Bike maintenance can be a frustrating thing to learn. However, there are many things that are not too complicated, do not take much time to learn and do not require much precision or special tools. These are the tasks you want to learn and start performing regularly to increase your mechanical skill and save yourself some money in the process!
CLEAN YOUR CHAIN
Keeping your chain clean is one of the best things you can do to keep your bike running smoothly. In very dry and clean conditions you may be OK if you wipe the chain very well and reapply lube, but this is generally discouraged to avoid wearing out your components too soon. For harsher conditions, you will need degreaser, a brush, a hose, a sponge, soap and a rag.
Spray the bike down with a hose then spray the chain with degreaser. Scrub the chain with the brush, then use the hose to spray it off. Soap up the whole bike and use a sponge to scrub the chain again, taking care to really get suds scrubbed into the chain with the sponge. Clean the rest of the bike with a sponge or brushes (different ones than you used on the greasy drivetrain!). Spray and wipe down the whole bike, then apply lube to the inside of the chain (the portion facing up toward the chainstay).
ADJUST YOUR DERAILLEUR CABLE TENSION
Adjusting your derailleur is not overly complicated once you understand what can go wrong. Many times, especially after your bike gets a tune-up, there is some stretch or settling in your shifter cables and the tension just needs to be taken out. If you find you’re not able to shift up to easier gears (on the back gears) you can add cable tension by using the quick-adjust dials located behind the rear derailleur or where the cable comes out of the shifter.
If you can put the bike in a trainer or on a repair stand it’s easy to gradually see the changes your cable tension adjustment is having. To increase cable tension you need to screw out the quick adjuster 1/2 a turn (remember lefty loosey), then reassess your shifting to see if the chain shifts more easily up the cassette. Small adjustments ensure you can return it to the way it was or go the other way if you make a mistake.
INSTALL BOTTLE CAGES
Whether you have discovered cyclocross and need to pull off your bottle cages or you just need to take your second cage off for race day, you may find this task annoying. Having a set of ball-headed ‘L’ shaped Allen keys makes this job easier because the ball head helps get around the bottle cage. Use the longer section of the Allen key for removing and reinstalling the screw quickly and the short end to snug (or loosen) the bolts.
PUT A TIRE ON
This is a good skill to have since changing a flat is basically the same skill and because optimizing tires can be a huge advantage in wet conditions. I believe many tire and rim combinations can be taken on and off without tire levers.
The trick is learning where to grab the tire and how to get the tire worked into the groove of the rim on one side so you have more slack on the side you’re trying to remove. Also, only try to get one side of the tire bead off at a time, a common mistake is to try to get both sides of the tire off at once.