Bike Maintenance Course: Put to the Test

If you don’t know your shifters from your sprockets or your bottom bracket from your barrel adjusters, maybe you need to attend a Ride On Bike Maintenance course? That’s exactly what Ride On Trustee Louise Clarke did, and it was a valuable learning experience and lesson in bicycle safety, as she reports.

As a Ride On Trustee I’m a loyal supporter of the charity’s vision ‘for a clean, healthy and more active Exeter and Devon’. But I’d never actually tried the high-quality bicycle maintenance training and education on offer. So I jumped at the chance to join fellow students Toby and Matilda, and Ride On Workshop Manager Sam White, one Saturday morning in May for the basic Brake and Gear adjustment workshop.

Safety first!

I turned up with my very own 12-year-old Specialised Tri-Cross which I use for daily travel. Fitted with panniers, a rack and a ‘Cycle Whatever the Weather’ yellow squeaky duck, it’s my prize possession. So I was shocked to discover during the brakes section of the training that my bike was at risk of being condemned! Sam used a special instrument (apparently used in dentistry) to measure the thickness of my wheel rims and found them to be well below the safe minimum. As suspected I also needed new tyres. I must admit a couple of people had commented on their baldness!

It was obviously time to pay attention and learn something! We began with the gears and Sam showed us how the High and Low limit screws are used to accurately define the limits of the derailleur and stop the chain going into the spokes or the frame. We were also shown how to master indexing, improve cable tension using the barrel adjuster and achieve crisp shifting every time. We then moved onto brakes and how to replace cables and pads. 

This course is designed to tackle common faults with bikes and is aimed at people who are new to bike maintenance. It was a relaxed pace. Sam explained each element clearly and gave us plenty of time for questions. The classes are limited to four people to ensure everyone is well supported.

Finely tuned machine

Another bike maintenance course attendee was equally impressed:

“Well it was finally time to take some ownership for basic servicing of our family’s bicycle collection. Having watched a whirlwind of videos on YouTube on how easy it was to adjust the rear derailleur and failed miserably, I attended the Ride On introductory bike maintenance session in May to get me over the knowledge hump.  

Sam was running the session and was a fountain of friendly knowledge, providing a great overview of the key components and how to get everything running smoothly.   We worked on our own bicycles during the session, so I now have a finely tuned machine that I enjoy riding again and a list of tasks for the family’s bicycles!”

I also spoke to Sam to find out more about the aims of the course:

”Our basic maintenance courses aim to provide you with the skills needed to tackle some of the most common bike maintenance issues – brakes, gears and puncture repair.

We prefer to use the customer’s own bike as this means the training is most relevant. It is great to see so many customers going on to make use of our Bring Your Own Bike sessions (open workshops where you can rent a workstation to fix your bike) to further build on their skills after the course. ”

Click the links if you are interested in trying one of Ride On’s Training Courses or BYOB and for full details.

Courses on offer include:

  • M Check, Basic Maintenance & Puncture Repair
  • Brake & Gear Adjustments
  • Cycle Touring 101

A Quick Guide to Fixing Your Bike on the Cheap

Although a lot cheaper than running a vehicle, looking after your bicycle can add up. Regular cycling in all weathers and having to regularly replace parts and get your bike serviced in a shop isn’t cheap. We have put together a short guide to try and save you money whilst also keeping your bike running smoothly and fun to ride! 

Prevention is cheaper than fixing

Keeping your bike clean and running smoothly is the best way to reduce the amount you spend on it in the long run.

Regularly cleaning and lubricating the chain and drivetrain area reduces the amount of wear on the chain, sprockets and cassette and keeps them going for longer. It also makes it a lot nicer to ride. No one likes a squeaky bike! Just use some soapy water, old t-shirts and a toothbrush to get around all the moving components on your bike. Once it is clean lubricate the moving parts with a small amount of bike oil or silicon-based lubricant. 

Check for the small things

By regularly checking your bike and fixing smaller issues, you can hopefully preempt anything bigger going wrong with it and impacting on other components. 

  • Check your tyres are at the correct pressure before each ride. This not only makes your bike easier to ride but also helps to prevent punctures and issues with the wheels themselves. 
  • Check that your brake pads are not worn down to their limit. These are relatively cheap and easy to replace so do so before they wear right down or they can damage your rims or disc depending on the type of brakes you have. 
  • Getting a chain checker tool is a cheap bit of kit which can check whether your chain is worn and needs replacing. By checking this and replacing your chain at the first signs of wear, you can avoid having to change the rear cassette or other drivetrain components with it. 

If you feel you don’t know enough to check your bike yourself, look out for our free Dr Bike bike checks around Exeter. 

Do it yourself

Learning how to do some quick fixes yourself is definitely cheaper than taking your bicycle into a shop every time something is wrong. There are some great basic courses around, some of which are cheap or even free to learn some basics.

For example, at Ride On we have our Wom+n’s Workshop every Tuesday evening which is run on a donation basis to teach women basic bicycle mechanics, and also run other bicycle maintenance courses throughout the year. 

There are many good online resources and videos around which can teach quick fixes and checks. If you have some level of knowledge but lack the tools to complete a fix, then Ride On runs BYOB (bring your own bike) sessions every Wednesday evening which allow you to come into the workshop and use our tools to fix your bike on the cheap. 

Budget Toolkit

Sometimes the amount of tools it is possible to use/ own on a bicycle is overwhelming and it can be hard to know where to start, especially on a budget. For simple fixes however, it is fine to invest in just a few key tools which can help to keep your bicycle running smoothly. 

  • Multi-tool (£15-30) – there are some great pocket-sized multi-tools around which are designed to go in your saddle bag or backpack on a ride and have lots of necessary tools all in one, and are generally cheaper than buying all the tools individually. Choose one which has a range of Allen key sizes, a crosshead screwdriver and a chain breaker tool at least, but some come with even more useful bike gadgets. 
  • Good bicycle pump (£10-20) – Investing in a decent track pump (one which you stand on the base and push down on the handle on the top of the pump to use) makes it easy to pump your tyres up to the correct pressure. 
  • Chain wear indicator (£7) – simple tool to check when to replace your chain. 
  • Lubricant/ bike oil (£4) – keep your moving parts running smoothly so they last longer. 

Bike mechanic hacks

Sometimes you don’t need to spend anything to fix or maintain your bike. There are plenty of recycling hacks or things you can use which you should have in the house anyway which can save you money and fix your bike on the cheap. 

  • Old t-shirts/ rags for cleaning your bike (especially when they get oily and greasy anyway!)
  • Old toothbrush for getting into small spaces when cleaning. 
  • Washing up liquid to make warm soapy water to clean your bike. 
  • Reuse old inner tubes by cutting them to make patches to fix future punctures. 
  • Use teaspoons as tyre levers to get your tyre off when fixing a puncture. Just make sure they are smooth with no sharp edges which can damage your tyre or tube.