Basic Bike Maintenance
Your chain is one thing that will make for smooth even gear changes and peddling – if it’s clean and lubricated. Only use a bike-specific chain lubricant, never oil or WD-40. You can clean your chain with brush and a degreaser such as Simple Green. There are also chain cleaning kits available. Be sure to clean the sprockets, gears (don’t forget to scrape out accumulated guck between them) and derailleurs as well. Over time your chain will stretch. This makes gear changes more difficult and can also lead to the chain coming off the front sprocket. You can monitor this stretching. If it is more than 1/8 inch over a distance of 1 foot, it is time to have the chain replaced. Bear in mind that gears (front and rear) wear with the chain, so it may be wise to replace those as well. See if your bike dealer recommends this.
If you find your gear changes are not smooth, or if you hear clicking as you pedal, you probably need your derailleur(s) adjusted. For a minor tweak as you ride, you can turn the barrel adjusters on the end our your gear shifters (where the cable enters the housing). If this does not solve the problem, your local bike store can do a more thorough adjustment.
Before you go out riding, there are some quick checks you should make. Look at the bike and see if there is anything that doesn’t look right. Do you have a bent rim or loose spokes? Is the tire pressure correct? How are your brake linings? Are your bars tight? Any cracks in the frame? Also make sure you take along a spare inner tube, tools, and pump. Do your cranks spin freely? Are your pedals on securely? If you have a full-suspension bike, is the travel smooth and are the pivots tight?
When your ride is complete, wash your bike down with a hose using gentle water pressure. Never spray directly into areas that have bearings (wheels, headset, bottom bracket). If you have V-brakes, be sure to clean your rims so you have a clean braking surface for the next ride. Dry your bike off when you’re finished and lubricate the chain to prevent surface rust from forming.