A cyclist’s guide to basic bike repair and maintenance

What you need to get you started with basic bike repair and maintenance.

Last update:

Regular bike repair and maintenance will keep your bike in top condition. However, the maintenance schedule for your bike will depend on how frequently you ride and the condition of your bike. 

A bike that sees the road just once a month won’t require as much maintenance as one that is ridden off-road or in all sorts of weather.

The following pointers can help you maintain a bike in good operating order and will let you know when it’s time to take it to a mechanic for repair.

Common Bike Repair and Maintenance Tips

The ability to fix your bike when something goes wrong is an important skill every cyclist should have. If you get a flat tire or a bolt comes loose, you should be able to fix it. 

As a first step, we go over the basics of bike repair and maintenance, including bike inspecting, cleaning and lubricating important parts of the bike and common repairs.

Inspect the bike

Our bikes are machines, but they do need some TLC every now and then. You should have a routine for inspecting your bike, especially before rides. But your bike also needs special days specifically for cleaning and inspection. 

Here’s how to basic bike cleaning and inspection:

  • Use a cloth to wipe down the bicycle frame. Cleaning the frame helps to keep the paint or finish intact.
  • Check the frame and parts for signs of wear like cracks or dents.
  • Carefully clean the bike wheels, and check for signs of wear like worn sidewalls or cracks where the spoke meets the rim or hub.
  • Look for any loose spokes on the wheels. The wheels might need to be re-trued if you find a loose spoke.
  • Be sure to regularly inspect the pedals, bottom bracket, headset, hubs, and all bearing systems.

Check for loose bolts 

There are many small nuts and bolts that hold a bicycle together, and some of these nuts start to come loose after sometime.

It’s crucial that every one of these bolts are secured properly because poorly tightened bolts or loose bike parts not only cause poor performance, but are a safety concern. 

Use a wrench to check for tightness on the following parts; handlebar bolts, stem bolts, seat bolts, seatpost bolts, pedals, crank arms, chainring bolts, etc. 

Check the brakes 

Test the brakes to make sure the brakes are gripping, and the pads are touching the rims rather than the tires.

Check for and replace worn grips or handlebar tape, as well as any worn brake pads. Each caliper has a tensioner that can be adjusted to increase or decrease the resistance of the brake pads.

However, problems with braking are typically caused by worn-out brake pads, and new brake pads can easily be used to replace these.

Check the gears

Check for fraying, breaking, rust, and corrosion on all cable housing and brake and gear cables. Shifting gears smoothly and efficiently puts little strain on the chain.

However, when your chain lags or skips between gears, more stress is applied to each part and causes them to wear down more quickly than they should.

Clean and lube your bike

You should have a regular maintenance schedule for your bike. This can be weekly, biweekly or monthly, depending on how much riding you do. Cleaning and lubricating bike parts is very important for optimal performance.

Lubricating your bike’s moving parts protects them from undue frictional wear and corrosion. 

  • Check the bike chain. Apply lubricant if the chain seems dry.
  • Lubricate the brake and gear cables to avoid binding.
  • Lubricate the brake, derailleur, and pedal pivot points.
  • Maintain and lubricate your suspension parts as instructed in the owner’s manual 

Frequent lubrication is good, but be mindful of over-lubrication because this can damage bike parts and reduce performance.

Too much lubricant can turn your bike parts to dirt magnets, which can cause problems for you. If you apply too much lubricant, be sure to wipe off the excess before riding your bike. 

Caring for your pedals

Your bike pedals shouldn’t be left out on your bike inspection. Taking care of your pedals will make them perform better and last longer.

Prior to servicing, it’s a good idea to clean your pedals to minimize the risk of introducing dirt into the pedal body.

Use a degreaser to thoroughly clean the pedals. As an alternative, wash the pedals with hot, soapy water and be sure to give it plenty of time to completely dry before service.

  • Check for and tighten loose screws, also replace any missing ones
  • Check for any visible damage, such as bent or broken springs. Compare the top and bottom of the pedal when inspecting for damages. Keep in mind that the top and bottom of a pedal look exactly the same. 
  • Apply some lube where the pedal meets the crank arm, turn the pedal a few times for the lube to soak inside and lubricate the bearings inside the pedal. 

Caring for the drivetrain

The chain is a very important part of your bike, and they are made of small pieces of plates connected by pins.

A bike’s chain engages the gears, and you cannot ride a bike if the small parts that make up the chains do not properly align.

Below are some of the most common bike chain problems and how you can solve them.

Clean and lube your bike chain

  • Use a rag and degreaser to clean chains that don’t have a lot of built-up filth. If your bike chain has too  much dirt and grime, use a chain cleaning tool because it does a more efficient job, plus it’s less messy.
  • Once the degreaser is dry, gently apply droplets of lubrication to the chain, getting some on each link. 
  • Give the lube some time to dry, then wipe off any excess lube to prevent it from attracting dirt. 

As a rule of thumb, your chains should be lubricated whenever they look dry, or you hear the squeak. Also lube your chains after washing your bike, or riding under the rain, this will help prevent rust. 

Reattach slipped chain

Before you fix a slipped chain, inspect it first to check for bent pieces. If you find any damages, do any necessary repairs before you reattach the chain. 

To reattach a slipped chain; 

  • Push the rear derailleur arm towards the direction of the handlebars to give the chain some slack. 
  • Pick up the chain and place it on the appropriate gear. Once the chain teeth are securely attached, gradually release the derailleur and use your hand to turn the pedal for one full rotation. 
  • Keep turning the pedal until all the chains are reattached to the chainring. Put your bike in the lowest gear and keep pedaling before getting back on it. Your chain should realign and lock back into place with this motion.

Tip: You can turn the bike upside down, this will stop the bike from moving while you’re working and help you fix the chain faster.

Repair a broken chain

You need the all-purpose multi-tool to fix a damaged bike chain. To fix a damaged chain, turn the bike upside down, with the seat and handlebars down and the wheels up. 

  • Inspect the chain to find the damaged plates. 
  • Insert your chain tool into the groove where the chain is to be removed. Remove the pin from the chain by carefully turning the crank on your chain tool. Be careful not to drive the pin all the way through the chain.
  • Be sure to take off the complete set of damaged inner and outer plates to allow for proper reattachment of your chain.
  • Now put the chain onto the sprocket and slide the pin back in. The new link will be rigid once it is installed, so move it back and forth until it becomes flexible enough to bend around the gears.

Wheels and tires repairs

Every cyclist gets a flat tire, and knowing how to fix it is a skill that will save you a lot of trouble. Changing a flat bike tire is easy with some simple tools, some knowledge, and lots of practice. 

This section will guide you through the process of patching a punctured tube, replacing a damaged tube, and retruing a wheel.

Fix a flat tire

If you want to fix a flat tire {insert link here}, you will need to first completely remove the tire wheel from the bike frame. This may be a bit tricky the first time you do it, but you’ll get better with a quick lesson and some practice. 

Remove the wheel

The first step to fixing a flat tire or patching a punctured tube is to completely remove the wheel from the bike frame.

You first need to disconnect the brakes if your bike has v-brakes. Open the quick-release axle, hold the lever open while you use a wrench to unscrew the nut on the other side.

With the nuts loosened, you can slide off the wheel from the bike frame. 

Remove the tire

You’ll need 2 plastic tire levers to do this. You can do this without a tire lever, but it will be more difficult.

  • Fit a tire lever between the tire and the wheel rim and gently pull a section of tire out. Leave the tire lever wedged in.
  • Also stick the second tire lever between the rim and the tire, just next to the first. Keep one lever in place while running the other all the way around the rim. The tire should gradually detach from the wheel as you do this. 

Replace the damaged tube

Once you remove the tire from the wheel, you will need to remove the old tube in the tire and replace it with a new one. 

  • To remove the tube, reach into the space between the tire and the rim. The tube should slide out easily when you pull. When you reach the valve stem, push it down through the rim and pull it out with the rest of the tube.
  • To avoid damaging the valve, be very careful when pushing it out through the rim.
  • Insert the replacement tube. Pump the new tube with enough air to give it a basic circular shape. This makes it easier to insert the tube in the tire without it getting pinched between the tire and the rim. Place the valve stem into the valve hole on the rim. 
  • If the valve is a Presta valve, secure it to the wheel by loosely screwing the valve nut onto the valve.
  • Verify that the valve stem is straight and not angled. Work the tube into the tire starting at the valve, making sure it is properly tucked in and not twisted.

Reattach the wheel to the bike

  • After you have completely tucked the tube inside the tire, then you have to properly fit the tire on the wheel’s rim. Work the tire bead over the rim with your hands.
  • Work on one side first, then the other. Once the tire is properly fitted on the wheel, reattach the wheel to the bike frame by revising the process you followed to remove it. 

Patch a punctured tube

Find the hole

  • First remove the tire from the wheel, then remove the tube from the tire. You can find the hole on the tube by inflating it and listening closely for the leak. You can gently press it to help find the leak. If you still can’t find it, immerse the tube in water and watch for air bubbles, that tells you where the leak is. 

Clean the hole and apply cement

  • Use sandpaper to scratch up the area around the hole. Spread a thin layer of glue on and around the hole, wait for the glue to dry before placing the patch on it. To finish the repair, remove the plastic cover from the top of the patch. Proceed to pump up the tube a little and insert it in the tire. Finally, reinstall the wheel on the bike. 

Fix a damaged spoke

Find and remove the broken spoke. Since spokes come in a variety of sizes and length, ensure that your replacement spoke is the same size as your broken spoke.

  • Start by taking out the wheel and tire. The rim tape should be moved to one side.
  • Next, remove your broken spoke from the rim by unscrewing one side of it. Slide the other end of the spoke through the hub eyelet to remove it.
  • Slide the replacement spoke in after the damaged one has been completely removed. Make sure the spoke pattern is uniform all the way around the wheel.
  • Tighten the spoke nipple with a spoke wrench to the same tension as the rest of the wheel.
  • Reinstall your tire and rim tape after trueing the wheel.

Re-true a wheel

You need to retrue your wheel if it starts to get wobbly. A wheel can be trued by using a spoke wrench to adjust the tension of the spokes. To do this, you need to first remove the wheel from the bike, and the tire from the wheel. 

  • Place the tire on a truing stand, inspect the wheel to find where the spokes are not properly aligned. 
  • Use a spoke wrench to loosen or tighten the spokes to adjust the tension. 
  • Only make one-half turns of tension adjustments to each nipple at a time, then recheck the alignment.
  • Continue doing this until your wheel is in alignment.

FAQs on Bike Repair and Maintenance

How often should I service my bike?

You should service your bike once or twice a year, depending on how much you ride. A complete overhaul is required approximately every 4,000 miles (6,000 km).

However, some minor maintenance tasks (chain lubed, brake pads replacement) have to be done more often, but you can do most of them yourself.

No matter how much maintenance work you do yourself, don’t completely disregard a bike service by an actual bike mechanic.

Because certain bike components need to be evaluated and maintained by experienced mechanics, like the spokes, derailleurs, bearing surfaces, etc.

Can I wash my bike daily?

You should clean your road bike once a month or after every 20 to 25 rides, and degrease and lube your drivetrain after every 100 miles. Mountain bikes should be cleaned after each muddy ride or every few weeks when used frequently in dry conditions.

How much does a complete bike service cost?

The cost of a bike tune-up varies by region and ranges from $60 to $100. Major Tune-ups (or full bike service) normally cost between $119 and $150, while Minor or Basic Tune-ups typically cost between $55 and $90.

In general, bike servicing will include checking the tire pressure, adjusting the brakes and gears, and lubricating the chain and other components of the drivetrain.

A complete bike service is only necessary if you ride frequently or if your bike hasn’t been taken out of the garage for a while.

What is the average lifespan of a bike?

A good-quality bike with a sturdy frame will last up to 30 years or more, with proper maintenance of course. However, bike components have much shorter lifespan and will need to be replaced as necessary.

With proper maintenance, high-quality bikes can last a lifetime. 

Can I leave my bike outside for a week?

You can leave your bike outside for a day or two, this won’t damage your bike in any way. But storing your bike outside for up to a full week or more is unhealthy for your bike, and you might start to see signs of rust, especially in bad weather. 

Get a skilled mechanic to service your bike!

Whether you’ve been cycling for years or are just starting out, you’ll eventually need to depend on a repair shop for regular bicycle maintenance.

Bike shops have better equipment, and they can easily identify problems you’ve never seen and offer better care.

Dedicated cyclists invest a lot of time and effort in their bikes. They also go to great lengths to find reliable bike mechanics with the right certifications and experience to take care of their bikes. And you should do the same!

You may also like: 35 Essential tips for new cyclists

Photo of author
BikeCrunch offers the best riding tips and guides to help you get the most out of your cycling adventures. We offer in-depth bike and accessory reviews, unbiased buying guides, how-to guides, and much more. Mountain biking, road biking, commuting, touring, and recreational cycling are some of the topics we cover.