Back to BasicsBack to BasicsWe all have that one seemingly “easy” task we’ve never quite figured out. This week, no problem is too trivial, no question too stupid. Just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s not a hack.
Spring is here, and it’s time to bring your bike out of its winter hibernation. Before you go for your first ride, get it road- or trail-ready with some basic DIY maintenance.
Start with a careful inspection of your bike. Check for wear and tear on your tires, worn-down brake pads, a gunked-up chain, and excess dust or dirt.
If anything is obviously broken, you have electronics (like an e-bike battery or DI2 shifting) that need tuning, or you’re dusting off it off for the first time in 10 years, see a professional bike mechanic at your local shop.
Otherwise, with a few tools and cleaning supplies, you can give your bike a spring tune-up all on your own. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Tire levers (2)
- A tire pump
- Extra tubes
- Chain lube
- Soft cloths
Dust off your frame, wheels, handlebars, and pedals, then wipe the whole thing down with a soft, damp cloth. If your bike is really muddy, you can mist the frame lightly with a hose or scrub it down with soapy water.
Just don’t spray water directly on or into any mechanical parts, including the chain. We’ll go into cleaning and lubing your drivetrain later.
If your tires are low (but not completely flat), grab your bike pump. Make sure you’re using the right side or adapter for your tube valve, which is either skinny (Presta) or fat (Schrader). If the valve stem has a plastic cap, unscrew it and set it aside.
Finally, for Presta valves, unscrew the tiny tip. You’ll know the valve is open if you press and hear air release.
Before you start pumping, check the recommended pressure range (measured in psi) for your tire. You’ll generally find this imprinted on the tire wall.
Attach your pump to the valve stem, lock it down, and inflate to the recommended pressure using the gauge on your pump. If you feel a lot of resistance or notice that no air is going in, adjust the pump attachment.
Once you’re at the desired pressure, remove the pump and screw the valve tip back down (Presta).
Finally, it’s good practice to check your tire pressure before every ride. Just like with your car, low pressure is inefficient for you and bad for your bike tires.
If your tires are completely flat, you’ll need to change the inner tubes. Grab your tire levers and new tubes. Make sure they’re the right size for your tire—you’ll find the diameter and width on the sidewall near the recommended psi.
- Remove the wheel with the flat by releasing your brakes and the quick-release axle or unscrewing the bolt. If you need to take off the rear wheel, shift into the smallest cog first.
- Remove the plastic cap (if you have one) from your old tube and the circular valve nut (again, Presta only). Make sure the tube is completely deflated.
- Wedge your tire lever between the rim and the edge of the tire opposite the valve stem. Push the lever away from your body to continue unseating the tire from the wheel rim. The goal is for one side of the tire to be loose from the rim, but do not remove it completely.
- If you have trouble keeping the lever under the tire bead, hook one in place onto a spoke and use the other to unseat the tire.
- Pull the valve stem out and remove the tube.
- Inspect your tube and tire for any damage. Inner tubes can wear out over time, but flats are often caused by rocks, glass, debris, or valve damage. Look for anything embedded in the tire or along the rim, holes in the rim tape, or obvious cuts in the tube. If your tire or rim tape is the culprit, you’ll need to replace that too.
- Grab your new tube and inflate it with a few pumps of air.
- Insert the valve stem into the hole and the rest of the tube in the rim.
- Reseat the edge of the tire inside the rim starting opposite the valve stem. The last few inches are often tough—pinch the tire in and use your thumbs or the heels of your hand pressing away from your body for better leverage.
- Ensure the edge of the tube isn’t poking out from underneath the tire.
- Inflate the tube slowly, stopping to make sure the tube and tire are properly seated on the rim.
- Put the wheel back on your bike and inflate it to the proper psi.
Your bike’s drivetrain is everything that makes your bike go, including the chain, chainring (on the front), and rear cassette cogs (on the back). If these parts get mucked up, the friction makes them less efficient and also wears them down more quickly. Cleaning and lubing your chain helps everything run smoothly.
With the back wheel on, put your bike on a stand or flip it upside down and grab a soft, lint-free cloth or rag. Wrap the cloth around the chain and slowly rotate the pedal to gently wipe off dirt and grease.
Then continue to pedal as you apply one drop of lube to each link. Wipe the chain down one more time to remove any excess lube, and pedal forward to shift through all of your gears.
If your drivetrain is rusty or really dirty, you can do a deeper clean—but you’ll need some additional tools and supplies and more time and space.
Like car tires, bike brake pads have lines that indicate wear. If you can’t see the indents on your rim brake pads, or if your disc brake pads are worn down to about 1 millimeter, it’s time to replace them. Bad brake pads are, obviously, not great for your ability to slow down and stop.
Otherwise, you can simply check that your brakes are properly set (so they don’t rub on your wheel rim) and tight enough. First, make sure your wheels are centered in your frame. Then, spin your wheels and squeeze your brake levers to check that your brakes clamp down and stop quickly.
If your wheel is out of true (meaning it wobbles or is off-center) or you’re not confident about your brakes, see a professional mechanic. Bike maintenance is tricky, so better safe than sorry.