Get on your bike with these essential bicycle maintenance tips

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Planning on doing some cycling during this lockdown period and beyond? Follow our advice on getting your bike – and yourself – ready

Due to the restrictions on travel brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a boom in cycling here in the UK. In a recent poll by Black Mountain Bikes, bike rides were voted the most popular outdoor activity for families during the lockdown.

This rise in popularity has emphasised the importance of regular bike maintenance. Whether you're embarking on a short jaunt around the block or a more ambitious ride through the countryside, you'll want to make sure that your bicycle is both safe and comfortable. Here, we explain how to do it… 

1. Check your tyres

Bicycle maintenance; fixing tyres

Most people check that their tyres are fully inflated before embarking on a bike ride. However, there are other things you should look out for to ensure maximum safety and comfort.

Firstly, check that your tyres are seated correctly on the rim by slowly spinning each wheel and ensuring that the line around the bottom of the sidewall is parallel to the rim. If it's not, you should deflate the tyre, realign it and then inflate it again.

Also, look closely for any fragments of glass or stones that may be embedded in the tyre, as these could cause a puncture when you put your weight on the bike. Remove any that you find with a pair of tweezers. Bald patches are another thing to watch out for. If you find any, you should consider replacing the tyre as they can be dangerous.

• Read BikeRadar's guide to repairing a puncture

2. Adjust the saddle and handlebars

Bicycle maintenance; adjusting saddle height

If there's one thing that's going to put you off cycling, it's being uncomfortable while you're on your bike. So ensure that your saddle and handlebars are in the correct position before you set off.

According to BikeRadar, recreational cyclists should position their handlebars in line with, or above, their saddle. Otherwise, you will be inclined to lean forward, placing strain on your neck, back and wrists. Running your saddle too low or too high can make it harder to control your bike.

Read BikeRadar's guide to adjusting your handlebar height 

To calculate the ideal saddle height for you, sit on the bike while it's propped up against a wall. While wearing the shoes you plan to ride in, place a heel on one of the pedals while it's in its lowest (six o’clock) position. Your leg should be fully outstretched. 

Also bear in mind that there are different saddles for different riding styles. Take the time to have a look around and find one that's just right for you. "A good saddle should comfortably and firmly support both of your sit bones," says Jack Luke, assistant editor of BikeRadar. "You will simply ‘sink’ into a gel saddle, increasing contact and the chance of some very unpleasant chafing!"

Read BikeRadar's guide to choosing the right saddle for you

3. Make sure the brakes are working OK

Bicycle maintenance; fixing brakes

It goes without saying that your brakes will need to be working properly before you set off. Even if you're planning to cycle off-road, you're likely to encounter situations where you'll need to stop or slow down quickly.

If your bike has rim brakes (where the braking surface is on the outside edge of the wheel), pull the brake lever and look at the brake pads. Viewed from the front or rear of the bike, the pads should strike the rim squarely. Looking from the sides, the pad should run in-line with the rim, and shouldn’t touch the tyre or extend beyond the rim. 

If you have to pull the brake lever very close to the handlebars, you may need to take up slack in the cable using the cable adjuster or replace the brake blocks. 

Read BikeRadar's guide on how to set up rim brakes

If your bike has disc brakes (where the braking surface is a separate metal disc attached to the hub of the wheel), check the pads are not worn down to their metal backing. 

It is normal for disc brakes to squeal in wet weather, but they shouldn’t make much noise in the dry. If they howl in dry weather, it’s likely the pads or rotor have been contaminated with oil or dirt. Disc brake cleaners are available, but your pads may need to be replaced. 

Brakes are a critical component and if you are in any doubt over your abilities to maintain them, contact your local bike shop. 

• Read Evans Cycles' guide to adjusting your brakes

4. Test your gears

Bicycle maintenance; man spokes

The rear mech (or derailleur) moves your chain across the cassette (the cluster of gears attached to the rear hub). If you’re finding that gear shifts are sluggish or are not smooth, it may mean that your gears are out of line and your rear derailleur may need checking.

With your bike in a work stand or upside down, cycle through your gears. The chain should move quickly and smoothly across each cog. If it is sluggish, tighten the cable adjuster on the back of the derailleur a quarter turn at a time (turn it clockwise). If it jumps across multiple gears, loosen the tension via the cable adjuster.

If the chain jumps off the cassette and gets jammed behind the wheel or between the cassette and frame, you may need to adjust your limit screws. The same process can be carried out if you have multiple chainrings on your crankset, though the cable adjuster is usually attached to the shifters on your handlebars.

“It’s worth remembering that the chain, cassette and chainrings on your bike will eventually wear out,” says BikeRadar's Jack Luke. “If your bike has seen heavy use and hasn’t been serviced in a long time, and you’re struggling to get the gears to work well, it’s worth taking your bike to a shop for a second opinion. Preventative maintenance is the key here, as replacing your drivetrain components could easily cost as much as a new bike on cheaper models.”

Read BikeRadar's guide on how to service your gears

5. Check that you have the appropriate safety gear

Bicycle maintenance; man on bike

While it is not illegal to go cycling in the UK without a helmet, it is obviously sensible to wear one for your own safety. Choose one that fits you comfortably and securely, and make sure it's adequately ventilated – the last thing you want on a long bike ride is for your head to overheat.

It is also recommended that you wear gloves to protect your hands in the event of a crash, while reflective clothing or strips will ensure that you're more visible to motorists, pedestrians and fellow cyclists. If you are cycling in the dark, you are required by UK law to have front and rear lights fitted to your bike.

Bike light laws in the UK: what you need to know

Finally, if you're planning on going for a long bike ride, ensure that you're adequately equipped for the worst-case scenario by taking a mobile phone, a bottle of water and a puncture repair kit.   

• Read BikeRadar's guide to the best new budget cycling helmets

All photos: Getty Images

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