Save money – ride a bike you’ve serviced yourself

This is the article we submitted for the March edition of the Hayling Islander. The published article was subject to editing by the Islander.

It’s common knowledge that cycling can boost your health. It’s 20 times more likely to benefit you than not. But it can also boost your wealth, by replacing car, bus or gym costs.

If you have a bike, you can start saving today. But even if you don’t, with new bikes starting from £100, it could pay for itself in no time.

But like everything, bikes work much better with a little bit of servicing, which anyone can do. So here are a few simple maintenance tips to make your bike work better for you. They may look a little complicated, but they really aren’t. As with many things, YouTube is your best friend – everything you’ll ever need to do has a video that explains it in great detail. If the first one doesn’t make it clear, try another.

The national BikeAbility training scheme has a great ABCD checklist before you ride, but it works just as well for servicing.

A is for Air in tyres. Soft tyres make hard cycling, and can cause punctures and damage the tyre. Tyre pressures are normally printed on the side of the tyre. We recommend a pump with a gauge, but if you don’t have one, you should not be able to dent the side walls when you squeeze them. Check your tyres for cracks, splits, or for worn out tread.

B is for Bars and Brakes.

Bars should be straight and tight. Adjust or tighten if necessary.

Brakes should stop both wheels effectively, with no squealing, and without the brake levers touching the grips. Lift the wheel and check the brakes don’t rub.

Most bikes have rim brakes (disk brakes are a little more complex). The whole of the brake block should be flat against the rim, and not touching the tyre. Replace them before they wear out, otherwise the casing will damage the rim. Most blocks have grooves which disappear when they’re worn out. Adjusting the blocks is fairly easy once you know how.

If the brake levers touch the grips, you need to tighten the cable. Most brakes have a screw adjuster at one end that you can screw up to tighten a little. When that adjustment has run out, loosen the adjuster fully, then shorten the cable by unscrewing the bolt that secures it to the brake, pulling some cable through, and retightening the bolt.

C is for Chain and Gears.

Chains that are working well transmit about 98% of your leg power to the rear wheel. But that falls dramatically when it’s dirty, un-lubricated or worn. The biggest danger is rust, and the best thing you can do is to oil your chain regularly – perhaps every week or two. The easiest way is to spin the pedals backward, holding the oil tube to the bottom of the chain. Keep spinning for a minute or two, then hold a rag to the spinning chain to wipe off the excess. Oil on the outside doesn’t help lubrication – it just attracts muck.

All chains ‘stretch’ as they wear, which makes them less efficient, and grinds away the teeth of the cogs. Your bike shop can check this for you.

Gears should change easily, without slipping. Adjustment depends on the type – typically hub or derailleur, and is outside the scope of this article. Use YouTube!

D is for Danger and Dangly bits. Dangly bits might include bags or straps which could be trapped in the wheels. But it’s worth eliminating any other sources of danger, such as being visible to other road users with working lights and high-vis clothing, helmet, etc.

Tools. A few simple tools will get you a long way with bike maintenance:

  • Allen keys, cross-head and slotted screw driver. Most cyclists have a lightweight multi-tool which they carry with them on rides, but work equally well at home for servicing.
  • Pump. We recommend one with a gauge. Track pumps are great for home use, plus a small lightweight one to take on the road. Most pumps can handle both the Presta and Schrader valve types, but if not, make sure it fits yours.
  • Tyre levers to fix a puncture.
  • Puncture repair kit.
  • Spare inner tube.
  • Chain lube.

Later on, you might want to consider a chain wear gauge, a chain tool, etc.

All these checks are fairly easy, but if they’re not for you, or you get stuck, the local cycle shops will be glad to help.

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