If your bike is making ominous clicking, scraping or creaking noises—or, worse, if you can feel the equivalent of those sounds while pedaling—you need to take your bike into a shop immediately. If you'd like to avoid ever hearing those noises in the first place, this guide is for you. By doing the following five basic maintenance tasks, you can spare yourself all sorts of setbacks and mechanical and medical bills. Special thanks to Tom Daly at WTF Bikes for his advice in compiling this list.
The most important, simple and neglected way to make sure you don't have problems on the road. Most tires will lose 1 to 3 pounds of air per day (depending on the type of tire), so a few weeks without fresh air will give you tires that are vulnerable to pinch flats, not to mention the sluggishness that comes with riding on mushy wheels. A simple rule of thumb is to give your tires a squeeze once per week, but if you aren't sure what a slightly deflated tire feels like, consider giving them a little air. Your tires should have their optimum level of inflation printed on them, so make sure it's always in that range.
Lube Your Chain
You can also clean your chain, but unless you've been leaving a lot of grease on it, your chain will tend to keep itself clean. To lube your chain, push your pedal counter-clockwise at a steady speed while dripping a thin, steady stream of lube onto the chain for four to six pedal rotations. Wait, at the very minimum, 15 to 20 minutes before wiping the chain down. If you have the time, wait much longer—the lube that actually helps your bike is what sinks inside the chain, not the stuff on the surface. After enough time has passed, wipe off the leftover lube from your chain by rotating your pedal counterclockwise while grasping the chain with a rag. Do this for a good amount of time, because any leftover lube is just going to collect gunk.
Brake Pad Adjustment and Replacement
It's good to keep an eye on your brake pads' level of wear because they can cause damage to your tires. Hearing scraping sounds while braking or having to pull your brake levers all the way up against your handlebars to stop are dead giveaways. Periodically take a look at your brake pads to make sure the rubber hasn't worn down past the indented nubs. If your brake pads are getting pretty worn, make sure they are still aligned exactly with your rim and, most important, not touching the actual tire (as opposed to the rim) when you brake, which exhausted brake pads will sometimes do. As your brake pads get used, you will want to adjust their cable tension so you have adequate control over them while riding. You can tell when your cable tension needs adjustment based on how much you have to pull on your brake levers to come to a stop.
Regular Visual Inspection
Intuition and a little logic can be powerful tools in preventing damage to your bike, and avoiding a major blowout or mechanical bill can be as simple as looking over your gears, chain, brakes, spokes and tires. Dents, cracks, severe wear and anything that doesn't look right are signs you need to take your bike to a shop.
Clean Your Bike
This isn't crucial unless you've been pedaling through mudslides, but it definitely doesn't hurt. All you'll need is a mild degreaser like Simple Green and a dry rag. Go wild. Make sure to get at your derailleur, spindle, bottom bracket tube and brakes. As long as you aren't using solvents that are too strong and make sure to wipe everything down, you can't go wrong.