Bike Maintenance: 101


If you're an avid bicyclist, or want to be one, your bicycle will become your best friend. Basic bicycle maintenance is essential to keep it rolling smoothly, and running efficiently. Even more important, keeping your bike in top shape keeps it safe to ride. A bicycle is a marvel of mechanical parts, transferring human power into motion. However, those parts need regular maintenance, or you'll be replacing them frequently, and it can get expensive in a hurry.

In fact it's the responsibility of a bicycle rider to learn how to fix common quirks on their own in the event of a breakdown far away from home or on a trail. Get acquainted with how to fix these common biking problems and expand your knowledge base from there:

Squealing Brakes 

On the bright side, at least squealing brakes mean that they're working. On the other hand it's also a sign that some portion of the bike may need maintenance and the squeal can be quite annoying as you're cruising through town. The first step is to clean the braking surface from any oil or grime that has made it's way there. If that doesn't work you can try and reposition the brakes so that either the front or back part of the pads hit first - a trial and error type fix. You might also want to switch to a different brake pad material as it could be a bad interaction causing the squeaking.

Stuck Seat Post 

A stuck seat post occurs when a bike is exposed to the elements overtime or when the seat isn't removed, lubricated, and dried frequently enough Sometimes the problem can be solved with force and elbow grease and other dire situations a hacksaw is needed. The first place to start is by dripping a penetrating oil into the stuck post to see if the corrosives dissolve. From there a combination of heating and cooling the area are needed to get a stark contrast of expansion and contraction to free the metal. In extreme cases a vice grip is needed which could damage the frame - make sure to be patient in each task to allow the chemicals and methods to react before going to the next step.

Constant Flat Tires 

Tires that constantly go flat are either caused by repeatedly riding over glass and sharp rocks or more likely a spoke that has poked through the rim. Before you change yet another tire, inspect the inside of the rim where the tube hits for any spokes or burrs that have poked through. These can either be ground down or protected against with an extra layer of padding to line the inside of the tire.  Be sure to feel along the inside and outside of tire for any sharp or hard pieces.

Cranking Sound While Pedaling 

With all bike sounds the first form of troubleshooting is lube, mostly because it's the easiest but also many times because it's the fix. The cranking or clicking experienced while pedaling is more often than not originating from the bottom bracket where the pedals fit into. It's not a horrible idea to take this bracket apart and lube inside the area, replacing any bearings that may be rusted and corroded. Once you've replaced any bad parts, tighten the crankcase firmly and the clicking should be gone.

Repairing The Chain

If you are the proud owner of a bicycle, chances are that there will be problems that occasionally arise. For example, how many times have you purchased a bicycle, rode it around and then suddenly, without any warning, had the chain fall off? It happens all the time and is incredibly annoying, especially if you're in the middle of a busy intersection and are trying to cross the street. There are several different types of bikes. One-speed bikes and Three Speed bikes use 1/8 inch wide chains that use master links. There is one master link for each bike chain and they snap on and off easily. There are also two-piece master links, which can be opened by loosening the chain and then gently bending the link toward the outside so that the outer plat of the link is free to be lifted off. If you are not sure about the condition of the bike chain, DO NOT RIDE THE BIKE! You are not only putting yourself in danger, but you are also putting other motorists at risk who need to navigate around you at the last minute should something bad happen.

When you own a bicycle, it is always a good idea to check your bike(s) ever week or so for chain defects. Do this by getting on your bike and pedaling slowly and smoothly. You don't even have to get on the bike if you don't want to. You can simply prop the bike up and pedal the bike backwards in a slow, smooth manner while looking at the chain links as they pass a fixed point on the bicycle (such as around the smallest rear sprocket). A great way to keep your bike chain in good, working order is to lubricate it well every so often. Oiling your bike chain will prevent the chain from rusting. The last thing you want is a rusted bike chain because rusted bike chains are more apt to break or be defective while you are riding it.

Every biker knows that, with continuous use and wet conditions, the bicycle chains eventually get rusty. When you use your bike a few times or often, chains will have wear and tear. Rust accumulates in the chains and eventually it hinders bike performance. The dirt and rust combined may hasten the degradation of other parts it comes into contact with.

Tools To Use

Unless you use industrial grade materials, there is no easy way to clean bike chains. We will use materials that can easily be found or acquired.

  1. Oil Or Lubricant

The first one is oil. If you have a bicycle lubricant then that would the best one to use. Bicycle lubricants can be in liquid or wax form. The liquid type works better for cleaning.

  1. Cleaning Cloth Or Rag

We will be using oil. It will get messy if you don't have a cloth or rag to clean it with.

  1. Pliers

For those with really bad rusting and chains locking. Any tool that can clamp on the links will do as a substitute.

What Not To Use

  1. WD-40

While you might find online resources telling you to use it, Never use WD-40 on your bike chains. The chains will eventually lock up and it also damages the drive train.

  1. Rust Removers

Unless specified to be used for your bike, don't try to put rust removers on moving parts. Some products will remove the lubricants in the chain links. This will eventually lock and freeze the chains.

  1. Motor Oil

This is more of a not recommended rather than never use. Motor oils attract dirt. It is very hard to clean out when used. There will be a chance that it will slide your chain of the gears.


  1. Position your bike upside down. The wheels should be at the top hanging in the air. The handlebars and seat must be touching the ground. This is the easiest position to the cleaning.
  2. Apply the lubricant or oil in the chain. Apply small amounts but make sure the each chain link is covered. During application start pedaling the bike to move the chains. For the chains that are locked, apply on the affected area before starting to pedal.
  3. Some areas in the chain may be locked or frozen. Apply the lubricant and try to move the affected links by using the pliers or a similar tool. Slightly bend or wiggle the links to move it. The lubricant will seep in and if all goes well it will move.
  4. With your cloth or rag start to wipe the oil. Do this by pedaling the bike and holding the chain inside the rag. Make sure you wipe the top to bottom and the sides.
  5. Apply the lube and then wipe it once more.
  6. If everything is done, ride your bike and test run. Check to see if there are still issues with the chain.

If the chain is really worn out, it may be better to buy a new chain rather than remedy the problem. Bike maintenance should always be done to prevent issues with your bike performance.


If you want to preserve the life of your bicycle, make sure that you try to keep the bicycle indoors. If you live in a house, store your bike in the garage or in an external shed where your bike can be sheltered from the elements such as rain, snow, etc. If you leave your bike out in the rain, the rain will eventually cause the metal parts of the bike (i.e. chain, other parts) to rust and disintegrate faster. If you absolutely must store your bicycle outside, then make sure that you purchase a bike cover or that you can store your bicycle underneath some sort of overhead awning that shields it from the rain. For college students who sometimes don't really have a choice; if your dorm allows it, many college students will actually bring their bicycles up and store them in their dorm rooms by hanging them on the wall or simply parking them in the room. Doing this is two-fold. First of all, it protects your bike from the rain; and secondly, it is a great method of preventing your bicycle from being stolen.

Cleaning allows you to get a real close look at the parts of the bike and determine whether or not there is anything that needs replaced. This means you can replace a worn or damaged part before it breaks on a ride and you have to walk back, bike in tow.

The general rule is that if you ride 4 or more times a week you should clean the bike weekly, less than 4 and you can do it every couple of weeks.

While you are cleaning your bike you should be looking for things such as cracks, rust, cracked or buckled paint, loose handlebar tape, missing or sharp teeth on the cassette, check the tires for cuts and slices, and make sure the hub is tight.

It is also a good time to check to see if the chain is stretched and may need replaced or if the brake cables or pads need some adjustment etc. After cleaning the bike and the drivetrain make sure to lube the bike.

The general rule for lubrication of the chain is to use 1 drop per link and wipe off the excess. I have also found that it is best if you can leave the bike sit for at least a couple of hours and even a full day after lubrication before riding so the chain will dry somewhat. This will help keep the chain cleaner as when the chain is drier it attracts less dirt and grime.

Cables for the brakes and shifters can work loose over time. Check these each time you clean the bike. Usually these can be adjusted with very little effort. If they show a great deal of wear they should be replaced depending on your bicycle maintenance skill level you can do that yourself or have a shop do it. If you like to tinker with stuff like I do, then you will probably do it yourself.

When cleaning your Road or Racing Bike you should check the handlebar tape for tears and such and whether it is tight etc. New tape is pretty reasonable but if the old tape is still good but just a little loose you can usually fix it with some electrical tape. With electrical and duct tape now coming in several colors you can probably even find a matching color. The bar tape on my Giant happened to be black and I used black electrical tape to fix a small tear as well as at the ends. It seems to be holding up quite well.

If you have any other questions, send us an email at [email protected] and we will do our best to get you back out BOMBING THE HILL!  

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