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How to repair your bike in time for spring riding: 6 maintenance tips

Jul 21, 2023Jul 21, 2023

Looking to dust off your bicycle and get it back on the road after ignoring it all winter? Even for those who prefer riding to wrenching, it's not that difficult, bike mechanics say.

Assuming you don't have serious mechanical problems that a bike shop should handle, a few simple tools and some care will have you on two wheels in no time.

And if you're one of many Americans who rediscovered bicycles during COVID-19, you'll find that bike parts, and even new models, are much more available now. Things have changed since the pandemic-induced shortages of a few years ago.

"It's a very different story today," Stephen Frothingham, editor in chief for Bicycle Retailer & Industry News, told USA TODAY.

"The supply has caught up with the demand for most bikes. There's an ample supply of just about any kind of bike you're looking for."

Bike shop mechanics remain busy, but the pace isn't as frantic as before. "Right now, we have about 35 or 40 bikes out back for repair," says Mike Hulett, owner of Broadway Cyclery in Bedford, Ohio. That's down from about 60 in July 2020.

If you're looking for a new bicycle, you can probably find one at a nearby dealer. But if you have a bike you want to repair or maintain yourself, you can do it!

Start here:

"Safety is your first consideration," says Matthew Bracken, a partner with Pedros, a manufacturer of bicycle tools and cleaning products. He's also a bike mechanic and frame builder himself. "When I'm working on a bike, I have a responsibility to make it work safely. If I can't, it'll go to a shop."

Be aware that much of the work you'll have to do depends on the bike's condition, when you stored it and where.

Humidity and water leaks can accelerate rust. Dust can gum up chains. And "if the stem was loose when you put it away, it'll still be loose now," says Calvin Jones, director of education at Park Tool, a manufacturer of bicycle tools.

Give the entire bike a good going-over before you get on. Wheels, forks, handlebars, seat and pedals should be secure. Loose components can cause you to fall.

Bicycles are simple machines, Jones says, "but they can also hurt you." So you have some work to do before you pedal away.

If you haven't used the bike in a while, wash off the dust by giving it a thorough but gentle rinse. Never use water under high pressure; it can wash out bearing grease in pedals and hubs.

Trek Bikes has a how-to video here. has this comparison of Schrader and Presta valves.

This Park Tools video can help.

These Park Tool videos show you how.

With the rear wheel off the ground, spin the pedals and shift through the gears. The derailleurs should move the chain easily between sprockets – the front between the chainrings, and the rear across the gear cluster or cassette.

Depending how long the bike has been sitting, you'll want to eyeball everything, looking for:

You may need assistance or special tools if you find problems here.

Of course, if you're uncomfortable with working on your own bicycle, it's best to bring it to your local bike shop, but call ahead before you go. You may have to schedule an appointment.

However, bicycles are relatively uncomplicated, and some folks find great satisfaction in maintaining them. You may find that true for yourself.

While shops offer tools and cleaning products that make work easier, you can ease into bicycle maintenance yourself with items you already have.

Bicycle parts are much easier to find now than during the pandemic. "Most things are pretty available," Hulett says. "Some can still be difficult to get."

"There might be a few spot weirdnesses out there," Frothingham says. "But for the most part, the industry has caught up with supplying tire tubes, chains, brake pads and those kinds of things."

When working on a bicycle after a long hiatus, you may be surprised to discover what you don't know. "You'll learn you've forgotten some things," Jones says. "You should expect to have to do some research."

How-to books are useful, along with knowledgeable friends you can consult. Explanatory YouTube videos can be invaluable.

Whichever method you use, Jones says, "learn to enjoy the learning process again."

Not everyone who took up bikes during the pandemic is still riding. However, "a lot of people got into bicycling and stuck with it," Hulett says. "I would say probably more now than at the start of 2020. But perhaps not as many as at the end of 2020."

Once you start bicycling again, whether for exercise or commuting to work in lieu of public transportation, it's essential to ride sensibly and wear a helmet.


ILLUSTRATIONS Karl Gelles and Janet Loehrke

SOURCE USA TODAY Network reporting and research;; Park Tools; Bicycling magazine; Trek Bicycles; Pedros; REI; BikeRadar;; Global Mountain Bike Network;