Writer. Warning: opinions. My lawyer advised a disclaimer, but didn't include any jokes to go with. Damned if I can think of any either.

Basic Bicycle Maintenance, a How-To

One of my two readers, Brian, has asked me about basic bike care. There are a two easy steps I follow. First, I pump up the tires before every ride, and second, I take it to my local bike shop for pretty much everything else. Told you it was easy!

Now, you might be saying to yourself, “But Jim, isn’t using tools and putting parts on stuff manly, and aren’t you the manliest stack of rocket muscles who ever shaved his legs with a pink razor?” The answer is, of course, yes on all counts, but its also annoying to work on bikes unless you have all the proper tools and there are one hell of a lot of bicycle tools.

That said, I do try to keep my road bike chain clean, but that’s mostly because I don’t want an ugly grease spot on my sleek shaven right calf.

Pump up The Tires

Air molecules are sneaky. They slip out of your bicycle tubes just like you might slip out of a lame party. It’s important to pump those suckers up before every ride in order to avoid getting what’s called a “snakebite” flat.

I’m not a herpetologist but I know that snakes only attack semi-flat tires for some reason.

This sneaky leaking of air pressure is the issue that car people are trying to address by filling tires with the exotic gas Nitrogen. Nitrogen’s molecules are slightly fatter than oxygen molecules, so they don’t leave the party as easily. They are too fat to fit down the stairs.

Unfortunately there is no way to get Nitrogen into a bicycle tire merely because there isn’t an easy way to get your hands on any. It’s not like you can just pull the stuff out of the air, after all.

Go to your local bike shop

Robert M. Pirsig wrote the book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” which is one of my favorite books. It’s all about the calming effect of working with one’s hands and doing things right the first time. This is a good argument in favor of doing all your mechanical work yourself.

On the other hand,

The only Zen you find on tops of mountains is the zen you bring up there.
-Robert M. Pirsig

So, working on bikes is a zen activity if you consider it to be one. By that rationale, taking your bike to the local bike shop and having them get their fingernails all gross is every bit as zen as doing it yourself if you have the right attitude.

Personally I’d rather spend my time arranging my coin collection or texting monkey noises to Cheryl than working on my bikes.


As both of you know, I’m currently trying to shed as many of my possessions as possible, and what are facts and details but the possessions of the mind? I think we can live happily with relatively few of either.

I’m going to try to find out!

3 thoughts on “Basic Bicycle Maintenance, a How-To”

  1. Stephen Touset

    The nice thing about maintaining your own bike is that it ends up being a hell of a lot cheaper, and it’s shockingly easy once you’ve done it the first time. Just eliminating the cost of labor can save you hundreds of dollars per year, depending on what you need done. You save even more when you consider that some bike shops charge for unnecessary work on your bike.

    It’s not hard to have the tools to do almost all the maintenance yourself. A good multitool, chain tool, tire levers, used rags, floor pump, and a standard home toolset with allen keys and socket wrenches might cost $100–$150 total, and you should have the multitool, chain tool, and tire levers for mid-ride breakdowns anyway.

    With that, you can keep your tires inflated to the recommended PSI (an excellent suggestion); lube up your chain and wipe it clean every month or so (it only takes two minutes); repair and tweak your brakes; repair and tweak your shifters; adjust, remove, and replace your handlebars, stem, seatpost, or saddle; repair or replace your chain, and so on. And you’ll quickly realize that when you take your bike in for a $100 “tune-up”, all they do is turn the adjuster knobs on the brake and shifter cables, lube the chain, and wipe the bike clean. So you can do it yourself and not lose access to your bike for a whole weekend.

    All of that can be done in a few minutes with non-specialized tools for far cheaper than a bike shop can do it. If you find that you really enjoy working on bikes (as I do), it becomes obvious that almost any time you don’t have a tool to do a job, the tool often costs no more than the price the bike shop would charge just for labor; it becomes a no-brainer to just buy the tool and do it yourself.

  2. jim

    I get excellent service from my friendly mechanics, and they have years of experience that allows them to spot issues a lot faster than I could.

    It’s more valuable to me to spend money with an experienced mechanic than it is to spend money attempting to become an experienced mechanic.

    Much better to find an expert and let them do what they do.

  3. Stephen Touset

    Meh. To each his own, but the lion’s share of bicycle problems are either simple to diagnose, or could have been prevented by proper maintenance. Bicycles aren’t really that complicated — I think you’re selling short your own capabilities. :)

    Again, if getting dirty and working with tools isn’t your bag, that’s a totally different story. Don’t bother wasting time on something that you can’t stand doing. I just don’t buy the argument that fixing mechanical problems is too tough for the average Joe.