There are different approaches to maintaining your cycle: some folks love to get hands-on and do it all themselves, others are happy to send it off to the bike shop for a regular service and let other people do it. (Even if you’re definitely in the second group, it’s useful to have some understanding of what’s going on so you can deal with issues before they become crises. It can also help with communicating and letting others know exactly what you want them to sort out.)
Here we’re going to look at a middle ground where you can keep your cycle in good condition and deal with some of the basic repairs and maintenance yourself, but delegate the more advanced stuff to others …for the time being anyway!
Bike maintenance generally needs specific tools and equipment, so we’ve put together a suggested toolkit that will enable you to do all this and more:
- Adjust the saddle and handlebars to improve fit
- Adjust your brakes and replace the brake pads
- Adjust your gears to improve shifting
- Fix punctures
- Replace worn tyres
- Stop annoying rattles
- Add and remove accessories
- And look after the chain to keep everything running smoothly
We’re not affiliated to any of the retailers we’re linking to here. We’ve tried to limit the number of different websites so you can save on postage if you’re buying online. The other approach is to use these links for reference and then to go and support your local bike shop on the high street.
A third approach is to borrow tools or use those that are available for shared use. We’ve got a toolkit for this purpose, so if you’re a trans person, non binary person or an allied woman in Lancaster, get in touch and we’ll try and sort something out. We also run workshops and activities where you can use our kit to learn on and learn what works for you.
If you’re part of the Lancaster University community there’s a bike workshop (currently closed because of the pandemic) and a tool station at the cycle storage alongside the InfoLab. Cycling groups and other networks are also good places to ask to borrow things.
Here we’re linking to tools of decent enough quality that you shouldn’t find yourself having to replace them in the near future. We’ll flag up some cheaper options too for if you’re on a tight budget.
This suggested starter kit is mostly based around the sort of stuff you might carry with you on a ride or commute – pop it in a bag that goes under your saddle or in the bottom of a pannier.
Puncture repair kit
Your decisions about whether to carry this with you will depend on things like how far you’ve got to walk home if you get a puncture; whether you’re physcially able to do the repair; what support crew you can call upon to bail you out; how safe you feel in the places you’re travelling through; and what access you’ve got to taxis, trains or buses that can transport you and your bike if needed.
A puncture repair kit should include several patches, some rubber solution (the ‘glue’), two or three tyre levers and a small piece of emery paper. Some will also contain chalk to grind up and use like talcum powder to stop the repair from sticking to the inside of the tyre and/or a small crayon for marking where the puncture is.
Supermarkets, Wilko and Halfords will also sell repair kits, generally for a few pounds.
You will need to replace the patches and the glue as they get used up. The rubber solution goes solid when it is exposed to air, and this can happen inside the tube once it has been opened, making it useless. One tip for this is, after use, to gently squeeze the tube so that the rubber solution comes right up to the end of the nozzle before putting the cap back on. Another is to buy smaller tubes of glue (about 5g) and to put two in your repair kit so you always have an unopened tube in reserve.
You can get patches in a variety of different sizes. 25-30mm is a good all-rounder size, but you might want to use smaller ones if you have skinny road tyres.
Depending on how tight a fit your tyres are, you may want to upgrade your tyre levers to something more sturdy. This is where steel core tyre levers offer the strength of metal levers but also the protection of plastic, so they won’t damage the wheel rims.
I like these a lot: https://www.sjscycles.co.uk/tools/sjsc-steel-core-tyre-lever-set-of-3/. https://www.ribblecycles.co.uk/ribble-metal-core-tyre-levers/ look similar, or premium brands such as Park Tool also do steel core levers. Some tyres are really easy to remove from the rims though, so if you’ve got plastic levers see how you get on with those first and they might be fine.
Spare inner tube
If you get a puncture out on a ride (sod’s law says it will be raining and getting dark) it’s a lot quicker and easier to just switch out the punctured inner tube for a different one, rather than to have to faff around getting cold trying to locate a hole and then wait for the glue to set. You’ll need to make sure you get one that’s in the right size range for your wheels and has a compatible valve for your rims and pump. You can find sizing information on the side of your tyre.
I rate my Topeak Road Morph pump https://www.wiggle.co.uk/topeak-road-morph-with-gauge/. Being able to use it like a track pump is useful, as is the gauge. The mountain bike version (where you have to move a lot of air, but don’t need to get it to as high a pressure) is https://www.wiggle.co.uk/topeak-mountain-morph-pump/. I haven’t any experience with other pumps because the ones I have of these are still doing the job. (I’ve had the road morph for 6 years now!)
Both these pumps can be adjusted to fit either presta or schrader valves. If needed, you can also buy adaptors such as https://www.wiggle.co.uk/lifeline-presta-to-schrader-valve-pump-head-adaptor/
If you’re going to go the CO2 route (generally not necessary, but it makes sense in some situations) it’s a good idea to get a connector head with a control valve. https://www.wiggle.co.uk/lifeline-cnc-co2-inflator-thread-on-valve-head/
A track pump might be something to consider having at home. They’re bigger and more effective at moving air about and generally easier and less effort to use. Choose one with a pressure gauge and that can be used with both schrader and presta valves.
Allen keys are at the core of most tasks, and a good multitool will have one each of all the sizes you should need in the range of 2mm through to 8mm. It should also have cross-head (usually Philips rather than Posidrive) and flat-head screwdrivers. If your cycle has some torx bolts (with sort of star shaped sockets), you’ll want a multitool with the appropriate sizes of those too.
A good basic multitool that I like a lot is this one https://www.wiggle.co.uk/lifeline-x-tools-essential-10-in-1-folding-multi-tool/, but it’s currently out of stock. https://www.wiggle.co.uk/topeak-x-tool-multi-toolblack looks like a close equivalent.
Something like https://www.wiggle.co.uk/crank-brothers-17-function-multi-tool-1/ or https://www.wiggle.co.uk/topeak-hexus-x-multi-tool also includes a chain tool and spoke keys, but can get a bit bulky when you’re trying to use it in tight spaces (of which there are many on a bike!).
I think my https://www.wiggle.co.uk/topeak-ratchet-rocket-11-function-multi-tool is a joy to use, but it might not be for you if you’re prone to losing small things. It’s good for reaching into narrow spaces and you can tuck any additional bits under the flexible silicone cover of the case. I used to carry an additional flat screwdriver bit …but I lost it!
If you’re on a budget you can buy a set of normal (individual, L-shaped) allen keys from somewhere like Poundland or Wilkos. Keep an eye on if the hexagon shapes on the end start to round off though, as these might not be great quality.
If your bike has wheels that are held on with nuts rather than skewers, you’ll ideally need some sort of spanner in order to be able to fix punctures. These flat ones are easy enough to tuck into a bag
https://www.halfords.com/cycling/bike-maintenance/bike-tools/halfords-8-way-bike-spanner-405449.html Sometimes though they don’t play nicely with the access you have to the nut you’re trying to get at, in which case a small (4”) adjustable spanner or a spanner sized specifically for the nuts on your bike are alternatives.
Chain wear indicator
https://www.halfords.com/cycling/bike-maintenance/bike-tools/bikehut-chain-wear-checker-164099.html or https://www.wiggle.co.uk/lifeline-chain-wear-indicator/. As you ride, your chain will gradually wear out. The more worn out it gets the more damage it does to the gear sprockets that it comes into contact with. It’s a lot easier (and cheaper) to repair just the chain rather than to have to repair the cassette and crankset too. These tools help you to see when it’s time to replace your chain.
To replace your chain you’ll either need to use a chainbreaker tool or to split a quick link with special pliers. This is starting to get into the next level of tool ownership, but you might have a chainbreaker on your multitool.
Looking after your chain will also help the bike to perform better by reducing friction.
As a minimum you can wipe your chain down with (what will rapidly become) a greasy rag. This can be an old T-shirt or some jeans cut up into conveniently sized pieces. Using a degreaser of some sort will help. You could use washing-up liquid, but it does contain salts so you have to be careful about rinsing it all off afterwards. You can buy bike specific degreasers https://www.wiggle.co.uk/cycle/cleaning-products/ of which there are many, each making their own claims about efficacy and eco-friendliness. You’ll have to decide on your own priorities…
There’s a DIY hack with a couple of toothbrushes and a rubberband, or you can buy chain scrubbers like https://www.wiggle.co.uk/park-tool-cyclone-chain-scrubber-cm-53/. Aldi/Lidl also sell something equivalent which is a lot cheaper.
Alternatively, and for a deeper clean, you can take the chain off the bike. I mix up a hot solution of https://www.screwfix.com/p/no-nonsense-heavy-duty-degreaser-5ltr/88668, put the chain in it and leave it to soak for a bit. There’s also a similar technique involving a jam jar of white spirit which I’ve heard good things about.
Once you’ve cleaned and dried your chain you’ll need to oil it. Wet lube for wet weather, eg https://www.wiggle.co.uk/muc-off-wet-lube-120ml/, dry lube for dry weather, eg https://www.wiggle.co.uk/muc-off-dry-lube-120ml/. If you’re in the UK and only going to buy one, go for the wet lube!
Keep an eye out for our upcoming Chain Gleaning sessions where we’ll provide both a selection of different methods for you to try and the incentive to do this sometimes mucky task.
Nitrile gloves can be useful to keep in with your tools (especially for commutes where there might be more need to keep as clean as possible). You can buy a pack from Poundland. Things on the bike tend to rattle when you’re moving, but strategic placement of things so there’s no metal against metal, and also wrapping those nitrile gloves around things can solve this.
Cable ties. Good for all sorts of bodges. Some people also wrap a bit of gaffer tape around something convenient.
Finding a suitable bag to keep it in is left as an exercise for the reader. Consider if it’s something you’ll leave attached to the bike or if it’s better living in a bag or pannier that stays with you to make sure it doesn’t get stolen.
Once you’ve got the tools you’ll have to learn how to use them. We can help with that and there are many, many tutorials and videos available online. The Park Tool website is useful as it has a point-at-the-part-of-the-bike-where-the-problem-is menu for accessing it’s excellent teaching material. Sheldon Brown’s website also has sage advice, but it can be harder to navigate. Often a search for “Sheldon Brown [issue]” is the easiest way to find things there.