It’s a sad fact that as you gobble up the kilometres, so your bicycle devours itself. Even the best-maintained machines will eventually wear out, with parts needing to be replaced and money spent on servicing. Luckily, if you’re wondering how to maintain a bike on a budget, we’ve developed a few helpful tips and strategies to maintain your bike without excess effort or investment.
Check your bike is safe
The most fundamental element of bike maintenance is ensuring your bike is safe. Are the tires at a decent pressure and free from damage? Do your brakes function as they should? Are critical parts like the saddle, stem, and handlebars tight? Are the wheels secure? Even experienced cyclists should check that these criteria are met every time they hop onto their bikes. Especially important if your bike has been in storage, transported, or after having worked on it, 30 seconds spent checking it over before you ride could save you a lot of grief.
Lean to diagnose problems
Modern bikes do a pretty good job of operating without rattling, grating, squeaking, or wobbling. This means that if something seems amiss, it probably is. However, while a sudden change is often easy to notice, bikes wear out gradually. Slowly getting less efficient or noisier, it can be hard to recognize your drivetrain is deteriorating or your bottom bracket is wearing out when it does so incrementally. Understanding the correct operation of your bike and learning when to intervene is a particular skill. While this takes time to learn, a good starting point is to assume that if something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t.
Sort it out straight away
Ignore a niggling problem with your bike, and it will invariably come back to bite you in the butt. Unpleasant noises from your brake pads could indicate contamination or excessive wear. Change them immediately, and you’ll pay for the pads alone. Leave them in place, and you could also damage your rims or rotors.
A slightly buckled wheel can be fixed cheaply, but once a couple of spokes go, it may be ready only for the bin. Ditto a worn chain that ruins your cassette and chainrings. Once you suspect a problem, address it immediately, and you’ll enjoy your bike more while also paying less in the long run.
Focus on cleaning what matters
Learning how to clean your bike will keep it running smoother for longer. At the same time, a bit of muck won’t hurt it. In fact, spraying it with a pressure washer or squirting solvents at it can accelerate wear to your bearings, cables and other moving parts. Instead, it’s better to focus on what matters.
A dirty chain spreads filth around your entire drivetrain and accelerates wear. Especially if you’re riding in wet conditions, a chain cleaning machine and some dedicated degreaser can get it sparkling quickly. Cassettes and chainrings also benefit from being kept in good condition, while rims on conventional caliper brake bikes invariably benefit from a scrub.
If you’re going to attempt to fix your bike, having the right tools will make any job more manageable. Quality tools will also last longer and be less likely to damage your bike. If you’re less experienced as a mechanic, it can be tempting to skimp on these expenses, but doing so will only make learning harder. The same goes for suffering with even the best multi tools when individual workshop tools would be better. Buy yourself a decent starter tool kit and learn how to use it with a manual like Park Tools’ Big Blue Book Of Bicycle Repair or something by Lennard Zinn. YouTube is also an invaluable resource to learn basic mechanical skills. You’ll save on workshop bills and be far more self-reliant in the long run.
Bike-specific often means overpriced
In contrast to our last point, not everything needs to be expensive or specialist. While you can buy plenty of bike-specific products, there are times when things you already have around the house will do. Washing-up liquid and warm water work well for general cleaning, while white spirit is an excellent degreaser for parts like your chain. However, make sure you’re using the right thing for the job. Cheap and readily available, WD40 or GT85 are ideal for freeing or cleaning parts but aren’t long-lasting enough to keep them running smoothly. If you want to remain a tightwad, that can of 3-in1 oil under the sink will do the trick for lubricating many parts including your chain.
Decide what you can manage
Mechanical issues with a new bike often follow a particular pattern. Invariably, the first thing you need to fix will be a puncture. Then worn-out brake pads will need replacing, followed by brake and gear cables, and eventually drivetrain components like your chain and cassette. Helpfully, each of these jobs increases in difficulty, giving you an excellent introduction to the world of DIY bike maintenance. However, an unexpected mechanical like a busted freehub or a prematurely knackered bottom bracket will require greater know-how and might be best passed to your local bike shop. If you decide to take on a bigger job early in your mechanical career, make sure you know what you’re doing before you start pulling things apart.
Learn to adjust your gears
A big step towards self-reliance, learning how to adjust your gears is a great first job to master. Even without wear or damage, they can go out of alignment. This means a quick adjustment of the gears is one of the most commonly requested jobs in any workshop. A bit like owning a guitar but not knowing how to tune it; it’s something you should really be able to do for yourself. However, once things have gone out of alignment is not the best time to learn. Why not familiarize yourself with your gears now, and you’ll be ready to work on them when they next play up? You can find our complete guide here.