How To Keep Your Bicycle In Shape

Bicycles often end up neglected in the garage, especially as winter approaches. But with daylight saving finished, a morning ride is a much more realistic prospect. Before you saddle up, you need to check a few things and make sure your bicycle is safe and won’t crumble beneath you. It’s not hard and in most cases only takes a couple of minutes. Here’s what you need to do.

Title photos by Rudi Riet.

The Tools You Need

Standard bike maintenance is easy but you still need a few tools and materials on hand. Chances are you already have most of them, but here’s a list of what you’ll need, just in case.

  • A multi-tool or set of allen keys
  • Chain lube
  • Adjustable spanner
  • Bicycle pump
  • Rag

Do the ABC Check on Bikes that Have Been Indoors

If you have the space to store your bicycle indoors, the process of getting it ready for a ride comes down to a simple three-part, ABC checklist endorsed by the League of American Bicylists: air, brakes, and cranks, chain and cassette. You can get your bike in riding order in under five minutes.

Check The Air In The Tyres

The first thing to check on your bike is the air in the tyres; unless you live in a sealed tube of some kind, they will deflate over time. If you push on the tyre and don’t feel resistance then you need to pump your tyre up. All bicycle tubes and tyres have a different maximum PSI and you can usually check the sidewall of the tyre itself to see what the recommended pressure is.

If it doesn’t, you can estimate it based on what type of bike it is. Road bikes with skinny tures are usually between 100-120 PSI, commuter bikes with fatter wheels are typically 60-80 PSI, and mountain bike tyres are usually between 35-60 PSI.

Check the Brakes

Once you pump up the tyres the next step is to test out your brakes. Having a set of functional brakes is important for your safety; hey’re simple to check and replace yourself.

The first thing you need to do is squeeze your brake levers. If you can squeeze your lever all the way to the handlebars then the brake is too loose or the brake pads are worn out. Depending on the type of brakes you have you can usually make an adjustment on the brake itself to close it in a little and make it tighter. If you need to, adjust the brakes by following the instructions in the video above.

As a general rule the brake pad should have at least half a centimetre of the brake pad left. If it’s worn below that, pick up replacement pads before you go riding off.

Check Your Cranks, Chain, and Cassette

The final check you need to make is on your bike’s drive train. This includes the three C’s, the cranks, chain, and cassette. If you left your bike in good working shape at the end of the season last year all you need to do is flip the bike over and spin the cranks and see what happens. Cycle through your gears and make sure they’re shifting properly. If not, you might need to make a few minor adjustments following the video above.

Once that’s done it’s time to clean and lube your chain. Take a quick look to make sure the chain didn’t get too rusted and then wipe the chain down with a rag. Once you’re done, apply the lube to the chain. It’s also worth dropping a dab of lubricant anywhere on the derailleur (the part that shifts gears) that moves.

Finally, give the bike a once-over and check all your various moving parts. Make sure the handlebars, wheels, saddle, pedals, and any other moving parts are secure. If not, tighten them up and you’re good to go.

Of course, it’s not a perfect world and many people have to leave their bikes outdoors. Let’s take a look at a few extra steps you might need to take to bring that bike back to life.

Revitalise the Bike You Left Out in the Elements

First off, follow the steps above. If your bike looks and feels good then you’re done, but if it feels a little off then you’ll need to check on a few things.

Check for Rust

Rust causes problems on a bicycle, but it’s not as bad as you might think. First off, check the bike for rust. Chances are, you have a few spots where rust is forming on screws or bolts. Take your multi-tool (or allen keys) and check each of those bolts to make sure they’re not on the verge of breaking. If you want to you can take a little WD-40 and clean the rust off with the abrasive side of a sponge.

Lubricate, Lubricate, Lubricate

The main problem with leaving a bike outside that won’t be solved by the ABC check is moving parts drying out because of an excess of water. Water is not good for a bike and when it’s combined with dry air it manages to strip out the lubricants that keep the inside of your bike moving smoothly. In most cases the problem lies in one of four areas: the pedals, seatpost, headset (where the handlebars attach to the bike), and the cranks.

These are the parts that get the most stress from you and if you’re hearing squeaking sounds when you pedal, turn, or climb a hill, it’s probably coming from one of these four places. Grab yourself some waterproof grease and get ready to rub down every possible spinning part you can find. For pedals, a standard adjustable spanner will get them off, but headsets and cranks might require special tools.

In a lot of cases, this will fix the bulk of the problems that come from leaving a bike outside. If it doesn’t then you need to get inside all those spinning parts. Inside your bottom bracket (where the cranks are attached on the inside of the bike) and the headset is a set of ball bearings. When they dry out it makes turning difficult. It’s not a universal part and every headset and crank is different. Headsets are usually pretty straight-forward as are many types of bottom brackets.

Keep it in Better Shape

After all this, you’re going to take better care of your bike, right? Good thing it’s easy to do. Here’s a quick checklist of what you need to do to keep the bike in shape for next year.

  • Store it away from the elements: You don’t need space indoors to store your bike. The main cause of damage is water, not cold air. Throw a tarp over it or provide it a little shelter from the rain.
  • Keep those tyres pumped up: Keep your tyres at the correct PSI while you’re riding, but also pump them up before you drop it in storage. It might seem counter-intuitive since it’ll inevitably lose air over time, but having air in the tyres keeps them from developing flat spots.
  • Lube it up and shift it down: Unless you’re a fan of obnoxious squeaking sounds, you should keep your bike chain greased with lubricant all the time. Doing so before putting it in storage is good because it helps keep rust from forming on the chain. While you’re doing that, drop your gears as low as they’ll go so the chain is as loose as possible. This removes the tension and helps ensure a good working chain next season.

That’s it! Depending on how bad of shape your bike was in, you can hit the road in anywhere between five minutes and hour. Have any tips of your own for good bike maintenance? Share them in the comments.

The Cheapest NBN 50 Plans

Here are the cheapest plans available for Australia’s most popular NBN speed tier.

At Lifehacker, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.


7 responses to “How To Keep Your Bicycle In Shape”

Leave a Reply