This is a general troubleshooting guide for all bikes. While most bikes are made the same there are some that may not follow these exact guidelines. But before you try tackling bigger problems here are some tips for general bicycle maintenance.
Before Every Ride
- Check tire pressure (You can find the proper pressure rating on the sidewall of the tire).
- Check chain for lubrication. Chain should not be dry or exhibit any rust, but over-lubrication can be just as bad.
- Do a safety check of the bicycle (brakes function properly, wheels are secure in the bike and centered, and bounce bike lightly on ground to pick up on rattles that may indicate loose parts).
- If you have an air sprung suspension fork or rear shock then check air pressure.
- If you are a commuter check to make sure your panniers and other luggage are securely fastened.
- Always carry a kit to fix a flat.
After your ride
- Clean bicycle and store to limit exposure to elements that may exacerbate corrosion or rust.
Once a month
- Do a more through safety inspection (check for cracks in areas where parts are bolted to each other).
- Properly lubricate jockey pulleys on rear derailleur.
- Check crank bolts and chainring bolts for tightness.
- Check for trueness of wheels and play in hubs (do your wheels wobble back and forth).
- Measure chain.
- Check brake pads for wear.
- Check to make sure all rack bolts are tight since they can loosen over a period of time.
- Make sure there is no play in the headset.
- If you have a full suspension mountain bike then check pivot points on the rear end of bike for proper torque specs.
- If you own clipless pedals then lightly lubricate pivot points and springs.
Once every six months
- Check shifting and braking cables and housing for cracking and corrosion.
- Change oil, dust wipers, and replace seals on suspension fork and rear shock.
Once a year
- Overhaul loose ball bearing hubs.
- Overhaul headset
- Change your all cables and housing
- Replace worn parts (tires, brake pads, grips, handlebar wrap, or chain)
Of course this doesn't apply to every rider. Some people ride more then others. Most bike shops recommend a tune up once a year where you would go over all adjustments. But this provides you a general guideline to prevent having to tackle bigger issues through regular maintenance.
Bike squeaks when riding or pedaling.
Locate the noise
Locate exactly where the noise is coming from. Squeaking may come from moving parts that are not properly lubricated, but can also manifest anywhere where two components meet. The drive train is usually the culprit but not always. If your skewer is not tight on your rear wheel it can cause squeaking noises. Your headset can develop corrosion and cause creaking or squeaking. If the bike is squeaking when you are not pedaling then it's possible it may not be coming from the drive train. Common sources include but are not limited to: front and rear derailleurs, chain, pedals (play developing in pedals and pedals installed without grease on threads), headset, handlebars, chainring bolts, bottom bracket, shift cables, contaminated brake pads (pads that have any type of lubricant on them), seatpost, suspension (front or rear), cassette, pivot points on bicycles with rear suspension, or just about any moving part.
There are lots of both wet and dry lubricants you can use. Wet ones, if used improperly, usually collect more dirt. While many use WD-40 for their lubrication needs, it is not the best lubricant since it washes off easily and can promote rust due to cleaning agents present in it. There are a range of lubricants available at your local bike shop. The lubricant you use really depends on your needs. Those that live in more arid conditions (southwest) may find a light lubricant does the job, but those in wet areas (pacific northwest) might not be able to use the same lubricant because of it's low viscosity which will cause it wash off quickly in wet weather. Ask your local bike shop what they use during bicycle tuneups to get a gauge of what you should be using. Keep in mind that there are different lubricants for different parts of the bike. You wouldn't use a bearing grease for your chain and you wouldn't use a freehub body grease for your pivot points on your derailleurs. Proper lubrication is key in bicycle maintenance and eliminating noise from your bicycle.
Check to see if the noise is gone. A good test ride can help chain lubricant to work its way into the pivot points in the chain. Wipe off excessive lubricant and you are good to go.
When pedaling, the chain will slip and skip
Single sprocket bike
Identify what is causing the problem
If the chain is too loose it will skip when you are pedaling under a load or when you are going over bumps. If the chain is worn out (which does happen after about 1000 miles depending on how well chain has been maintained) it can also cause slipping and may wear out drive train components. If your chain is too long see the Chain Link Removal Guide to remove a chain and the Chain Reassembly Guide for reconnecting your chain.
Loosen the two axle nuts or quick-release lever and slide the wheel towards the rear of the bike to take up the slack in the chain. Be careful to not over tighten the chain as it will put unnecessary pressure on the chain and bearings causing more friction on the drive system. Multiple adjustments may be necessary to achieve the perfect tension.
Check to make sure the rear wheel is centered in the rear. Use the seat tube (the part of the bike that your seat post is inserted into) as a guide to center tire. Looking down the length of the chain, it should not have to bend side to side when it goes around either sprocket.
Identify what is causing the problem
The chain can be either slipping while staying on the same gear or the chain can be randomly jumping from one gear to the next. It can be difficult to distinguish between the two. Multi-speed bikes have derailleurs which keep the chain in tension on all gears so chain tension should not cause the chain to slip although you can adjust the chain tension with the derailleur. Check the Rear Derailleur Adjustment Guide for help adjusting your derailleur.
If your chain is slipping
The chain could have a stiff link. A stiff link can be caused by rust or a bent link. You can try to putting some oil on the chain and cycle the chain a bit to get rid of rust, but don't expect this to eliminate the problem. It is hard to straighten bent links so it is better to just remove them with a chain cutter tool or replace the chain altogether. (See the Chain Removal Guide. While putting the chain back together make sure you use a new chain pin since they require a press fitting and reusing the old one could cause chain to break apart under load.
If your chain is shifting at random
This may be a problem with the derailleur adjustment, with cable corrosion, or you may have a bent derailleur hanger. See the Derailleur Adjustment Guide
Brakes do not work properly
Even when brakes are fully pressed the bike doesn't slow down fast enough for the user's liking.
Check the brake pads
The pads may be worn out. If so they will need replacing. See the Brake Pad Adjustment Guide.
Brake arm travel
You should not be able to pull the breaks so far that they hit the handle bar grip. If this happens then you need to adjust the brake cable length. See the Brake Adjustment Guide.
Hard to pedal bicycle
The bike is harder to pedal than it should be, even in low gears
Check the gearing on your bike
It may be in a gear too high to start moving. Simply shift down while riding if this is the case.
Brakes are rubbing
Get off the bike and spin the wheels. They should not slow or stop suddenly. Check to see if the brake pads are rubbing when the brake levers on the handle bars are not pulled in. You can either adjust the brake alignment and travel, or bias the wheel to one side. See the Brake Alignment Guide.
If the brakes are not rubbing but the wheel still feels stiff, your cones are probably adjusted to tight. The bottom bracket where your crank arms attach to the bike could also be to tight. There are cones and bearings on every rotating part of the bike. To see where the bike's cones and crank arms are located see the Cone Adjustment Guide and the Crank Arm Adjustment Guide.
Check for wheel warping
One or both wheels may be warped, causing them to rub against the breaks at certain point in their rotation. Use a spoke wrench to true the wheel. The truer your rims are the more smooth your ride is. There is also a little energy lost with wheels that are a long way out of round. See the Wheel Truing Guide for help with this.
Pedals don't make bike move
When pedaling, the bike doesn't move
Check your chain
The chain may have come off. The chain also may be broken, see the Chain Connecting Guide for help on reconnecting your chain.
Pedals or crank arms are sloppy
When pedaling you feel too much play in the crank arm
Bottom bracket adjustment
The cones in your bottom bracket are not adjusted right. See the Crank Arm Guide.
Shifters do not work properly
Shifters don't shift gears or shift when you don't want them to
Check the chain
The chain may not be completely on the gears, or may not be on correctly. Simply adjust the derailleur until the chain shifts freely. If that doesn't work see the Chain Cutting Guide and Chain Connecting Guide to adjust the length of your chain.