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Bicycle maintenance service intervals

Regardless of whether you handle your own bicycle maintenance or rely on a bike shop, it is reasonable to question the recommended service intervals for various components. This article answers that question.

If you have any questions, additions or find any errors, please post a comment in this BikeGremlin forum topic.

Table Of Contents (T.O.C.):

  1. Important notes
  2. Recommended service intervals
    2.1. Right away or when mounting/replacing parts
    2.2. Before every ride
    2.3. Fortnight (or about 200 km)
    2.4. Monthly (about 500 km)
    2.5. 200 riding hours (active, net)
    2.6. Six months (about 3,000 km)
    2.7. Annually (about 5,000 km)
    2.8. Biennially (about 10,000 km)
  3. Lubricant and degreaser recommendations
  4. The needed tools
  5. Final thoughts

1. Important notes

Different mechanics, experts and manuals often give different recommendations. Here, I’m giving my recommendations, i.e. what’s worked well for me in practice (for details see: “Is BikeGremlin a reliable source of information?“).

The service intervals I recommend are for “average” riding in “normal” conditions. What does that mean?

  • If you ride more than 100 km per week (or over 5,000 km per year) or if you ride a lot in the rain, mud, dust/sand etc,
    then you should cut the service intervals in half.
    The same goes for e-bikes (because of the extra motor power and more weight).
  • If you ride less than 50 km per week (or under 2,500 km per year) and you mostly ride in nice weather and on (reasonably clean) paved roads,
    then you can double the recommended service intervals.

Mudguards (“fenders”) can make a huge difference in headset and caliper (“road bike”) rim brake service intervals. Mudguards prevent mud, water and dirt spray into those bearings and pivots.

– T.O.C. –

2. Recommended service intervals

  • Apply mounting (anti-seize) paste: apply it to every nut & bolt, especially on parts that slide or thread into the frame. Do this as soon as you get the bike (either new or used) and whenever you are mounting or replacing any parts.
    High-quality mounting paste provides long-term protection from galvanic corrosion (parts seizing stuck). If you decide to use grease instead of mounting paste, then you should re-apply it every six months.

– T.O.C. –

  • Clean suspension stanchions (sliders) and lube the seals: turn the bike upside-down for the suspension oil to reach the seals (it makes more sense to do this after a ride, than before).
    Stuck sand and dirt can damage the sliders and seals, and hamper normal fork performance.
  • Check if anything is loose: handlebars/fork, shifters and brake levers, saddle, cranks/pedals, wheels, mudguards, rack(s), water bottle holder etc. This takes longer to write and say than to do (recommended bike parts tightening torques).
    It gets tricky if something is loose or cracked and falls off during a ride.
  • Check the brakes: activate the front brake and try pushing the bike forward, then activate the rear one and try pushing it back.
    You don’t want to realise that the brakes aren’t working during a ride.
  • Check the tyre pressure: squeeze them with your fingers, or press on the bars and the saddle and see if they compress too much, too easily (optimal bike tyre pressure).
    Riding on underinflated tyres increases the risk of pinch-flats and tyre sidewall cracking.
  • Check if suspension is working normally: press down on the bars (and the saddle if you have rear suspension) to see if the suspension compresses without sticking, and returns without “jumping” (i.e. to confirm that the rebound damping works normally).
    Broken suspension can hamper bicycle’s handling (control).

– T.O.C. –

  • Clean and lubricate the chain. You can do this whenever the chain starts making noise, which can happen even after one ride in heavy rain (depending on the type of chain lubricant you are using). You can also check the chain for wear after you’ve cleaned and lubricated it (replace it if it’s worn – and if the cassette starts “skipping” with the new chain, replace the cassette as well).
    A dry chain can break in the middle of a ride.
  • Check the brake pads for wear (when to replace disc brake pads).
    Worn brake pads will quickly “eat” your rims (or discs, if you’re using disc brakes).

– T.O.C. –

  • Wash the bike and inspect the frame, fork and other parts for any cracks. I must admit I’m guilty of often skipping this part. 🙂 Clean and degrease the braking surfaces (rims or brake discs).
    Dirt can mask more serious problems that may surprise you later.
  • Check for loose nuts & bolts: take (hex) keys, screwdrivers etc. (depending on your bolts’ “interface”) and check for any loose bolts – without needlessly re-tightening them if they aren’t loose. A torque wrench can help here (but if you have square taper cranks, read the article about square taper cranks mounting before tightening the crank bolts).
    For help: Bicycle parts tightening torque (N⋅m) specifications.
    A single bolt can come loose without the whole tightened part starts rattling, and then if another bolt snaps, you might get in trouble.
  • Check your pedals: are their bearings loose (with play), or too tight and binding. Don’t forget to check for loose cleat bolts if they are clipless pedals (and clean and lubricate the spring mechanism).
    Pedals with bearing play can break off, while those with a binding bearing can work themselves loose during riding.
  • Check if the cranks are spinning smoothly: remove the chain and spin the cranks. They should spin smoothly, without play. If there is any play or binding, the bottom bracket bearings probably need to be replaced.
    Seized or worn bottom bracket bearings can cause the cranks’ axle to break (depending on the type of bottom bracket).
  • Check the tyres for wear (when should you replace a bike tyre).
    Riding with worn tyres increases the risk of punctures and even a “loud-bang” total failure.
  • Check if there are any loose spokes.
    Wheels with loose spokes are prone to spoke breakage.
  • Spin the wheels to check if they are true.
    Any wobble could be the result of a loose spoke or a dented rim (one not excluding the other).
  • Clean and lubricate derailleur pivots.
    Dirty and dry derailleurs might not shift perfectly.
  • Small suspension service (fork lower leg service and rear shock air-can service) – after about 50 hours of riding.
    Skipping this could speed up the fork leg and seal wear.

– T.O.C. –

  • Full suspension service.
    This is important in order to preserve the rebound damper performance. Unlike skipping the regular 50-hour service, skipping or prolonging this (rather expensive) service usually doesn’t cause any lasting damage, but it hampers suspension performance, beating the point of having decent suspension on your bike.
  • Service the dropper seatpost.
    If you don’t clean and lubricate it regularly, the mechanism will get worn and damaged.

Did I talk you into or force you to buy a bike with hydraulics? I didn’t! 🙂

– T.O.C. –

  • Clean and lubricate brake caliper and lever pivots. clean and lubricate all the pivots. Check the cables for any rust or fraying (and replace if needed).
    Dry and dirty brakes are tricky to adjust and could rub.
  • Clean and lubricate rear deraulleur rollers.
    They will spin more easily and last longer.
  • If you have a carbon seatpost or a carbon frame: pull out the seatpost, wipe it clean, and (re)apply some carbon mounting paste.
    Otherwise, you run the risk of the seatpost getting stuck (galvanic corrosion) and then you’ll have problems.
  • If you have a carbon stem or carbon handlebars: remove the handlebars, wipe the handlebars-to-stem interface clean, and apply some carbon mounting paste.
    Skipping this, you run the risk of them seizing, and that is also a good opportunity to inspect the parts for any cracks.

– T.O.C. –

  • Service the wheel hubs. Especially if they are cup-and-cone hubs (hub service instructions).
    Addition based on VlPo’s suggestion on the forum:
    It may be a good idea to also service freehub mechanism, if it’s a serviceable one (as is the case with many DT Swiss freehubs for example).
    Neglected hubs can create extra drag, and with cup-and-cone hubs, neglecting the regular service could cause cup pitting and require relacing the wheels with new hubs.
  • Service your headset (steerer) bearings.
    Irregular service accelerates wear, and worn bearings make steering difficult (especially if you like to ride “hands-free”).
  • Service your pedal bearings.
    They will last longer.
  • Service the bottom bracket if it’s a cup-and-cone type. For other bottom bracket types, it might be a good idea to remove cranks and inspect the axle for any cracks, and the bearings for any binding or roughness.
    It can be dangerous if the cranks’ axle breaks during a ride.
  • If you have road (“drop”) handlebars: remove the bar tape, clean the bars and inspect them for any damage or cracks.
    You don’t want your bars breaking during a ride – and a new bar tape always feels nice. 🙂
  • Replace the hydraulic brake fluid.
    Replacing the fluid flushes out any dirt out of the system, and it brings the boiling point back to “normal” (this is important even for the mineral oil brakes).
  • Service your rear suspension frame linkage: clean, lubricate, and replace any worn bearings.
    If these bearings are binding, both the rider, and the bicycle’s frame will suffer more.
  • Replace your shifter cables and inspect the shifter housing. Replace the housing in case you see any damage. You can use some teflon (PTFE) spray to blow out any dirt and lubricate the housing.
    Shifter cables, especially in Shimano road STIs (“brifters”) is best done preventivelly, to avoid having to deal with frayed or broken cables, and to keep your shifting smooth.
  • Replace your brake cables and inspect their housing. The same as for the previous check point (shifter cables).

– T.O.C. –

– T.O.C. –

3. Lubricant and degreaser recommendations

  • Mounting paste (fittings, bolts, seatposts…)
    A high-quality mounting paste is not cheap, but even a small package will last for years.
  • Grease (bearings)
    For bicycles, any “universal grease” from an auto shop will do fine. It’s more important to do regular service, than it is to use an expensive grease. Just in case, these are the bicycle bearing greases I recommend.
  • Oil (chain)
    Here, the same as for greases – practically any will do. Here are my bicycle chain lubricant recommendations.
  • Lubricating spray (derailleur pivots, housting…)
    “Thin” but durable lubricants don’t attract much dirt and perform well in my experience. Motip teflon (PTFE) spray (German affiliate link) is what I’m happy with.
  • Degreaser (cleaning the chain and other parts with caked up grease/oil)
    Odourless mineral spirits (or diesel) are fine. I also like the locally made Axel Sgrasso (link to a local Serbian store – I don’t think they ship abroad, but I’m sure there are similar alternatives in most countries).
  • Detergent (washing the bike)
    Any decent liquid detergent for hand-washing dishes should do fine. I like and use Fairy (Amazon affiliate link).

– T.O.C. –

4. The needed tools

Bicycles differ and they don’t all require the same tools. My advice is to get just the tools you need for a given job you are planning to do on a bike – when you are planning to do it.

With that in mind, a few “safe” recommendations:

In this video I show and talk about tools I recommend for a start:

Bicycle tools for beginners - what to buy?
Bicycle tools for beginners – what to buy?

– T.O.C. –

5. Final thoughts

You needn’t follow all the here-given recommendations to the letter.

Ride your bike, pay attention to how it all works, and after a while you will be able to figure out how it’s all connected, and notice when something isn’t working perfectly well.

Start with the simple stuff, and you will surprisingly quickly gain knowledge, experience and confidence to tackle stuff you might consider “too complicated” today.

Relja DIY Novović

If you have any questions, additions or find any errors, please post a comment in this BikeGremlin forum topic.

– T.O.C. –

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