Basic Bicycle Maintenance: Keep Your Bike Operating Safely

Bicycle maintenance is not just about keeping your bike clean and shiny for all to see. Properly maintaining your bike is as important as rider safety. From cleaning and inspecting to tightening and lubricating your bicycle parts, it’s imperative that you care for your bike as if it’s the last one you’re ever going to buy. Because face it, bicycles aren’t cheap. We’ll show you how to take care of your investment.

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Basic Bicycle Maintenance Tips: Keep Your Bike Operating Safely

Clean your bicycle

Basic Bicycle Maintenance Tips - Cleaning Your Bicycle
Dry clean your bike between washes helps keep dirt, dust & pollen off your bike. Always On Liberty©

Keeping your bike clean is an integral part of your bicycle maintenance. By committing to regular bike cleaning will help ensure your bicycle and all its’ mechanical components work properly. 

Dry cleaning your bicycle

If you don’t have time to give your bike a proper bath, you should still at least give it a good dusting and wipe down before putting it away.

On dry days, we give our ebikes a good dry wipe down using a soft, non-abrasive cleaning glove and a waterless wash. The reason for using a glove as opposed to a wash mitt, is you can access hard-to-reach places. They’re great or getting between spokes too.

Since we trust Aero Cosmetics products for our RV and Jeep, we’ve found they’re also perfect to use to dry clean our Boogie Bikes.

To clean your bike’s mechanical components, detailing brushes are great for getting dust and dirt out of those hard to reach places.

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Wet washing your bicycle

There’s going to be times when dry cleaning your bike won’t be enough. Especially after a few dry rides or riding your bike through rain, puddles, mud and dirt trails, it’s imperative to give your bike a good cleaning.

We use a high quality wet wash and bike cleaning glove that lifts and scrubs away tough dirt, road grime, oil, and bugs from all surfaces of your bicycle.

For extra hard-to-reach tiny places, we’ll use soft detailing brushes to get between wheel spokes, in between the gears and sprockets and even the bicycle chain itself. Never use any wire or hard bristle brushes on your bicycle.

Make sure you wash your bicycle detailing cloths and brushes out and allow them to dry thoroughly for your next bicycle cleaning detail. 

It’s equally important to throughly dry your bike using a clean, nonabrasive, high-absorbency drying cloth.

Avoid using cheap bath towels as they are rough and can scratch your paint, chrome and soft plastics. Also, any cloth that has loops will catch on screws, gears and sprockets, etc.

Make certain all bicycle components and mechanical parts are completely dry to alleviate calcium or lime scale deposits and to prevent rust.

I highly discourage using a leaf blower as that will only blow dust, dirt and debris everywhere you don’t want it to go.

Basic Bicycle Maintenance Tips - Cleaning Bicycle White Wall Tires
Cleaning white wall tires keeps your bike looking great. Always On Liberty©

Now, for those with white wall tires, we learned a little cleaning trick from the professionals at Boogie Bikes

Mix 1/2 isopropyl alcohol with 1/2 diluted water in a small bottle. Dampen a clean cloth with the alcohol solution and wipe all of the white walls. They’ll come out looking bright white again.

Inspect your bicycle

Basic Bicycle Maintenance - Inspecting Front Disc Brake
Adjust the front brake pads. Always On Liberty©

After cleaning your bike thoroughly, this is a good time to get your glasses on and inspect all mechanical features on your bicycle. Regular bike inspections will help prevent avoidable accidents and unnecessary wear and tear on your ride.

Always keep a keen eye on your tires. Constantly check for damage such as rubs or abrasions, cuts or slices or debris that may cause punctures.

Also, check to make sure your tires are properly inflated. Each bicycle tire manufacturer posts their PSI requirements on the tire sidewalls.

You’ll want to check your disc brakes. And those bicycles with brake shoes, make sure the brake pads aren’t showing signs of wearing down. Ensure nothing is impeding proper braking and that the cable is properly attached.

Take a look at your gear and shift mechanisms. Of course, both of those will need to be tested while you’re riding but it’s still part of your bike maintenance and  inspection process.

Take special notice too your bicycle chain and cassette. They can stretch out or rust if you ignore them.

Pay attention to the frame. Look at welds and the metal itself to ensure there’s no cracking or pitting.

If your bicycle came with touch up paint, lightly dab  some on any immediate chips in the paint. Otherwise, you can use clear fingernail polish to seal the paint so corrosion or rust doesn’t get underneath the paint.

Tools for basic bicycle maintenance

Basic Bicycle Maintenance Tips - Tighten Pedals
Tighten the bike pedals. Always On Liberty©

Some of your bicycle components will loosen through time and use. So, you’ll need a couple basic bicycle repair tools that you should always keep in your bike bag in case of breakdowns or for reassurance.

If you’re a beginner or just need tools for basic bicycle maintenance on a standard bike, a small bicycle repair tool kit will suffice. 

If you’re very knowledgeable about bicycle maintenance and will be doing all of the service on your non-motorized bicycle, a more complex bicycle repair tool kit is essential to keep at home or in your garage. This type of kit is more detailed and contains more tools for different tasks.

For all bicycles, I recommend getting a small bike tool kit that either attaches to or that you can carry on your bike. Just make certain you get the right hex wrench set for your particular bike (Metric or SAE Allen wrenches).

Personally, I’d part out your tool kit as individual pieces. As we’ve experienced, those on-the-go bicycle maintenance tool kits may have tools that are inferior; especially the tire pump. You don’t want to find out something doesn’t fit or work while you’re away from home.

Now, for electric bikes, for simple adjustments, you may need need a specialized folding hex wrench multi-tool 

For all bikes, electric or non-motorized, you’ll need an open end 15mm wrench to work on the front axle bolt and tighten your bike pedals.

However, I want to put out a short disclaimer here about electric bikes. Even tightening something mechanical on your ebike could cause damage if you’re not familiar with or don’t know what you’re doing.

So, I highly suggest that you take your ebike to a professional bicycle technician that is specialized in ebikes.

They are very knowledgeable and trained to make the necessary adjustments or repairs on electric bike motors, disc brakes, etc. And, make certain you ask and verify they are certified before allowing them to work on your electric bike.

After cleaning and inspecting your bike, you need to tighten any nuts, bolts and screws. Check to make certain both pedals are fastened and tightened properly. Also check the handlebar bolt and axle nuts to make sure they are tight.

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Lubricate Chain

You should lubricate your bicycle chain at least every two months or 200 miles.

However, if you use your bicycle more often or ride it in conditions that may affect its’ performance, you may have to use a good quality chain lube more often.

There are other wet lubes to help protect your bicycle chain from moisture and road debris that can jam it or make it operate sluggishly.

Wet lubes help to keep your bicycle chain operating smoothly without attracting dust, dirt and sand. It also helps protect your chain from moisture and short term, prevent rust.

Our friends at Boogie Bikes recommend the Eco Sheep Soap-Based Bike Chain Cleaner and Lube Kit.

It’s a lanolin-based, non-toxic lube designed to remove grease, gunk, and grime from your bike’s drive train that results in a deep, natural cleaning.

This particular bike chain cleaner and lube is made with certified sustainable ingredients so you can rest easy knowing you aren’t using petroleum distillates or chemicals to maintain and preserve these important bike components. EcoSheep Lube products are USDA Certified Biobased and meets EPA Safe Choice Standards. 

EcoSheep also makes a specific mountain bike chain lube as well.

Disc Brake and Brake Pad Cleaning & Maintenance

Basic Bicycle Maintenance - Front Disc Brake Maintenance
Adjust your bicycle front brakes. Always On Liberty©

Your bicycle brakes should provide ample grab and sudden stopping power when needed. Your brakes should not squeal, squeak or vibrate. They should also not be soft or make you feel like you’re slowly gliding to a stop.

First and foremost, your bicycle brake pads and brake discs should be free of debris such as powdered silt, dirt, and grit.

Therefore, if you’ve ridden your bike through the woods, on dirt roads, through puddles, etc., you’re going to need to clean your bike thoroughly as mentioned earlier.

We recommend using isopropyl alcohol and a clean cloth to clean the discs and pads. A light sanding with a extra fine emory board may also be needed.

Basic Bicycle Maintenance Tips - Adjusting Rear Brakes
Adjust your bicycle rear brake pads. Always On Liberty©

After cleaning our Boogie Bikes for the first time, each time riding, I’d notice my disc brakes squealed like a pig anytime I would squeeze the handlebar brake levers. Not only was it nerve-racking to me, but everyone around knew I was braking.

Wanting to make certain we would use the right product for the job, we contacted them for their recommendation. Boogie Bikes’ recommends Squeal Out bicycle disc brake anti-squeal treatment paste.

Squeal Out - Bicycle Disc Brake Anti Squeal Treatment
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So, after making certain our brake pads are clean and free of road grime and debris, Dan applies a small amount (about the size of two pencil erasers) onto both sides of the brake rotors.

The key is not applying it on top of oily rotors or pads which is entirely why you need to clean everything first as noted above.

After applying the Squeal Out, take a few low speed rides around your street and do some full-pressure braking to fully set your brakes. You may need to make minor adjustments to the brake pads occasionally.

Be aware, Squeal-Out is for regular bicycle maintenance. Depending on how often you use your bike and your braking habits, you will have to refinish or replace your bike brake pads and discs as needed. 

Proper Tire Inflation

Basic Bicycle Maintenance Tips - Proper Tire Inflation
Check your bicycle tire air pressure. Always On Liberty©

Proper tire inflation is very important. Not only for a comfortable ride but for all of the bicycle components to work correctly.

I suggest getting a good quality digital tire pressure gauge. In fact, it’s smart to carry one in your bicycle tool kit. 

Now, you’re probably wondering how much you should inflate your bicycle tires. Just look on the sidewalls of your tires for the manufacturer’s specification.

Realize the more pressure you inflate, the harder your ride will be. Less pressure will make your ride softer. Also consider how much payload weight you’re putting on those tires and surfaces you may be riding on.

For example, if you’re riding in sand, you will want to lessen the tire pressure.

Professional Bike Service

While you should do regular cleaning and maintenance on your bicycle, depending on how much you ride your bike, you should get it in for a scheduled service by a professional bicycle mechanic on occasion.

If you ride your bike several times a week, we recommend taking your bike in about every 7-9 months. However, if you ride your bike less, an annual bicycle service should suffice.

That said, if your bike is subject to harsher elements like humidity, salt air, road salt or if you ride on dirt or sand, you’ll definitely need to have your bicycle professionally serviced more often.

Professional bicycle mechanics will do a complete maintenance check; including adjusting your brakes and gears, lubricating chain and sprocket, and they will ensure your bicycle tires are inflated properly.

If your bicycle maintenance tech sees something that needs extra attention, be prepared for him to keep your bike a few more days should he need to order specialized parts to complete the job.

Final thoughts on basic bicycle maintenance

Bicycle Repair Shop - Bicycle Mechanic

We hope these basic bicycle maintenance tips help guide you into caring for your bike.

As you should know, bicycles aren’t exactly cheap. Which is why it’s imperative to take care of them, so they take care of you on your ride.

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