Bike Maintenance 101: What Not To Do To

We all know that before you start playing around with your bike you should have a to do list in your head. This should cover what to fettle, how to work safely and which tools to use. But a list of things not to do is just as important when it comes to getting the job done properly.

Here are the 10 things you should try to seriously avoid. They’re arranged in no particular order, but succumbing to any one of them could put you or (even worse) your beloved machine out of action for some time, so respect them.

This guide should help you stay out of trouble as a do-it-yourselfer. But to boost your confidence why not take a course in bike maintenance? There are a few out there, including The Way Bicycle Lab, which is run by Jerome Ahn in Putrajaya.

If that's a bit too much to pay for you, or you don't feel you are ready to jump in the deep end, opt for a more newbie and budget friendly approach and talk to the chaps at Bike Kitchen KL instead. 

However you go about improving your bike maintenance know how, read on to know what the don'ts are first!


Don’t over-tighten fragile bolts. In this age of lightweight carbon components and puny 5mm titanium Allen bolts, it’s worth developing a sensitive touch when tightening things up.

Consider investing in a decent torque wrench set with the appropriate Torx and Allen sockets; 10Nm isn’t much, and 5Nm is even less, which is now often the recommended torque range for seatpost, steerer and bar clamps.

Always grease the threads and bases of the bolts first, including both sides of the washers. On twin-bolt setups, nip each one up gradually, holding the tool with your fingertips.

Stick to short handled tools and never use a cheater bar extension, or grab a fistful of Allen key and go for it because things will break.


Learn how to adjust your headset correctly and understand how it works.

First, never tighten the top cap without loosening the stem bolts, because you’ll simply damage the cap and star washer or expander wedge located inside the steerer-tube; at the very least, the wedge will pull up level with the top of the steerer-tube and prevent further adjustment.

If this is the case, re-position the wedge back down a good 0.5in/2cm.

Next, make sure the top of the stem or a spacer protrudes about 5mm above the steerer edge.

Place the cap on top and nip up the adjuster bolt, as pictured, but without the Neanderthal grip.

There should be no bearing play, but free movement. Refer to step 1 for tightening the stem.


Don’t just true your wheel by only tightening spokes. A common error is to attempt a wheel true without fully understanding the process and consequences.

The only way to learn is to try it yourself, so have a go, but only after arming yourself with as much information as possible.

In the case of wheel truing, the first port of call will be to attempt to remove any left and right movement.

One revolution of the non-driveside spoke nipples has about twice the effect laterally as one revolution of a driveside nipple.

To keep spoke tension from ramping up excessively, split any lateral adjustments by tightening one side a bit, while loosening the other side a bit. If you’re deforming nipples, you’ve gone way too far.


Don’t ignore wear limits on rims. The consequences could literally be lethal.

Many rim manufacturers provide some sort of wear gauge – a shallow groove running along the circumference of the braking surface or shallow holes drilled at strategic locations, usually indicated with a sticker.

Find these markers and inspect them regularly. Once they disappear, the rim needs to be replaced.

Another clue is a concave braking surface. If there are no wear indicators, measure the wall thickness by placing a small length of 2mm cut spoke ends on either side of the rim wall and measure across with a vernier caliper.

A total of 5mm means you have 1mm of wall thickness. Anything below 1mm should be replaced immediately.


Don’t give in to the pressure of rushing things and get injured in the process.

When tightening and loosening any type of firm thread, be aware of where you’ve positioned your hands and what your knuckles might strike if the tool or thread were to suddenly break loose.

With a tight crank arm bolt or pedal, as pictured, always place the chain onto the big ring first to cover the teeth, which can inflict very nasty injuries if struck at full force.

Consider wearing some protective gloves or use your riding mitts when loosening tough threads. Never hurry.

Try to position your body so you always pull towards you with your arm rather than pushing with your body weight, for better control if the threads suddenly give way.


Don’t leave your seatpost in the bike forever – forever means three to six months.

A seized post will make it impossible to change your saddle height or to sell your bike without getting it repaired at considerable cost.

Even if it’s been greased, over time the grease will break down and allow oxidation to occur, as it’s virtually impossible to prevent moisture from entering the frame.

Not only will metal seatposts and frames seize, so will carbon ones, even when both the seatpost and frame are carbon.

With metal, a dollop of grease or copper slip should be applied to the areas of contact after cleaning and ensuring everything is free of grit.

For carbon, use an assembly paste formula such as Finish Line Fiber Grip.


Don’t put pedals in dry and too tight. Installing pedals dry is sure to cause headaches later when you want to remove them.

Over-tighten them as well and it will probably mean a visit to your local bike shop and about £20 labour or more, as the crank will often have to be removed and clamped in a vice in order to get a safe purchase on the pedal.

In addition, once corrosion has been allowed to become established and ‘weld’ the pedal threads together, those threads can become brittle and crumble when the pedal is removed.

So, use plenty of grease, a protective washer when required (if the pedal axle has flats only – with no protective flange abutting the crank arm), and firmly tighten, without overdoing it (30Nm or around 25ft/lb).


Don’t ignore tyre pressure. Riding around with soft tyres can open up a can of worms, full of inconvenience, as well as dragging down your spirit and top speed.

Always check your tyres before heading out on a ride; some thinner walled inner tubes can lose between 5 and 20psi a day.

Either give them a squeeze by applying firm pressure to the top with your thumb or ping them with a firm flick of the finger.

They should produce a drum-like hollow sound and feel very firm when at the correct pressure.

Use a good floor pump with an accurate gauge to get the correct inflation, then learn to identify by feel when you’ve reached that correct pressure, for those times you’ll be using your hand pump by the roadside.


Don’t ride with your wheels loose. Lock down your quick releases before every ride and prevent a world of hurt.

A common mistake is to treat the quick release as a wing nut by winding the lever. To make matters more confusing, DT skewers, along with some aftermarket anti-theft types, actually use this method to fix the wheel into the fork.

Only use that method for those particular brands. With all others, the cam action of a traditional quick release is still the only secure locking method, and will be best at preventing your wheel from getting wrenched out of the bike when put under sudden extreme loads.

Adjust the skewer nut to allow the lever and cam to swing past top dead centre and firmly into the closed position.


Don’t ride with a badly installed chain. Many manufacturers as well as home mechanics will damage a chain while installing it and leave it on in the false hope that it will hold up during ‘normal use’.

This is wishful thinking as most chains usually endure nothing but abnormal use during their short lives.

Assume that any damage will always lead to catastrophic failure and possibly injury.

Follow joining pin instructions to the letter, or consider using a universal joining link, which are available for most chains. Furthermore, don’t neglect chain wear.

A worn chain leads to early and uneven cog and chainring wear, so use a chain measuring tool to check periodically and save yourself having to fork out for a new cassette.