Basic Bike Maintenance | Cleaning, Lubing and Inspecting Your Bike

Basic Bicycle Maintenance boils down to cleaning, lubing, and inspecting. Keeping your bike clean and lubed makes all the systems work better, plus it looks nicer! For more advanced topics, like cable replacement, brake work, wheel truing etc, contact your local bike shop. 

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How To Clean Your Bike

Whether on-road or off, bikes inevitably get dirty! Just a wipe down with a dry or damp cloth after a ride can do a lot to keep your bike clean, but on occasion, a more thorough job is needed. To wash your bike, you’ll need: a bucket, some rags, a cleaner (dilute dish soap is fine, or use a dedicated bike wash product), clean water and a degreaser or solvent (for the really gummy parts) and a soft bristled brush. If you use a hose, use a spray rather than a jet, and don’t spray too much around bearing packs, including the bottom bracket (where the cranks go through the frame), hubs, or headset (where the fork attaches to the frame). If you have a suspended bike, try not to spray water at the seals where the shock pistons move. 

  • Clean your Drivetrain. Spray your chain with a cleaner/degreaser, and work on it with a rag. There are various chain cleaning gadgets that enable you to wash a chain without removing it from the bike, but a good wipe down with a rag and some solvent does a pretty good job, too. Wipe down the derailleur, and remove any gummy deposits from the pulleys on the derailleur cage. 
  • Wet your Bike. Give your bike an initial rinse; either with rags or a hose, to loosen caked on dirt. 
  • Wash your Bike Frame and Wheels.  Go from top to bottom, front to back, using a diluted soap or a dedicated product and the soft bristled brush. Use the brush to scrub the braking surfaces of your rims.
  • Rinse your Bike, being careful not to shoot high pressure water at bearing packs or shock seals.
  • Dry the Bike. Bounce the bike on the ground a couple of times, and then hand wipe the bike dry, starting with removing any excess water near shock seals. Apply a bike polish occasionally if you like. 
  • Lubricate. Lubricate your chain and other components as needed. 

How to Lubricate Your Bike

After you’ve cleaned it, and occasionally in any case, you should lubricate your bike. We strongly recommend that you use bicycle specific lubricants. 

  • Lube the Chain. Wipe your chain with a rag, then apply a thin bead of lube to it while turning the crank. DO NOT OVERDO IT! Too much lube will actually cause dirt to stick to the chain, making it gummy and grim. Spin the cranks a few times to work the lube in, and then wipe off excess lube. Frequency—after washing, or every third ride or so.
  • Lube the Derailleur. The moving parts of the derailleur, including the main body pivots and the pulleys should be occasionally lubricated.  Frequency-- after washing, or every other month.
  • Lube the Cables. If moisture gets inside your cable housings, it can cause rust that can interfere with shifting. Dripping a small amount of light weight lube into the housings prevents this problem. Frequency-- after washing, or twice a year.
  • Lube the Brake Pivots. A drop of lube at the points where your brakes pivot can help performance. Frequency--after washing, or twice a year.
  • Lube the Shifters. A drop of lube into the shifter mechanism can help performance. ONLY USE A BIKE SPECIFIC LUBE FOR SHIFTERS—there can be some delicate parts in the shifters that some automotive lubes can compromise. Frequency-- after washing, or twice a year.

Always make sure you wipe off excess lube or lube that found its way onto surfaces that shouldn’t be lubed—like braking surfaces. 

How to Inspect Your Bike

The process of cleaning and lubricating your bicycle is also the opportunity to inspect your bike for problems that may require more attention.

  • Inspect the Controls. Handlebars straight? Shifters and brakes not rotating on bars? No broken or bent parts? Bar tape and grip condition?
  • Inspect the Frame. Any small cracks or evidence of paint flaking off at frame joints or welds are indications of possible problems.  Dents? Any dent that is more than a millimeter or two deep should be inspected by a pro. Any visible cracks in a frame mean the bicycle should not be ridden. 
  • Inspect the Wheels. Spin the wheels—do they rotate straight and true, or are there warps? Is the wheel round, or does it have a “flat spot” or other deformation in the rim? If your wheels are not round or have warps, see a bike shop.
  • Inspect the Bearing Packs

Headset: (the bearings between the handlebars and the fork) holding the front brake, gently push your bike forward and backwards. If you feel any clunking or looseness in the assembly, see a shop.

Wheel Hub Bearings: grasp the wheel and move it from side to side (not rotating it). If you feel any clunking or looseness in the assembly, see a shop. 

Bottom Bracket: grasp the cranks and move them from side to side (not rotating them). If you feel any clunking or looseness in the assembly, see a shop.

  • Inspect Your Brakes. If you have rim brakes, make sure that the brake pads are centered on the braking surface of the rim, and not touching the tire. Brake pads should be flat and evenly worn.  If your brake pads are getting worn out (indicated by there being less than 4mm of surface between the contact point and the mount of the brake pad, or by the inability to see the slots in the pads).  Squealing brakes are usually the result of unclean braking surfaces or the pads not being “toed in” (ie. the rear of the pad makes contact before the front of the pad).  If your brake levers can reach your handlebars, they are too loose—and this is often a sign of worn pads or a slipped cable. 

For more help with maintenance, take a trip to one of our member bike shops.