Bike amnesty: advice for bikes that have been dormant all winter

As the sun has started to pop out more often, I’ve seen more and more bikes on the roads which appear to have emerged from sheds and been thrust into the cold light of day without a thought for their feelings. Dirty, un-lubed and sometimes making creaky noises, these poor bicycles are squealing for some love.

I’m sure most London Cyclist readers are hardy souls, commuting year-round through wind, rain and snow – in which case this is not entirely directed at you, though you may find it useful.

However, there may be a few readers out there who put their bikes away six months ago, and are now emerging from a long hibernation, wiping tired eyes in disbelief as the sun streams through the windows. If that’s you – we’ve missed you! This post is just for you, and it’s all about helping you get the bike back on the road, and riding smoothly.

As always, our bike maintenance app Bike Doctor is available and if you prefer your bicycle tuition face to face, then here’s how you can find free bike maintenance classes in London.

Here’s a look at some of the items that might need a refresh if you’re bike has been left unridden:

Gear and brake cables


Gear cables run from the levers to the deraillers, which (should) move when you want to change gear. Gear cables run again from the levers, to the braking system. If you find your gears are not changing smoothly, they may just need indexing, and brakes that don’t act smoothly and quickly could just need tightening or adjusting.

However, if you’ve ruled this out as a cause, the next is to see if the cables need replacing. If you’ve  left the bike dormant for 6 months (or indeed ridden it through rain and mud) it is quite likely. Over time, dirt and crud can get caught in the housing, which will limit their effectiveness – and if that isn’t the problem, they could have become worn.

You can pop the bike into a bike shop for a service, and ask them to replace the cables. However, it isn’t too hard to yourself, and we published a guide on how to replace gear cables here. Brake cables are very similar, and there is a handy step-by-step tutorial by Park Tool here.

 Brake pads


Firstly – make sure your brakes are working. This is pretty simple – hold your hands on the brakes, and try to roll the bike forwards – if it moves, you may need to adjust your brakes.

Disc brakes can’t get out of alignment, but V and calliper brakes can. To check this, spin the wheel and squeeze the brake. If the pad doesn’t engage with the braking surface, you need to adjust them- and there is a guide here.

If the bike doesn’t move when you roll it forwards with the brakes engaged, but you’re still finding the braking isn’t crisp as it used to be, you may need new pads.

Brake pads wear down over time. You’ll be able to see it very clearly on v-brakes or calliper brakes as the pads will look much slimmer than they used to – there is usually a marker to show when they’re worn down too. If you have disc brakes, you’ll be able to tell the pads are worn if the brakes are squealing, grinding, or noticeably less powerful.

If you’ve got v or calliper brakes, you just need to undo the bolt on the brake pad shoe, slide out the old pad, replace with a new one, and tighten the screw. You may have brake pad shoes that don’t have removable pads, in which case you’ll need to replace the whole shoe, but this is still fairly simple and just requires an allen key – there is a guide on brake adjustment here.

If you’ve got hydraulic dic brakes, we have a guide on how to replace hydraulic disc brake pads here.


If you’ve been riding your bike all winter, it’s likely the tyres have ridden over the odd gravelly section, passed through a few puddles and rolled over the odd bit of glass. If you haven’t ridden in months – you’ll have very little idea what road conditions were like last time the bike ventured outside, so it’s best to check the tyres.

Tyres don’t last forever, they see the worst of the road, and along the way the can accumulate nicks that can lead to punctures.

You can check your tyres quickly by just looking at the surface – if there are no nicks or marks – well, they’re either really new or you live near lovely roads. If you notice a few imperfections, it’s worth giving them a more thorough check.

For a proper tyre check, remove the tyre from the wheel, and check the outside surface. Where you find any little nicks, check the same area on the inside of the tyre. Any little cuts that don’t go right through are not much of a problem – but if you can the hole goes right through the tyre, you need to replace it, or you risk Repetitive Puncture Disorder (RPD).

Next- run your hand, carefully, around the inside of the tyre. Be aware there could be glass or sharp objects you can’t see – so watch your fingers. The same rule applies – shallow cuts are not an issue, but anything that goes through the tyre is a pucture risk.

Clean and lube the bike

Step 1: Initial rinse

Step 1: Initial rinse

A clean bike is efficient, a pleasure to ride (usually), and faster. You can clean a bike with water and a toothbrush, but some light degreaser will make a world of difference.

Degreasing and scrubbing the drivechain will make mean that shifting is smoother, and doing this regularly will make the components last longer. We published a detailed guide on how to do this here.

Do make sure you apply chain lube, or it won’t be long before a familiar rusty orange glow collects on the chain, and your bike will begin to squeak.

With your bike good as new – riding will become fun in no time… so get out and enjoy the start of spring!

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5 Responses to Bike amnesty: advice for bikes that have been dormant all winter

  1. Vincent 19/03/2014 at 12:47 am #

    > Dirty, un-lubed and sometimes making creaky noises, these poor bicycles are squealing for some love.

    Sounds like just about every bike ridden in Amsterdam or Copenhagen 🙂

    • Ed 31/03/2014 at 3:39 pm #

      Sounds like every woman you’ve ridden in Amsterdam you mean 🙂

  2. Phil 20/03/2014 at 8:03 am #

    There’s one bike I see, frequently locked up outside the local supermarket, and every time I think ” you must hate your bike, to leave it like that “. The chain is not just rusty, the chainstay is splattered orange with rust from it. The front mech cable is hanging loose, yet the mech is stuck on the middle ring. The whole bike is constantly filthy, and looks like tetanus on wheels: it’s fairly typical for a canal boat crusty, of which there are many nearby.

  3. Andrew Wilcox 21/03/2014 at 11:47 am #

    Typo first para gear and brake cables section. Should be brake cables go to the brakes 🙂

    Reversing the cables is easy. But I have not tried it, so I have no idea what the effect would be. I guess you would stop in what you thought was the lowest gear on the right or the highest gear on the left. As you applied the brakes the right hand brake lever would put you on the biggest rear cog and the left hand one would put you on the biggest chain ring. Something worth remembering for April Fools day perhaps.

  4. David 21/03/2014 at 2:08 pm #

    Swapping brake pads every other season is a good rule of thumb, depending on how much riding you do (sooner if you ride more). They’re cheap, and it’s a breeze to do.

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