My first attempt at bike maintenance

I haven’t cycled to work in over a month.

There, I said it. I’m slacking in a major way – but it wasn’t all down to laziness. My bike tyres were extremely worn, and definitely due for an upgrade. And, being a bit (!) of a novice when it comes to bike maintenance, I only had a pump, alan key, multitool and tyre levers in my tool kit. I thought that was pretty good, but then I realised that the multitool was a bit useless when it came to removing the wheels on my bike (especially as my bike isn’t the quick-release kind – something I discovered after watching half a dozen ‘how-to’ videos on replacing tyres that went something along the lines of ‘pull this magic lever and your wheel will just fall off without any effort on your part.’)

Turns out that my bike wasn’t quite so simple.

My first job was to figure out exactly what tools I needed. After Googling things like ‘how to remove a really stubborn bike tyre that has no quick-release thingy but I’m not sure what the word is for the bolty thing that I can’t budge’, and scrolling through forums that I’m pretty sure were only half in English, I worked out that I needed a spanner. The size? Absolutely no clue. I almost gave up at this point, but luckily stumbled across an amazing spanner that was literally a dozen sizes in one – thanks, Halfords!

Then came the fun bit. What, exactly, was I supposed to do with the spanner thing and the tyre levers?

The front wheel was actually quite straight forward. After loosening the brakes so that they weren’t against the wheel (I apparently did this the stupid way, but still haven’t figured out the quick and easy way), the spanner went on the bolt – turns out there were actually 2 bolts, with 1 on each side of the wheel – and I loosened them just enough to allow the wheel to lift off. Ta da!

The rear wheel was a bit trickier, because of all of the gears and chain nonsense – but ignoring that, it was the same as the front. The only difference this time was that I had to move the chain onto the lowest cog, to create some slack, before I could lift the wheel out.

Removing the old tyres, and putting the new tyres on was actually more difficult (for me) than the wheels bit. Google pretty much just said ‘use the tyre levers and some common sense and the tyres will basically remove and then reattach themselves in like, 2 seconds. Duh. Why are you even looking this up?’

After a bit of prodding and twisting and pensive frowning, I realised that it would probably be easier to remove the tyre once it’s been deflated. (Apparently this was the common sense part. I told you I’m a novice). After letting the air out, it was fairly easy to push the tyre away from the wheel rim – though with the second wheel I had to employ some man-strength (read: boyfriend) to lift the tyre out over the rim, as it was a bit tight.

I’d never seen an inner tube before this. I’d always assumed it was kind of like the tyre; a sort of flat seal that goes along the inside of the wheel. Turns out it was actually a tube (no kidding). Putting it into the new tyres was pretty straight forward, but getting the tyres back onto the wheels required another struggle with the tyre levers:

I had black smudges all over the place by this point. I’m not sure how I got so much on my face though! And my nails are still distinctly grey …

It turns out that putting the tyre onto the wheel is a whole lot easier when you’re not using the tyre lever backwards. (Just saying). That is, to make sure that the curved edge is against the wheel rather than hooking it under the tyre and trying to pull it on. Whoops. Online guides suggested using 2 tyre levers at once, but this seemed a bit advanced so I stuck to 1 – and it worked!

The next step, once the wheels were back on was to fix the brakes. Firstly, they were ridiculously loose. Secondly, the calipers were out of alignment. Thirdly, the cable kept sticking. I probably should have done something about one or more of those issues before now ..

Luckily, I found a video online that showed me how to tighten the cables whilst preventing the calipers from rubbing (yknow, assuming the calipers weren’t out of alignment). And it was really simple! Firstly, I loosened the little twisty bit next to the brake lever (below left). Then, I tightened the cable by the calipers (below right – I accidentally pulled the stopper off the end of mine. See ‘loosened the brakes the stupid way’, above) until the calipers were juuust touching the wheel rim. Once the cable was tightened, all I had to do was tighten the little twisty bit back up, which pulled the brake pads away from the wheel and stopped the rubbing. As a result, the front brake worked beautifully – it gripped the front tyre nice and tightly, with the brake lever 2 fingers’ width away from the handle. Apparently this is the recommended distance – I probably should have fixed them before, as by this point they were pulling right the way back to the handles whilst still not feeling particularly tight.


Unfortunately the rear calipers were still rubbing slightly. Given that loosening the cable (above right) made the brakes too slack, this required a bit of Googling, which uncovered a cool little screw on each side of the calipers – by adjusting each side slightly, we were able to realign the brakes and stop them rubbing. Result! I’m not going to pretend that I know the names of any of these bits, but I got my boyfriend to point them out for me:


So I guess it wasn’t as complicated as I thought it would be. All it took was an alan key, spanner, pump, tyre lever(s), and a screwdriver. Additional extras include a pair of someone else’s strong hands, and a pack of face wipes if you’re as messy as I am.

Ironically, I still don’t know how to fix a puncture. But according to Google, all I need is a couple of tyre levers, some patches and a bit of common sense. How hard can it be?




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