In the grand scheme of things, bikes should be pretty easy to maintain and look after. They don't have cam belts, they don't need an annual certificate to prove their road worthy, and you can pretty much see all the moving parts.
However, bikes do need a little regular TLC to to keep them in smooth running order. Most of the regular work you need to do is pretty simple, but there are some common blunders that happen all too often...
Overtightening and rounding off bolts
A lot of the bolts you're likely to regularly adjust - stem bolts, seat post clamp bolts - are pretty crucial to you maintaining your position on the bike. Therefore, it's obvious that you don't want them to be overly loose, as this can result in a sudden thud. However, far too often people over tighten these out of fear - and this can be just as bad.
At the worst case scenario, overly tight bolts can put too much tension through the components, causing cracks. Best case scenario, they can be so hard to remove that you'll end up slipping, and rounding off the bolt.
Most parts state the required torque in 'Newton metres' next to the bolt. Invest in a torque wrench so you can always be sure you've got it just right - or ask a mechanic to show you what 5 Newton Metres feels like.
Leaving cables for too long
Gear and brake cables stretch over time, and can also become frayed. They're consumable items, and need to be replaced every six to twelve months.
Signs of stretched or damaged cables include clunky gears that won't change at the flick of a leaver, and brakes that are becoming less reactive despite the brake pads being in good shape.
Worst case scenario: the cable snaps mid ride and you have to hobble home in an unintentional fixed gear. Best case scenario: your gears and brakes are pretty sub-optimal. Replace these at home, or drop the bike in for a service.
Not greasing and overtightening pedals
Before you attach pedals, apply bike grease to the thread, and only apply light force when doing so.
If you don't use grease or apply too much force, they'll be a nightmare to remove which can cause undue stress.
If they do get stuck, you'll need a long handled wrench and a mallet to provide you with some extra leverage - both of which can be found at your local bike shop.
Not cleaning enough or lubing too much
A dirty bike is a clunky bike, a bike likely to make undesirable noises, and a bike that might soon be suffering from seized or corroded parts.
If you keep on top of it, cleaning your bike need only take twenty minutes a week, alongside a bi-annual deep scrub. Key areas to scrub are the chain, cassette, derailleurs, chainrings and the crevices around the bottom bracket and brakes. You should also give the wheel rims and brake pads a good wipe to prevent grit and stones causing damage to either.
Once clean, applying a light layer of lube will ensure the chain runs smoothly, preventing rust. However, overlubing can turn the chain into a magnet for dust and muck - a thin layer is all you need, and you should work it through by pedalling through the gears.
Not maintaining tyres
Tyres are the key contact point between the ground and your bike, so they're really important. It's all too common for riders to leave the same rubber on for far too long - this can result in reduced performance, and repeated punctures.
Replace your tyres when they start to look worn, or have clear cuts and slashes in the surface. It's also a good idea to ensure that your tyres are suitable for the conditions you're riding in - winter ready tyres will be more grippy in the wet and durable over rough surfaces, whilst summer tyres will be faster and more supple.
After more maintenance advice? Check out our guides here...