You probably already know that if you wait until something is grinding, creaking, or coming loose, it’s time to head to the shop right away for some bike repairs. However, by being proactive with regular maintenance, you can forestall unexpected emergencies and potentially pricey component replacements.
This post will help you determine the timeframe for different types of regular maintenance services. Keep in mind that these are suggested intervals based on the average rider. If you’re a daily commuter, or use your bike heavily for other reasons, you’ll need to adjust the frequency of repairs to match your needs.
Below, you will find our recommendations for bike repairs and inspections that should be done:
Annual Bike Repairs
Most bicycles require some sort of annual maintenance routine to ensure proper functioning, preserving the life of the components, and rider safety.
Most casual riders wait until the beginning of spring riding season to start thinking about bike repairs. This seems reasonable, but you may find that shop turn-around times are quite a bit longer, since bike service departments are all dealing with the spring rush.
Instead, consider late fall or winter as the perfect time to get major bike repairs done. Your local bike shop will be far less busy, so the staff can shower your bike with attention, and give you very quick turn-around. Some shops (ours included) may even be able to store your bike if you don’t plan to use it in winter. All you will have left to do when warmer weather rolls around is check the tire pressure, and be ready to ride.
The level of annual maintenance required will of course depend on how much the bike is getting used. On heavily used bikes, some services recommended may have to be done more than once a year. On a typical bike used for recreation and moderate commuting, major service done annually is probably sufficient.
- Comprehensive Tune-Up or Overhaul
All bikes can benefit from an annual inspection and thorough going over by a professional mechanic. A complete Tune-Up will not only address any shifting or braking problems you might be experiencing, it will also help forestall issues that may not be evident yet (including serious safety issues, such as compromised frame or wheel integrity), as virtually every system on your bike will be inspected and serviced.
An Overhaul –during which all parts are stripped off the bike to be thoroughly cleaned or replaced– will literally breathe new life into your bike.
It’s also a great opportunity for you to park your elbows on the repair counter (especially if you arrive off-season), and chat with the mechanic about possible upgrades or making modifications to adjust the bike to your riding style. You can significantly alter your existing bike’s personality by changing the handlebar, switching the saddle, adjusting gear ratios or upgrading your tires.
- Drivetrain replacement
The drivetrain is what makes your bike go, and it basically includes everything that comes in contact with the bike chain. The chain is quite literally the conduit through which your human power is transferred to the moving parts of the bike, propelling you forward with much more efficiency than your feet could carry you.
The chain is put through a tremendous amount of force on every ride you take, and it does stretch over time, meaning that the connections between each of its links becomes slightly elongated. As that happens, the chain causes wear on all of its drivetrain friends, including the cogs of the rear cassette and the front chainrings. Eventually, these parts can wear to the point where they no longer function. When you hear the annoying tick-tick-tick, or other rattling noises, in response to clicking your shift levers, that may be your drivetrain telling you it’s no longer up to the task.
Replacing the chain annually will help prolong the lifespan of the other components, and, if you’re a heavy-duty rider, this is also probably a good time to replace or upgrade other drivetrain components.
We typically attend to drivetrain replacement as part of our top-level tune up, or, if your bike does not require drivetrain replacement, we treat all those parts to a nice long bath in the sonic cleaner to make sure they’re squeaky clean, before reinstalling them on the bike and re-lubricating.
- Cable Replacement
Brakes and shifting systems use stainless steel cables in lined housing that should both be replaced at least annually. Though a tune-up will usually cover brake and gear adjustments, installing new cables may be overlooked if they don’t appear to be obviously frayed or corroded. However, even stainless cables can become gummed up and sticky inside the housing, and replacing them will greatly improve the responsiveness of the shifting and braking.
- Brake Pad Replacement
Both rim and disk brake pads should be replaced at least annually (or more often, depending on your bike usage). Worn brake pads will not only compromise your stopping ability, in the case of rim brakes, they can badly damage your wheels and create the need for much more expensive bike repairs. Similarly, worn disk brake pads can wear out the rotors, also adding unnecessary cost prematurely.
- Rubber Inspection or Replacement
Quality bicycle tires should last over a year with normal use, however it’s a good idea to inspect them thoroughly during your annual service. If they are borderline, you’ll generally save money on installation if you replace them during a tune-up. Even if the tires are not overly worn, this is a good opportunity to upgrade to puncture-resistant tires, or a set more suitable to your current style of riding.
Take a look at the “touchpoints” on your bike: saddle, handlebar and grips or tape, and pedals. They may be worn, slipping, or perhaps are not offering as much comfort as they could. If you’d like to change the feel of your bike, and adjust your positioning, talk to your mechanic about different saddle options and saddle positioning, using gel bar tape or ergonomic grips, and even adjusting the height of your stem or handlebars for a more dialed-in fit. Similarly, if your pedals are worn or not offering secure grip, you can explore different options, including adding toe clips or changing to clip-in pedals.
The annual service is a chance not only to breathe new life into your bike, but also to use your riding experience of the past year to alter your bike to reflect your current riding needs.
Quarterly or Seasonal Bike Repairs
Seasonal bike repairs can address specific areas of bike maintenance for the average rider. The timing of such services also allows the rider to adapt the bike to seasonally different riding conditions. This may be optional for fair-weather and recreational riders, but is a must for riders who depend on their bikes for daily and year-round transportation.
- Drivetrain Cleaning
The drivetrain basically includes everything that comes in contact with the bike chain, as described above. Because all these moving parts are exposed, they constantly pick up road dirt and grit, which can act like sandpaper on all the moving components. Even the relatively harmless debris your drivetrain will pick up on dry and sunny days can accumulate over time, but winter grime can wreak complete havoc.
In order to remove that residue, the drivetrain has to be periodically thoroughly cleaned, degreased and treated with a new coating of chain lubricant.
Daily riders may need the drivetrain cleaned on a monthly basis, and those who ride in winter on salted roads may need to do it more frequently. (See also DIY drivetrain maintenance.)
- Brake Pad Inspection
Both rim and disk brake pads should be replaced at least annually, but for daily commuters, seasonal inspection is a must. Worn brake pads will not only compromise your stopping ability, but –as mentioned above– they can badly damage your other components and create the need for much more expensive repair.
- Cable Inspection/Replacement
Brakes and shifting systems use stainless steel cables that should be replaced at least annually. However, it’s not a bad idea to have the cable inspected for fraying and corrosion seasonally, and replaced as needed. Frayed cables can slip or snap unexpectedly, causing the bike to suddenly lose the ability to change gears, or to stop.
- Tire Replacement
If you use your bike during different seasons of the year, you may choose to swap your tires to adjust to different road conditions. Winter riders often run very heavy duty tires (or even studded tires) for more puncture resistance and better handling on sloppy, icy roads.
In warmer months, those tires may be unnecessarily wide or heavy. You can lighten up your bike and make it feel more zippy by installing lighter weight tires, or switch to tires that can handle longer summertime tours or competitive events, if that’s part of your plan.
Weekly Bike Repairs
While the above two sections covered bike repairs that should be performed by a skilled mechanic, this and the next section go over some simple DIY bike maintenance steps you can do on your own at home. These will help your bike function well, prolong the life of the components, and even prevent flats!
- Inflate the Tires
The number-one cause of flats is riding on underinflated tires.
Bicycle tires naturally lose a little bit of air over time, and need to be re-inflated on roughly a weekly basis (more or less, depending on type of tire). Keeping your tires at correct inflation is relatively simple, but please don’t feel bad if you find it intimidating. You’re definitely not alone. Here’s everything you need to know about putting air in your tires.
- Oil the Chain
If you are starting with a new (or newly-cleaned) chain, the best chain lubricants on the market today make frequent, thorough (and messy!) degreasing completely unnecessary, and even detrimental. With repeated use, these lubricants form a slippery polymer coating on the chain which repels moisture and dirt. Regular reapplication of the lubricant will both clean and lubricate the chain.
Begin by applying a drop of lubricant to each link, and turn the cranks until all links have been oiled. Next, hold the chain through a rag with your left hand while turning the cranks backward several revolutions with your right hand. If your chain looks very dirty, you may have to repeat this whole procedure. Then go ride. That’s all.
NOTE: It’s vitally important to use a lubricant formulated for use on a bicycle chain (not household oil, WD40, or motor oil). Our preferred lube at Cosmic Bikes is Dumonde Tech bicycle chain lubricant, which we affectionately refer to as “tune-up in a bottle”, but any bike-specific oil will do the job.
- Rim/Rotor and Frame Cleaning
Dirt and road residue which build up on the braking surfaces of rims can affect the stopping power of rim brakes, and cause excessive wear on the rims. You can easily clean those rim surfaces by dabbing isopropyl alcohol on a rag, and wiping them down. While you do this, inspect the condition and wear of the brake pads. If they are unevenly worn, have ridges, and especially if they are worn through to the metal, it’s time to have them replaced.
Disk brake rotors can also be cleaned by gently rubbing with alcohol. Disk brake pads are not easy to inspect on your own, so make sure to take your bike to the shop for regular seasonal service.
If the bike frame needs cleaning, you can use specially formulated bike polish, which (like car polish) will both clean and protect the finish, or simply wipe it down with a wrung out cloth dipped in soapy water.
- Basic Safety Check
On a weekly basis, you should assess the condition of your bike, and spot any problems before they can cause any real harm. Here’s how to do a weekly bike safety check. If your inspection reveals anything that makes you uneasy, stop by Cosmic Bikes (or your local shop) for an evaluation by a mechanic. Many problems can be addressed with a simple and inexpensive adjustments.
Check these every time you ride
Having a regular maintenance schedule for your bike repairs is ideal, but —let’s face it— few of us adhere to schedules religiously, and many people feel the same way about bringing their bike in for maintenance as they feel about going to the dentist. However, there are a few things you really MUST check before each and every time you get on your bike.
If you park your bike in a public place, it is critically important that you check for secure attachment of the components before riding. We have seen countless instances of would-be thieves or vandals loosening various parts on parked bikes. Specifically, check the following before you ride:
- Check for secure wheel attachment. If you have bolt-on wheels, make sure the axle nuts are nice and tight. In case of quick-release wheels, check to see that they are tight and in closed position. If you’re not sure, here’s information on quick release operation.
- Verify secure attachment of components. Test the following for any looseness or missing hardware.
- Handlebar and stem (neck) bolts.
- Saddle and seatpost. Make sure the seatpost binder has not been removed. Check under the saddle to see if it’s properly attached.
- Crank arms and pedals. Try to move the cranks and pedals with your hand checking for any looseness.
- Verify the attachment of brakes. Check for secure attachment of brake levers and braking mechanism. Check that the brake pads have not been removed. REALLY.
- Test brake function. Straddling the bike, squeeze the brake levers and try to roll the bike forward. If it rolls, or if brake levers bottom out against the handlebars before the brakes engage, it’s time to get your brakes adjusted. If not, take a quick look at the brake pads while spinning the wheel. Look and listen for any rubbing.
If the brake pads rub the rubber tire, they require immediate adjustment, or you could get a blow-out. If they rub the rim (or the rotor, in case of disk brakes), it’s not as urgent, but you should get the bike to the mechanic as soon as practical.
- Check air pressure in the tires. If you have skinny road tires, you should use a gauge. Most other tires can be assessed by feel. Nothing contributes to flats more than riding on underinflated tires. Check them regularly, and fill’em up as needed.
Ideally, you shouldn’t wait until the last minute, or until something is actually broken. Planning your bike repairs on a somewhat predictable schedule will not only keep your bike in great shape over many seasons, but may actually save you money in the long run.
And –especially if your bike is your transportation– it will help you ride safely, efficiently and arrive on time.