Introduction to Cycling—Part 2

“Let’s have a moment of silence for all those who are stuck in traffic on their way to the gym to ride stationary bicycles.”

In this article:

Once you have selected a bike and are geared up, you’ll need to learn how to use and maintain it properly.

Pre-ride Inspection

Your bike should be inspected to ensure it will operate safely. You can take it in to a bike shop to do this properly with a used bike. However, there are a few quick things you should do before each time you ride.

• Air

    Air pressure – correct pressure range is written on the side of the tire
    Check to make sure any quick releases on wheels are tight
    Condition of tire – no bald spots, tears, or embedded objects

• Brakes

    Wheels stop when brakes are pulled
    Depth of around two fingers between pulled brake and handlebar
    Wheel spins freely when brake is not engaged
    No serious friction when pulling brakes

• Lights can turn on
• Reflectors are in place

Weekly inspection

    • Chain cleanliness and lubrication
    • Bearings

      Hold the front brake and try to move bike back and forth
      Hold tire and try to move it laterally
      Hold pedal crank and try to move it towards and away from the bike

    • Bolt tightness throughout

      Especially the bolt holding your fork or handlebars on


How to Ride Your Bike

A little bit of know how can make the riding experience a lot smoother. One important thing is how to change gears. This can make it easier to bike uphill. When the chain sits on the largest ring in the front, that makes it easier to go quickly downhill. When it is moved to the smaller rings in the front, it performs better on flat or inclined surfaces. The left hand should control the speeds for the front chain ring. The right hand moves the back of the chain and does finer adjustments. Two things you want to avoid are crossing the chain and shifting gears uphill. Crossing your chain by putting it closest to the bike on one side and farthest away on the other puts a lot of tension on the parts and can wear or break them more quickly. Shifting gears uphill also adds pressure. It is better to shift to a lower gear before you reach the hill. (2)

You should be pedalling between 70 and 100 revolutions per minute. If you find that difficult, then it may be time to shift gears. As you pedal, you should be putting even pressure all the way around the pedal stroke. Lean in to turns and don’t hit the brake while you’re in them. Look in the direction you are going, drop the outside pedal and put your weight there. When you go up hill, relax, breathe, and put more pressure on the back wheel to give you more traction. (3)

As mentioned in part 1, ride defensively. Be careful of obstacles in the road, but also of metal or paint on the road as it may be more slick. When it is raining or snowing, slow down and brake sooner. Be especially careful at intersections and watch as you pass driveways for cars backing up who may not be expecting you. The rules of the road apply to bikes as well, usually with a few additional ones. This means you should stop at red lights and signal by pointing the direction you are going or putting your hand down to show you are stopping. Be sure to yield to pedestrians. One thing cyclists deal with as they ride closer to the right is parked cars opening their doors in the path of the cyclist, so be on the lookout for that. Be sure to read up on safety tips or any local laws you have and practice in a safe place so things like signaling become second nature. (4)

There are a few emergency maneuvers you may practice as well. These are techniques like the emergency stop, making sharp turns, and the rock dodge. I have also read that it is good to practice falling on soft grass, although I would recommend a bit of fall training for that.


Bike Kitchens

Maintaining and fixing bikes can intimidate beginners. There is a wonderful resource I want to introduce you to that can help you become a card-carrying cyclist if you are fortunate to live close to one. If you don’t, perhaps this article can encourage someone to start one.

The Bike Kitchen is a workshop where you can bring your broken-down bike. Staff and volunteers teach you how to repair it yourself using their tools. Usually, these shops offer memberships for a small fee which allow you to come whenever you need, or are open to the public for a few dollars per hour.

Some of the perks of being a member are:

    • Access to people who can help you figure out the problem and repair it
    • An education to help you be able to repair your bike on your own
    • Access to special tools for a broader range of issues
    • Discounts on new products
    • Free used parts
    • A community of people to be a part of
    • Fun and interesting activities
    • A sense of empowerment and accomplishment
    • Learning a marketable skill

Bike kitchens are an especially important resource for poorer communities who are more likely to rely on bicycle transportation. They are designed be extremely cheap. Memberships may be $20 per year. One reason they can keep their costs down is that they may rely on volunteers.

Benefits of volunteering at a bike kitchen include:

    • Everything in the previous list
    • Having something to put on your resume that will make you stand out
    • The opportunity to help and teach others

The workshops can do a lot more than just help people fix their bikes. They may also:

    • Receive donated bikes that would have gone to a landfill
    • Sort, recycle, repair, or sell bikes at low prices
    • Teach workshops on things like
    – Choosing a bike that is right for you
    – How to ride a bike
    – Bike safety
    – Bike laws
    – Biking in winter
    – How to repair your bicycle
    • Offer a bike library to rent bikes for free or cheap

Bike kitchens (also called bike workshops, bike churches, bike collectives, or bike coops) are often non-profit. They can get funding from some combination of donations, sales, workshops, and memberships. To save on overhead, they may look for places to rent that are free or cheap, like churches, community centers, or even garages. They keep expenses low by using volunteers and getting donated bikes. The workshops do not have to be stationary, however. They can be in a mobile trailer, or even just a set of toolboxes and parts.

To see a list of workshops, visit:

If setting up a bike workshop sounds interesting to you, check out these resources:


Maintenance and Repair

A lot of bicycle maintenance is not hard. Even learning a little can go a long way. One simple thing you can do is to keep your bike out of the rain to prevent rust.

Two excellent resources are Global Cyclist Network’s Maintenance Mondays, and Park Tool’s repair series.

Clean and lubricate the chain

Dirty chains can make a rougher ride, make shifting gears more difficult, and shorten the life of your drive train system. If you ride regularly, you should do this at least once a month. Otherwise, as needed. Wear something you don’t mind getting dirty. The first step is to remove the grease from the chain. You can do this with a degreasing solvent, a toothbrush, and a rag, or a special chain cleaning tool. It is recommended by some that you use a solvent designed for bike chains. Once you remove the grease, you should wash it again with dish soap and water. Hold a rag around the chain and pedal to get it dry, then apply the lube by carefully putting one drop per roller. Starting at the master link will make it easier to see when you have finished once cycle. There are different kinds of lube. In general, if you ride in wet conditions use the wet lube, and if you ride in dry conditions the dry lube is better. Give the pedal a couple spins to distribute it, then take your rag and remove the excess. For a thorough explanation, watch this video.

Wash your bike

Get warm water with dish soap, some sponges, rags, and a toothbrush. Start with degreasing the drive train as described in the previous paragraph, but also use solvent and scrub any grime off the pullies on the derailleur, the chain rings, and the cassette. Pick out any grime wedged between the rings. To do a really thorough job it is better to take the wheels off first. One thing you want to try to avoid is getting solvent or too much water into the hubs where the bearings are. Scrub from below the rings and rotate them, or tilt the wheel so the runoff goes away from the hub. Once you are done with the degreasing solvent, go over it again with soap and water, then the rest of the bike with soap and water. You do not want to get soap into the shift levers on the handlebars, because there is grease in there that is hard to put back on. Otherwise, scrub, then rinse gently. Too much water pressure may get inside the bearings. You can take this time to carefully inspect the bike for any problems. Afterwards, remember to put chain lube back on the chain. Here is a video explaining the process.

Fix a flat tire

While out riding you may come across something that punctures your innertube. It is not recommended that you ride on a flat as this could damage the rim. Carry one or two extra innertubes. Be sure you have the right one for your tire. You will need to take off the wheel. To do this, unhook the rim brake if any and if the flat is in the back, shift the gear so the chain is on the smallest cog. An easy way to access the wheels is to flip the bike upside down and rest it on the seat and handlebars. The wheel may have a quick release or a nut, so be sure to bring an adjustable or crescent wrench that fits the nut. Next remove the tire by letting the air out of the innertube, pressing the edges of the tire to the center all the way around to give it some slack, and using your tire levers. Put one end under the edge of the tire and hook the other on the spokes, then try to work another lever under the edge of the tire and around the rim till one side of the tire is off the side of the rim. Take note of how the innertube sits in the tire in case you need to look for anything sticking through it. Once you’ve determined the cause of the puncture is removed, you can put the new innertube in and patch the old one later when you get home.

Look for the hole by inflating the old innertube, listening and feeling for the air close to your cheek. If that fails, submerse it under water. Once you find the problem, mark it so you know where to put the patch. The kind of hole on the innertube can tell you want the problem is. If it is small and round, there may be a thorn or wire lodged in the tire. Check the tire carefully and remove anything you can find. You may need pliers for this. If there is a through hole, patch the tire with a tire boot and replace it as soon as possible. Also check the tape on the inside of the rim for any tears the innertube could blow out through or protrusions that may rupture it.

Install the new innertube. Make sure the stem is straight in the hole and the tube is evenly seated completely inside the tire. Line the valve stem with a landmark on the tire like the tire pressure, then inflate. You can bring a portable air pump or a single-use co2 canister which is faster. If you don’t have a pressure gauge with you, you may estimate by pushing your thumb into the wall of the tire and comparing it with your experience of the fully inflated tire. Note which direction the tire tread is supposed to go on the bike. When installing, make sure the wheel is centered in the frame, and that the brakes are hooked back up. Watch this video to see a demonstration.

Patch a hole

If the hole is small you can repair it. If it is next to the stem or is too large, it cannot be repaired. First clean the area. Use the sandpaper in the patch kit to scrub the area marked. Be careful to thoroughly scrape an area larger than the patch, but mark the hole in such a way that you do not lose the location after you’ve sanded it. If available, clean with rubbing alcohol and let dry. If the patch is pre-glued, just place it on firmly. If your patch is adhesive, puncture the tube and spread the glue evenly on an area larger than the patch. Leave it for a few minutes to dry, then test by touching the outer edge. The back of the patch can be removed, and the patch placed centered over the hole. Apply pressure all over. Leave the plastic cover on and after a few minutes check to make sure the patch bonded.

Repair a broken chain

This video gives an excellent demonstration. In summery, you should carry a compatible master link or connecting rivet for your chain. If a link in the chain is stiff, it can be loosened by gripping either side of the stiff joint and bending it on the side perpendicular to the side that should bend to loosen the plates on the roller. If plates are bent or twisted, they need to be removed and discarded with the chain tool. If you have a master link, you only need to remove the plates, and because the new chain length will be the same, you will still be able to shift through all the gears. If you have to remove small sections, you should not shift the chain to the larger cogs. To install the master link, slide the master link’s rivets through the rollers on the ends and connect the master link together. Put that part of the chain on top, hold the back break, and apply pressure to the pedal.

If you only have a connecting rivet, remove the defective plates and a set of rollers so that you have a pair of matching plates and rollers left to push your rivet into. It is possible to just reuse one of the chain’s own rivets by using the chain tool to only remove the rivet far enough to take out the rollers being careful to not remove it from the last plate. Place the good rollers in and put the old rivet back through. These things are temporary fixes to get you to where you are going, and it is recommended that you have your chain replaced as soon as you can.

Replace brake pads

Rim brake pads are pieces of rubber that press against the rim of the bike to stop the wheel. There are grooves in the pad to allow rain to escape. When the grooves are worn down, the water does not easily escape, and the brake pads may slide against the rim and not stop the bike quickly. Keep an eye on your brake pads and replace them when the grooves have been worn down.

First, disengage the brakes and remove the wheel. There are three kinds of rim brake pads: road, threaded, and smooth stud. Road has a short screw connector, threaded is longer with two sets of spacers, and the smooth variety is pinched into place. All three varieties could have the pad and casing in one piece, or a removable pad separate from the casing. Note any indicators showing which side faces front. If there is an open and closed end, the closed end always faces front. When installing the threaded screw variety, the trick is to set the spacers so that when the brake pads touch the rim, the calliper arms are vertical. When you remove the threaded pads, make sure to not mix up the order of the spacers.

Disk brakes are more complicated. These are two pads that clench down on either side of a metal disk called a rotor around a specialized hub of the wheel to stop the bike. When they are worn down or contaminated with oils, grease, or brake fluid, they will need to be replaced. You may be able to tell when they have been contaminated if they feel sluggish, squeak, or show oil around the rotor. To measure the wear the best thing to do is to pull the pads out and check. The basic process is to remove the pads, depress the pistons to make room for the new pads, insert the new ones, spin the wheel to make sure it doesn’t rub, and break the new pads in by riding and braking in a safe environment a few times. If you want to tackle it yourself, check out this video.

Adjust the derailleurs

This is a more complicated adjustment. Problems with the derailleurs affect your ability to change gears. Your bike moves because your wheels turn when the chain is gripped by spiked rings that turn with the pedals. These rings are the chainring in the front and cassette in the back. The different size rings allow the bike to focus or spread out the force of the pedalling, making it easier or harder to bike up or down hill. The derailleurs are the mechanisms that move the chain to the different rings. When you change your speed on your gear shifters, you are loosening or tightening a cable that moves the position of the derailleurs. If the derailleurs are not set correctly, the chain may slip off the ends of the rings, or not shift correctly to the next gear. The limits on the derailleurs stop the chain from falling off the ends, and indexing the cable controls where the chain is moved to between the limits. The bike must be pedalling in order to change gears, so you will need to suspend it so you can turn the pedals.

Back Derailleur

In the back derailleur, change gears till you have the chain on the outer most rings front and back. You’ll want to first set the outer limit, but you’ll need to loosen the cable to make sure you aren’t confusing the cable holding the derailleur in with the limit screw holding the derailleur in, so click on the right handle until you can click no more. The limits are actually screws on the derailleur that stop the linkages from extending. There should be two screws next to each other. If they aren’t labelled H or L, try turning each one to see which effects the derailleur on that end, otherwise choose H. Basically you can think of the last cog as a road on the edge of a cliff. You want to be driving on the road, but really you want to be on the side of the road that is farthest from the cliff. We’re going to do this by tightening the limit screw a little bit past the first “lane” into the second when we can hear excessive noise as we turn the pedal and the chain rubs the second cog. Once you hear this, slowly back off until the chain goes back to the last cog and the noise goes away. Now that limit is set.

Next is the indexing. Shift the chain in the front to the middle size if there are three rings or the larger size if there are two. When you click your gear shifter, the small ratchet inside of it will release or bring in the cable so that the derailleur moves the same distance as the distance between the cogs. You use the barrel adjusters on the gear shifter (if there are any) or the one on the derailleur to fine tune the starting length of cable and therefore the starting position of the chain. Once it is aligned with the cog, every click of the gear shift should move it to the next cog. To make it easy, when you turn the barrel adjuster on the derailleur clockwise, or away from the bike, the cable loosens and lets the derailleur move away from the bike. Counterclockwise brings it in, and the same principle holds true on the handles.

If your barrel adjuster is completely unscrewed, make sure you’re on the last cog and shifted fully out. You can screw it back in most of the way, and then pull in the slack by loosening the screw pinching the end of the cable, pulling the cable, and tightening the screw again.

Now you try one click and see if the chain moves to the next cog. If not, go back, and adjust the barrel adjuster. Once your happy, do the same thing on each successive cog except the last one.

To fine tune it, do the same thing you did with the limit screw to get the chain to ride on the side of the road the farthest from the “cliff.” Push it into the next cog till you hear the noise, then back it up just enough, and do that on each successive cog except the last one. Shift outward through the cogs to make sure everything is smooth.

Now you need to set the other limit screw. Shift the chain on the front to the second largest ring. Set the limit screw so that it keeps the chain on the side of the largest cog farthest from “the cliff” on that side. When you shift to the last cog, what you want is for the limit screw to keep the chain too far outwards at first. When it is, the chain wont shift to the last cog, or will shift slowly, or there will be noise from rubbing against the next cog. You want to keep adjusting the L limit screw until you get one of these problems shifting to the last gear, then carefully back it off just until the symptoms disappear.

Front Derailleur

In the front derailleur, the first thing you want to do is make sure the cage around the ring is positioned correctly. If you push it out all the way it should be 2-3 millimeters above the top chain ring and lined up with it. You can use an allen wrench to gauge the distance. First adjust the limit screws. The thing that moves the chain is a metal rectangle. On one side it keeps the chain from falling off the chain rings. On the other side it pushes the chain over to the next ring. Your first priority is to keep the chain from falling off of the rings, so you want to move the outside of the box as close to the chain as you can manage without rubbing. Once you’ve done that, you just need to make sure when you shift gears it moves quickly enough, so you can move the box back the other way just enough to make that happen. Start with the smallest ring and slacken the cable on that side while you’re playing with the limit, then tighten it back to where it was once you’ve set it. On the side with the large ring, you need to keep pressure on the shift lever for the cable to pull the box outward and make sure you are testing the limit screw and not the cable tension. Remember to not cross your chain.

Once the limits are set you need to adjust the cable tension. This is done at the derailleur with the screw pinching the cable, and/or with a barrel adjuster on the handle if there is one. There is a spring pulling the box in towards the bike. The cable pulls the box out. Move the box to the outermost ring, then slacken the cable till you see it move the box. You want to pull the cable taught until it butts up against the limit screw and the box stops moving.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this introduction to cycling and can see yourself with the option to benefit from it. Whether as a hobby or a primary means of transportation, bicycles are a great resource. Athletes, adventurers, tinkerers, money savers, and community builders can all find something of value in this topic’s many facets.




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