Your bicycle doesn’t run on leg power alone. It also needs a little lube, a lotta love, and a good listen. You may not know every remedy your bike needs to live a long life, but you can gain enough wisdom along the way to keep it in tip-top shape and out of the shop with proper bike maintenance.
This collection of mostly timeless advice (until advances in bicycle technology make some of it obsolete) will guide you through the role of primary caregiver—so you can leave the tough stuff to the professionals.
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No. 1 Never loan tools to friends.
No. 2 If it’s threaded, grease it.
No. 3 You can’t properly adjust a bicycle that is dirty and not lubricated.
No. 4 Perfect the art of changing a flat. No excuses.
No. 5 Nylon tire levers are better than metal ones.
No. 6 Measure twice, then cut. This especially goes for steerer tubes and integrated seatposts.
No. 7 When disassembling something, keep track of the order in which you remove parts. It takes the mystery out of putting it back together. (Pro tip: Set up your smartphone to video the disassembly for an easy reference guide.)
No. 8 Check tire pressure before every ride, especially if you’re running tubeless.
No. 9 The three most important tools to have on a ride: a multitool with a chain breaker, a pump or CO2, and a patch kit or tube.
No. 10 When tinkering with anything near your cranks, shift into the big ring first so you don’t mangle your hand on the chainring teeth.
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No. 11 Periodically check for bearing play in your headset, hubs, and cranks. To check your headset, squeeze the front brake and rock your bike fore and aft. For wheel and crank bearings, pull the wheel or crank side to side. If you feel a wiggle, your component needs an adjustment. Don’t ignore it, or the problem will get bigger and more expensive.
No. 12 Using a torque wrench (see No. 81), check the tightness of your crank bolts every month. If you just bought a new bike, check them after every ride for the first week.
No. 13 After you box your bike for travel but before you seal it, give it a side-to-side shake to note any loose or rattling parts. Then secure them.
No. 14 Loctite Threadlocker Blue 242 is a must-have accessory for bolts that assemble using standard hand tools. It seals threaded fasteners and keeps them from rattling loose due to vibration.Related StoryGet Rid of Annoying Bike Noises For Good
No. 15 If your bike makes a noise, it’s trying to tell you something. Don’t ignore it.
No. 16 A creaky crank is likely loose on the spindle. Remove the crank bolts, lubricate the threads, and reinstall. Tighten everything using a torque wrench.
No. 17 Use a light lubricant to silence squealing rear-derailleur pulley wheels.
No. 18 If your saddle creaks, drip a few drops of oil on the rail where it connects to your saddle and into the clamp where it grips the rails. (But before you do that, make sure that the area is fully clean and free of dust and grime—a good cleaning might solve the problem.)
No. 19 Master the skill of wrapping a handlebar.Amy Wolff
No. 20 Create an ‘easy charge’ station near where you store your bike so you can easily plug in your cycling computer, bike lights, and even your electronic shifting post-ride, so you never lose power halfway through a century again.Related StoryThe Smart Way to Wrap Handlebar Tape
No. 21 Don’t be a hero. Whether it’s due to lack of knowledge or experience, or not having the proper tools for the job, you are not capable of every repair. Sometimes you have to take your problem to a professional.
No. 22 Find out what your shop mechanic’s favorite afternoon munchie is, then bring it along the next time you stop in for a repair.
No. 23 It doesn’t matter how you broke it. Just don’t lie to your bike mechanic.
No. 24 Never roll your bike into the shop and expect an on-the-spot repair. You don’t know what your mechanic is up against on any given day.Related StoryHow Bike Shops Adjusted During the Pandemic
No. 25 Three signs your brake pads are worn: You hear a gritty scraping sound, the grooves in the pad have all but disappeared, or you feel stickiness when you brake.
No. 26 Don’t touch disc-brake pads with your fingers. The oil from your skin can decrease their braking power.
No. 27 Work on one brake at a time so you always have an intact brake to reference.
No. 28 Always remove disc-brake pads when bleeding your brakes. Use a spacer, like Avid’s bleed block, to hold the pistons in place.
No. 29 If you’ve been running bolt-on brake pads and it’s time to replace them, now is the time to switch to the cartridge-style type. The next time your pads need replacement, you can simply slip them into the holder, no alignment needed.
No. 30 After removing a disc-brake wheel from the frame or fork, do not squeeze the brake lever. Doing so can cause the brake pads to clamp together tightly—and separating them is no easy task.
No. 31 When replacing a brake cable, initially adjust it so the pads are fully against the rim, then squeeze the brake lever as hard as you can a few times to release slack in the cable and compress the housing. Repeat these steps until you don’t feel the cable and housing give anymore. Now adjust your brakes the way you want them to feel.
No. 32 Use sandpaper to roughen up glazed brake pads.
No. 33 Snug down your brake levers with a rubber band when adjusting rim-brake pads.Related StoryA Step-by-Step Guide on How to Adjust Your Brakes
No. 34 Do not use a solvent to lube your chain.
No. 35 If your wheel doesn’t sit straight in your bike after a hub overhaul, make sure the springs on the quick-release are installed correctly. The tapered end should always face in.
No. 36 Over time, the sealant on your tubeless setup dries out and becomes less effective at preventing leaks. Refresh it every three months (or every month if you have a mountain bike).
No. 37 Lots of experts tell you to use a level on your saddle as a starting point for comfort. What they might forget to mention: Your bike has to be on a level surface for this to work properly.
No. 38 Forget which kind of valves you have? Schrader valves are similar to the ones found on your car; presta valves are thinner, with a small nut that has to be opened prior to inflation.Related StoryEverything You Need to Know About Bike Valves
No. 39 Places where grit hides: in brake pads, between tubes and tires, in cleats and pedals.
No. 40 If a carbon part moves when it’s not supposed to, it can get scratched or trashed.
No. 41 If you pinch-flat often, the PSI (air volume) in your tires is almost certainly too low.
No. 42 The difference between an axle and a spindle: An axle remains stationary while something rotates around it (think wheel); a spindle revolves inside a stationary body (think bottom bracket).
No. 43 Pluck your spokes often so you get to know what feels and sounds right. When one feels off or its tone is different from the rest, you know you have a loose spoke.
No. 44 Install quick-release skewers so the levers are on the non-driveside.
No. 45 The easiest way to get your rear wheel out is to shift into the highest gear so your chain is on the outer (smallest) cog. If it’s in the middle or all the way to the inside, you’ll have a harder time getting the cogs past the chain and derailleur.
No. 46 If the type on your front hub doesn’t read left to right as you sit in the saddle, your wheel is installed backwards.
No. 47 Most newer bikes have a sealed-cartridge bottom bracket, which means you could get three to five years out of it (even if you ride a ton) and never have to touch it. In fact, if yours loosens or wears out, it’s easiest to just buy a new one. The swap takes about 15 minutes but is best left to your mechanic—not because it’s difficult but because it’s cheaper to pay someone than to buy the tools you’ll need but rarely use.
No. 48 Avoid a shredded fingertip. Always cap off the end of a freshly cut cable.
No. 49 Cut cables using a bike-specific cable cutter. You’ll get a cleaner cut, with no frayed ends on cables or sharp burrs on housing.
No. 50 Never use brake housing with shift cable or shift housing with brake cable.
No. 51 A few drops of Teflon oil in cable housings can fix sticky braking or slow shifting. (Don’t try this with electronic shifting, though!)
No. 52 When installing new cable, use your old cable housing as a guide when cutting new housing.
No. 53 Cut shift housing square and brake housing at an angle.
No. 54 Use a metal ferrule at the housing entrance to the rear derailleur rather than plastic, which can crack easily with looped entrances.
No. 55 If you store your tools in a toolbox, color-code them with their corresponding drawers or slots. If you have a pegboard in your shop, trace each tool in the spot where it hangs. Everything will be easier to find.
No. 56 No matter how long it takes, invest in quality bike tools until you have a complete set of the basics. See our list of essential tools.
No. 57 When doing a full tuneup, work from front to back or top to bottom so you’ll know where you were should you get interrupted.
No. 58 When you disassemble something complicated, use your smartphone or digital camera to document the process. If you end up with an extra part after reassembly is complete, you can look back at your pics to figure out when and where things went wrong.
No. 59 Never turn your bike upside down to work on it. You could ruin cables, accessories, even your saddle. If you don’t have a repair stand, find a way to suspend it.
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No. 60 Soak the edge of a rag with degreaser and slide it back and forth between each cog to clean your cassette.
No. 61 Wipe down dust seals on suspension components after every ride.
No. 62 Blasting your bike with a high-pressure hose forces in unwanted grit and dirt and blows out much-needed grease and lube. Use a bucket of water and a sponge instead.
No. 63 Use rubbing alcohol to remove black grime from your rims.
No. 64 Don’t be afraid to scrub your bar tape. Assuming it’s wrapped properly, it can handle the elbow grease.
No. 65 Worn cleats can release unexpectedly or stick in the pedal. Change them when the wear indicator tells you to.
No. 66 Shift to the smallest cog and ring combination when storing your bike for a long period of time. It will prevent wear on your derailleur springs.
No. 67 Replace a worn seatpost clamp. If you keep riding on it, your saddle won’t hold its position.
No. 68 When your chainring teeth start to look like shark fins, it’s time to replace your chainrings.
No. 69 A thin rim on a tire’s sidewall can fail under pressure and cause you to crash. Inspect your rims by looking for a concave section or by running your fingers along the braking surface to feel for one.
No. 70 Chains and cogs wear together.
No. 71 If you don’t have a chain checker, go find a ruler. When 24 links of your chain measure more than 121⁄16inches from rivet to rivet, it’s time to replace your chain. Once that measurement reaches 121⁄8your cogset is likely shot as well.
No. 72 Protect your frame from rubs with neatly applied electrical tape or anti-slip bathtub tape.
No. 73 To tighten a loose headset, loosen the stem, tighten the top cap, and retighten the stem.
No. 74 Installing new pedals? Make sure you thread your left pedal into the left crankarm and your right into the right (they should be marked). If you inadvertently interchange them, you will likely have to buy new crankarms. The good news is that your pedals will probably survive the mistake.
No. 75 To remove your pedals, set the driveside crankarm at 9 o’clock for better leverage. Then turn your wrench clockwise to loosen your non-driveside pedal and counterclockwise to loosen the one on the driveside.
No. 76 Loosen your stem-binder bolts, not your top-cap bolts, to straighten an askew handlebar.
No. 77 Straighten your wheel—without a truing stand.
No. 78 Glue a tubular. It’s easier than you think.
No. 79 When breaking a chain with a chain tool, do not push the pin all the way through (unless you’re using a special replacement pin). You won’t be able to get it back in.
No. 80 To correctly close a quick-release skewer, tighten the nut on the opposite side just until firm, then flip the lever to the closed position. You should feel resistance but still be able to completely close the lever. If you can’t, open the lever, loosen the nut a bit, and try again.
No. 81 Get and know how to use a torque wrench. It’s the only way to properly tighten bolts.Related StoryHere’s Exactly How to Use a Torque Wrench
No. 82 Not all chain lubricants are the same. Choose the one that best suits your riding conditions.
No. 83 Carbon seatposts always get friction paste regardless of frame material. Carbon frames always get friction paste regardless of post material. Metal frames and posts always get anti-seize compound or grease.Trevor RaabTrevor Raab
No. 84 After lubing your chain, backpedal a few revolutions then wipe off the chain with a clean, dry rag. The lube is now in the rollers and between the plates. The rest will just attract crud.
No. 85 Apply lube to the chain’s rollers, not its side plates.
No. 86 Use friction paste, which contains tiny bits of grit, on carbon parts. Grease will cause them to slip.
No. 87 When lubricating a suspension fork, use the lube recommended by the manufacturer. Other types can break down internal plastic and rubber parts.
No. 88 Never clean the greasy film off a new chain. It’s better than what you’ll put on later. Start your lube habit after the factory grease has worn off, which usually takes about two rides.
No. 89 You don’t need strong hands to change a flat without levers; it’s all about proper technique.
No. 90 If you don’t remove the instigator—thorn, glass, stone, metal shaving—from the inside of your tire, or look for a tear in your tire’s sidewall, you will flat again. And again.
No. 91 Don’t adhere a patch to a tube until the glue you applied goes from clear to cloudy.
No. 92 When replacing a spoke, make sure it’s the right length. Too long and you risk a punctured tube.
No. 93 For fewer broken valves, inflate your tire with the valve stem facing down, between 10 and 2 o’clock.
No. 94 To more easily seat a tire on a tubeless rim, inflate with a compressor.
No. 95 Use both hands when operating a floor pump.
No. 96 Some pump-head levers push down to clamp; others pull up. Know which kind you have. If you force it, you can ruin seals.
No. 97 Remove as much air from your punctured tube as possible before changing a flat. It’ll be easier to remove the tire.
No. 98 Hang hooks in your garage to keep your bike vertical. Resting it on its side can knock your derailleurs out of whack.
No. 99 Store a mountain bike with the suspension-fork legs pointed up so the oil can flow down and keep the foam rings under the seals well lubricated.
No. 100 If you have no choice but to store your bike on a damp concrete garage floor, slip cardboard underneath the tires to prevent dry rot in the casings.
No. 101 Regularly inspect your carbon-fiber frame for cracks, and touch up scratches with a couple coats of clear nail polish.
—Contributors: Andrew Bernstein, Tori Bortman, Brian Fiske, Jenny Kallista, Jim Langley, Mike Yozell, Molly Hurford