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Women's cycling at Pan Am Games - photo by Peter Kudlacz

How to Take Proper Care of Your Bicycle

Cycling is a simple and enjoyable sport that requires nothing more then yourself and your trusty bicycle.  However the more you ride, the more important it becomes to understand how your two wheeled vehicle works and how to repair, fix it when it breaks down. 

There are of course bicycle shops to help you with bike repairs, but for those who are interested in learning to fix a few minor (or major) components of your bicycle, it can be a very rewarding investment towards your sport.  Besides saving you money, it will also give you a greater understanding of how the bike functions.  

Online information is widely available as well as online videos and books.  If you have the interest, it is not hard to find the know-how. 

To get started you will need to acquire a few basic tools:

Tools for Fixing a Flat

If you spend any amount of time cycling, sooner or later you are bound to get a flat tire.  If you are lucky, it will be a slow leak that you will notice at home.  If you are unlucky it will happen suddenly, unexpectedly, in the middle of nowhere, when you have an urgent appointment to attend to in an hour or when it is about to rain.  Assembling the tools for a tire replacement kit and keeping it with you when you riding long distances is a good idea. 

All you need is:
  • a hand pump
  • a tire lever (or two)
  • and a new tire tube
The tire lever(s) help you to get the tire off the rim.  You replace the punctured tube with the new one and blow it up with the hand pump.  Some people like to bring two tire tubes with them or a tire patch kit, just in case their new one also has a puncture in it, but you really need to be having a bad day for that to happen.

If you have a flat at home, that would be the time to use a tire patch kit (which usually comes with instructions) to salvage your punctured tube.

Bicycle Cleaning Tools

The first step in maintaining your bike is to regularly keep it clean. You will of course need:
  • a few rags
  • soap
  • and a water hose
Other tools that are helpful are:
  • a bicycle cleaning brush
  • chain scrubber
  • degreasing solvent
  • and chain lubricant
Take the time to remove the dirt and grind that builds up in the hard to reach places and your bike will likely last a lot longer.  This is especially important for mountain bikers who spend time on rough, muddy trails.

Tools for Your Handlebars, Seat and Accessories

One of your best friends in bike repairs is going to be a set of Allen keys (also called Hex keys).  They are your keys for adjusting not only your handlebars and seat, but also the gearing and breaking stem, pump mount, bottle holder or any other accessory you may have.  These are extremely handy tools and not very expensive.

Tools for the Chain

Many people think the chain on a bike will last forever, and at best a little oil may be needed.  Unfortunately this is not true, and if the chain is allowed to get too worn down and stretched, it will eventually do damage to your cassette and drive-train.

It will take a little knowledge to understand how you can check to see if your chain needs replacing, but it isn't difficult, and you can use a simple ruler or buy a chain checker to do this.

When the chain needs replacing, use a chain tool to remove the chain and also to make a new chain the right length.  A chain tool works by pushing the pin out of one of the chain links and therefore severing the chain.

Tools for Removing a Cassette

To remove a cassette from your bike, in order to clean or replace it, you are going to need a lock ring to insert into the head of the cassette.  A chain whip (which looks exactly as the name implies) is used to hold the cassette still, and an adjustable wrench is also needed to grasp the lock ring and work it against the chain whip. 

Home Mechanic Repair Stand

When most people start with home repairs, they usually turn their bike upside down, or find something at home they can use to prop their bike up while they work on it.  This is not the best option, as it puts undue stress on your bike's components, your back, and your patience.   A quality bike repair stand will hold your bike elevated and sturdy while you work on it.  This will not only make your bike repairs easier, but much more fun.

Bicycle Repair Book

In order to understand how to do any repairs properly you can look online or buy a good bike repair book that has diagrams and detailed instructions on how to fix all the parts of your bike.  Most repairs are not hard with a little practice, and by taking it one step at a time, you can become a pretty handy bike mechanic.

Other necessary tools for most repairs which you may already own are your basic flat and Philips screwdrivers, pliers and long nose pliers.

The above will give you a really great beginning tool set to work with.  Look after your bike, and your bike will look after you.  A well maintained bicycle will likely last you a very long time, and the skills acquired will provide much more understanding, enjoyment and fulfillment towards your biking adventures.

About the Author:

Sam Walker has written numerous articles on the benefits of biking and home bike repairs.  He is part of a team that writes outdoor gear reviews and is currently researching and reviewing the more popular
bike repair stands on the market.

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