Bike Maintenance Basics

Modern bicycles are more comfortable, faster and easier to ride than ever.  However, a little bike maintenance is required to keep things working well. Spending a little time on the following items can help your bike (and body) work much better while potentially keeping you from getting stranded on a ride in the process:

Tires – Make a habit of inflating your tires before each ride. Some tires lose 5-10 psi in as little as 24 hours and properly inflated tires are the best way to make sure your bike rolls as well as possible while minimizing the chances of getting a flat.

For most road bikes, inflating tires to around 100 psi works well. Inflating road bike tires to their maximum pressure is rarely advised and will detract from ride quality while often increasing rolling resistance too, so don’t overinflate. Hybrid and mountain tires will use lower tire pressure, so be sure to read the sidewall of your tires for the recommended range. When filling your tires, be sure to inspect your tires and make sure that the tread is not cracking, cut or becoming overly worn.

Chain Lubrication & Wear –Keeping your chain clean and well lubricated goes a long way toward improving shift quality while minimizing wear. Lubricate your chain at least every couple hundred miles with a bicycle specific chain lubricant (there is a wide range of options depending on the performance and durability you want).

After applying lubricant and letting it soak in for a minute, wipe off the excess as you want the lubricant on the inside of the chain rollers and not attracting dirt on the outside of the chain. Have your chain checked for wear/stretch at the 1,500-mile point and replace it as needed.

Cable Lubrication & Inspection –Unless you have one of the great newer electronic shift systems on your bike, cable friction is one of the leading causes of sluggish shifting. Keeping your cables in good shape is one of the simplest things you can do to improve how your bike works.

To lubricate your cables, simply apply a Teflon-based lubricant to any exposed cable where it enters a cable housing. Common access points for cable lubrication are at/in the shift lever, where the cable housing enters the derailleur, and under the bottom bracket (where the cables are exposed on many bikes). After applying the lube, work it into the housing by simply riding the bike and shifting. Use care to keep lubricant away from the brakes as lube and brakes are not a good combination.

Positioning & Fit – Making sure that your bike fits you well is very important to your performance and comfort. If you have had a fitting with a qualified fitter before, you should have bike positioning numbers that you can use to make sure nothing has moved since your fitting. If you have not had a professional fitting before, get one.

If your riding habits, injury or some other major change has happened since your last fitting, consider a periodic assessment. A quality bike fitting is for riders of all levels and the best way to help you enjoy your bike as much as possible.

If you are thinking about getting a new bike, don’t go about the selection process backwards – be sure to get a professional bike fit in advance of choosing your new bike. There are a lot of high quality bikes on the market today, but that does not mean that they all fit you equally well. You should not have to accommodate to the needs of your bike; your riding position should determine what bikes fit best and are worth consideration.

Getting professionally fit before you select your new bike, and using that information to help you find the very best bike options, guarantees that you will make a great choice.

Keeping your tires properly inflated and your chain and cables maintained are easy to learn, quick to do, and make a world of difference in how your bike functions and performs.   Making sure you are riding in the right position for your individual needs can make a world of difference in how your body performs and in your comfort when riding. These are things that can make the difference between a great ride and a frustrating day spent on the side of the road or struggling harder than you have to up the hills.

If you have questions, seek out a good bike mechanic or bike fitter; many technicians are happy to help educate you on how to take better care of your bike and help your body work as well as possible on your bike. And, don’t forget that an annual tune-up by a skilled professional can be one of the best investments you can make in your cycling and a great way to get the season started right.

Note: Ian Buchanan is co-owner of Fit Werx, a bike shop and bicycle-fitting studio with locations in Waitsfield, VT and Peabody, MA. Ian can be reached at 802-496-7570 or through the Web at  

Ian Buchanan

Ian Buchanan is co-owner of Fit Werx and a founding member of Master Bike Fitters Association. Fit Werx has locations in Waitsfield, Vt., and Peabody, Mass., and offers cycling and triathlon products, specialty bicycle fitting and analysis services, consultation, and technology research. Fit Werx can be reached at (802) 496-7570 or