Five easy maintenance tips for the non-mechanic

Gear How To

Sonya Tools Cover

Some people love to spend hours in the garage tinkering on their own bikes. They like to crank up the tunes, crack a beer, and take their time dialing everything in. I’m not one of those people. I like the accomplishment and sense of self-reliance when I work on my own bike, but I want to get it done as quick possible so I can go ride.

Part of the reason I like to work on my own bike is I can get it done immediately without having to drive anywhere and wait hours or even leave my bike behind. What I dislike is when things are tedious or worse—when I can’t fix it! Admittedly, my mechanic skills leave a little to be desired, but I’m getting better. Below are five easy tips and tricks I use to make bike maintenance easier and quicker.

Topeak Tool Station

1. Get the right tools and know where to find them

Something I’ve realized is that having the right tools make a world of difference. Also, having my tools organized saves time. I recently got the Topeak Tool Station, a well-organized and complete set of basic tools that have become the backbone of my maintenance program. Getting a basic bike-specific tool kit and creating a designated space for it will save you from having to improvise, and from spending more time looking for your tools than actually using them.

Topeak Tool Station: $899.99,


2. Compress to mount and inflate tubeless tires

I’ve been that person at the gas station fiddling with the air compressor and showering the parking lot with latex sealant. I’ve also tried using CO2 cartridges and floor pumps to similar results.

Finally, I broke down and invested in my own air compressor, which worked OK, but didn’t really come together until I bought a bike-specific attachment called the Prestaflator. This $50, high-precision trigger and gauge makes getting tubeless tires seated and inflated simple. The job is made easier by removing the wheel’s valve stem core which facilitates higher airflow into the tire—a technique that also makes re-inflating previously mounted tires easier.

On the way to a race in Chile earlier this year, my tires lost air and became unseated on the plane. I was in a remote place with no air compressor anywhere and feeling doomed. Because my tires had been previously seated, they snapped back into place with just the extra “oomph” of the valve-free airflow—whew!

Prestaflator: $49.95,

Sonya Stans Injector

3. Refresh expired sealant

Also on the tire front, I’ve been guilty of letting my sealant go too long because I feared having them come unseated. Stan’s NoTubes’ Tire Sealant Injector along with removable valve stems are a good way to get around this fear. If you set up your tires with this system to begin with, all you need to do to refresh your sealant is remove the valve core, squeeze in the sealant and re-inflate with a floor pump.

If you have “Stanimals”—the chunks of hole-sealing material that clumps and tumbles inside your tire—you’re going to need to remove the bead. In most cases, you should be able to get the tire to re-seat without a compressor.

Stan’s Tire Sealant Injector: $9.95,

Sonya Park Chain Link Pliers

4. Take care of your chain

I’ve been running a SRAM chain the last several years and love their Powerlink that lets you “break” and reconnect the chain. What I don’t love is trying to remove it. Thankfully, the Park Master Link Pliers makes it as simple as squeezing a handle. It compresses and unhooks the Powerlink with one squeeze, making it easy to take the chain on and off for deep cleaning, switching derailleurs, and other maintenance tasks. For regular cleaning of my chain I recently added the Finish Line Pro Chain Cleaner to my toolkit.

SRAM Powerlink: $4.99,
Park Tool Master Link Pliers: $14.99,
Finish Line Pro Chain Cleaner Kit: $36.00,

Editor’s note: SRAM recommends that 10- and 11-speed Powerlinks only be used once, and that chains be subsequently broken and reconnected with a new Powerlink at a different link. That said, we know many people who re-use Powerlinks as Sonya describes. Proceed at your own risk.

Sonya Ritchey Torque Key

5. Torque it right

With the precise tolerances of lightweight components, it’s imperative to tighten your fixing bolts to the correct torque spec to prevent slipping from not enough torque, as well as damage from too much. Ritchey’s inexpensive Torque Key is pre-set to 5 newton meters (N-m)—a common spec for many stems, seat posts and components—making it a great road tool for reassembling bicycles when traveling. I also have Topeak digital D-Torq Wrench for the workshop that adjusts between 1-20 N-m by .1 N-m increments.

Ritchey Torque Key: $19.99,
Topeak D-Torq Wrench: $175.00,

About the author: Sonya Looney

It’s energy and attitude that have propelled World Champion Sonya Looney on a mountain bike across the rugged Himalayas, through sweltering sand dunes of the Sahara Desert, and through the clammy jungles of Sri Lanka. Sonya Looney is an adventure traveler on a bike seeking out the hardest races in the most remote, beautiful, and interesting places in the world. She believes in pushing limits because that’s when you realize you are far more capable than ever imagined. Sonya is also a professional speaker, keynoting at large conferences and has spoken at TEDx. Don't let her accolades fool you though, she loves craft beer and joking around. Follow her on social media!

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  • brian says:

    You just told a non-mechanic to spend $1k in tools? I’m confused.

    • JK says:

      Wow, that was pointless.

      Here’s a helpful readers tip. Buy the ubiquitous $40 set of generic bike tools from ebay then pickup the Park Tools cable cutters, Park Tools 4th hand, nice bike stand and a good floor pump. Maybe a bearing press too. The Craftsman beam style torque wrench is the same exact one Park Tools sells, for half price. Might set you back $300-400 for everything but that covers the vast majority of work I’ve ever had to do on my bike.

      One other great tool. Channel Lock retaining ring pliers. $22 bucks at HD. Pretty much priceless for rebuilding my fork (old Pike).

  • Bob says:

    Maybe because Topeak is her sponsor, so 1) she’s not paying for them and 2) others are.

  • nmh says:

    I didn’t learn anything about fixing my bike. I’m already pretty good at wasting money.

  • jj says:

    why do I need a chain cleaning tool if I can remove the chain? not much of an article really. if i had $1000 to drop on tools, i’d just leave my bike at the shop to be repaired

  • Tyrebyter says:

    Some bike-specific tools simply can’t be bought from your favorite tool store, but why would I buy a cheap Chinese torque wrench from a bike tool company for the price of a real torque wrench from Proto or Snap-On?

  • Bob Stimson says:

    “Let them eat cake!” — Marie Antoinette…

    WTF. Is this the rich ‘non-mechanic’? a $1000 tool box and a $175 wrench? What cracks me up is that even though you recommended I buy a tool box that’s about the same value as my bike, you don’t use it once in any of your further examples. It’s like you said, “1. Buy these tools,. and show them to your friends! 2. For real maintenance buy these other sets of tools”

    Oh and you forgot to include the cost of a air compressor! Add in another $100 or so.

    Think about this for a second. The vast majority of the readers here are non-sponsored recreational riders. Like myself. The title was good, I’m not a mechanic but am mechanically inclined so I figured this would be a good read. But you’ve gone overboard with you assumptions that us riders have enough disposable income to blow $1500 on tools.

    Bottom line: Know your audience. Send this to your non-sponsored “weekend warrior” friends first before you put this out.

    • Mtbr says:

      Sonya just uses her tools as an example. If you look at each of the headlines, they reveal the tip regardless of what particular tool you have or use, and regardless of their cost.

  • Peter O. says:

    All good relevant stuff. Tire sealant, inexpensive. Small 5Nm set torq wrench, inexpensive. Powerlink inexpensive and valuable in a pinch. Chain cleaner inexpensive and drivetrain maintenance critical for bike reliability. Sure the box is expensive but all the tips are worthy. Flew out to the Sea Otter with my bike in a box and the 5Nm torq wrench and some allens were all I needed to safely build it up.

  • rynoman03 says:

    The article was informational and I to use some of the tools you mentioned. However the Topeak equipment suggested isn’t affordable at all. I will however look into a few of the other tools mentioned like the master link pliers and the Richey tq wrench.

  • JoePAz says:

    I think it was a solid article. You don’t need $1000 in tools, but all the word still apply. Having a good basic set of tools that is organized is a big help whether you spend $50 to $899.

    The rest of the stuff is really low dollar item except for the $175 torque wrench. That can be solved with trip to Harbor Freight and a $9.99 1/4 torque wrench. You do have to convert N-m to inch-lbs, but so what. Very handy to have torque wrench.

    Very handy to be able to maintenance yourself. It saves you money in the long run and time because most jobs can be done faster than going to and from the bike shop.

    • Mike says:

      Well put. You can go out and spend the $1000 for one of those nice tool kits and most of us will find we always use a few of them, rarely use some of them, and never use the rest of them. Sit down first with a good repair manual and figure out what you’re willing to do then determine what tools you need to do the job.

  • D says:

    Sonya is RAD

  • a says:

    As a shop mechanic, I love the Park masterlink tool for removing and cleaning Sram chains. But I wouldn’t put a masterlink chain on my personal bike. I have seen a few chains fail at the masterlink. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That is why I think the Shimano chain pin system works better even though it is more of a hassle.

    • jiw71 says:

      I’ve snapped chains, but never at the master link. Most chain snapping is caused by crossing chaining and abrupt gear/cog change. A quality Sram chain, 1070 or better (10 speeds), regular cleaning & lubricating and proper chain alignment when changing gears will give you problem-free riding.

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