The first and most basic step in bike maintenance is to carry out a bike safety check. This will identify whether you need to look more specifically at any particular areas of concern.
Ideally you should carry out a safety check before every ride. In reality that is not going to happen. If you ride frequently you will notice things as they start to go wrong but you should still carry out the check every week or so and certainly if you haven’t ridden the bike for a while.
Although the check might take a couple of minutes it could save a lot of time down the line because if you can catch issues whilst they are small they will be a lot easier to fix than when they are big. It’s also good to know, for instance, that your brakes are dodgy before you have to rely upon them.
So, on that note, you should check:
Pull the brake front brake lever and push the bike forwards. The brake should engage with a minimum of lever movement (certainly not squeezed all the way to the handlebar) and when fully engaged you should not be able to push the bike forwards. For the rear, engage the brake and pull the bike backwards. The same rules apply (except you should not be able to pull the bike backwards).
Also check that the pads are not overly worn, that they are sitting in the middle of the wheel rim braking surface(if rim brakes) and that the cables aren’t frayed.
You can find help fixing or maintaining your brakes here.
Spin the wheels to check they’re both true. You can visually check by noting the gap between the brake pad and the rim on either side. If they are out by more than a couple of millimetres you may need to adjust your spoke tension.
Also make sure quick release axle bolts are tight.
Make sure they are inflated to the correct pressure (indicated on the side of the tyre) then visually inspect the treads for any tiny sharp objects embedded in the rubber and carefully remove them. More about tyres and how to fix a flat here.
With the front brake on rock the bike back and forth. If there is any give in the headset you need to tighten it. Loosen the bolts on the side of the stem then tighten the bolt at the top (not excessively as this can cause damage and effect steering). Then remember to re-tighten the bolts on the stem if you want to be able to steer!
Handlebar and stem
Check that the stem bolts haven’t become loose (perhaps by you under 4 above). Hold the front wheel between your knees and try to turn the handlebar sideways, as if you were steering. If there’s any movement, tighten the bolts holding the handlebars to the stem.
Saddle and seat post
Grab the saddle and try to twist it sideways and move it up and down. If there is any movement tighten the bolts.
Check that you chain is not worn and that it is properly lubricated. There are some techniques on checking chain wear here.
There are many potential sources for ticking or creaking whilst you pedal but one of them is your bottom bracket. To test you bottom bracket, drop your chain off the smallest chain ring so that it is not engaged and turn the cranks by hand. It should run smoothly. If not the bearings are worn and need replacing. For many modern bikes this means replacing the whole bottom bracket, a job that is often best performed by your local bike shop, if only because the cost of the specialist tools you will probably need will be more that the cost of the job.
Frame and forks
Check the frame and forks for any cracks, especially behind the head tube and around the bottom bracket.
Kickstart your Lands End to John O’Groats planning
Everything you need to know to get you started on your Lands End to John O Groats adventure is contained within these three books: a How To, a detailed account of riding the Google Map route for LEJOG and a ‘safe’ Route Book using GPX files.
Where to next?
The most popular pages on the site concern planning your End to End, including training for long distance cycling, thinking about the cycling equipment you will need, how to look after your bike, what you should be eating and drinking whilst cycling and how to create a route for Lands End to John O’Groats. Or you can read my own account of cycling End to End to get some idea of what to expect.