Not all Londoners have access to a brand new, top of the range bicycle. Many, have a 10 year old hand me down mountain bike from their sister. One such person is my friend Laura. She recently asked me: What do you think of the bike?
As someone who knows a thing or two about bike maintenance, I bit my teeth and awkwardly scratched the back of my neck, while trying to think of a nice way of phrasing my answer.
Sensing my difficulty, she filled in for me: “Well, it says professional on it.”
The truth is, any bike is better than no bike. What I worry about, is that a badly maintained bike can put people off cycling.
My fears may have been proven true. The bike had remained unused for a few months and we decided its maiden voyage should be a short ride to Greenwich Park. Immediately, there was complaints of the gears taking about a minute to change. It also felt tiring to pedal and the seat left a rather uncomfortable feeling.
However, it’s not hard to bring an old bike like this back to life. Here’s a short guide to the things I advised Laura to do (i.e. it will probably end up being me doing) and hopefully it will helps others in a similar situation.
(If it says professional, it must be professional)
Gear and brake cables
The frayed gear cable could well be the reason for problems with slow gear changes.
Fortunately, buying a pair of gear and brake cables from your local bike shop is cheap. To replace them you’ll need a decent cable cutter and some metal ferrules to attach to the end of the cable. It’s a fairly easy repair and we’ve got instructions to replace a gear cable here on the blog. Our Bike Doctor app has more info on replacing a brake cable. After replacing gear cables, you’ll also need to re-adjust your gears.
The next thing I checked on the mountain bike was the bottom bracket. Fortunately, there was no play on the crank, so that suggests there isn’t an issue here. If you did need to replace it, you can follow our bottom bracket replacement instructions.
The brake pads also often need replacing. Fortunately, the ones on this bike had been serviced so were still in good condition. However, there was some issue with the pads rubbing the wheel rim. This problem can normally be solved by tightening the barrel adjuster, but in this case the adjuster was damaged. I’d also replace the rusted cable guide for £2.
The saddles supplied with lower end bikes are often uncomfortable. I’ll probably be fitting my friends bike with a spare saddle that I own. A new saddle may be a worthy upgrade. If money is tight, these can be bought second hand. It’s also worth pulling the saddle post out and adding some grease.
Another problem area is the cassette and chain. You’ll notice this, if the chain keeps slipping when you apply pressure to pedal. It’s a very typical problem. Fortunately, this bike had some more life in it. However, a clean and degrease with some fresh lubricant would certainly help. You can easily find out if your chain needs replacing.
Other typical problem areas with an old bike:
- Tyres: These can often be worn and are worth replacing with puncture proof tyres. Fortunately, new tyres were recently installed.
- Pedals: Worn out pedals can be a common source of creaks. The cheap stock pedals supplied with a bike can be replaced with superior metal alternatives.
- Handlebars: You can check for play in the handlebars and make sure it is properly tightened.
Should you attempt this yourself?
If you don’t have the tools you’ll need, then the cost of buying them will often outweigh the cost of getting the bike serviced in a shop (especially with our current 50% off servicing deal). However, in the long run, you’ll save a lot of money by knowing how to do the repairs yourself. The £100 spent on a toolkit will pay for itself after a couple of repairs.
It’s a real testament to the design of a bicycle that it can still be safely ridden, even with many of the above issues. However, you’ll be much more likely to cycle once the bike has been restored.
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.