Three simple fixes that will make your bike riding more of a pleasure

Picture this: you are cycling along on your bike and you can hear funny noises coming near the chain. As you are wondering what is going on you come to an intersection and need to slow down. You hit the brakes and you hear a terrible sound like metal grinding on the bike wheel. After checking that no cars are coming you put your feet on the pedals but it takes way too much effort to get the bike going. You reach your destination feeling tired, sweaty and angry at your bike.

This situation is an absolutely nightmare but it doesn’t have to be. With a few simple repairs a bike can once again be a pleasure to ride like the first day it left the bike shop.  Whilst this may not be of interest to my more advanced readers, for those beginners out there (which we have all been at some point) take a look at these common repairs and start enjoying your bike once more!

1. Worn brake pads

That horrible metal on metal grinding sound you can hear when you hit your brakes is a sign that the brake pads are worn. Repairing it will result in better breaking and no annoying sounds.

Worn out brake pads vs new brake pads

You can see the worn out brake pad on the left as opposed to the new one on the right where the grooves are still visible. Image courtesy of Bike Gallery.

What you will need to fix this:

  • New brake pads – these are very cheap and can be purchased from your local bike shop or somewhere like Wiggle Online Shop, Evans Cycles or Amazon. Just pick up a pair similar to what is already on your bike.
  • Allen key or screwdriver depending on your bike

Whilst this process will vary for different types of brakes the general process is to use the existing brake pads as a guide to installing the new ones. Use your allen key to loosen the bolt and remove the break pad off whilst retaining the order of the washers. After replacing the new brake pad make sure it aligns with the rim of the bike when the brake is pressed and that it does not touch the tyre. Videojug provides a good explanation in this video:

Read more about brake pad repair on: Jim Langley or Bicycle Tutor

2. Flat tyres (Or tires!)

A bicycle tyre may simply be flat because the bike has not been used for ages. In that case all you have to do is to pump it up. Your bike will either have a Presta valve or a Schrader valve. Most bike pumps will include both. It is important to keep a bike tyre fully pumped up as it reduces the amount of effort it takes to cycle. You should pump up a tyre to the point of which you can no longer press it far down with the palm of your hand.

To repair a flat tyre you will need:

You may choose to use a puncture repair kit if its just a single hole and the inner tube is fairly new. You need to be able to remove the bicycle wheel. This is easy to do for the front tyre but slightly harder on the back one. Once you have done this, simply pump up the inner tube and listen around the edges for hissing sounds. You should also be able to feel this against your lips. If you can’t hear it then you will need to place it in water.

To read more about flat tyres check out: BBC article or Jim Langley.

3. Wobbly wheels

It is inevitable that a new bike will eventually get wobbly wheels. This happens when you hit something on the road such as a pothole and the rim becomes slightly bent. By repairing wobbly wheels you get a smoother ride and therefore less effort is put into pedalling. I have written about the solution to this previously in: truing a bicycle wheel.

Bonus: badly adjusted seating position

Many people I see riding their bikes have their seat in the incorrect position. By adjusting it to the optimal riding position you get more speed out of your bike for less effort. Additionally you minimise strain on the rear region as more strain is taken up by your legs. As a general rule of thumb you should be tip toeing on the ground when you are sitting on the bike seat.

Sheldon Brown recommends moving the height of the seat up one centimetre and trying it for a few days. If its fine then try and move it further up.

A lot more information can be found on the Sheldon Brown website.

This was the first post in a new monthly series on bicycle maintenance.

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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

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2 Responses to Three simple fixes that will make your bike riding more of a pleasure

  1. Andy 17/07/2009 at 8:09 am #

    It’s also a good idea to find the most comfortable saddle – numbness, soreness and irritation are common side-effects of riding. ECD has a new saddle that has a noseless design and this prevents the usual problems. One of the company’s founders decided to find a comfortable solution after suffering from numbness and chafing when getting ready to ride the London to Brighton ride with his young son. The ECD Seat was given a great review by Tom Kevill Davies, the Hungry Cyclist, who tested it on a road trip to Paris recently.

  2. Craig 07/11/2009 at 8:01 pm #

    Been riding my bike to work for a few months now, and I always felt it was harder than it should be, tried some of these simple methods and now it is working like a charm! Thankyou for this excellent post!

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