. This isn't mandatory but it prolongs the life of the drivetrain and will help to avoid chain skip issues.

Bottom Bracket

Changing a bottom bracket is easy.

  • You will need the correct bottom bracket tool and a big spanner.
  • You will also need a crank extractor to take the cranks off before getting at the bottom bracket.
  • There are different types of BB tool- splined, ISIS drive, Shimano have another special type.
  • Match it up to the BB you currently have and if in doubt go to your local bike shop.
  • Be careful when inserting a new bottom bracket that you do not strip the threads by trying to insert the BB the wrong way round- read the instructions, go slowly and use your common sense.

Fixing a chain

You can fix a broken chain with a chain-tool. This allows you to remove pins and links from the chain and then to remove the broken link and to reattach. SRAM chains usually have a 'power-link' these days so this avoids having to use the chain breaker to swap /rotate chains around due to the aforementioned reasons. You can also Download the original Ride Earth Bike Maintenance cheatsheet here