Basic Maintenance & Safety

 This page provides links to videos that show you the basic safety checks and simple maintenance tasks that most cyclists should be able to do.  Remember please, that you are responsible for your safety and that of those riding with you by ensuring your bike is roadworthy, so please learn to fix a puncture, adjust your brakes and gears, and change tyres.  Also, mistakes on a carbon-framed bike can be expensive to repair…  If you are not sure, get your bike checked by a local bike shop, or maybe by Bicycle Repairman.  Current areas covered are:

  1. Before you ride – basic checks
  2. Clean your bike efficiently
  3. Fixing a puncture
  4. Avoiding punctures
  5. How to adjust different types of calliper (rim) brakes and change brake pads
  6. How to improve the performance of your brakes
  7. How to change your brake cables
  8. How to maintain disc brakes
  9. Adjusting gears
  10. Fitting a Shimano Chainset
  11. Fitting a chain

Before you ride – basic checks

It’s no fun either breaking down on a ride or before you’ve even left home!  Our bare-minimum top tips are:

  • Check your bike the night before a morning ride or in good time on the day – it can be very deflating to find you’ve got a flat tyre from a slow puncture five minutes before you set out!
  • Squeeze your levers and make sure the brakes work.
  • Do the ‘M’ check – see below!

GCN have this video:  Six checks to do before you ride your bike

Lots of organisations recommend the ‘M’ check, so called because the checks follow the shape of a capital M – here is a good article and video from Bike Radar, or this guide from Sustrans.

And this video explains how NOT to maintain your bike!  [TOP]

Clean your bike efficiently

Cleaning your bike provides a good chance to check it over and helps keep your expensive steed in good condition.  It’s a lot quicker than cleaning a car and your bike will will continue to impress other club members as it sparkles and shines outside the cafe…  Give your tubes a jolly good polish to keep them in tip-top condition.  Here’s how:

GCN, yet again, have a video on how to clean your bike quickly.

Cycling Weekly offer a more comprehensive guide on this page, with a video, including cleaning the chain and gears.  [TOP]

Fixing a puncture

Make sure you carry with you an inner tube; a CO2 cylinder and adapter, or a bike pump; a tyre lever or two and some ‘quick patches’, just in case you get that dreaded second puncture…

Most riders do not fix the puncture at the roadside, but instead, carry a spare inner tube and replace the damaged one.  You can repair the puncture in the warm and dry once home.  If you have a puncture on a group ride, others will stop to help.  Here is a good description, with some photos, and here is a really good video from Global Cycling Network.  Note that they describe slightly different techniques, but you’ll develop your way of doing this anyway.


Q: How many cyclists does it take to fix a puncture?  A: two and an ‘expert supervisor’

If you can, try to put the tyre back on without using a tyre lever. This is possible if your thumbs are strong and the tyre is not too tight! It is easier to do this if you hold the wheel horizontally against your stomach with the last bit of tyre to go over the rim furthest away from you. You can then push with your thumbs and roll the bead over the edge of the rim.


This man has thumbs of steel…

No, it’s not easy, so try practising this at home, kids – it does avoid pinching the inner tube with the tyre lever. Some tyres are easier than others.

Fixing the inner tube can be done with either a patch and rubber solution, or with a glueless patch – either works well.  This BikeRadar video shows both techniques and the tools needed. [TOP]

Avoiding Punctures

Tyre choice is probably the biggest factor, especially for wet weather as moisture lubricates the rubber allowing easier penetration (ahem), as well as washing sharp stones into the road.  In poor weather, most riders use winter tyres, either on a spare set of wheels or on a winter bike.  A survey of club members found that the most popular winter tyres are:

  1. Continental Grand Prix Four Season (by a long way) – reviewed here
  2. Continental Gatorskin Hardshell – reviewed here
  3. Michelin Lithion – reviewed here

The ultimate winter bike?

Road position is also a factor – the more you ride in the gutter, the more likely you are to get a puncture.  Try to ride in the ‘tyre tracks’ – the portion of the road swept clean by vehicle tyres, rather than hugging the kerb where all the road crap collects.  Those lovely young men at GCN have produced a short cinematic film for internet transmission on this very subject – how helpful!

How to reduce the risk of getting punctures, by GCN

Some riders swear by tubeless tyres which, like a car tyre, have no inner tube, just a really good seal between the tyre and the rim.  This article in Road Cycling UK explains the pros and cons.  You will need wheel rims that are compatible with tubeless tyres – here is a list of 200 or so.  A sealant is inserted to automatically fix small holes.  If the tyre is badly cut, you can still fit an inner tube, but users report far fewer punctures and greater ride comfort. [TOP]

How to adjust different types of caliper (rim) brakes and change brake pads

Efficient, well-maintained brakes are vital to your safety, so if you are in doubt please get them checked by a bike shop or someone who knows what they are doing.  This includes regularly checking the brake pads for excessive wear and then replacing them.


A dual-pivot caliper brake (or calliper, if you prefer)

Caliper brakes are still the most common type of bicycle brake, not least because they are simple, easy to maintain and lighter than disc brakes.  If they are set up properly they are more than powerful enough.  They are less effective when wet, but this can be improved by fitting better brake pads, keeping the brake well-adjusted and your wheel rims clean.  The terrible dilemma we face is that no-one can agree how to spell this type of brake – caliper or calliper?  Do please let us know…

The video for this task gives you a chance to select the right instructions as there are different types of rim brake.  The two main types are dual pivot, such as Shimano have sold since 2015 or so, and single pivot.  Older bikes might have side pull brakes and cyclocross bikes still use cantilever brakes.

Brake Calliper Mounting and Adjustment by those nice Americans at Park Tools (but they do talk funny).

Or, if you prefer an English accent, see this charming video by GCN entitled How To Change Your Road Brake Calipers And Set Up Your Brakes

Changing the brake pads is a more common task, especially in winter.  Brake pads that are too worn will reduce the power of your brakes, so get ’em changed!  If left too long, you also risk damaging the wheel rim and having a nasty accident.

How to change your brake pads or brake blocks, by GCN.  [TOP]

How to improve the performance of your brakes

Over time, your brakes will become less efficient as they age and wear, so from time to time, it’s a good idea to overhaul them.  This video from GCN shows you the main points to address:

How to improve the performance of your brakes  [TOP]

How to change your brake cables

Many people do this as a routine task e.g. once a year at the end of winter, in order to avoid a scary brake failure on their favourite descent.  Brake cables are thicker and stronger than gear cables, but can still rust, fray or snap.  You might get some warning e.g. the brakes might feel softer than usual, but you might not so check the cables regularly.  They are easy and cheap to change – remember to change the outer as well, as this often rusts.

Change your brake cables, by GCN

Some tips:

  • Run the new cables through a rag with some fresh bike oil on it to help delay rust
  • Consider soldering the ends of the cables rather than capping them – this makes repairs on the road a lot easier.
  • For the back brake cable, it can be worth fitting ‘donuts’ to keep the cable off the underside of the top tube so that it does not ‘slap the carbon’ on bumpy roads


How to maintain disc brakes


Disc brake

With disc brakes comes a bit more complication than with calliper brakes.  Disc brakes offer more power and, if well-adjusted, more control than calliper brakes but they need regular care to maintain good performance.  There are two types – cable and hydraulic.

Here is a GCN video with five tips for maintaining disc brakes.

Here is a GCN video showing how to replace disc brake pads.

And here is a video showing how to bleed Shimano hydraulic disc brakes.  [TOP]

Adjusting gears

If you absolutely need to know how to deal with punctures, the thing most club members most want to know about is adjusting their gears, both front and rear.

Here are some videos that show you how to adjust your gears, from simple adjustment to full refurbishment.

Simply adjust the rear derailleur

Simply adjust the front derailleur and again from GCN

Cycling Weekly – gear adjustment

Bike Radar, which includes some troubleshooting sections

Refurbish a rear derailleur, by GCN

Refurbish a front derailleur, by GCN

Fitting a Shimano Chainset (without removing the bottom bracket)

This job is easier than you think but make sure you have the right tools!  It can be worth ordering a new crankset by telephone so you can make sure it comes with the right tool to tighten the left-hand crank arm (the pre-load tool).  There is no need to remove the chain, but if you are fitting a new crankset you might want to fit a new chain and rear cassette at the same time.  Here’s a great video to show you how:

Change a Shimano Chainset, by GCN

Campagnolo chainsets are more varied and complex so it might be easier for you to search online for the right instructions for your particular chainset.  [TOP]

Fitting a chain

A common task, this can be a fiddly and messy job. Points to note are buying the right chain in the first place – that means the right chain for the number of gears you have and the right brand for the groupset e.g. Campagnolo chains do not work well with Shimano or SRAM gears.


A chain and cassette in good condition

How do you know when you chain needs changing?  The best way is to measure it with a chain gauge, but you might also notice that your gear changes are less accurate and general pedalling is noisier.  A chain ridden in lots of poor weather will wear out sooner than one ridden solely in the dry, as will a chain that is not regularly cleaned and oiled.  As a rule of thumb, chains last about 5,000 or 6,000 kilometres (3,000 to 3,600 miles).

How to replace a bicycle chain, by GCN.

Things not to do:  make a new chain from lots of spare links…  Yes, this has been tried and the results were bloody and expensive.   [TOP]