5 common bike maintenance mistakes to avoid

Looking after your bike yourself is a good thing – it will save you money, and understanding how your bike works is helpful for those roadside malfunctions that can occur from time to time.

There are some mistakes that nearly all cyclists make in their first year of riding – here are 5 that you can avoid:

1) Not checking a tyre for damage in the event of a puncture


Time and time again I’ve heard criticism that a tyre is faulty, or inner tubes are faulty – the validation behind this assertion being that the user has suffered multiple punctures, in quick succession.

Tyres and tubes can be faulty – but it isn’t all that common. What is very common is for riders in a hurry to get back on the bike after a flat not slowing down to check the inside of the tyre for debris – thorns or stones. I’ve done this myself on a cold ride – the result was stopping 2 minutes down the road to repair the second puncture (as snow continued to fall).

Most punctures are caused by debris – thorn, glass, flint – and if you don’t find and remove this object, it will pierce a new tube just the same. If you struggle to find it, pump up the old tube, and use the location of the hole to match up on the tyre (that’s why your tyre Logo should match up with the valve).

There are other reasons for a second puncture – read more here.

2) Not wiping down a lubed chain

Lubing your chain is good – it prevents rust, and keeps it running smoothly without rattle. Too much lube is bad – it picks up dirt which effectively exfoliates the chain.

When you apply lube, run a small dribble of it along the inside of the chain – and turn the pedal as you go, shifting between gears to get even spread through the cogs. Then, wipe the excess of gently with an old rag, again rotating the pedal backwards as you hold the rag still.

Then, wipe the chanistays – to remove any lube they may have picked up, that will just be a magnet for dirt.

3) Not greasing pedals and overtightening them


Yay – you’ve bought new pedals! Your current concern is getting them on the bike, and taking them for a spin.

At this point, spare a thought for ‘you’ in 6 months time, a year, or 3 years – when you need to pack the bike into a bike box, or buy new pedals. If you don’t apply a thin layer of grease to the pedal spindle, and overtighten them, this will be incredibly hard, and can result in you slamming your hand in to the chainring with the force required, or a trip to the bike shop.

The grease needs to be just a tiny fingerfull, spread evenly over the spindle. In terms of tightness, do the majority of the job with your hand, then use an allen yet to turn the pedal so it is firmly in place, but don’t feel the need to yank it tight.

4) Over-tightening bolts 

It can be tempting to tighten a bolt as hard as you can – to make sure it doesn’t slip. This is not necessary.

Seatposts, steerer and bar clamps are bolts that often get over-tightened. The component or bike manual will tell you what the correct torque is – usually 5Nm. If you have a torque wrench, use that. If not, ask someone in a bike shop to show you how tight that is, and learn how it feels.

Over-tightening at best results in rounded off bolts which need to be drilled out (as the allen key slips when you try to loosen them), and at worst, cracked components – though this applied more to carbon parts.

5) Leaving cable replacement too long


Brake and gear cables need replacing fairly regularly – once a year is sensible, though this will vary depending on how often and where you ride.

It isn’t a tough job, but it is  a bit fiddly, and one that it’s easy to put off. However, leave it too long and the gear cable can stretch, making shifting tough, or fray – which makes shifting tough and replacement a bigger job if fibers of the cable are so thin that they become hard to remove. They can also snap, which means a long ride home in the same gear.

Here’s how to replace gear cables.

Those are 5 ‘popular’ errors – have you got more to add? We’re sure there are many… 

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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

11 Responses to 5 common bike maintenance mistakes to avoid

  1. Rick Gregory 30/01/2015 at 11:53 am #

    Good article as usual Michelle. However under 3. – pedal maintenance.
    Rather than just warning of the danger of “slamming” the chain ring, perhaps advising that if you are doing any work with a spanner/allen key near the chain rings, wearing work gloves is a must. (keeps your hands cleaner than the guy’s in your photo too!)

  2. lapsa 30/01/2015 at 1:38 pm #

    I was told that it is better to lube chain by individually applying lube to each link. Each roller, that is. Because that is where lube is needed the most.

  3. Andrew Russell 31/01/2015 at 7:59 am #

    A spoke tightener in the wrong hands is a dangerous thing.

    Over tightening and tightening in the hope you can fix a buckle are common ways of making a wheel U/S.

    Best money you can spend (after a general bike maintenance course) is a course giving you an introduction to wheel building.

    Another one …. If you buy a bike with disc brakes, be aware those brakes need bleeding. They need another level of maintenance altogether … pad replacement etc etc

  4. Phil 03/02/2015 at 10:51 am #

    I have had to have my brakes bled once, and as I have neither the tools, experience or skill required to do it myself, am happy to pay my LBS for the work. Pad replacement is dead easy though, don’t even need to take the wheels off.

  5. Dom 04/02/2015 at 11:51 am #

    Have you ever found strange that at each bike shop when you leave your own bike for a routine check they always telling you to change your chain and cassette gear.
    I have a bike of 5 yo and changed my chain, chain ring and cassette 2 times because i didn’t look after very much. But to tell me to change those parts after 8 month i have put the new one and haven’t use my bike for 4 of them (leaving the bike indoor) it sounds too much.

    I start to believe that this is only a Technic to sale parts and make money…

    Anyone out there have had the same thoughts…?

    • Spencer 04/02/2015 at 11:47 pm #

      I had to put my bike into a bike shop as the hub gear was having problems changing and I didn’t have the tools to open it up and investigate myself.

      When it came back after being rebuilt the shop’s mechanic told me the chain was very worn and needed replacing. Think I managed another 300-400 miles on it before it snapped, bit annoyed though as expected more than 2500 miles out of a 1/8 inch bike chain on a straight drive path (no derailleur).

      Another thing to add, had a puncture cycling home tonight. Found a “lump” on the inside of the tyre which turned out to be a piece of wire. Thing was if I hadn’t of had my Leatherman pliers with me I would not have been able to pull the wire out and put the replacement inner back in. Could not get it to shift using just my fingers.

      Mind after changing the puncture without any gloves on I couldn’t feel my fingers anyway…

    • Cha 16/02/2015 at 2:59 pm #

      Each chain (according to brand and model) comes with an average mileage indicated usually on the packaging. If you change your chains before they stretch too much, then you won’t be need to change your cassettes that frequently (chain ring even less). Using a stretched out chain wears the cassettes quicker though.
      Cleaning and lubing your chain also helps in prolonging their runtime.
      Check out this link for more info: http://sheldonbrown.com/chains.html

    • Alehouse Rock 19/02/2015 at 1:17 am #

      DOM—you ain’t kidding, squire!

  6. Rasp Berry 10/02/2015 at 10:18 pm #

    You sad Ridgeback 7 speed riding cyclist. Get a life and stop complaining about bike shop repairs and cost. As for the article, how the hell do you lube the inside of a chain!

  7. Martin Kaye 13/02/2015 at 1:14 pm #

    Fibers…on a cycling site for LONDONers?

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