Cycling doesn’t require a great deal of maintenance, but, unfortunately it’s not completely maintenance-free either. Your gear-train will require adjustment from time to time ($40-75 at your local bike shop), your tires will wear out ($30-70 each), and your chain will stretch and need to be replaced periodically ($30-50). For the beginner, or those who are simply not inclined to fix things themselves, I recommend going to your local bike shop and having a professional take care of things for you. How often you’ll need to do this depends entirely on how much you ride. Chains typically last 2000-3000 miles. Tires are similar, about 2000-2500. Gear adjustments are typically more frequent – probably every 500-1000 miles or so. You’ll also need to replace your brake pads periodically – some recommend you do it every year, but you can probably get away with every other year or longer if you don’t ride that much. You’ll also need to lubricate your chain from time to time – every time you wash the bike, or every 500-1000 miles at a minimum.
If you’re more mechanically inclined, you can easily do most, if not all, of the maintenance yourself. Tires are easy – you should already have the necessary levers in your saddle bag. Replacing a chain is simple too – you’ll just need a chain breaker tool in order to push the pins out and in. (You can also get chains that have a quick-disconnect link. I strongly recommend this, as it allows you to remove your chain for cleaning. Your chain will become “gunky” very quickly if you don’t clean it from time to time!)
Chain breaker tool
Adjusting the gear-train on a bike is a bit more tricky. You really have to understand a lot of adjustment parameters. I recommend you attend a maintenance seminar at your local bike shop, or buy a book on the subject. Each of the major component suppliers (Shimano, Campagnolo, SRAM) is slightly different in how they’re properly adjusted. In addition, your bike may not have all the adjustments – barrel adjusters on cables, for example – that other bikes have. If possible, get an expert to explain the specifics for your bike to you. You can then make little tweaks as necessary, and only bring it in to the pro mechanic annually or when something is really out of whack!
One other option, which I use, is to get an app on your phone. While certainly not as good as a mechanic’s instructions, it offers step-by-step instructions on how to make most major adjustments and repairs. Since I take my phone with me wherever I ride, it’s nice to have in case I need a repair on the road as well!
For tire maintenance, one tip to increase their life is to treat them just like you do the ones on your car (at least I hope you do this) – rotate them! Most of your weight is on the rear tire, so it will naturally wear out much quicker than the front one. (you’ve probably noticed that you get most of your flats on the rear for the same reason!) So, rotate them every 300-500 miles and you’ll get a lot more use out of them!
Speaking of getting more use out of your system, chain lubrication is critical. I don’t know how many times I’ve come up behind someone and can hear their chain squeaking a mile away! Keep your chain both clean and lubricated. If you don’t like to wash your bike often (always lube your chain after washing – usually the next day so it has time to fully dry out), then you can consider two things: a) a chain with a quick-removal link so you can take it off and clean it separately, or b) one of those cool tools that snaps on your chain and lets you wash it while on the bike! (My buddy swears by his, even though they seem like a gimic!) Be warned – there are dozens of different types of lubrications out there. What’s best for you depends a lot on the climate you’re in. Ask your local bike shop for their recommendation. (Here’s a link to an excellent discussion on the subject: http://www.recumbentblog.com/2006/07/03/back-on-the-chain-gang/)
Chain lube exapmples
Lastly, as mentioned in the beginner section, things just wear out. Once you get more into riding, you’ll find that you’re putting more miles on your bike than you ever thought possible! You’ll suddenly need to keep track of when you bought your tires, chain, rear cassette, etc, so you will know when it’s time to replace them again. Write down the mileage on the bike when you install a new piece of equipment (use the odometer on your bike computer) and then replace component when they start to get towards the end of their life. For tires you’ll have to visually inspect them for cracks and wear. For chains it’s a bit more difficult – buy a basic chain stretch gauge (about $15-20 at your local bike shop) and test to make sure your chain isn’t too stretched. …And don’t forget about your rear cassette. It needs to be replaced every 5000-10000 miles. Some people recommend every-other chain replacement. Like the tires – check for wear and replace as necessary. (Poor or slow shifting can be signs of worn chains and/or cassettes!)
Chain stretch guage