Bike maintenance is a wide-ranging topic, so we'll start with some of the basics: cleaning your bike, securing bolts and lubricating key components.
Your drivetrain deserves the most frequent attention, so you may want to watch our video first for some useful instruction.
Your bike is a collection of moving parts. When these parts come into contact with mud, grime and debris, wear and tear is inevitable. This speeds up the deterioration of your bike's components. Not surprisingly, your first line of defense against breakdowns is proper bike hygiene.
There's more to cleaning your bicycle than just hosing it down from time to time and sticking it in your garage or basement to dry. Water (especially when coming from a high-pressure hose) can cause damage to sensitive bearing systems throughout your bike. So if you do wash with water, do so carefully.
Most dirty bike components can be cleaned by wiping them carefully with a dry (or damp) rag from time to time. Other components and part systems will require occasional brushing, buffing and relubrication to keep them in peak condition.
Base your bike cleaning schedule on how (and how often) you ride. In other words, if you spend a lot of time riding in wet, muddy conditions, or if you ride hard, fast and often, clean your bike more frequently.
Very few cyclists clean their bikes after every ride. But a regular schedule of frequent, simple cleaning (once a month, once a week or more depending upon the kinds of riding you're into) is important.
The supplies you need to clean your bike depend upon the components you're cleaning and their condition. Here's a short list of basic items that address most cleaning tasks:
Shop REI's selection of bike cleaners.
Bicycles are held together by dozens of nuts, bolts and screws that can wear down or wriggle loose as the result of normal use. Maintaining a "tight ship" is important because loose (or improperly tightened) bike parts can:
Keep in mind that there's more to keeping bike bolts properly tensioned than simply cranking down on every nut and bolt in sight as hard as possible. Over-tightening can cause as much damage as under-tightening, and it can also lead to component failure and/or unsafe riding situations.
To make sure your bike is properly adjusted, perform frequent overall inspections so you can catch problems before they get serious. Also, keep your eyes and ears open for trouble (rattles, squeaks, wobbles) while you ride so you can check out the problems once you're back home.
The best defense against loose components is a thorough pre-ride inspection before every ride. Regular pre-ride inspections will help you catch potential problems before they develop into safety hazards. Most pre-ride inspection adjustments can be made with a simple bike multi-tool.
The other important aspect of maintaining your bicycle is a regular bike shop visit. If you're a regular rider, bring your bike in for twice-yearly checkups to ensure that complex, hard-to-evaluate components such as spokes, bearing surfaces, derailleurs and cable systems are inspected and serviced regularly. Remember: There are certain parts of a bicycle that should always be serviced and adjusted by experienced mechanics.
If you discover looseness or "play" in any bike component, you can either fix the problem yourself or bring your bicycle into a full-service bike shop for service. Choose the first option only if you're sure of both the cause of the problem and the exact steps necessary to fix it. Later sections of this clinic will identify those adjustments best left to mechanics.
Shop REI's selection of bike tools.
Keeping your bike parts properly lubricated is crucial for good performance. Lubrication protects moving parts from excessive wear caused by friction, keeps them from "freezing up", and keeps rust and corrosion from attacking exposed metal components.
Be careful, though. Over-lubricating can lead to poor performance and component damage (excess lubricant will attract dirt and other abrasive particles). As a general rule, excess lube should always be carefully wiped away before the bicycle is ridden.
Tip: When lubricating a number of parts at once, remember the order in which you apply the lubricants. Wiping off excess lube in the same order will give the lubricants time to soak in.
When you lubricate your bike, be sure to use lubes that are suited to your weather and riding conditions. Rainy areas require more durable bike oils, while drier areas require lighter oils that won't pick up as much dirt. Also keep in mind that wet conditions typically require more frequent lubrications. Check with your local bike shop/mechanic for recommendations on specific lubes that match your riding conditions.
Shop REI's selection of bike lubricants.
By T.D. Wood
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Last updated: 10/08/2013
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