Essential maintenance skills for road cyclists

Master the basics and keep your bike in top condition

Remember to look after your chain

These five basic mechanical bike issues are ones every cyclist should be able to handle. Sean Lally, director of and a qualified bike mechanic, takes us through them.

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1. Check your chain

As your chain wears it also wears the cassette and chainrings, so I’d recommend a chain-checking tool to keep an eye on things.

My favourite is the Park Tool CC-2, which has a sliding gauge. Check your chain every couple of months, and replace it once you get to 0.75 per cent wear, which means it’s longer than it should be. At this stage the cassette won’t be so worn that it won’t accept a new chain.

Once you get to 1 percent you have to replace both the chain and cassette, and with cassettes on their own costing up to £100, this could be an expensive business. Changing your chain as it gets to just 0.75 percent wear should allow you to replace three chains per cassette.

2. Stay on top of the creaks

Don’t ignore creaks and cracking noises, they are clear indications that something is wrong. They can lead to huge problems, with potentially catastrophic results, for example if your seatpost fails.

Ignoring these noises will compromise your riding efficiency and could see a minor problem snowball into a major one. Simply oiling your chain and checking the tightness of bolts can save you bigger problems in the future.

Too many cyclists are willing to accept things not working well, but regular servicing, by yourself or a trained mechanic, will sort problems out before it’s too late.

3. Refit your tyre by hand

Learn to refit a tyre without levers, using your hands only, to avoid pinching the tube between the lever and rim. Start at the valve, with one side of the tyre fitted into the rim already. Work the tyre in on the other side using both hands, pushing and pulling the tyre right into the rim to help it bed in.

When you get to the last bit, which is when people often use levers, it should slot into place fairly easily, though you can use a mix of washing up liquid and water as a lubricant to make the process easier.

4. Contact pointers

Don’t ride without your contact points properly set up and adjusted. Handlebar tape that’s half hanging off, for example, can be dangerous. It should always be wrapped tightly and neatly, so practice until it’s perfect.

Don’t over tighten bars and stems — particularly if you have a carbon frame — as too much tension can lead to them snapping. Buy a torque wrench and pay attention to the recommended torque on your bar, stem, seatpost, levers and shifters.

Don’t assume that the tighter things are, the safer they are. In the event of a crash, components can snap if they’re too tight. The official recommended stiffness allows for flexibility, so by following these recommendations you could save huge amounts of cash in the event of a crash.

5. Squeaky brakes

Squeaky brakes can be caused by a number of things, but all are easy to fix. Your wheel rims need to be smooth and clean, but don’t lube the rims as that’ll stop your brakes working! Instead, clean them with a rag and bike cleaning fluid, then dry with a clean rag. If the rims are worn out replace them or the wheels.

To check and clean your brake pads you need to remove the wheel. Most pads have a wear indicator line so replace them before they reach this stage. If they’re not worn and the rims are clean, the pads might need toeing in.

This means having them adjusted so that the front of the pad is 1mm or so closer to the rim than the rear, so it hits the rim first. You also need to make sure that your pads are the matching compound for your rim, aluminium or carbon.


Check out more essential bike maintenance tips, tricks and how-tos here.