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
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
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
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
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?
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.