Preventive Bike Maintenance 101

This is the third article in a ten part series on the League of American Bicyclists Safe Cycling Series.  By Bob Sharpe, League Certified Cyclist (LCI #4661)

Keeping your bicycle in tip-top operating condition is critical if you’re going to enjoy cycling to its fullest. Preventive maintenance is a breeze and keeping your bicycle in optimal operating condition will pay you back with miles of hassle free riding. Here are some simple steps you can take to get the most from your bicycle and enjoy the ride more than ever!


There aren’t too many things worse than a flat tire in the middle of a long ride miles from home.  Ironically, many flats can be avoided simply by paying more attention to what's going on with your tires before  you saddle up and ride.

Proper tire maintenance starts with air pressure. Make sure you keep your tire pressure within the range specified by the manufacturer.  You'll find this range on the tire's sidewall.

Properly inflated tires will last longer and are less likely to go flat.


You'll also want to pay close attention to your tire's tread and the condition of the sidewalls. Worn tread and cracking sidewalls are indicative of a tire that should be replaced before it fails.   By taking these easy steps, you'll be assuring yourself a more comfortable ride while greatly reducing the likelihood of an untimely blowout.  


Most bicycles are equipped with one of three brake types. Coaster brakes are common on many older single speed bikes as well as some new cruisers. They’re housed in the rear wheel hub and activated by pedaling backward. Disc brakes are common on many newer mountain bikes where they’re valued for their superior stopping power. Rim brakes are found on all varieties of bikes and stop the bike by applying pressure to the rim of both wheels.


Disc brakes require little maintenance and offer superior stopping power.


Disc and rim brakes use hand levers connected to the brakes via cables to stop the bike. These cables will periodically need to be adjusted to compensate for brake wear. The brake pads on rim brakes will also need to be adjusted from time to time to assure that they provide maximum stopping pressure. If your brake levers aren’t moving freely or returning to their proper position after applying the brakes, chances are an adjustment is required.


Your bike’s drivetrain includes the crank, chainring, chain and cassette. On muti-speed bikes, front and rear derailleurs are also part of the drivetrain.

These components should be kept as clean as possible to minimize wear and tear. the teeth on your cassette and chainring will wear down as they age, and the presence of dirt, grease, grime and other debris will accelerate that process.


A clean chain and cassette will wear less, providing many miles of cycling pleasure.


A clean chain is metalic in color. If your chain is black, it’s covered in grit and grime and needs to be cleaned. You can use a fancy chain cleaner or a simple brush to do the job.  Instead of spending extra for a bicycle-specific degreasing compound, use an inexpensive household degreaser to clean your chain and other drivetrain components.

You'll also want to add a lubricant. Unlike with the cleaner, quality matters here.   Be sure to use a lubricant especially designed for bicycles such as the White Lightning line of products.

ABC Quick Check

One simple way to make sure you’re staying ahead of any preventive maintenance problems is to do an ABC Quick Check before every ride. It only takes thirty seconds, but it will give you peace of mind that your bike is in top operating condition. Here are the steps:

  • A is for air pressure. Gently squeeze each tire to make sure that the pressure is about right. Once you do it a few times, you’ll be able to easily tell.
  • B is for brakes. Lift each wheel slightly off the ground and spin the tire. Apply the brakes to make sure that they work and that there’s not too much play in the brake levers.
  • C is for crank, chainring and cassette. Grab each crank arm and make sure that it’s solidly attached to the chainring. Cranks should never be loose.
  • Quick is for quick releases. Many bikes are equipped with quick releases on the wheels, seat posts and maybe even the derailleurs. Make sure they’re tight,
  • Check is for checking everything else out. Ride slowly for a few seconds and make sure that your equipment is working as it should.


Quality lubricants designed for bicycles offer world class drivetrain protection.


You'll want to get into the habit of doing an ABC Quick Check before every ride. It will provide you with peace of mind and provide an early warning of any preventive maintenance needs before they turn into big problems. That way, you’ll get the most out of every ride.


Bob Sharpe is a League of American Bicyclists Certified Cycling Instructor and founder of Bike 5, a movement that encourages people to bicycle for short trips of five miles or less.  You can reach him directly through the Bike 5 page on Facebook.

This article is one of a 12-part series on the basics of riding on the road and covering the primary topics found in the League of American Bicyclists Smart Cycling course.

Read all 11 articles in Bob's Safe Cycling Series here.

Find more resources for better bicycling on our Bicycle Skills and Safety page.


Improving safety for Missourians who bicycle, walk, and drive is one of the primary goals of MoBikeFed's Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri. Work to educate and inform Missourians about important safety and skills topics such as those found in this series on safe bicycling is an important part of that effort.

Your ongoing membership and generous financial support help turn our Vision into reality!