Bike repairs: DIY or leave to the professionals?

At London Cyclist whether you want to maintain your bike yourself or would rather just take it to your favourite local bike shop, that’s fine with us.

We’ve started running a regular series on bike maintenance (See: How to do a bike safety check). These maintenance guides are also available inside our Bike Doctor App, for easy reference on the move.

To accompany our guides, we also highly recommend taking a bike maintenance course (many are free!) and we’ll have a full review of one in the next few weeks.

There is a real joy in maintaining your bike yourself. You feel independent, confident you can fix problems, you can save money and time. However, above a certain level, maintenance starts to require specialist tools and can get a little more tricky.

As guidance as to which repairs are easiest done at home, and which may be best left to professionals, we’ve put together our list below.

Basic – <10mins

These things are easy and pretty much essential to owning a bike. Even if you intend to take your bike to a mechanic for any repair, these things will help keep your bike safe:

Lubing chain

Intermediate <30mins

If you use your bike regularly and rely on it to get you from A to B then the following are things you probably should be able to do, in addition to the basics.

  • Full M safety check
  • Replace an inner tube/patch an inner tube
  • Adjust brakes and install new pads
  • Adjust gears

Repairing puncture

Advanced >30mins

The following things are those that you don’t really need to know how to do, but cycling life is much easier and kinda more fulfilling if you can.

  • Install new parts
  • Change chain
  • Install new cabling

Changing brake cables

Take to a mechanic

Whilst these are repairs that anyone can learn to do at home, they are perhaps easier to leave to a mechanic, especially because they can require more specialist tools which can be expensive.

Servicing bottom bracket

A local bike shop owner that we spoke to told us they often see bikes with contaminated rotors and pads from hydraulic fluid. It is very easy to get the bleed wrong, and then the fluid can get everywhere. It is one of those things that is just a hassle to fix and clean up after. The bottom bracket and headset are what allow 2 of the 4 main moving parts on a bike to operate. They are subjected to a lot of wear and tear and they need to operate precisely. They often also require special tools.

Finally, even if you are doing general maintenance work yourself, it is really worth having your bike checked over once a year, just to make sure everything is ship shaped (or indeed, correct bike shaped). It offers piece of mind, and in the right a bike shop, a good learning experience.

What work do you do on your bike? Which things do you prefer to have a professional do versus doing yourself? Let us know!

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11 Responses to Bike repairs: DIY or leave to the professionals?

  1. MJ Ray 12/11/2015 at 11:08 am #

    Over 30 minutes to change a chain? Maybe if it’s something nasty without a quick link or you’ve let it wear out too much (and so have to change the cassette and possibly chainrings), but if you change it as soon as the gauge suggests, it should be a simple case of unclipping the quick link, feeding the old chain out, giving the cogs a quick clean, feeding the new chain in and clipping it shut.

    Similarly, replacing a cable is a five minute job, although it really helps to have a good cable cutter now (gone are the old days when wire cutters were enough) and you do also have to re-adjust the brakes or gears afterwards.

    So I’d call both of those intermediate, whereas bottom bracket and headset are probably “advanced” on simple bikes, but take-to-shop if they’re something fiddly.

  2. Mike Hill 12/11/2015 at 1:35 pm #

    Largely agree with your assessments of what I’ll do myself and what I take to a mechanic. Only variant is that I don’t adjust gears myself (other than with the small adjusters on the levers) – I always seem to make them worse.

    Happy to change chain (I’ve even repaired a broken chain on the road – by taking a link out – only took 5 minutes) and replace cables.

    You should probably include cleaning the chain/cogs as well. Particularly in London the chain can pick up a lot of abrasive grit. Cleaning it regularly (I have a Park Tools cleaning kit and use eco-friendly cleaner & chain lube) can prolong its life significantly.

    • MJ Ray 13/11/2015 at 8:30 am #

      One of the nice things about three speed hub gears is that the adjustment is of the “look and line this up with that”visual type. With derailleur gears, friction shifters are as good as it gets, where you only need worry about setting the limits so it can’t pull the chain off the cogs either side. Indexed shifters are a little more fiddly and the cynic in me wonders if bike shops are so keen on them because it keeps many people coming back.

  3. Harry-H 12/11/2015 at 3:11 pm #

    30 mins to change a chain! I assume this includes cycling to the shop and back to buy a new one then cycling to the shop again when you discover you’ve lost your pin-removal tool.

    I think that the article makes too much of bike maintenance. I’ve been riding since about 1974 and I’ve never needed to see a bike mechanic. The only thing I wouldn’t do myself is replace a damaged frame tube. I can’t think of anything else that I can’t or don’t do. Other than chain, BB and block removal – which require special tools – there’s nothing on my bikes which requires more than common sense and rudimentary spanner and screwdriver abilities.

    Hardest thing (IMHO) is tightening headsets and cones – but only because it takes about 10 goes to get it just right.

  4. francis 13/11/2015 at 10:37 am #

    I find bike shops almost always leave the front derailleur just a little too likely to drop off the inside and jamb there. To be fair they leave a nice positive change in the mechanism but a half turn of one adjusting screw to keep the chain on the cogs is well worth it in my view. Just make sure you check the way the changer operated carefully so that you adjust the correct screw the right way!

  5. Rebecca 13/11/2015 at 10:40 am #

    Pretty much agree with the order it’s all in but perhaps not the timings.. although so don’t think time is important.
    I do everything myself that I have the tools for and have learnt through needing to do. It took me a while to get gear cabling ; ) but after enough practice I finally got it.
    I do think I should take my bike for a yearly check up nust to be sure but being around other cyclists all the time I find that if there is an issue with my bike, someone usually lets me know very quickly and we sort it out together. I think of you’re willing to not be a stuck up ‘m bike is better than yours’ kinds cyclist then it’s easy and quick to learn about bicycles just by talkig with other cyclists.

  6. Albert 13/11/2015 at 1:28 pm #

    Your article I see as having a discouraging affect on the would be owner-maintainer. Certainly, a give-it-a’go attitude along with a willing to buy tools as needed would be a far less expensive and self-satisfying approach.

  7. Nick 13/11/2015 at 9:57 pm #

    I’m happy to have my bike maintained by my local bike shop but they are painfully slow and consequently charge more than necessary.

    I’ve watched whilst they walk round the bike stand to get a spanner, then walk back to the stand, and then repeat the saga.

    With a little thought, the whole process can be dramatically speeded up, simply by having the right tools within reach for each operation to minimise unneccessary hand and foot movements.

  8. Phil Ashbourn 14/11/2015 at 8:35 am #

    Once upon a time we took pride in being able to build up a bike from scratch and do all the repairs, Things were simpler then – the same kit lasted for years. My 1979 Rourke has the original bottom bracket. Two of my latest bikes have had new bottom brackets after a mere 18 months use. The need to continually buy new tools is off putting. I still do most jobs but my excellent LBS, where I buy my bikes, do the bottom brackets.

  9. Jonathan butler 14/11/2015 at 8:56 pm #

    The last two times I have taken my bike into a shop for a service they have tried to get me to replace the cassette. First time I fell for it, last time I refused as i only do 1500 miles to and from work p.a.
    I will be doing my own servicing from now on.

  10. Al 19/11/2015 at 2:14 pm #

    I like to do my own work on my bike as I know I can install the best quality stuff and still save money by doing it, it’s extremely easy to install a headset or bottom bracket just using a £20 park tool kit or similar (unless the bike’s in really bad shape and parts have seized or something). It’s always good to book in an annual basic service at a LBS for a 2nd opinion though just for peace of mind – things like spoke alignment or servicing disc brakes are still a mystery to me!

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