How to Fix the Common Bike Problems

Founder, Mr. Mamil

Bikes used to be easy to fix. The days of flipping your bike upside down to repair a thing or two are over. Today’s bikes are more sophisticated and sometimes require professional help.

Your local bike shops can come to the rescue, but who always has time to bring a bike in for service?

Wouldn’t it be easier to do little repairs at home?

As someone who maintains my bikes, I’ll be sharing with you the common bike problems that you can fix yourself at home.

Worn chain

A worn chain affects shifting and will wear out the cassette and chainring faster. If you’ve waited too long to change your chain, you’ll have to bear the costs of buying a new cassette, and they aren’t cheap.

It’s not uncommon to wear out a cassette for every two chains. Some cyclists are able to push this higher to three or even four chains per cassette, but that depends on many other factors such as regular drivetrain cleaning and lubing, waxing the chain, and type of riding.

Get yourself a chain checker, or have your local bike shop check it periodically. A chain checker measures the distance between the links, showing their wear. At 50%, start thinking about replacing the chain. 60% or above, change it before it’s too late.

If you replace the chain before it’s worn, the cassette, which is the costlier of the two, will last longer.

More reading : How to Check for Chain Wear

Worn tires

When you start getting punctures regularly, other than the apparent shard of glass, it’s a sign your tires may be worn. Regardless of the tire, here are a few things to look for.

  • How’s the tread?
  • Inspect the tires from the back of your bike at eye level. Is the top squared off?

Check sidewalls for cuts and damage, bubbles, and dry or bald patches where the threads show through. These are hints it’s time to change your tires.

To change them, you’ll need new tires, tire levers, and a pump. I recommend powdering your tubes (especially latex tubes) with talcum powder. Put a pile in your hands and glide a semi-inflated tube through it, lightly covering the tube. This protects against pinch flats and makes installation easier.

Now slip the inner tube inside the new tire. Verify the tire’s directional arrow on the sidewall, if available. Inserting the valve stem first, work in the bead as you go around.

Use your thumbs and palms for seating the tire. Slowly inflate the tire, checking every few strokes that the tube isn’t pinched between the sidewall and bead. Pump to your desired pressure.

If you’re running tubeless, have tubeless sealant ready.

More reading : How to Install Tubeless Tires

Loose nuts and bolts

Loose nuts and bolts wear the threads, so if you hear weird noises on your bike, start checking for bolts that aren’t tight.

A number is printed next to the bolts to show their tightening tolerance. These numbers can be in foot-pounds but are usually displayed in Newton Meters (Nm), a torque resistance assigned by the manufacturer.

Adhere to the torque values. Too tight, and you can snap the head off or damage the threads. Too loose, and the bolt could come undone during use.

If you don’t have a torque wrench, consider getting yourself one. If you own a bike, it’ll come in handy. Never tighten past hand-tight until you can properly verify the tension with a torque wrench. This is for your safety and ensures the longevity of your equipment.

More reading : How to Use A Bicycle Torque Wrench

Creaking bike

We’ve all experienced an annoying creak coming from our bikes. With experience, you’ll identify the culprit quickly, sometimes by sound alone. Creaking can be caused by many reasons, and often the sound is not coming from where the actual creak is, especially for carbon frames.

  • Ensure the quick-release or thru-axles are tight.
  • Check for any loose bolts, ones that need grease, and worn bearings.
  • Check the head of your seat post. Often this area is forgotten, and rider weight is constantly applying forces that slowly loosen bolts.

The most common creak I hear, and mechanics diagnose, are loose cranks or bottom brackets (BB) that need replacing. You may need a 15mm socket or an 8 or 10mm Allen key for the job, depending on your crankset.

It could also be your cassette. Remove and reinstall the cassette, then tighten the lockring to 40Nm. Give it a wiggle to see if there is any play.

More reading : How to Identify and Fix A Creaking Bike

Inaccurate gear shifting

The chain skips and doesn’t want to settle into place when you shift gears.

Have you changed the derailleur cables on your bike of late? If so, they stretch with use and change tension, especially when new, causing them to skip until a new shifting tension is set.

Adjust the tension by turning the cable barrel on the rear derailleur. The amount of turning needed is an acquired skill, so don’t be frustrated if you can’t get it right. Cables typically need to be tightened, turning the barrel counterclockwise should do it.

Start slow, a quarter turn slow. If the chain struggles to climb to the next cog, try another quarter turn, repeat, and so forth. The best way to check the gears is to shift a gear, just shift, don’t pedal, then give the cranks a turn. If the tension is right, the chain jumps into place.

Derailleurs have limit screws that set how high or low a chain goes on the cassette. Another screw to consider is the B screw. Once set, they tend not to move, but they can be the culprit of poor shifting. All you need is a Phillips head screwdriver and a trained eye.

If you’re using electronic shifting, the gears will rarely need adjustments once it’s dialed in.

More reading : How to Maintain A Bicycle Drivetrain

Misaligned rear derailleur hanger

The hanger is that little peninsula on the drive side of your bike’s rear triangle that holds the rear derailleur. If you’ve crashed or your bike fell over, it can throw the hanger out of alignment or cause it to bend. Once misaligned, it’s a chain reaction of shifting problems.

If your derailleur hanger is damaged, then get a new one.

Remove the rear derailleur, followed by the derailleur hanger, and take it to your local bike shop. Hanger shapes vary according to the bike brands and models, so let a shop professional help you find the exact model you need.

Alternatively, there are companies like Sigeyi that manufacture rear derailleur hangers for many of the popular bike brands.

Dirty bar tape

Your bike is looking sharp, but the dirt accumulated on your handlebar tape is getting on your nerves. It’s easily remedied.

You can give it a good scrub with a bucket of warm water, a sponge, a brush, and a biodegradable cleaning product.

If they don’t come clean, remove and replace the old tape. Removing the tape is easy, pull out the handlebar end plugs and unravel the tape. You’ll need to start wrapping at the same point, end to the center, so leave a bit of length for the new bar tape to be held by the plugs.

Wrapping a handlebar is an art, it takes experience to get it right.

Spongy hydraulic disc brakes

When your disc brakes get spongy, air or dirty hydraulic fluid may be the offender. The system is closed, but crud and air sneak inside via the brake pistons, moving the brake pads in and out against the disc rotor.

Remove the pads and clean around the pistons with some cotton swabs dabbed in hydraulic oil. Brakes take either mineral or a DOT-numbered oil and aren’t interchangeable. Make sure you use the right one.

If this didn’t work, burping the system or changing the hydraulic fluid isn’t for everyone. Your brakes are vital for your safety, so if in doubt, leave it to the professionals or learn from someone with more experience.

Clean around your pistons every time you change your pads to keep your system as dirt-free as possible.

More reading : How to Maintain Bicycle Disc Brakes

Wobbly wheels

When your wheels are wobbly, they’re out of true.

Each wheel spoke is tensioned, and the right and left sides balance each other out to zero, or true. If your bike is new, has ridden through one or many potholes, or you’ve been in a crash, spoke tension can change, pulling the rim in one direction or another causing the wobble.

An out-of-true wheel with rim brakes is a problem as it causes rubbing along the braking surface, slowing you down. With disc brakes, no braking takes part on the rim itself, only the disc rotor. A disc wheel out of true is less of an issue, at least temporarily.

To properly true a wheel, you need a truing stand and the right colored spoke wrench for your spoke nipples. Depending on where the wobble is, nipples are tightened or loosened to re-tension the spokes back to true. Truing is a science, so practice on some old wheels before doing your own.

Alex Lee at Mr.Mamil

Alex Lee is the founder and editor-at-large of Mr. Mamil. Coming from a professional engineering background, he breaks down technical cycling nuances into an easy-to-understand and digestible format here.

He has been riding road bikes actively for the past 12 years and started racing competitively in the senior category during the summer recently.