Bike parts and repairs don’t come cheap, so some home maintenance tips are always welcome. As technology improves and bicycles become more and more complex, the cost of repairing them continues to rise. Even the best road bikes fitted with the best road bike groupsets and the best road bike wheels will still see some wear over time.
A surprisingly large repair bill can dampen the joy of cycling, potentially preventing you from getting out on your bike until it’s fixed, and for some it can even be a barrier to entry in the first place. . Fortunately, help is at hand. Knowing how to perform minor home maintenance jobs can help keep your bike in good working order for longer and reduce the number of parts that need to be replaced when it comes time to have it serviced. Here are some home maintenance tips for regular checkups you can perform to keep your bike—and your wallet—happy.
Chain wear check
Bike chains are made up of metal plates, rollers and pins. In short, the pins hold the plates together and the rollers allow movement. This metal-to-metal action causes friction and with use these rollers begin to wear down inside the plates. After some wear, as the chain wraps around your chainring (front) or sprockets (rear), the degree to which the rollers can move no longer fits well around the teeth of the chainring. gear. This in turn causes the teeth to wear down, at different rates depending on a number of variables. This is often referred to as “chain stretching”, because the chain then essentially stretches under tension.
The suggested mileage for each chain differs slightly depending on the number of gears (the “speed” of the bike), brand, and the amount of maintenance you do, although the general rule of thumb is around 1,500 miles per chain. The thicker the chain, the longer it will take to wear out.
The higher the number of gears, the thinner and more susceptible to wear the chains become. To measure chain wear, you use a chain checker tool. They come in different shapes and sizes, and it’s best to always use the same string verifier to ensure consistent results. Manufacturers will provide instructions on how to use each tool, as methods vary slightly. The standard measurement for chain wear is:
For 10 speeds and less:
- 0.75 wear = new chain
- 1.0 wear = new chain + cassette
For 11 and 12 speeds:
- 0.5 wear = new chain
- 0.75 = new chain + cassette
By regularly checking your chain and replacing it when it wears out, you prolong the life of your cassette and can use up to 3 to 6 chains per cassette. Remember, the best way to make your chain last even longer is to keep it lubricated with the best bike chain lube and keep it free of dirt. We have a guide for How to clean a bicycle chain if it’s useful.
Checking brake pad wear
Like chains, brake pads wear out with use. The pads come into contact with a braking surface – either the rim of the wheel or a disc rotor – and this will also wear over time, but at a much slower rate, as the materials are designed to last longer. .
Rim brake pads are usually made of rubber or another soft compound, with an internal metal structure to provide rigidity. Or, they sometimes have a metal bracket to allow them to be attached to the brake caliper.
Disc brake pads have metal backing plates, to protect the pad as it is pushed by the brake pistons. If the brake pad wears out completely, then the metal component will begin to make contact with the braking surface. This will damage the rim or disc rotor (depending on the type of brake you are using) and, if left too long, can break the caliper itself, requiring all components to be replaced.
As such, it is essential to regularly check the remaining life of your brake pads and it is best to keep spares at home. Most rim brake pads will have a “wear indicator line”, which indicates the minimum thickness of the pads before they need to be replaced. A general rule for disc brake pads is not to let the pad sink below half the thickness of the metal backing. Shining a light into your disc brake caliper will make this much easier to see.
If you’re in the process of buying a bike and you don’t know which type of brake to choose, we have a complete guide for rim brakes vs disc brakes which should help.
Tire pressure check
Protecting your wheels isn’t just about taking care of your braking surface. Tire pressure (the amount of air in your tires) is crucial to protecting your wheels from impact while driving. Wheels consist of a rim, hub (the central body) and spokes, which use tension to connect the rim and hub together. Upon impact, the shape of the rim can change, becoming false (not straight). This puts more stress on some spokes than others, which can break them. The air in your tires acts as a shock absorber to protect the rims and ultimately provide you with a more comfortable driving experience.
Tire manufacturers will always provide a recommended PSI (air pressure) range. Run the tires at too low a pressure, and it will damage the wheels and tires (not to mention make you more vulnerable to flats). Mount the tires too high and they can burst. The best bike pumps have a PSI gauge, so you can properly inflate your tires.
Checking your tire pressure after a few rides or if the bike hasn’t been used for a while will help protect your components and prevent punctures. For more tire information, check out our list of the best road bike tires, and check out our article on when to replace bike tires and warning signs.
Keeping your bike clean is an essential part of maintenance and can extend the life of many of your components if done correctly. Dirty chains and cassettes increase friction in your drivetrain and accelerate wear on these parts. Leaving rain and mud on your bike can allow water to seep into the bearings, causing rust and damaging the bearings. Rust also builds up on cables (internal and external), affecting gears and braking, if any.
Once components have rusted, they will often need to be replaced to function properly again, combined with the labor costs to replace them. Although using the best pressure washers can be a quick way to clean your bike, if used at the wrong pressure or incorrectly they can strip grease from the inner bearing units accelerating rust and wear.
It is also essential to use the right cleaning products. Brands like Muc-Off produce bike-specific cleaning products designed to protect your bike and its components. Disc brake pads and rotors are particularly sensitive and can become contaminated if the wrong products are used. Oils and greases should be kept away from braking surfaces and excess chain lube should be wiped off with a rag. For more information on this, we have a full article on how to clean your bike.
With so many metal components, rust is the ultimate enemy of bike maintenance. As stated earlier, if your bike is not kept dry, the list of parts that will need to be replaced will continue to grow. Each moving part is driven by bearings, which seize up when left to the elements.
Not everyone has the luxury of being able to keep their bike indoors, and UK weather is known to be rather wet, so covering your bike is crucial. At the more affordable end of the spectrum, many brands offer waterproof bike covers, designed to fit around the frame and wheels. While not as good as indoor storage, they provide enough protection.
For those with more space, bike sheds are an option, with the added bonus that some can be fitted with locks for added security.
In summary, taking care of your bike can help cut costs significantly when servicing it, focusing on preventative measures and knowing what to look out for. Knowing more about your bike can also help you feel more in control and get you out of sticky situations if something goes wrong. For both new and experienced riders, regular maintenance can really help reduce those repair costs and keep your bike in good working order.