I’ll admit it: I’m guilty of BWUI—biking while (woefully) uninformed. I have no idea what most of the parts on my bike do. I’d have no idea how to fix something if it broke. I am pretty much your cliche of a girl bicycler: I want a pretty vintage bike (preferably with a pretty little basket), and if one screw came loose on this pretty little bike, I’d be screwed.
My friend Courtney Knapp, on the other hand, not only knows a lot about bikes, she rehabs vintage ones in her spare time. I am ridiculously impressed by this, and maybe someday I’ll be asking Courtney for more in-depth advice on making old bikes sparkle like new again. For now, though, I’ll settle for knowing what exactly it is that the back gear does—because, really, not only is ignorance about these things pretty lame from a feminist point of view, it could also be really unsafe.
With just a little bit of bike knowledge, though, you can help keep yourself safe while cycling, and keep your bike in good working condition longer. Luckily, Courtney was nice enough to whip up this guide to basic bike maintenance for me (and you). Here are her tips:
Getting To Know Your Bike: A Guide
1. Tune-ups and regular bike shop visits are a good way to ensure that all the tricky parts of your bike are checked, serviced, and adjusted by an experienced mechanic, but there is also plenty you can do at home.
2. There are certain steps you should be taking every time you ride, including a visual inspection of your bike’s main components. This will only take about a minute and will ensure a safer ride. Make it a habit!
- Tires: Check that your tires are properly inflated and look for cracked or worn spots and embedded debris that could cause a flat. Most bicycle tires have a pressure rating stamped on the wall along the lines of “Inflate to 65 PSI Max” (PSI is pounds per square inch). Use a floor pump at home and keep a mini-pump with you on long rides.
- Wheels: Confirm that your wheels are securely fastened and that the nuts or release mechanisms that hold your wheels in place are secure. Spin your wheels. If your wheel wobbles you should have your wheel trued at a bike shop.
- Positioning: Check that your seat post and handle bars are set at a comfortable height and fastened tightly.
- Brakes: Squeeze your brake levers to make sure that they apply enough pressure to stop your wheel from turning. Brake pads should hit only the rims and not the tires.
- Cables and Bolts: Confirm none of your cables are frayed and that the screws, nuts, and bolts that hold your bike together have not worn down or loosened.
- Chain: Make sure you chain turns completely through your front and rear sprockets and doesn’t rub against the derailleurs. Is your chain dry? Does it squeak? If so, you should add lube. The more frequently you spot-lube your chain, the less likely you’ll need to take your chain off to clean or replace it. Does your chain need cleaning? It’s a good idea to clean your chain after every 4-5 rides.
- Drivetrain: Check that your drive train is free from excessive grime and doesn’t need lubrication.
- Helmet: Put it on your head. No excuses.
- Gears: Once you’re on your bike but before you hit the road, run your bike through its range of gears to make sure there are no problems shifting and that there is no chain slippage. It’s better to be stranded in your driveway than six miles down the road.
3. Budding cyclists have lots of options for educational information online. REI can teach you how to fix a flat, Jim Langley can explain how to clean your chain and drivetrain, eHow shows you how to properly inflate your tires, and Sheldon Brown has an indispensible glossary of bike terms and projects.
4. A clean bike will keep you from wiping grime all over your favorite pair of pants and extend the life of your bike. With a toothbrush and a rag, clean the pedals, brakes, tires, rims, frame, chain, cassette, derailleurs. Use as little water as possible and a bike specific cleaner. Use cleaning time as an inspection time—look for cracks and signs of wear. London Cyclist offers a good overview.
5. One last tip, when you buy your bike write down your manufactures serial number! If your bike is stolen this number offers the best chance at recovery because police can use these numbers to track bicycles across America. The majority of serial numbers are located under the bottom bracket where the two pedal cranks meet, just Turn your bike upside down and record the number.
The handy illustration above was drawn by Emily Eschner and was found on Local Motion’s Guide to Working on Bikes which offers great tips on how to patch a flat, change a tire, replace your chain and lots more.