How to set up a new bike

If you’ve bought a bike online, we are going to help you get it up and running quickly and easily. This is particularly useful this time of year with Christmas presents on the horizon. Most of these tips will apply to bikes of all sizes, so good for kiddy bikes too. If this is your first foray into bike tinkering, check out these two posts as they will be helpful to you.

Ordering a bike online can mean a bargain price, or getting your hands on a model not available in shops, such as a Mango. However, you may be a little worried about assembling the bike when it arrives. Fortunately, these days most reliable bicycle retailers send the bike almost completely ready to ride. This means from the moment you take the bike out of the box, to the moment it is ready to ride, can be less than five minutes.

In this tutorial we’ll talk you through the most basic process first, for those almost complete bikes. For the assembly you’ll need an open-ended wrench for tightening the pedals, an Allen key set for tightening the bolts, a pump if the tyres are under inflated and bike grease for the pedal threads and seat post.

First off, it is worth checking the box over to make sure there are no holes. I once had a bike delivered which was missing pedals as they had fallen through a hole on the side of the box.

Most bikes these days are delivered with the handlebars twisted and pedals removed. However, it is possible you will also need to install the wheel and saddle. Start off by removing any protective tape and zip ties that might be on the bike. Be careful not to scratch your beautiful new frame if you are using scissors. Lay everything out and check all the parts are there.



Let’s start off at the handlebars. The first thing to do is tighten 4 bolt clamp that stops the handlebars from sliding forward (this will need to be done if the handle bars are not attached as well). Aim to center the handlebars and get them as upright as you wish. Sometimes this is easy to do as the manufacturer includes indicator marking, otherwise you can do it by sight or use a tape measure. You can always tweak later on.

Headset tightening

Next you’ll want to tighten the top cap on the headset, followed by the two stem bolts. Aim to align the stem with the wheel so your handlebars are straight. Once you are satisfied, tighten the top bolt then the bolts below on the stem. Make sure all bolts are firmly tightened and that when you apply force the handlebars don’t shift but they turn the wheel and forks smoothly.

If the wheel is stiff to turn, the headset is too tight and needs loosening. If you put the front wheel against the wall and push forward on the handlebars, there should be no movement. If there is, the headset is too loose and you will need to repeat the bolt tightening process again.



Moving on to the pedals, the first thing to do is to check that the pedals have grease on them around the threads. Good bicycle retailers will have already greased them. If not then add some grease now. Next, work out which is the left pedal and which is the right. This will be labelled on the pedal. For example the one in the picture is labelled WR for right. This is important because the left pedal needs to be tightened in a counter clockwise motion as it is threaded differently. Fit the pedals and tighten them firmly. Remember that the right pedal is tightened clockwise and the left is tightened counter-clockwise.


Next, pump the tyres to the recommended pressure listed on the sidewall of the tyre. Ideally, use a pump with a pressure gauge to measure the correct pressure. If the saddle isn’t already fitted then check there is grease on the seat post and then slide in in. Tighten the quick release or bolt holding the seat post in place. The saddle should be aligned straight and not lean forward or backwards.

Seat post

Additional steps

New bike

A couple of bikes have a few more setup steps, such as adding wheels and adjusting brakes. If wheels need attaching, make sure that you put the front one in the correct way round according to the rotation arrow on the tyres. Usually the rear wheel is attached so we will not go into that here (if it isn’t and gears need indexing it might be worth visiting a bike shop and paying them to help you out).

Attaching brake levers is easy if the cables are already in. They just need to be placed in your preferred position on the handlebars and tightened so they don’t shift. It is particularly important to make sure road bike levers on drop bars are tight as they are weight bearing. If the brakes are spongy or binding, try using the barrel adjusters by the levers. If this doesn’t work you will need to adjust the cable at the callipers. To do this you just need to loosen the screw a little and let some cable out or put it through some more.

Give it a check over

I’ve found that on the first few rides on a new bike I always need to tweak a few things. Therefore, it is a good idea to carry the Allen key set with you to make tweaks whilst you find the optimal riding position. It might also be worth going on a gentle test ride to make sure everything feels ok.


Before you get moving I recommend doing two things. The first is making a note of the frame number, just in case your bike is ever stolen. The second is to run through the bike safety check to be sure everything is tight and ready to ride.

For more tips and maintenance advice, check out our Bike Doctor App.

Have you put a boxed bike together? What are your tips for others getting their new bike up and rolling?

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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

One Response to How to set up a new bike

  1. MJ Ray 28/11/2015 at 9:07 am #

    Two tips:

    To get a starting point for the handlebar position, sit on the saddle, optionally lean forwards as much as you want for that sort of bike, and swing your arms forwards in a relaxed manner, elbows slightly bent. Where your hands are is where the usual hand grip of the bars should be – most often the hoods, bend or bar end, depending on type.

    Then if it’s a flattish bar, don’t be afraid to put the levers below the horizontal so you can just see them past the bar when riding it. Don’t put them on the horizontal level if it’s not right, as then you have to bend your wrists to brake and your palms may want to slide over the front when emergency braking, straining your thumbs and wrists.

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