Basic Bike Maintenance

Find out how to perform some basic bike maintenance, some ideas for what you should be carrying in your toolkit, and when is the right time to pay a mechanic a visit. 

Basic Bike Check

Basic bike safety means checking that your bike is safe to ride before every trip! Doing your ABC’s is the easiest way to do this:

Air -  Squeeze your tires to check the tire pressure. Your tires should feel hard like a potato and not soft like a tomato. If your tire pressure is low, it will feel more difficult to pedal, and you will be more likely to get a flat tire. Fix the problem by inflating the tire with a bike pump.  If you don’t have a pump at home, most bike shops will let you use theirs for free if you ask nicely!

Brakes – Test one brake at a time (the right lever controls the rear brake, the left lever controls the front brake). When you test your front brake and push forwards on the handlebars, it should engage quickly and cause the back wheel to lift off the ground. When you test your rear brake and push forwards on the handlebars, the bike should either not move, or only drag while the rear wheel is locked.

Chain & Cables – Crouch down with your ear to the chain and move your pedal backwards. What can you hear? Are there any loud and unusual sounds of clicking or crunching? Or is it a fairly quiet click of the chain links moving? If there is anything that doesn’t sound right it’s probably worth a quick visit to a mechanic. Also, do a quick visual check of your brake & shifting cables - make sure they’re not tangled and there are no torn or frayed cables. 

To complete your safety check – check your quick-release levers (likely on your wheels and seat post) and make sure they are tight.

Then, do a drop test! The drop test is exactly what it sounds like. Lift your bike by the seat and handlebars about 6 inches off the ground. Drop the bike straight down onto the tires and listen for any rattles or loose parts. Ideally, nothing should rattle apart from your rear derailleur. This test will help you to identify any parts of your bike that may have become loose from riding. Some key things to look for are a loose stem, headset, wheels (either wheel bolts or quick release levers), and chain.

Basic Toolkit

Most people riding, will have some form of the toolkit with them to be used if something goes wrong. Here are 10 items that could start a basic toolkit:
1. Tire levers (2 or more) - to be able to remove your tire from the rim of the wheel.
2. Patch kit - to fix those pesky flat tires.
3. Spare tube - when a patch kit doesn’t do the job!
4. Hand Pump - to add extra air into your tires or repump them after fixing a flat.
5. Multi-tool - a whole lot of tools packed into a small space!
6. Adjustable wrench - an extremely versatile tool for the on the road repairs.
7. Rag(s) - to clean oily hands if your chain falls off (it happens to the best of us!).
8. Emergency lights - if your lights run out of battery mid-ride.
9. Bungie chords / Zap straps - to carry anything extra on your bike.
10. Transit pass/card - if it’s one of those days where things aren’t mending and a bus is just easier! 

Most bike shops will carry these things, and if they don’t have them they’ll be able to point you towards somewhere that does! 

When to Visit a Bike Mechanic

  • When your bike continues to make sounds and you can’t identify where they are coming from.
  • After the first few weeks of riding with a new bike - most bikes with traditional cable systems will need a tune-up after the first few weeks of riding, good bike shops should offer this for free!
  • You need the bike to be in good working condition for a big ride (touring, race, etc.)
  • When something goes wrong and you don’t know how to fix it yourself.

Further resources

Youtube videos are a great way to learn more about basic bike maintenance, here are some ones to get you started:

What's next?

Make sure to have a read of our other web resource pages on e-biking, route-planning, cycling with children, basic bike maintenance, and cycling in the fall and winter. We also have a HUB resource page that has a lot of helpful information about cycling in Metro Vancouver

If you want to take your learning a step further, check out our free StreetWise Cycling Online resource that can help you begin your cycling journey with confidence. 

Our webinars take place throughout the summer, check here for recordings of them in the meantime. You can learn more about bike maintenance with our Basic Bike Maintenance Webinar. 

Want to take a cycling course in person? We run courses for the general public and can also run courses for your workplace or community.