As bike owners, we need to learn to take care of our bikes. That doesn’t simply mean taking your bike to the local bike shop for every issue you face. It’s better to have the basic know-how to work on your bike by yourself. We’re going to take you through what we think are the top 5 bike mechanic skills that any bike owner should know.
1. DRIVETRAIN MAINTENANCE
The drivetrain on your bike is a very important group of components. Crisp, smooth and reliable shifting is what everyone desires. Keeping your bike performing optimally isn’t a tough job but requires some basic technical knowledge.
Apart from keeping your chain & cassette clean you also might need to ocassionally work with your gear cables and make minor adjustments.
CLEANING & LUBING
- Lean your bike against a wall in an area where the ground can get dirty (preferably use a bike stand).
- Clean off your chain with an old rag and a drivetrain degreaser by gently grabbing the bottom section of your chain and back pedaling.
- After you have cleaned off your chain apply a gentle stream of your favorite lube (we personally use a Dry Lube) on that bottom section of your chain again while backpedaling 1 full link to link rotation.
- Let the lube soak in for a while and then wipe off the access with a clean section of your rag. The goal of lubing your chain is to penetrate the rollers inside, and not bathe the chain in lube.
- Your chain should have a nice silvery glisten to it, but never drippy or squeaking.
While electronic groupsets are gaining traction in the market, a majority of bikes still have cable operated derailleurs. These cables work under tension, and understanding this tension is key to having reliable shifting.
To fine tune your shifting you are going to use the barrel adjusters on your bike. They are usually placed under your downtube. These adjusters will enable you to instantly increase or decrease tension on a cable.
- The front derailleur pulls the opposite of the rear and moves much further between shifts.
- If your front derailleur is not shifting smoothly to a larger gear, turn the cable adjuster that is connected to the cable from your left shifter anticlockwise 1/8 – 1/4 of a turn at a time.
- Turn the barrel adjuster clockwise the same amount if it isn’t shifting to a smaller gear.
- Repeat the steps above until the shifts are timely and crisp.
- Use the barrel adjuster at the rear derailleur to make micro-adjustments to your shifting.
- If your chain is not shifting to smaller cogs smoothly, turn the barrel adjuster clockwise 1/8 of a turn at a time.
- Test the shifting after each turn.
- If the shifting is slow to the larger cogs then turn the barrel adjuster anticlockwise 1/8 of a turn at a time.
- Test until smooth.
2. FIX A FLAT
This is an absolutely essential biker skill. A puncture is something you just cannot avoid – it will happen to you sooner or later.
The great thing about punctures is that they’re super easy to fix. After a bit of practice you’ll be able to mend a tube in less than 10-15 minutes. That being said, the hardest part of a puncture fix is finding the culprit.
TOP TIP – Always properly inflate your tires to recommenced specifications (mentioned on tire sidewall). This will go a long way in preventing punctures.
Your best bet is to carry a spare tube in case the puncture is too big or the tube is completely unusable.
- Use the sandpaper in your patch kit to create an abrasive surface (about the size of the patch) on the tube at the point where you will place the patch.
- Apply a layer of rubber cement, and let it drive for about 5 minutes.
- Place the patch over the cement and apply pressure for a few minutes.
- Put the tube back in the tire.
- Put the tire back on the wheel.
- Put the wheel back on the bike
- Fill up the tube to the specified pressure on the sidewall of the tire
For a more detailed writeup on how to fix a flat read our blog post on HOW TO FIX A FLAT
3. BRAKE ADJUSTMENT
Brake adjustment is similar to setting up your derailleur but even easier. if your brake pads are worn out then you’re definitely going to need to change them.
Read our blog post on brake maintenance and how to find out if your brakes are worn out – DIY HOME MECHANIC SERIES – BRAKE MAINTENANCE
So why do you need to adjust your brakes before they’re completely worn out? Over the course of many hundreds of kilometers , your brake pads will wear down and you’ll want to pull in the pads so that you have that nice firm braking modulation.
- To add tension to the brake cable, simply turn the barrel adjuster on the brake caliper ¼ turn at a time.
- If your brakes feel too tight, turn the adjuster clockwise ¼ of a turn at a time.
The above steps are for the common road bike with mechanical rim brakes. In case you have some other sort of braking system, refer to the DIY Brake Maintenance guide linked above.
4. BOLT CHECK
The last thing you want is something coming undone on your bike leading to a crash. Your bike goes through a lot of vibration, forces and impacts that can loosen bolts and make parts rattle, slip or break. Usually a loose part will be evident as it will move around or make sounds.
Simply checking that each bolt is snug and doesn’t turn very easily is a good rule of thumb. Brake and shift cables also periodically need tightening like mentioned above.
As you ride, pay attention to your shifting and braking. Watch for changes that will alert you to make a quick post-ride adjustment, then tighten where necessary.
5. WRAPPING BARTAPE
Granted, this isn’t the easiest DIY skill to master or learn but is definitely very handy. Knowing how to bartape well is a skill that requires some practice.
It is a relatively simple procedure but there is a right way and a wrong way to do it – which if you’ve tried out on some top end tape could be an expensive affair.
Watch the video below by Park Tool to understand fully how to wrap your handlebars.
- To start, people prefer a centimeter or two of tape overlapping the end.
- As for the wrapping process, uniformity is key – you can wrap ‘inwards’ towards the frame or ‘outwards’ away from it, but make sure it is the same on both sides. Keeping the overlap approximately half the width of the tape is what we recommend.
- Just before finishing, cut the tape in half (on the side closest to the stem), to ensure the width is narrow enough to be concealed by finishing tape.
- Finishing tape or, electrical tape should be used to finish the wrap – just a couple of revolutions will do, before finally plugging in the bar end caps.
These are the top 5 essential DIY mechinical skills we think you should definitely know. Let us know what you thought about these and if there’s anything we may have left out.
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WHAT I LOVE ABOUT CYCLING
I’m an avid mountain biker and I like riding fast and flowy singletrack. As I keep riding, I continuously work on honing my riding skills. I like to ride whenever possible, especially with friends. I also like to influence folk into getting to ride more often.
Working on bicycles has also been a keen interest of mine for quite some time.
DISCIPLINE: Mountain biking and Road biking
CURRENT BIKE: Merida One Twenty 9.600 & Specialized Allez Elite DSW
DREAM BIKE: Santa Cruz 5010