Things I wish I’d known when I got my first bike

I got my first road bike aged 21 – I forget if it came with an instruction manual – but if it did I certainly didn’t read it. In fact, I raced it in a triathlon a few weeks after and took it to the Pyrenees not many months into our life together. Three years later, I’ve made my share of bike maintenance mistakes.

Here are some of the things I wish I’d known when I got my first bike:

How to fix a puncture

It's simple with practice

It’s simple with practice

Ok, so this one is obvious – but it’s obvious because it’s an absolute necessity. Riding to and from uni, I rarely punctured, and when I did,  I saw it more as a fault that needed fixing at a bike shop, as opposed to something that was part and parcel of riding.

Once I started riding further, I can’t say it ever occurred to me I might need to fix a puncture on the way. So when I found myself stranded atop of Ditchling Beacon with no way to get anywhere, I was in a pickle. Luckily, a new friend happened to roll by, and helped me fix it – but I’ll never quite forget the embarrassment when I explained the contents of my small rucksack: a phone (with no battery), a map, a bag of trail mix, and a spare t-shirt.

I went home, and tried multiple times to change a tube – I exploded (or “pinched”) about 4 tubes – but after some frustration and a few wasted tubes – I did it. Changing a tube is not hard, it just takes practice, and it’s best not to go far afield until you can do it.

For a handy maintenance guide you can have with you at all times, checkout our Bike Doctor app for iPhone, iPad and Android.

Look out for rim wear

Grit will wear your rims down

Grit will wear your rims down

I remember by horror when I took my bike for its first service and the mechanic explained that my rims were completely worn, because one of my brakes had been rubbing grit along the surface. A new chain I could manage, and I could afford cables and labour – but wheels? Wheels are a major part of a bicycle; surely these didn’t need replacing already?

Wheels aren’t cheap – good quality ones are certainly not cheap – so there is no point letting them waste away. Admittedly, they will wear down over time, but with good care they can last for years.

If you have V brakes or cantilevers, allowing grit to get caught in the brake pads and grind along the rim is a sure fire way of sending them to an early grave. To prevent this, wipe a damp cloth along the rims after a grimy ride, or every week or so, and keep an eye on the pads. It’s not hard – but it could save you £100 or so.

This was one of my pieces of advice in “tips for wet weather riding”, too – and it’s particularly crucial in wet weather.

Cables are really easy to change, and gear indexing is super easy

Adjusting gears is easy with instructions

Adjusting gears is easy with instructions

I’ll add “when you know how” to the statement above. The good news is whether you want to learn online through YouTube videos or offline through classes offered in London, there are plenty of resources available.

If you’ve even had your bike serviced, you’ll know how crisp the shifting (unless you ride fixed) and braking is. You know what that is? The mechanic has either tensioned (tightened) the cables, or replaced them – it’s quite easy to do on most bikes – Google “how to replace gear and brake cables.”

One of the results, will be our very own, beautifully illustrated gear cable replacement guide.

Have you ever lost your temper with that annoying gear that keeps skipping, or the horrible grating noise the disgruntled bike makes as you try (and fail) to push the chain onto the right cog? You can usually get rid of that by twisting a small limiter screw on the derailler. Have a google of “how to index rear gears” if your cassette is playing up, and “how to index front fears” if your big ring is getting too big for its boots.

Buy a proper allen key set – multi tools are for on ride fixes only

This Pedros Hex Wrench/Allen Key Set will do the job

This Pedros Hex Wrench/Allen Key Set will do the job

I’ve rounded off so many bolts. If there is award going – it’s mine. Rounding off the bolt is what happens when you find the allen key or multitool is just twisting around in the bolt, but not engaging – basically you’ve worn the connection down so it’s misshapen. The allen key and bolt head are no connecting as they used to – they’ve fallen out of love.

I find it’s a lot easier to make this error with a multitool. Multitools are very handy for on-ride maintenance, we reviewed some here. The problem with a multitool is that you can’t get as much leverage, and you are more likely to slip, causing a rounded bolt. If you’re going to be making fairly regular adjustments to things like saddle height, stem or cable tension, I’d suggest you buy a quality set of longer handled allen keys like these, to save you drilling out dodgy bolts.

If you’d like to read Andreas’ “Things I wish I’d known” – check them out here. Have you got any additions? 

Join 10,221 fellow cyclists who are subscribed to the London Cyclist newsletter

Sign up for our free newsletter to get...

  • Advice on the best cycling gear
  • A Friday roundup of all the latest London cycling news
  • Exclusive content not available on the blog

Subscribe today, and get exclusive access forever! (It's free)

*No spam, ever!

As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

8 Responses to Things I wish I’d known when I got my first bike

  1. MJ Ray 21/01/2014 at 1:48 pm #

    If the multi tool is damaging things, it sounds like the wrong tool, but I’ve just asked more on the multi tool page. I do use old s shaped Allen keys in the shed though, because they’re nicer to hold.

  2. Robbi 22/01/2014 at 9:34 pm #

    Regarding rims/brakes, I wholly agree. I give my v-brake blocks and rims a frequent clean – the increase in stopping power is also a big advantage. As for replacement V-brake blocks, these are easy to change yourself. I found some good BBB brand ones (a set of 4) for under £6. Most bikes shops will charge you £8 for just two!

    Replacement wheels can seem like a major outlay but it can be a good thing if you wheels have had a good run. Servicing hubs/cone and freewheels can be expensive and a decent hand built Mavic wheel set (pair) can be found for under £120.

    If you have any hard to budge bolts a little squirt of fine penetrating lubricant will do the trick. Leave it for a few minutes and try again.

    Good tip about multi tools being for quick fixes – for things like Allen/Hex keys keep in mind that you don’t always have to buy from a bike shop/brand. Many decent tool makers do cheaper ones.

    A mechanic recently heartily recommended WeldTite TF2 Teflon spray lube for the drivetrain and cables. So far so good – requires slightly more frequent use than regular chain lube but cleans off a lot more easily and attracts less filth.

  3. zed 23/01/2014 at 1:19 pm #

    My everyday commuter has disc brakes, it solves the rim wear issue and has better stopping power.

  4. spoquey 23/01/2014 at 7:08 pm #

    I like to keep a £20 note in my toolkit for a taxi, for that one time when I puncture in the freezing, rainy cold and I just don’t feel up to repairing it. It is still there, unused, but makes me feel happy just in case.

    My second recommendation is never cycle more than a few minutes wearing a jewelled thong.

  5. SteveP 24/01/2014 at 5:39 pm #

    Be careful with allen keys with a “ball” end. These can be handy as they allow you to use them at a bit of an angle (water bottle cage bolts are often partly obstructed, for example). But putting too much pressure on the key at an angle can strip out the socket (technically, I think you “round off” a nut or bolt with flats). And make sure the key is seated completely – not just in a little bit. Maplin sells decent allen keys for £5 or so.

  6. Paul markham 25/01/2014 at 11:12 am #

    When we first moved from London to Cambridge area we had loads of floods(usual) oh boy what fun riding in deep STILL water.lubed the bearings at home.But should have stripped them down to do them properly ,or not gone though it in the first place. l use a fast road bike in the summer and mountain bike when its crap.Think l stood the bike up with water still inside.

  7. brianh 27/01/2014 at 3:47 pm #

    Nice article, but one bit of clarification: the limiter screws on a derailleur generally just need to be set once to control the movement of the derailleur towards and away from the centerline of the bike… once set, it is all about cable tension. Do not use those for adjustments! If the gear is rubbing or not quite jumping onto the next cog, put the screwdriver down, and just adjust the tension…

  8. Adam Jackson 12/02/2014 at 4:48 pm #

    Being a biker myself I have been experimenting and adding all necessities of a bike rider whether it is gloves, cycle lights UK, clothing or any other accessory. I believes and advises in enjoying bike riding safely and comfortably .

Leave a Reply