A bicycle uses technology that anyone can grasp. You can touch it, tweak it, and see the effects as you work. You don’t need to be an expert to get started. You just need the right tools, a place to work in comfort, and a methodical approach.
Can you fix it?
What’s wrong? It might be obvious or you might need to put it on a work stand to check. Before you get your hands dirty, do some research. See if there’s a how-to article on this website. If not, look for an instruction video online. Made Good has loads of beginner-friendly videos, as does the Park Tool website. YouTube videos are of variable quality but can also be useful.
It’s worth investing in a good bike maintenance book for reference. The Park Tool Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair is comprehensive, but you may find The Bike Repair Manual by Dorling Kindersley or The Bike Book by Haynes more accessible.
Once you know what needs doing, it’s decision time: have you got the tools and confidence to tackle this? If the answer’s no, go to plan B. (B is for bike shop!) Some jobs aren’t difficult but require rarely-used tools that it might not be cost-effective for you to own.
While a dedicated workshop is ideal, all you need is a well-lit area where you’ll be comfortable and won’t get in anyone’s way. You’ll make fewer mistakes if you’re able to work methodically, without the pressure of time or the worry of making a mess.
If you don’t have a suitable garage or shed, buy workshop mat to put down in a vacant room. They cost from around £10; search for ‘workshop bike mat’. Wherever you’ll be working, aim to do so using a bicycle work stand. A stand makes maintenance work much easier. Most fold down for storage.
There are ad hoc ways to bring the bike up to your level. You could use a padded bench vise. Or you might be able to put a couple of long straps over a beam to hook the bike up by the saddle and handlebar.
Ensure you’ve got all the parts you need before you start. If you’re fitting a new chain, you might also need a new cassette, new chainrings, and new derailleur jockey wheels. If you’re fitting a new cable, you may need a new cable outer and ferrules, and you’ll certainly need an extra cable end cap.
There are countless different standards for bikes, so it’s easy to buy the wrong thing, particularly if you’re buying online. The safest bet is to take your bike into your local shop, explain what you need, and buy the correct brake pads or whatever on the spot.
Bikes get dirty, especially the drivetrain, and some of that will get transferred onto you. Wear an apron – any will do. Nitrile workshop gloves will keep your hands clean. If you don’t have them, keep some kitchen roll handy to wipe the worst of the muck off before you transfer it to door handles etc.
When you’re working on your bike, small parts can easily become misplaced. Lay out parts systematically on sheets or newspaper or keep them together in, for example, Tupperware boxes.
Don’t use cheap tools. If a tool rounds off and slips, it’ll damage the nut, bolt or other component. Your hand will slip too, and you may bang it or gouge it on the bike. Even with good tools, make sure they’re properly seated and apply leverage in such a way that your hand won’t get hurt if a firmly tightened bolt suddenly yields.
Nuts and bolts on bikes can be very tight. If you’re struggling, you need more leverage. With a multitool, you can increase this by unfolding the tools on the opposite end to the one you’re using, so you’ve got a longer lever. With big spanners and suchlike, it’s useful to have a 30cm or longer piece of metal tubing, wide enough in diameter to enclose the tool handle. If you can’t find anything else suitable, a cheap aluminium relay baton (around £5 online) will do the job.
Beware tightening things too firmly. The bottom bracket and headset, for example, should be tightened just enough to stop play in the bearings; there shouldn’t be any resistance to turning. Most other fittings require firm pressure rather than extreme force. Each part have a recommended amount of force to apply to it when it’s fitted. While you can normally judge things well enough by feel instead, force is worth measuring with a torque wrench in the case of (more easily damaged) carbon fibre parts.
Bolts and other threaded parts should turn easily to begin with. If not, you may have crossed the threads. Undo and try again, taking great care to screw the fitting home perpendicularly. Bear in mind that some components – for example, left-hand pedals and right-hand bottom bracket cups – use a left-hand thread and tighten anticlockwise.
Before you ride the bike you’ve been maintaining, ensure that everything functions as it should while it’s in your ‘workshop’.
Get all you're maintenance equipment on the scheme - just apply for a decide later certificate and choose where to spend it later
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