Don’t Be Afraid of Basic Spring Maintenance on Your Bike

Image by Rehook Bike from

Now that it’s spring and the weather is slowly improving and the days are longer, you are probably thinking about getting out for some outdoor riding. March, so far, here in the midwest has been rainy and cool interspersed with a few nice days but winter seems to be holding on.

Before you head out the door to eagerly go out for your first ride of the season, it’s good to give your bike some love (maintenance). That can mean a variety of things from just washing your bike to cleaning or replacing your chain or even upgrading a worn component.

Don’t Be Afraid of Your Bike

A lot of cyclists are afraid of working on their bikes because they fear they might break something. Well, that is a possibility. If you are really unsure about how to fix something, you can always take your bike to a local shop.

But the things that need the most attention are usually simple, and once you’ve attended to them, it will improve your ride experience. The point here is don’t be afraid to maintain your bike on your own. As a cyclist, it is an essential skill to learn. Basic maintenance can save you time, money, and maybe your life.

Basic maintenance like changing a chain, tightening bolts, adjusting a derailleur, or changing a flat is also essential to know. If you don’t know how to do any of these things or don’t feel confident doing them, practice at home. Because take my word for it, something is bound to happen when you’re out for a ride.

Put Your Bike in a Maintenance Stand

The first thing I would recommend is to get your bike off the ground in some way. If you currently have it hooked up to a trainer, that works fine as well. Ideally, though, a bike work stand is the best way to work on your bike.

With a bike work stand, you can have your bike at eye level. That makes for a perfect height to wash it, clean your chain, or do a number of other maintenance checks. You can also freely rotate your cranks, which will allow you to check your shifting if that is an issue you might be having.

If you are a serious cyclist, a bike stand is a must. They can range in price like this one from Park Tools that goes for over $200.00. Or you can check Amazon which lists bike work stands from about $50.00 and up. Whatever you choose, make sure you can adjust the height of the stand and that it has a good clamp for holding your bike steady and securely.

Check, Clean, or Change Your Chain

Once your bike is off the floor in some capacity or in the work stand, the first component you want to check is your chain. Does it look black and dirty with bits of debris stuck to it? If that’s the case, you can use a damp rag (mixed with some citrus degreaser) and wipe down your chain or even use a tool like this Park Chain Scrubber. Make sure to rotate your cogs and clean the chain thoroughly.

If your chain is really filthy and overall seems to be worn, then you should just change it out for a new one. Riding with a worn chain can cause misshifts and wear down your front and rear cogs. Depending on how much you ride, you’ll probably want to do this at least once a year (or after riding 300 to 500 miles). Check your chain wear with a tool like this Park Chain Checker.

If the chain is really gunked up, I just break the chain, let it soak for an hour or so in some citrus degreaser, then scrub it down with a brush. Depending on the kind of chain you have, you’ll either have to remove a pin if it is a Shimano chain with a chain tool or break the master link with Master Link Pliers like this one from Park Tool.

Check Your Braking and Shifting

Do your brakes feel squishy when you apply them? Are your levers coming close or touching the handlebars when you apply lots of pressure? If that’s the case, that means either your brake pads are worn or your brakes need adjustment. See my article about tuning your braking.

How is your shifting? Does your chain lag when shifting? Does your chain skip? That means you might have to either fine-tune your front or rear derailleur by making some minute adjustments. If you don’t know how to do this, pull up YouTube and check out this video from Park Tools. If this feels too complicated, once again you can make an appointment with your local bike shop.

Image by Rehook Bike from

Check for Tire Wear and Wheels

Another bit of basic but important maintenance is to check your tires and wheels. Do your tires have cuts? Does the tread look worn? Both of these things can lead to dangerous consequences.

Small cuts in the tire are probably not too much to worry about. Anything more than an inch in length, however, means the tire should be replaced. Tire wear will cut into your rolling resistance as well make you more prone to slide on wet streets, and severe tire wear can lead to punctures and flats.

While you have your wheels off the bike, this is a good time to inspect the braking surfaces and do some basic cleaning. Again, if the wheels look greasy and dirty, a combination of citrus degreaser and soapy water should get them clean. A good scrub brush works well for cleaning the rims and spokes.

Wash That Bike

Has it been a while since you’ve given your bike a bath? Did you ride some days this winter? Salt, just like for cars, can wreak havoc on your frame. Start the season with a sparkly clean bike. And if you remove your chain, cleaning your bike is even easier.

There are specialty bike washes out there but they tend to be expensive. The best way to wash your bike is to dilute some dish detergent with two parts water and also to use some spray bottles: one with soapy water, one with just water, and the last with citrus degreaser. You’ll also want a wet, damp rag to wipe down your bike.

Some people like to wash their bikes and then spray them down with a hose. I don’t recommend this, even though it seems quick. Water can seep into areas like your bottom bracket, seat post, derailleurs, etc., and compromise the integrity of your bike. Treat your bike like someone you love and you’ll be rewarded.

Last Thoughts

Image by Pavil Danyiluk form

Bike maintenance may seem intimidating, but it really isn’t. Every time you put your bike in the stand to change something or make an adjustment, your confidence and knowledge increase. And once you’re done, you can kit up and hit the road knowing that your bike is ready to face the season ahead.

Have a good weekend everyone!!! I’m keeping my fingers crossed for some nice weather over the next couple of days. I wish the same for you wherever you might be.

Author: Doug McNamee

Freelance Content Writer, Travel Writer, Editor, and poet.

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