Bike Maintenance Basics For Commuters

Cleaning bike
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Once you start cycling to work it soon becomes the highlight of a working day – unless you turn up late because your bike fell apart on the way. Regular servicing by a bike shop is essential to keep your ride in a safe condition, but there are some things anyone can do to head off problems and save money in the long run. And we say that having had to replace a drivetrain because we didn’t spend the occasional five minutes cleaning and lubing our chain.

To help you avoid a similar fate, we asked James Witts, author of The Bike Book, for what jobs beginners should get to grips with and how often to do them. We’d recommend getting a copy. It’s exceptionally handy and since reading it we’ve found ourselves – with a little help from YouTube tutorials – completing work on our bike we’d completely failed at in the past.

Bike Maintenance Basics For Commuters

The Job: Clean Your Bike

Arguably the dullest job in cycling, but one that’ll ultimately extend both the longevity of your bike and its appeal (you’re more likely to mount a shiny steed than a filthy workhorse!). Hot soapy water, a sponge and degreaser are all you really need to keep things rolling smoothly. Degreaser is essentially a bike-specific cleaning agent. Finish Line and Muc-Off are two brands to look out for. Finish by lubing your chain. Go with wet lube in the winter because it’s water-resistant and will last longer. Just bear in mind that its downside is clinging on to dirt – but you’re cleaning your bike regularly now, so that’s less of an issue.

How often: You might not want to hear it but once a week is the ideal. However, as time rolls by, we reckon you can cut cleaning time to a mere five minutes.

If you don’t: Your bike’s a reflection of you; in other words, would you leave the house covered in dirt? Hopefully not. Beyond the aesthetic, the build-up of detritus will corrode parts of your bike, particularly the chain, and will ruin its efficiency, especially around the derailleur (the genius component that shifts your chain to a different sprocket).

The Job: Inflate Your Tyres

Your tyre is your only connection point to terra firma. So why is it so neglected? Give it some love by inflating your tyres to the pressure printed on the sidewall. This isn’t set in stone, however. You can increase or decrease this pressure slightly depending on riding objective. If you’re after maximum speed, crank things up slightly to reduce the contact point with the ground and so reduce friction. If it’s raining, let a little air out to increase contact and thereby grip.

How often: Before every ride is ideal, albeit arguably unrealistic. So stick with a weekly hit unless weather conditions dictate otherwise.

If you don’t: Not only will you and your bike underperform, you’ll increase the likelihood of a puncture. (As an aside, always arm yourself with a spare inner tube, mini-pump and tyre levers.)

The Job: Adjust Your Gears

Erratic gears shifts are the bane of many a cyclist’s commute. Often the solution is as simple as turning the barrel adjuster (this is the barrel-shaped object on your rear derailleur). Simply turn it anti-clockwise a quarter to a half turn at a time, because when it comes to smooth shifting, small adjustments equal big changes. The front derailleur – if you have one – is a little more complicated. If your efforts fail, it might be that your gear cable’s worn and needs replacing. You can try this yourself but it’s tricky, so seek out a bike shop. Ask them to replace your brake cables while they’re at it.

How often: No set frequency because it’s down to the smoothness of your gear shifting. Just note that gear cables often stretch slightly on the first few rides, so don’t be surprised if gear shifting on your new bike is less than seamless after a few weeks. Don’t be alarmed – this isn’t your new bike collapsing on you!

If you don’t: Simply put, you won’t shift between gears properly. It’ll reach such a stage where irritation may lead you to catch a bus instead!

Buy The Bike Book from Haynes | £18.99

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Jonathan Shannon
Former editor

Jonathan Shannon was the editor of the Coach website from 2016 to 2024, developing a wide-ranging experience of health and fitness. Jonathan took up running while editing Coach and used the training plans on the site to run a sub-40min 10K, 1hr 28min half marathon and 3hr 6min marathon. He’s an advocate of cycling to work and is Coach’s e-bike reviewer, and not just because he lives up a bit of a hill. He also reviews fitness trackers and other workout gear.