8 rookie bike maintenance mistakes

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.Ouchy

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.

Lube matters

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.Tyre

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).

Pressure gage

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?


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9 Responses to 8 rookie bike maintenance mistakes

  1. Ross 20/11/2015 at 8:05 am #

    Ironically you made a mistake in the stem section: you say to tighten top left twice and leave out too right 😉

  2. TOM 20/11/2015 at 2:51 pm #

    Be careful when pumping tires with PRESTA valves. They are fragile. If you make too much movement with the pump, it is easy to cause leaks around the base of the tube.

    A pump with an air extension hose is much better than a pump whose head connects directly onto the valve.

    • Stephen 21/11/2015 at 9:54 am #

      +1 to Tom’s comment + screw in the valve core, especially on Continental for some reason.

      To share avnew mistake, when installing a chain, thread it correctly through the various bits in the rear derailleur.

      • MJ Ray 21/11/2015 at 11:22 am #

        +1 to the derailleur thing! Some have a little metal fin between the jockey wheels: don’t thread it the wrong side of that else it’s skip city or worse.

  3. MJ Ray 21/11/2015 at 11:21 am #

    The maximum tyre pressure is exactly that: a maximum. Sometimes you have to be up to it but often you don’t. There are weight/width/position pressure charts available online, so use one. If you overinflate, you’ll feel every road defect while rattling yourself and the bike to bits quicker.

    • Thom 24/11/2015 at 8:11 pm #

      On a Brompton, I’ve found the tyre pressure sweet spot with Marathon tyres to be 96 psi front, 106 rear. (The new generation Marathons are now rated 110 psi max.)

      I rode Marathon Pluses for 4 years and they were a real slog at medium pressures but pretty reasonable near maximum.

      I learnt not to overinflate in hot weather – tyre pressures rise on hot roads. Near Naples, I had a Marathon Plus delaminate on the inside, resulting in the tube becoming pinched and puncturing as the tyre cooled down overnight. That was the only puncture I ever got with a Marathon Plus.

      I switched to Marathons about 3 months ago. They’re more responsive and haven’t punctured so far (touch wood).

      Some Brompton blunders I’ve made:
      I had thought the correct Sturmey Archer hub adjustment was with the index chain just slack in top gear. Then I began losing gears. My Brompton shop put me right in no uncertain terms – at cost to the poor old ego, as referred to by Emily! As everyone else knows, in mid gear the index bar shoulders should be flush with the end of the axle.

      I learnt to keep the front wheel nuts fairly tight. After a long day out on rough paths, a rattling noise started at the front of the bike. The L/H wheel nut had come off. Disadvantages of losing a front wheel nut include the front folding hook becoming detached. The bike then falls apart when folded and can’t be carried!

      I was getting a permanent clicking sound in rhythm with the rotation of the cranks. Couldn’t work out what it was but, again, the Brompton shop sussed it out. The L/H pedal had come slightly loose in the crank arm.

      Some Brompton tweeks I’ve used:
      If the seat pillar keeps slipping, roughing up its surface slightly with fine wet & dry abrasive paper helps. You only have to do the 7 cm length actually clamped by the seat tube plastic liner at your personal saddle height. Whilst doing the roughing up, use masking tape to protect above and below the 7cm length and you get a neat roughed band exactly where you need it.

      Cleaning the seat pillar regularly with degreaser or IPA is good but don’t clean off the black specs which stick to the pillar from the plastic seat tube liner. They actually help the pillar not slip and allow you to keep the seat clamp tension to the minimum.

      Cables rubbing the frame wear through the paint. Cut some protective patches from Lizard Skins Clear Road Chain Stay Protectors. They’re really tough and pretty much invisible. The main vulnerable points seem to be along the R/H side of the main tube just behind the hinge and the R/H side of the seat tube just above the bottom bracket.

      Living in a flat, the easiest way to clean the bike is with the wheels off. It’s easier to get the crud off the chain stays, dropouts and forks. You can clean the wheels in the bath – scrub the spokes and rims with biodegradable citrus degreaser and gently rinse them off with the shower head, keeping the hubs dry.

  4. Manchester Cyclist 24/11/2015 at 1:40 pm #

    WD-40’s multi-use products should not be used, however I feel it only fair to mention that they also have a bike specific range, the latest range is fantastic. Their de-greaser and wet lube are in my opinion the best on the market at the moment. I don’t work for them btw, just a fan of their products.

  5. al 24/11/2015 at 10:03 pm #

    Not all threads should be greased. The jockey wheel screws should be thread locked?

  6. Bozidar Spirovski 07/12/2015 at 5:08 pm #

    The very frequent ones, and even as I preach them, I’ve done both of them myself:

    1. Not cleaning the chain and transmission regularly
    2. Not replacing the chain on time – thus eating up the cassette.

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