Saturdays were always my favorite days when I worked in bicycle shops. No matter how early I got to work, there’d almost always be at least one anxious roadie waiting at the door for me to help them with their bike so they could make their morning ride. And, throughout the day, the flood of new-bike shoppers, constant calls and many different types of needy two-wheelers rolling in for repairs made the day speed by.
I loved helping people with their bikes and especially solving problems quickly so they wouldn’t have to leave their bike with me for repairs and could ride it that weekend. But sometimes, that wasn’t possible. Like the time a guy brought his frame and wheels, parked them on the floor, said he’d be right back, and then brought in a cardboard box. He put that down next to the frame and wheels and said, “I took it apart. Can you put it back together?”
I looked in the box and saw that he had removed all the parts, the brakes, derailleurs, shifters, crankset and so on. But instead of just taking them off, he had completely disassembled them, too, right down to the derailleur springs, brake pivot bolts and shifter bosses. No way was I going to get him going in a hurry.
Thinking of that guy with the box of parts, I thought I’d offer five basic bike repair tips to help novice mechanics avoid common mistakes like that.
1) Most Repairs Require only Minor Adjustments
The wonderful thing about bicycle repair is that in most cases, a bike has been set up to work properly. It was built by the factory and then assembled by a professional mechanic. This means that you rarely need to take components all apart to fix them. In most cases all that’s needed is minor maintenance or adjustment.
Rather than take something apart, inspect it carefully and consider what might be causing the problem. If there are two of them, like the brakes or levers or derailleurs, compare the one that’s not working correctly with the one that is and see if you can understand what has changed on the bad one. You can often figure out the problem this way without taking anything apart, and then adjust it, lubricate it or clean it to fix it.
If you decide that you have to take something apart, make a drawing first or take a photo so that you have a record of how it goes back together. Also, things come apart in steps and there’s usually a right and wrong way to take them apart, so proceed cautiously if you’re not sure. Maybe Google the part, and see ifyou can find a technical spec sheet.
Tip: You can find adjustment and troubleshooting instructions, and videos, for most components on the company’s website or elsewhere on the web, so look there for help if you’re not sure.
2) Be Gentle When Working on Your Bicycle
I used to see a lot of stripped threads and broken parts when I repaired bicycles for a living. It’s easy to do this because the parts are made of lighter materials and finer threads than many people are used to working on (compared to car parts and even most appliances, etc., that you might fix at home).
Another issue is that you might have heavy-duty tools at home that apply too much leverage and force. So, it’s good to round up and use more bicycle-appropriate tools.
Tips: Bike shops sell bicycle-specific tools. With basic hand tools, it’s best to get smaller ones, for example an 8-ounce ball peen hammer instead of a monster model for pounding bumpers back into shape.
3) Keep Track of Small Parts While Working
Work over a clean floor with no cracks or hidden areas so that you find small parts you might drop (be especially careful working outside, where things can end up in the grass). Work systematically and place things on your workbench in the order they were removed. Or put them in containers that separate items and help you keep track of them, like those egg holders.
Tip: I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but even pros like me get stupid sometimes and drop and lose things. Just the other day I was changing my cassette in a huge hurry, dropped the lockring and it bounced and disappeared into the clutter on one side of my garage. What should have been a 60-second switcheroo almost made me miss my club ride.
4) Maintenance is Your Bike’s Best Friend
Maintaining your bicycle is the best way to extend its life and prevent breakdowns – and it’s easy to do. Simply wipe the frame, wheels and components down after rides, keep the tires inflated, keep the drivetrain clean and lubricated, and inspect and check things for wear and tear.
You don’t need to be an advanced mechanic or even have much know-how to do these things. If you’re not sure how, you can ask your riding buddies to show you or tell you. Or you can pick up a basic bike repair book that will help.
Tip: I also have a popular Basic Bike Care article on my website.
5) Keep Spare Parts on Hand in Your Shop
My last basic bike tip is slightly more advanced because you need to know a few things to do it. But, you can simply bring your bicycle into your local bike shop if you’re not sure.
The tip is to keep the common spare parts for your bicycle on hand in your home shop. Remember that dropped cassette lockring I mentioned in tip 3? Well, I made my ride that day not because I found the dropped lockring, but because I had a spare (my wife found the lost one in the trash can – meaning it had bounced and landed about 10 feet from where I dropped it!).
What parts you need to stock depends on your level as a mechanic and what maintenance and repairs you like to perform. At a minimum, I would recommend spare tubes, tires, brake pads, handlebar tape and end plugs, and both shift and brake cables.
Tip: My eBook Your Home Bicycle Workshop has a great list of small parts and tools for equipping a home shop to prepare you to fix your bicycle and be ready for anything.