Even if you are starting out on an old beater mountain bike you've been keeping your shed since you were a teen, there are certain items you can do regularly to make your bike training sessions better, to ride faster, to reduce the risk of a mechanical failure, and to help your bike to last longer.These do-it-yourself items are even more important if you have an expensive bike, because:
It might seem like a lot to complete certain chores every time you ride, but if you make them a habit, you'll find they only take a minute or two. Inflate the tires fully. This will make you faster (yay!) because of less resistance, and it will also prevent flat tires. If your tires become very low, they will rub and crease and wear holes in themselves. Skinny tires require a lot more air pressure than mountain bike tires, and will lose pressure overnight. Top them up before you ride. Using the pump is a good warmup for your shoulders. A floor pump is best to achieve the high pressures you will need.Spin the tires to make sure the brakes aren't rubbing. Lift each tire off the ground and give it a quick spin. For the rear tire, spin it backward or it won't go anywhere. Make sure it spins freely and isn't slowing down too quickly, which can indicate that it's rubbing against something. If it is rubbing, try pushing the brakes slightly with your hand or otherwise remove the obstruction yourself. Even if it takes work to figure out, it's less work than fighting that resistance with every pedal stroke! If the tire is rubbing because it's wobbly, take it to a bike shop to have it trued.Scan the tire surface for debris or holes or cuts. After you spin the tires, move them more slowly and run your eyes across the surface of each tire, all the way around. It's easy for a bit of sharp debris, such as a rock or an old shard of glass, to get caught in the tire. It might not have given you a flat yet, but if you leave it there, it will work its way through the tire and puncture the tube inside.
Depending on how much you ride, you'll want to clean and re-lube your chain every week or every few weeks.Simple Green or another degreaser will clean the goo and dirt from your chain. The process is made easier using a plastic chain cleaner kit you can purchase from your local bike shop. The chain cleaner uses brushes to clean the chain's links as you run the chain through the small plastic cleaner, while holding the cleaner in your other hand. This is all accomplished without removing the chain. You'll put your bike on a bike repair stand, or a rack on the back of your car, or a vise with a towel in it, or any other way of keeping the tires off the ground while leaving the pedals free for you to rotate with your hand. Hold the cleaning kit in one hand and move the pedals backward with the other hand. The chain will move through the kit and come out clean after a few times through.Wipe off the chain and apply fresh chain lube. Don't skip this step! Your chain takes a lot of friction and must be lubricated. If it's not, you'll soon learn how expensive it is to replace the chainrings up front and the cogs in the back, because the chain will tear them up. Fresh lube will also make the chain quieter.Once your chain is clean and lubed, use bike grease on any other exposed moving parts, such as exposed cables that run along the frame. These get wet from rain and sweat. Without grease, they will rust and sieze.
Whether you clean the frame and wheels more or less frequently will depend on your mileage and how dirty your bike gets in the conditions where you live.Remove the wheels for this job. It's good practice so you'll know how to do it if you get a flat tire on the road. Better to learn how at home where you have room to sit, rags, and plenty of time.Wipe down the frame, and use a brush to knock the dirt and grease from around the areas where the brakes and gears interface with the chain and wheels.Wipe down the wheels. For your rear wheel, clean the cogs. An easy way to do this is to take a thin rag and fold it. Place the fold in between two of the cogs. Move it first one way, then the other. The cogs will act like a ratchet and move forward in one direction, then stop and provide friction for cleaning in the other direction. In this way, you can clean the circumference of each cog while sitting still with the wheel in your lap. Repeat in between each cog.Lubricate the spoke nipples. These are the little covers that connect each spoke to the outside of the wheel. They are used to tighten and loosen the spokes by a qualified mechanic, but that mechanic won't be able to do anything if they are rusted in place. So give them each a little coating of grease with your fingers.
Most people leave annual maintenance to their bike shop. Make sure you take your bike in for a thorough tune up. A mechanic will often spot a problem as it's developing, and put a stop to it before it puts a stop to you on your next ride.A tune up does cost money, but a lot less money than a new bike.