Regular preventive bicycle maintenance will keep your bike rolling safely. Doing your own bicycle maintenance saves labour costs, and proves an invaluable skill if you have to fix your bicycle on the road. It's quite easy to take care of your own bicycle, and can mean the difference between riding all day and staying at home.
How often you need to work on your bike depends on how much and where you ride. If you're new to bicycle maintenance, start with the basics and work up to the major jobs. The first thing to learn is Bike Tire Repair. The next most important components to maintain are your chain and brakes.
Cleaning Your Chain
How often you clean your chain depends on where and how frequently you ride. Make a point of cleaning your chain after any “down and dirty” off-road ride. If you commute through the rainy season, increase the frequency of cleaning.
Chain Cleaners are devices with built-in brushes. Snap a chain cleaner over the chain while it's still on your bike, and turn the pedals to run the chain through a bath of cleaning fluid. This procedure is convenient, saves time, and minimizes fluid spillage. Keeping the chain on the bike also avoids the need to break any links. Even when opened with a proper chain-breaking tool, a broken link is potentially a weak point, particularly on older chains without Power Links™.
Solvents should be specifically designed for bike chains. Gasoline, paint thinner, and other harsh chemicals can dissolve your plastic chain cleaner into toffee. Their fumes are also toxic and potentially explosive.
Lubrication should be applied after you clean your chain. As a rule of thumb, use wet lubes in wet environments, and dry lubes in dry environments. (In wet environments, dry lubes tend to wash off. In dry environments, wet lubes collect a lot of grit.) Tip: Don't use too much lube; it gunks up the chain.
Bike Maintenance Videos
How to Fix a Broken Chain
Weekly Bike Inspection
Keeping your brakes in safe working condition is super important. Inspect your pads regularly to prevent damage to your rims and to ensure your bike actually stops when you need it to. Adjusting the tension in your brake cables is also important: too tight and your brake pads will be consistently touching your rims, too loose and you'll never be able to stop in time.
Having a basic tool kit with you can be the difference between being riding off in minutes or being stranded for hours.
A minimum tool kit includes:
Tire patch kit
4mm, 5mm, and 6mm hex wrenches
8mm and 10mm open-end wrenches
Small flat screwdriver
Phillips head screwdriver
If you want a multi-tool, consider what it will be like to use it, not what it will be like to carry it. Simply considering size and weight, or counting the number of functions a tool can perform, will not necessarily determine which multi-tool is the best.
Sometimes, the more components that are crammed into a small package, the less functional the tool actually becomes. The most functional bike tools are those dedicated to a single purpose – allen wrenches, brake wrenches, chain tools, etc. With multi-tools, it's best to strike a balance between portability and single-purpose function.
For more detailed description of basic bike maintenance and complex repairs, check out the following books:
Mountain Bike Emergency Repair, by Tim Toyoshima
Bicycle Maintenance and Repair, by the Editors of Bicycling Magazine
Zinn & the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance, by Lennard Zinn