The urban bike magazine

Top 5 (DIY) bicycle maintenance tips for beginners

No one is born with comprehensive bicycle mechanic skills. That is something you have to learn by doing easy bicycle maintenance yourself, or more preferably by being taught by someone with experience.

Markus-Seppl-photo-Pekka-Rantakari_square
Markus Seppälä is an invasive species biologist who has lived in Helsinki all his life. He has a burning passion for anything and everything cycling related. He was former project manager and designer for Box Bike Helsinki.
Image © Youth Behind Bars/Markus Seppälä

Youth Behind Bars (later YBB) in Helsinki, Finland, is a bike shop working together with a non-profit NGO (KRIS Finland) programme for youth who in the past have had difficulties with narcotics abuse or other criminal behaviour. Some have already spent time in jail, so the teenagers are facing exclusion from the society’s grid.

YBB programme tries to help by having a highly professional mechanic teaching them a real profession doing bicycle maintenance. They also train their social skills and workplace ethics, with peer support, to help them finding new motivation and goals for their lives. Currently there are four youngsters learning and working at the shop, taking orders in and getting good feedback from the clients for a job well done. After opening their doors this spring they have had a steady flow of clients, probably due to their dirt-cheap pricing system.

Youth behind bars bike shop Helsinki

Image © Youth Behind Bars/Markus Seppälä

Top 5 (DIY) bicycle maintenance tips for beginners

I had a nice chat with Jokke, a highly trained mechanic who works for and is the founder of the programme. Together we have compiled a list of 5 basic and useful bicycle maintenance tips & tricks for the beginner mechanics out there. Keep these tips in mind, and you will get more out of your rides. Even better, you will save lots of money in the long run.

1.) Keep the drivetrain clean and lubricated, you save loads of money.

grease bike chain

Image © Youth Behind Bars/Markus Seppälä

Do you get annoyed when someone rides past you with loud rattling and squeaking sound coming from the chain and sprockets? Maybe the sound is coming from your bike? That is the not-so-sweet sound of metal rubbing against metal and grime and mud, because all lubrication has long since worn off. That is a really good way to go, if you want to shorten the life expectancy of your chain and sprockets.

It is not cheap to replace them, so save yourself some money by regularly cleaning and lubricating the drivetrain.

grease the bike chain

Image © Youth Behind Bars/Markus Seppälä

You will need disposable rags, bike oil, some degreaser product and maybe a used toothbrush and a flat headed screwdriver to pry off the larger gunks from the rear derailleurs jockey wheels and chainrings. Get all the dirt you possibly can get off the chains, sprockets and chainwheels. After everything is nice and clean, turn the cranks slowly backwards and simultaneously apply a drop of bike oil on the inside of every link on your chain.

The more often you clean and lube, the less time it takes every time you do it. Why not clean the frame and wheels while you’re at it?

2.) Keep your tires inflated!

air pressure in tyres

Image © Youth Behind Bars/Markus Seppälä

The most important thing, or at least in the top three, that have an effect on the quality of your bike ride is tire pressure. If the pressure is too low you have to work a lot more to keep the same speed than with proper high pressure. And you will get flats more easily, especially when hitting a curb hard. One of the most essential must-have tools you should own is a quality floor pump with pressure gauge. Check the suggested pressure from the side of your tires. The rear tire should have more pressure as it is taking more of the riders weight than the front. Make sure you check your tire pressure at least once every two weeks.

If you’re not going to ride your bike for a long time, like six months or a couple of years, try to remember to keep the tires inflated even during the pause. If this is not possible, take the tires off completely. By doing this you prevent cracks on the sides of the tires.

3.) Keep the nuts and bolts tight, but don’t overtighten them

DIY bicycle maintenance

Image © Youth Behind Bars/Markus Seppälä

Keep all the screws, bolts and nuts in your bike where they belong by checking regularly if they are loose. It is annoying if you loose the screw holding your mudguards in place and having to listen that rattling and banging sound all the way home. Note that with some of the newer bikes the parts have the maximum torque limit written on them and you can buy tools that apply only a specified amount of torque. When you are buying a new bike, ask your bike shop to give you a bag of spare nuts and bolts. You should get them for free, because they are dirt cheap.

4.) Make sure your brakes are adjusted correctly, check and change brake pads if necessary

fixing brakes bicycle maintainance

Image © Youth Behind Bars/Markus Seppälä

If you like to drive fast , you’d better make sure you stop effectively when needed. If you have to pull the brake lever until it touches the handlebar and still almost nothing happens, you have to adjust the brake pads closer to the rim (or your disc).

You can do this by tightening the adjusting barrel (if your brakes have one) in the brake lever or the brake arm end. Tightening the screw moves the pads closer to the rim (or disc). You may also need to unscrew the bolt holding the wire, tighten the wire and then screw the bolt back on. Before tightening the bolt again, twist the adjuster holding the wire and the wire housing to the loosest setting. This way you have more room to adjust the brakes.

It is also important to keep both the pads and the braking surface clean from dirt and oil. Dirty pads wear out themselves and the braking surface substantially faster.

5.) Learn how to fix a flat tube

changing the tube

Image © Fanny Schertzer [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

You probably guessed that fixing a flat tire would make the list? You were right. Youtube has tons of good videos in all languages guiding you how to prepare, glue the patch on and remount the tire. If you start getting many flats with the same wheel, check your tire and the inside of the rim for sharp objects or protruding spoke.

First check a video on how to remove a tire from the rim and how to put it back on. You will need two plastic tire levers and some patience. You will get better.

So, there you are. Master these five skills and practice them often. As a result, and I promise you, your rides will become more enjoyable, not to mention safer.

If you have a very tight time schedule, let your local bike shop do it for you. I just did that and took two of my bikes to YBB, and I was more than happy with the result. In conclusion: take care of your bike and it will take care of you. Enjoy your rides.

Image © Youth Behind Bars/Markus Seppälä, Fanny Schertzer on Wikimedia Commons

Markus-Seppl-photo-Pekka-Rantakari_square
Markus Seppälä is an invasive species biologist who has lived in Helsinki all his life. He has a burning passion for anything and everything cycling related. He was former project manager and designer for Box Bike Helsinki.

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Comments
  • Jenna Hunter

    My cousin really likes to ride her bike. If it ever got really damaged it would be really nice to get it repaired by a professional. I like what you said about how to fire a bike tire.

    Reply
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