When you’re new to fixing up your own bike, it can get confusing. Why isn’t the wheel turning when you pedal? What can you do with brakes that aren’t working well?
If you’ve ever bought a cheap bike to fix up or wanted to go back to using an old one, there are a lot of things you’ll need to check. We’ll help you troubleshoot some of the most common problems you might have with a bike and help you fix them.
These are some of the ways for how to fix a bike that we’ll go through in this article.
- Check frame.
- Adjust your brakes.
- Get the wheels turning.
- Adjust your gears.
- Fix your pedals.
- True your wheels.
- Check your tires.
- Adjust your chain.
How To Fix Your Bike Step by Step
Whether you’ve bought an old bike or are resuscitating one you found in your garage, you’ll need to check it first. This way, you’ll be able to spot the problem and focus on fixing the right things.
If you’re not sure how to fix a bike and which part needs repair, you might need to take it out for a ride or test it at home.
You might notice something bothering you when you ride, making noise or slowing you down. Sometimes, you’re not able to ride your bike at all. That may mean that the pedals or the wheels are jammed.
Here are some possible, common problems you might have with your bike.
- The frame is damaged.
- Your brakes aren’t working.
- Something is rubbing against the wheel.
- Your bike is veering to one side when riding.
- The pedals aren’t turning.
- You can pedal but the wheels aren’t turning.
- The tires keep going flat.
- Gear shifting is slow or inconsistent.
- The chain keeps falling off.
1. The Frame Is Damaged
When you’re buying or learning how to fix a bike you’ve bought used, the most important thing to check is the frame. Everything else is replaceable, but the frame needs to remain tough enough to ride on.
Check the frame for:
- Dents: Small scratches are fine, but big dents may be a sign of problems. Especially aluminum and carbon frames are likely to snap if they’ve received an impact on the frame, so it’s better not to buy a bike that’s dented.
- Rust: A bit of surface rust is fine, and you can usually get it off. If the frame has deeper rust that goes through the tube, it might start affecting the integrity of the metal.
- Cracks: Riding on a cracked frame is dangerous. You may be able to fix a cracked steel frame, but an aluminum frame is likely junk after a crack appears.
- Alignment: The frame may be out of alignment because it has slowly bent under weight or as a result of a crash. You can check for this by looking at the bike from the front very closely to see if it's leaning to one side.
2. Your Brakes Aren’t Working
If your brakes aren’t working, it could be that either your brake pads are too worn or that the cable is loose. You can often adjust your brakes easily.
- First, press the handbrake. There should be about two fingers’ width between the handlebar and the brake handle. If there’s less space, you’ll need to tighten the cable. If the handle feels tight, you should loosen it up.
- Find the barrel adjuster at the brake handle and loosen or tighten it. If the brakes are still too loose, you’ll need to check the brake where it attaches to the wheel.
- Inspect the brake pads. There should be a line indicating when they need to be replaced. If the pads are too worn or have cracks, you might have to change them.
- If you’ve checked your pads and the problem isn’t there, you may need to adjust the calipers. First, loosen up the cable at the barrel adjuster. Then find the caliper, the part that holds your brake pads against the wheel.
- Look for the bolt that keeps the cable tight. Loosen the bolt.
- Pull from the loose cable to bring the brake pads so close to the wheel they touch it just barely on both sides.
- Tighten the bolt and the barrel adjuster, and test your brakes.
3. Something Is Rubbing Against the Wheel
If you feel that something is rubbing against your bike wheel, there are a couple of possible culprits.
- Your brake calipers need adjusting. Find the brake pads on both sides and check them. Loosen the cable at the barrel adjuster if the pads are too close to the wheel.
- Your fenders are bent. Sometimes the problem can be as simple as your fenders or mudguards being bent and touching the wheel as you ride. You can either try to bend them back or replace them.
- The tire isn’t centered. The tire may be rubbing against the brakes or the fender if it’s out of true. To solve this, you’ll need to true the wheel.
4. Your Bike Is Veering to One Side When Riding
Sometimes you’ll notice your bike having some issues when steering. This usually comes from an imbalance in your wheels.
If there’s no structural damage to your wheels, you can fix this issue by truing your bike wheels. You’ll need a spoke wrench of the right size for the nipples, as well as some tape.
- Rotate the wheel on the bike to see if it gets closer to the brake pads at some point. When you detect a spot that seems imbalanced, mark it with some chalk on the tire or a pencil on the rim.
- Take out the bike wheel.
- Check the spokes to see if you find any that are clearly loose. Go through them in order and leave a piece of tape to mark the loose spokes.
- Grab the spoke wrench and turn the spokes that feel loose. Take it slow and only turn the nipple half a turn at a time.
- When you’ve tightened one of the spokes, remember to loosen up the two spokes on both sides. Truing a bike wheel is all about balance, so make sure the spokes are balanced all around the wheel.
5. The Pedals Aren’t Turning
If your pedals aren’t turning at all or they tend to get stuck at some point in the rotation, there are a couple of different places to look.
- Study the crank arm. You can remove the bolts that keep the crank arm in place to remove it and check it for damage.
- Examine the wheel. Sometimes with an old bike, the wheel may be bent, and this could prevent it from turning. If this is the case, you can bend it back or replace the wheel.
- Check your chain. It might be stuck, or you may have some broken links that are sticking out and getting caught in the wheel.
- Inspect the cassette. Make sure the cassette isn’t stuck. The cogs should turn forward when you move them.
- Check your derailleur. Rotate the crank arm to see if there’s something on it that seems bent or isn’t aligned. For example, your derailleur hanger may be twisted and getting between the wheel.
6. You Can Pedal but the Wheels Aren’t Turning
Sometimes, you’ll be able to pedal, but the wheel isn’t turning. The problem is likely in the hub at the center of the wheel, but the fix depends on the type of hub you have.
A cassette hub means that all the cogs on your wheel are separate. You’ll recognize this type of hub by spinning the wheel backward. If the tool fitting at the center moves with the cogs, you have a cassette hub.
If your bike has a cassette, either the cogs or the freehub at the center of the wheel may be stuck. Sometimes you can fix this just by cleaning and lubing it, but you may also need to replace it.
Removing the cassette requires a specialized lockring, but the exact type depends on your wheel model.
A freewheel looks very much like a cassette, but the cogs are all attached to the hub. You’ll recognize it when you spin the wheel backwards, because the tool fitting at the center moves with the cogs.
A freewheel may also get stuck because of dirt and oil, which can make it turn without rotating the wheel. Take it out and see if you can eliminate the problem by cleaning it and applying some oil. If not, you may have to replace it.
Freewheel removal also needs a specialized tool for the exact size. If you’re not absolutely certain of the size, it’s best to take your wheel to a bike shop.
Internally Geared Hubs
Some bikes have the gears inside the hub. You’ll easily recognize this type of wheel, because you can’t see the cassette.
Internally geared hubs may have a shift cable problem. If the cable isn’t adjusted correctly, you can get stuck between two gears, and the wheel won’t turn. You can fix this by tightening the cable or replacing it.
On these types of bikes, you may also have a problem inside the hub. They require lubrication every now and then to keep working. These hubs often have a tiny hole so you can pour some oil inside. If this doesn’t fix the problem, you can also take the hub apart or buy a new one.
7. The Tires Keep Going Flat
If you’ve inflated your tires but they keep going flat, here are some common places where they may have a problem.
- Tube. Probably the most common problem for cyclists is a broken tube. Replacing a tire tube is easy, and you can do it in minutes.
- Tire. Sometimes the tire has dirt and debris inside. This can break your inner tube and give you a flat.
- Valve. A broken tire valve is a common cause of flat tires.
- Rim. Old rims can get bent and pinch the tube, causing it to break.
To check where the problem is, inspect the inside of the rim and the wheel to make sure there’s nothing causing the tire to break. You can also spray some soapy water on the tire or the valve and apply pressure to see where you’re losing air.
8. Gear Shifting Is Slow or Inconsistent
Gear shifting can get slow because of problems on the derailleur or the cable.
To adjust your gears, you’ll need to find a couple of normal screwdrivers, possibly a small flathead and a Phillips screwdriver, depending on your bike.
- Check the cable tension. You can adjust the cable tension at the barrel adjuster or the derailleur. Too tight or too loose will make it harder to switch gears.
- Flip the clutch. Your derailleur should have a clutch you can operate by hand.
- Adjust the limit screws. The limit screws allow you to move the derailleur to align it with the cogs.
- Twist the B-screw. The B-screw adjusts the tension by dropping or raising the derailleur’s lower cog.
9. The Chain Keeps Falling Off
The chain falling off repeatedly from your bike usually means it has loosened up too much because it’s old. You can temporarily fix it by cutting off a couple of links if you’re on the road, but you’ll need to replace your bike chain completely as soon as possible.
Depending on the type of chain you have, you’ll need a different tool. Regular links require a chain link tool, master links have a specific type of pliers. You can open a split link chain with regular needle nose pliers.
You can make sure your bike chain is still at an optimal riding state with a chain checking tool. If the links are loose, they will eventually end up damaging the sprockets. That will be a bigger and more expensive fix, so we recommend replacing the chain every 2,000 to 3,000 miles.
Are you all set and ready to get to work? With our instructions on how to fix a bike, you’ll be able to get through most common problems. They come in handy whether you’re fixing up the bike you use every day or rescuing an old one.
The first thing you’ll need to do is find the problem. If your bike frame is in good condition you can usually clean, fix or replace the rest.
Sometimes all you need is tightening up some bolts and screws and adding lubrication, so it’s definitely worth it to fix up an old ride.