Being able to service your bike yourself is an awesome feeling. However if you are new to it, before diving into bicycle maintenance it’s good to have a heads up on the most common errors people make when they first start maintaining their own bike. If you avoid them all the time, you’ll soon be better than 90% of home bike mechanics. However, these are things that probably happen even to the best of us from time to time!
Keep all your digits
Keep your thumb, your fingers, knuckles and any other parts of your body out of harms way. If you are pulling hard on a spanner, or twisting a chain, make sure no parts of your body are caught in the way of the resulting movement. This is especially important when you are putting a lot of pressure on something that is having difficulty moving (typically pedals). Ideally, you want to be pulling a lever towards you with your arm rather than putting your body weight down on it. This gives you better control of the movement, just don’t stand right behind the spanner and hit yourself in the stomach.
Taking those extra couple of seconds to position your hands more carefully will pay off. Another good tip for when you are really struggling, is to wear a pair of cycling gloves. They’ll provide some extra comfort and protection for your hands.
There is order in this chaos
Headset adjustment is another potential area for a disastrous error. There is an important rule to follow here. Always loosen the stem bolts before tightening the top cap. Otherwise, you’ll cause damage to the cap and expander wedge. You will also be mystified as to why your handlebars and fork are still wobbling. I have done this one, there was much confusion.
Likewise, if you are tightening your stem at the handlebars, the bolts have a specific order for tightening to ensure even pressure. When looking at the front of the bike, tighten the top left a bit first, then bottom right, then top right and finally bottom left.
We all know we should regularly lubricate our chains and then wipe off any excess oil to prevent dirt sticking to it and damaging components. (Not to mention getting on your clothes and pretty much everywhere else). However, not enough people know that WD-40 is not a lubricant and it is completely unsuitable for fast moving bike parts. You should be using bike specific products. Follow our guide to lubricating your bike for more on this. Another important thing to remember is to always add grease before replacing threaded parts. Pedal threads and the seat post are two notorious areas that left ungreased will seize up and can be a nightmare to remove.
Don’t Hulk out on bolts
Another thing to watch out for is for over-tightening fragile bolts. Whilst a torque wrench is a great tool to have for knowing exactly how much pressure you are exerting, it’s possible to get by on common sense. If you see a 5Nm marking next to a bolt then you don’t need to apply that much pressure. If you see 10Nm then it’s slightly more. Generally, the smaller the bolt, the less pressure you have to use.
You certainly shouldn’t be clinging on to a long handled tool and going for as much pressure in there as you can manage. Short handled tools will do for most jobs and you should be gripping them with your fingertips. Likewise, you also don’t want to be going too gentle. For example, with quick release levers on wheels you should be left with an imprint on your hand once you’ve fully secured the quick release.
Ignoring wear indicators is another common error. For example, on rims there is often a groove in the middle indicates the wear on the rim – the wear indicator. Once this groove disappears you know the rim is worn. The same goes for brake pads. They should have an indication that they’ve reached their usable limit. Once they do, it’s time for a trip down to the bike shop for some new parts.
Tyres have directions and pressures
“You’ve got the tyre on the wrong way round”. I hung my head in shame, as the bike shop owner passed his judgement on my efforts. I’ve never since repeated the same error. I now always check if there’s a directional arrow on the tyre or if it’s obvious which way it should be pointing. You should make sure you always check when replacing components such as brake pads. This gets tricky if your bike is upside down on the floor, so it is worth thinking it through carefully.
The fastest way to make life really hard for yourself when riding is by having low tyre pressure. The maximum pressure is printed on the side of the tyre (sometimes in ridiculously small writing) and a pump with a pressure gauge will help you get it right. If you are out cycling and you don’t have your pressure-indicating pump with you, squeeze the tyre and make sure it feels tight. The keeping your fingers safe is a good rule for pumping tyres as well. I have bruised myself a number of times on track pumps by getting my fingers between the spokes and locking valve (I have a bruise on my thumb as I write this).
Even after a few years of doing things yourself you will still find yourself making stupid mistakes, its normal. However, the things above are good guidelines to keep in mind when starting out.
What mistakes have you made recently? If you a seasoned home mechanic, what mistakes did you make when you were starting out, and what advice do you have for others?
Join 10,221 fellow cyclists who are subscribed to the London Cyclist newsletter
Sign up for our free newsletter to get...
- Advice on the best cycling gear
- A Friday roundup of all the latest London cycling news
- Exclusive content not available on the blog
Subscribe today, and get exclusive access forever! (It's free)
*No spam, ever!
As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.