The Serious Cyclist’s Guide to Routine Bike Maintenance
The rewards of cycling are plentiful. But, as with all good things, those rewards only come when you put in some effort. And we’re not just talking about the effort to become a better cyclist. We’re talking about the kind of effort that involves you, a wrench and some elbow grease.
If you are serious about cycling, you have to be serious about maintaining your bike. Here are some helpful bike maintenance tips to guide your efforts.
Plan for It
If you’re new to cycling, or you’ve only been doing it casually, you may not have given much thought on how to maintain your bike. But for anyone riding regularly, routine bike maintenance has to be a part of your budget — both in time and money.
Our good friend, mentor and decades-long cyclist, Coach Darryl, was kind enough to share his insights with us again. You should treat his instructions about caring for your bike just like your personal coach telling you how to plan your workouts.
First of all, you can’t just budget for a nice bike and comfortable leather saddle. You’ve got to factor in maintenance to your annual costs, just as you would for your car. The amount you plan for will depend on how much you ride, but someone riding 100 miles per week (5,000 per year) should plan on roughly $1,000 in routine costs, says Darryl.
As for time, here’s how Darryl puts it: A serious cyclist riding at least 100 miles a week, spending 5–10 hours on the road, should also spend about an hour each week performing routine checks, maintenance and cleaning.
As for the what and when of those commitments, we’ll break it down from the end of one ride to the next.
After Your Rides: Recharge and Review
When you finish one ride, it’s time to think about the next one. These days, that means you’ve probably got some batteries to recharge on your lights — and on your shifters if you have electronic ones. You don’t want to arrive at the starting line only to find (as a friend of Darryl’s did recently) that you can’t even shift gears. Coach Darryl recommends having chargers ready to go right where you park your bike.
This is also a good time to take a quick look at your bike. What looks like it needs cleaning? If you’ve been riding in the rain, your chain might need it sooner than you thought. Check your tires for any minor cuts — Darryl recommends running your thumb over the tire east-west and north-south. If you feel any clicking, it’s probably time for a change. Check your bolts for anything that feels loose and may need tightening (but be sure to follow your owner’s manual for proper torque!).
In Between Rides: Your Routine Bike Maintenance
You can, of course, dive right into your routine maintenance after a ride. If not, make sure you have this time scheduled for any pressing matters (like the ones just mentioned) and regular cleaning and tune-ups. Keep rags and various-sized brushes handy for the following:
- Clean your frame regularly with water and soap (diluted dishwashing soap or a special bike wash cleaner).
- Inspect and clean your drivetrain.
- Degrease your bike chain whenever it’s gunked up (use an environmentally friendly, bike-specific degreaser).
- Lubricate your chain after you’ve cleaned it.
- Check derailleurs, cables and levers and lubricate after cleaning as needed.
- Apply saddle sauce to protect your leather saddle.
If you don’t clean and lubricate these parts regularly, you’ll be changing out worn-down chains and gears a lot more often. Darryl has seen this firsthand: When he and a friend installed the same chain on their bikes, his lasted for 3,800 miles, but his friend’s wore out after 2,300 miles and he needed a new set of cogs for the front and the back. The difference? Darryl cleaned his chain weekly, while his friend ignored it.
Also plan for your primary replacement parts according to the following schedule:
- Rear tire: Every 1,500 miles or when you notice significant damage
- Front tire: Every 2,500 miles or when you notice significant damage
- Chain: Every 2,500–3,000 miles
- Brake pads: Every 8,000–10,000 miles (more frequently for disc brakes)
Before Your Rides: Come Prepared
When ride time comes, you need more than just your cycling clothes, food and water. You never know what could happen, so bringing a few essential tools and parts with you will help you avoid getting stranded. This helpful list from REI will make sure you’re covered.
Assuming you’ve done all your other maintenance, then all that’s needed before you saddle up for a ride is a quick tire check. Check your pressure and pump as needed. Another helpful hack from Darryl: Lift your front wheel off the ground and spin it slowly and freely. Listen and watch for any clicking that comes from rubbing against your brake pads and adjust accordingly to make sure there’s no contact.
Stay on the Road
Maintaining your cycling habit means maintaining your bike. There’s no way around it. On top of these regular self-checks and tweaks, it’s a good idea to take your bike in for a professional tune-up at least twice a year.
If you keep up with routine maintenance, you’ll save money and time in the long run. Your bike will love you for it, and it will keep you on the road.
You can find more insights from Coach Darryl, including tips for the best order in which to put on all this gear, over at his website.