How can I learn to fix my own bike?

I ride my bike daily to and from class. Every winter is rough on it, and come summer I usually spend a few hundred on parts on labor. I like supporting the local bike shop, but at the same time I’d love to be able to do my own maintenance.

Anyone know of a good book that has step by step instructions for doing things like adjusting the tension for gear changing? A list of tools that will make it easier?


I liked “Anybody’s Bike Book” – more on the friendly side than hardcore technical, but a great start, and covers most of what you need to start. Any good beginner bike repair book should go over tools (you can do a fair amount with just an adjustable monkey wrench, phillips and flat screwdrivers. If you don’t have them already, a good pump and tire irons. Then, if you want to get more into it, is allen wrenches, and maybe a chain tool. If you’re doing a lot of work, you’ll probably get tired of the adjustable wrench and get some fixed wrenches. You can do almost all you basic maintenance with those, except overhauling bearings, which need a few special tools depending on your particular bike).

There are some bike shops that give repair lessons, let you rent tools and space, or (best of both) will let you rent tools and the advice of a mechanic. Finding one of those is a great way to learn more advanced repair. (Are you in the Boston area?)

But as someone once told me, the great thing about bike mechanics is that you can just try stuff: nearly everything is right out where you can see it and figure out what it does, and nothing explodes or burns if you get it wrong. So go for it.

Richard’s Bicycle Book by Richard Ballantine was an absolutely indispensable resource for me. It’s probably out of print now but if you can get hold of an old copy it will tell you absolutely everything you need to know about cycling and bike maintenance.

With the help of that book you’ll be confident and competent to tackle any maintenance task; you’ll just need one or two (not very expensive) specialist tools: a crank tool and a chain tool are all I can think of.

Google “Bicycle Sheldon Brown”. Sheldon was a treasure. He is missed.

Oh wow. Sheldon Brown’s page looks pretty solid. Thanks!

The other books seem to be a bit pricier than I expected.
Any thoughts on this book? Complete Bicycle Maintenance and Repair

How sad. I didn’t know he was dead. When I got into track bikes last year, most of my internet searches led me to his pages. Quite a bit of info he had.

The Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair by Park Tool (BBB-2) may not be a beginner’s guide, but it is probably the de facto standard shop manual for bicycle repair. It is comprehensive and easy to follow. It would be a good reference to complement any beginner’s book. Most bike shops probably have a copy of it in the back.

For basic maintenance, basic tools are all that you’ll need. It would be good to have small and medium phillips and flat screwdrivers, a hammer or rubber mallet, and adjustable wrench. Most modern bikes are all metric, so, a set of metric wrenches, metric sockets, and a metric allen wrench set would also be necessary.

You’ll want to get some chain lube like Triflow. I would also get some strong degreaser product from the dollar store, or you could use the real stuff from Park Tool. Some WD-40 for unsticking stuff and gunk removal. Also it would be good to have some good waterproof grease like Phil Wood Grease.

That should be all that you do to do almost any basic maintenance. Sometimes you’ll need a specialty tool that you can get from a good bike shop or from a bike parts distributor. The Park manual will tell you about all those tools because that’s what they sell. One of the most important specialty tools you’ll need is a chain tool to remove and re-install the chain for regular cleaning and lubrication. Sometimes you can get by without the specialty tools, though, if you you don’t want to buy them. That’s what the hammer is for.

I bought Bicycling magazine’s big book of bike repair, that was a handy purchase. I’m lucky in that I haven’t had to do anything major but many tasks on a bike are really pretty simple to perform and don’t need tons of specialized tools. The one big purchase I made was to get a repair stand.

A good multitool (like these^cat%2C4500891%3AMulti-Tools) will have many of the things you’ll need but it won’t be as easy to use as dedicated hand tools (but keep the multitool in your seat bag!). A normal set of screwdrivers, allen keys, wrenches, some needlenose pliers and a Visegrip will handle an awful lot of stuff and many people have most or all of that in their home toolbox already.

A couple of old toothbrushes and/or a “bike cleaning brush” are great for cleaning all the inevitable glop and road crud off the chain and gears. I have one of those chain cleaning tools and it’s pretty handy.

Set of tire levers and a patch kit in your seat bag. Practice removing and replacing a tire several times at home so you don’t have to learn in the rain, at night, on the side of a road someplace.

Floor pump (they are very cheap) and a mini pump that fastens to your bike.

In addition to your local bike shop, REI stores offer regular bike maintenance/repair classes.

Do you live near and REI store? They have free bike maintenance classes every month or so.

Right. Sheldon Brown is the best bike resource on the Internet. Harris Cyclery, where he used to work is a really good parts supplier and will provide valuable email support if you are a customer and have any questions. They sell all the tools and supplies that you’ll need. They may not have the lowest prices on the internet, but usually they are reasonable, and they provide the best service of any Internet parts supplier that I know about.

They continue to run Sheldon’s site, so you’ll be supporting the best Bicycle how-to site on the Internet if you shop with them.

The Park Tool site itself has good guides on bicycle repair.

You’re on or near a campus it seems. There may be a co op or a community bicycle resource that will teach you how to work on your own bike. I volunteered at one of these when it was active on the campus where I work.

Thanks for all the good advice guys.

YMMV, but I don’t understand why the suggestions for having screwdrivers and adjustable or box wrenches. I do a fair amount of maintainance and I mostly just need a set of metric allen wrenches, a chain tool, and flat repair tools (pump, tire levers, and a patch kit). Occasionally I’ll need a pair of pliers or spoke wrench. But there’s nothing on the bike that requires a screwdriver or regular wrench. That’s been true of bikes I’ve owned for a long time – everything that screws in or out has an allen head.

Seconded. With that in hand I learned to dismantle my bicycle and and put it together again.

My derailleurs are adjusted by using a phillips head screwdriver. My pedals are removed with a 15mm wrench. Maybe it’s just your bike?

I learned to fix my own bike by simply taking it completely apart and putting it back together. It doesn’t sound like that’s an option for you, but if it is you’ll not regret it.

Another quick tip. Always have a second chain that’s clean and lubed on hand as a spare. If the current chain has been on for several weeks/months? of crap weather; a wipedown and relube isn’t getting all the crud out. I’ll pop off the old chain, put the clean spare on, and soak (agitate occasionally) the old chain for a few days. Then wipe/evaporate off the solvent and relube. Use a dry lubricant so as not to attract more crud.

No, it’s just that I rarely do those things. I realized after I posted that I’d forgotten about just those things. Also I think there’s an adjustment on the brakes that uses a screwdriver and I believe you need a wrench to remove the bottom bracket, although I’ve never worked on that.