Bike Maintenance Quiz

Is your bike as ready to ride as you are? A well-maintained bike is easier to ride and may prevent delays caused by a breakdown. Test your wrenching skills with these true-false questions, and scroll down for full answers.

1. True or false?
When you squeeze your tires, they should feel a little soft for a comfortable ride.

2. True or false?
A cracked, flaky surface on the side of your tires is a good sign that they need to be replaced.

3. True or false?
You should wait until your chain is squeaking before lubing it.

4. True or false?
You should keep a can of WD-40 around to lube your chain.

5. True or false?
Your seat height is adjusted correctly when there is a slight bend in your knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke.

6. True or false?
If your brake levers pull to close to the handlebar, unscrew the adjusting barrel a couple of turns to tighten your brake cable.

7. True or false?
Replace the brake pads when the rubber part is almost completely gone.

8. True or false?
To check your headset, squeeze the front brake while rocking the bike forward and backward. If there’s some play or rattling, it’s loose.

9. True or false?
If your chain jumps off the crank-set when you try to shift gears, you need to tighten the front derailleur cable.

10. True or false?
If your rear derailleur hesitates and chatters when shifting to an easier gear, screw in the adjusting barrel to make it shift correctly.


Check you answers and then see feedback on your score at the end.

1. False. Your tires should feel really firm when you squeeze them. Soft tires make you work harder, they wear out faster, and you get more flat tires. But the best way to check for proper tire inflation is to find the recommended tire inflation on the sidewall of the tires (it will say “PSI” or “Inflate to” or “Maximum Inflation” and will usually give a range of acceptable pressure). Use a floor pump with a gauge to tell how much air you are putting in your tires. Check your tire inflation at least once a week, or every time you ride if you don’t ride daily. Tires leak slowly but naturally. More >>

2. True. The scaly reptile look may be great for fashion footware, but for tires . . . not so much. Tires eventually dry out and get a cracked, flaky surface on the sidewalls. Tires used infrequently will crack along the sidewalls before the treads wear out. Eventually the inner casing will get exposed, and also dry out, leading to weak spots. And that 90 lbs of air pressure you put in your tires is looking for a weak spot so it can go out with a bang. Also, check your tires for cuts and bald spots.

3. False. Lube your chain long before it starts squeaking. Your chain should be silent and stealthy. A dry chain (even when it doesn’t squeak) actually makes you work harder with extra friction on each pin. If you ride daily, lube your chain about once a week, or about once every 100 miles. Do it more often if you ride in wet or salty conditions.

4. False. Save the WD-40 for squeaky door hinges; it’s too light to make a good chain lube. Plus, using that aerosol can is like lubing your chain with a fire hose: you have no control over how much lube you put on, or where it goes. Besides never lubing at all, the other common mistake people make is using too much lube, which gets black grunge all over the frame, spokes, rim, and derailleur (and lube on the rim isn’t great for your braking power!). Instead, buy a squeeze bottle of chain lube from your local bike shop. There are a few basic types: oil-based wet lube (better for wet, rainy conditions, and road bikes on clean pavement), silicone-based dry lube (better for mountain bikes in dusty conditions), and wax based. First wipe old black grunge off your chain using a rag. Put one drop of lube on each chain pivot, and wipe it off again.

5. True. The wrong saddle height can make for a miserable ride, and probably turns many novice cyclists into ex-cyclists. Another way to tell if your seat height is adjusted properly: at the top of the pedal stroke, there should be a downward slope in your thigh. Too high? The knee extends straight at the bottom of the pedal stroke, leading to uncomfortable rocking of the pelvis on the saddle. (Imagine doing that for 42 miles. Ouch.) Too low? The thigh goes horizontal, or even slopes back toward your body at the top of the pedal stroke. A seat that’s too low wears cyclists out on long rides, because they aren’t getting efficient, powerful use of their pedal stroke.

6. True. When you squeeze your brake levers, there should enough room to fit your thumb between the lever and handlebars when the brakes are engaged against the rim. If the lever pulls farther than that just to make the pads touch the rim, you aren’t getting enough braking power. This is easy to adjust by unscrewing the adjusting barrel (on mountain bikes and hybrids, this is at the end of the brake lever; on road bikes it’s right where the cable enters the brake caliper). Unscrew the adjusting barrel enough to give more braking power. Don’t let it unscrew too far after a few adjustments; it’s actually pretty short, and can strip or break if it’s unscrewed almost all the way. In that case, let a shop do a cable adjustment.

7. False. Letting brake pads get to the disappearing point can cause metal-on-metal contact between the brake cartridge and the rim–which is very hard on rims and, therefore, potentially expensive. Periodically check your brake pads (four times a year). When the grooves molded into the pads disappear, it’s time to replace them.

8. True. A loose headset can affect your steering, and eventually damage the headset requiring an expensive repair. If you hear a rattling or knocking sound while conducting this test, you need to have a mechanic adjust the headset. To check if the headset is too tight, lift the bike off the ground with the back wheel raised higher than the front wheel. Turn the handlebar and let go. The front wheel should return to center. If it “sticks,” the headset is too tight.

9. False. Although a dropped chain might be a sign of poor shifting technique (waiting too long to shift, trying to shift too many gears at once), it’s usually caused by improperly adjusted limit screws on the derailleur. The limit screws are two tiny screws on every derailleur that affect how far left or right the derailleur can move. The screws should only be adjusted for the left-most and right-most (lowest and highest) gears, not any of the cogs or gears in between. If your chain drops off the gears when you shift, the derailleur is moving too far; the solution is to turn one of the screws inward (clockwise) until the chain no longer falls off. Make sure you are choosing the correct screw. If the chain falls off the easiest gear, turn the “L” screw (i.e., for low gear). If it falls off the hardest gear, turn the “H” screw (for high gear). Conversely, if your derailleur fails to reach the highest or lowest gears, choose the relevant screw (H or L) and unscrew that one until the chain shifts to all the gears available. Easy does it! Turn the screw half a turn at a time until the derailleur limits are properly adjusted.

10. False. The right shifter pulls cable to move the derailleur to easier gears (i.e. moving the chain left, to larger cogs). If the chain skips and chatters as it tries to move left to a larger cog, it’s because the shifter isn’t pulling quite enough cable to move the derailleur far enough. The cable tension needs to be increased a little. That’s accomplished on modern rear derailleurs by unscrewing the adjusting barrel. Turning the adjusting barrel in will make this problem worse, by increasing cable slack, so that the shifter pulls the derailleur even less.

Score Feedback

0-3: Put down the hammer and take your bike to a professional mechanic. Better yet, take the half-day Bike Maintenance 101 class offered by Recycle-A-Bicycle in conjunction with Bike New York to learn about flat fixing, chain lubing, brake adjusting, and lots more.

4-7: It looks like you’re ready for Tool School!

8-10: You’re pretty good at this bike maintenance stuff. How about volunteering for Recycle-A-Bicycle or getting your instructor certification and teaching the mechanically challenged?

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