Even if you take great care of your bike at home by regularly wiping and lubing your chain, pumping your tires, and watching for excessive wear and tear, your bike will eventually need attention from a trained mechanic. Take your bike in for a tune-up once per year unless you hear something new or feel something that's not quite right with your bike.
Unlike cars, bikes don't have warning lights that tell us when something isn't working correctly or when it's time to get your bike checked out. If you hear new sounds, particularly a grinding or squeaking noise that you don't recognize, it's time for a shop visit. Or, if your bike doesn't run as smoothly as it used to or if you recently crashed your bike, take your bike in to get checked over.
Here are six common signs that it’s time to make a date with your bike mechanic:
1. Grinding when you turn the handlebars
If you turn your handlebars and feel something grinding, it could be several things. Either your headset is overtightened, your headset lacks lube, or the bearings in your headset are worn and need to be replaced. You might also have rust in your headset if you pressure washed your bike and water got inside. A good mechanic can diagnose your problem and offer solutions to get you back on the bike in no time.
2. Grinding when you pump the brakes
Like rim brakes, hydraulic and mechanical disk brakes pads wear out over time. The amount of wear is harder to see on disc brakes, and if you don't pay attention, it's easy to wear through to the metal backing on your brake pads. You’ll know this has happened if you hear a metal-on-metal screeching sound when you brake. By this point, you may have also gouged your rotor, so a trip to the mechanic will help determine what needs to be replaced.
3. Clicking from your drivetrain or gears that don’t shift smoothly
A clicking drivetrain is most often caused by a misadjusted derailleur that can be fixed with a twist of a barrel adjuster by you or by your mechanic. If that doesn’t fix the issue, it could be several things, including an excessively worn chainring, cassette, and chain or a bent derailleur hanger. Your mechanic will have the tools to measure these components for wear and can easily replace the parts if needed.
4. Tires consistently losing air
If your tires regularly go flat or won't hold pressure for long, you may have a hole in the tire caused by a sharp object stuck in the rubber. Or you might have a tire that is excessively worn and can't hold air anymore. For tubeless tires that won't stay pumped, your sealant might be dried up and need to be replaced, or the tire may not be seated properly. In any case, if you can't fix your flat or if your tire won't hold air, ask your shop for help.
5. Creaking when you pedal
A creaking bike can be extremely frustrating and sometimes hard to diagnose. A saddle not properly tightened can cause creaking, but the noise often sounds like it's coming from somewhere else. If creaking happens when you're loading the pedals, it may be due to an issue with your bottom bracket or possibly a bent pedal spindle. For mountain bikes, a creaking noise can come from dirt in your linkage, especially if you’ve been riding in the desert or on trails with abrasive mineral soil. Have your shop check it.
6. Oil dripping from your fork and shock
If your bike has a suspension fork or a shock, and you see oil oozing from around the seals, it’s time to get it checked out. Or if you've ridden your bike for 80-100 hours since your last bike service, you might notice that it doesn’t feel quite as plush as it once did, and it's time to get your suspension looked at. Take your bike to get check out, and your mechanics can replace the oil in your suspension and check the seals so your bike feels as good as new.