The Frugal Café | Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup"</a> | Creative Commons License,
Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup" | Creative Commons License,

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DIY Bike Info – Save Money with Proper Bicycle Selection, Care, Repair, & Security

By Vicki McClure Davidson

Index of Contents

Bike selection, care, repair, & security info | Photo credit: MS Clips
Bike selection, care, repair, & security info | Photo credit: MS Clips
Parts of a Bike
What's the Right Bike for You?
Bicycle Types
Preventing Theft: Proper, Safe Bike Storage
Buying a Used Bike
Winter Bike Care
Bike Repair Tools
Check Brakes
Check Tires
Check Tire Pressure
Check Cranks and Chain
Check Quick Releases
Bike Repair Info Websites



My son Chase is a biking enthusiast. He loves to bike everywhere. When you're 15 and too young for a driver's license, you're limited on self-transportation options. But he truly loves it, because it gives him freedom, speed, and powerful calf muscles at little expense. Little expense, that is, until he needs to repair the bike chain that fell off on his way home from the mall. Then, a bicycle is an albatross that needs to be dragged for several miles. With our financial situation not permitting us to haul the afflicted bike to the repair shop every other week (he rides rough and is always attempting bike tricks), Chase has taken matters into his own hands to repair his bike and save money doing it.

Bicycling is a frugal mode of transportation, and repairs and maintenance are simpler and cheaper than those of a car. | USDA photo courtesy of
Bicycling is a frugal mode of transportation, and repairs and maintenance are simpler and cheaper than those of a car.

He's learning how to fix the bike himself and how to take better care of it on a day-to-day basis. And I must say, from a responsibility and a frugal standpoint, I'm very proud of him. He has done it so often, he knows how to pretty much take the whole thing apart and reassemble it—correctly—with few problems. And then, whoosh—he's pedaling off again.

For those adults who remember their first Schwinn fondly, bicycles have changed quite a bit, but they still aren't all that difficult to repair. For easy access to the store a half mile away or for an effective cardiovascular exercise regime, bicycle popularity has risen. The surge in gasoline prices has influenced the increase bicycle sales. With gasoline prices spiking to as high as $4.99 a gallon in 2008 (always subject to change these days) in many U.S. cities, the cost to fuel a bike is still zero. A sweet price for those who want to save money. And the numbers who do are growing.

Studies show that there are 1.4 billion bicycles in use in the world, compared to only 400 million cars, making bike riding the most popular mode of transportation in the world. Bicycling communities and clubs are growing and the health benefits of bike riding are wide-reaching. Not only does it give a good workout to the individual rider, but air pollution is reduced. This benefits the community by not expelling pollutants, thus lowering lung afflictions, such as asthma.

Proper care of a bicycle is inexpensive and easy to accomplish. For beginners, here is a handy diagram of a bicycle and its parts.


Diagram of Parts of a Bicycle

What's the Right Bike for You?

If you're new to the realm of bicycles and are overwhelmed by the vast array of selections available, there are the four major bicycle types for you to consider. From the descriptions provided in the table below, you can match your needs and physical abilities with the correct bicycle.

There are four main types of bike: Mountain, Road Racing (Road Sport), Touring, and Hybrid.


Mountain Most popular bicycle.
Easy to ride.
Originally made to go along rough mountain tracks.
They have fat tires with lots of grip, wide handlebars, sturdy frame, and many gears. Extremely durable.
Well suited for using on rough ground and also in towns and cities.
Not suitable for riding long distances on good roads.
Most popular bicycle among thieves; be sure to lock it up when riding about and stopping for an errand, or it will be subject to being stolen from the moment you enter the store.
Road Racing (or Road Sport) Made for speed.
Are considered to offer the most efficient all-around performance.
These are very lightweight. They have very thin tires, drop handlebars, and not as many gears. Too many people buy racing bikes having seen a photo of Lance Armstrong on a racing bike in the Tour de France. Race bikes are great if you plan to do a lot of fast riding, but remember: if you're not a racer, a racing bike is not the best option for you.
Are not made for comfort or carrying any type of load. Not recommended for people who are overweight, as this adds to the load on the bike. Too much load can lead to frequent flat tires, since the tires are so thin.
Best suited for a flexible person because the ride position is low.
Prone to flat tires, depending on load and road conditions.
Bicycles used in the Tour de France are racing bikes.
A race bike can cost several hundred dollars to well over $10,000, depending upon its quality.
Touring These look similar to racing bikes.
The main difference is that they are stronger and can carry loads.
The shape is slightly different and this makes them more comfortable.
Hybrid (a.k.a. "comfort" or "town/city")

This may look like a mountain bike, but it has some of the features of the touring bikes.
Comfortable ride.
Designed to be able to go on rough ground like a mountain bike, but not over bumpy ground.
Not great performance on the road or off the road. Not as fast or efficient as a road racer or road sport, so not ideal for distance riding, though it is better suited for it than a mountain bike.
It can also be used for touring, but is not as fast as a touring bike.


Although this guide offers information to help you choose what type of bike to purchase, if you are not sure, ask someone who is an experienced cycler or get recommendations from a good bicycle shop. Before buying yourself any bike, new or used, it is important to take it out on a test ride.

Buying a Used Bike

If you're shopping garage sales and see a bike that could suit your needs (and these can offer tremendous savings on buying new), be aware that most bikes offered at these sales may have expensive problems. Most will also have flat tires (which is just laziness or poor salesmanship on the part of the owner for not taking the time to present the bike in its best condition). The tire could be flat from a puncture, not from air seepage. The owner will tell you the bike is in great condition, but obviously, you can't test ride a bike with a flat. If possible, take a bike pump with you so that you can pump it up and take a test ride.

If the tire and/or tube is punctured, check the rim for damage. It may not be such a good deal upon closer inspection. Replacing a rim is costly.

As always, nicely offer a lower price than what the owner is asking. Expensive items like bicycles usually can be haggled to a lower price, especially if the sale is late in the day. Never spend more than thirty percent of what the bike would cost new, and never spend thirty percent if replacement or repair, even cosmetic, needs to be done.

Preventing Theft: Proper, Safe Bike Storage

The best place to store a bike is inside your home or garage. Shelter protects it from bad weather and thieves. Left outside, a costly bike can rust and corrode to dangerous conditions in less than a year. This is especially true if you live near the ocean. Salt in the air is highly corrosive to the metal parts of a bicycle. In drier climates, like Arizona, the intense heat of summer can ruin the seat cover fabric in a short period of time.

Bicycle Theft: Less Than 20 Seconds

If your apartment or house is small, safe storage still shouldn't present a problem. My son brings his bicycle in each night and stores it standing upright in his bedroom. We learned the hard way through a theft of a previous bike that leaving a bike unattended and unlocked in your front yard or opened garage, even for just a few minutes, is a foolish, hearty invitation to bike thieves to come a-runnin'.

Bicycle theft is growing every year (so, how long does it take to snatch an unlocked bike, toss it into the back of a truck, and then speed away? Less than 20 seconds). For a criminal to remove the lock from a bike in a busy city area unnoticed takes only a minute or two. Even with plenty of people milling about. Keeping a bike protected from criminals is common sense, but one that many people forget when they're away for "just a minute."

According to information released by Kryptonite Locks in May 2008, the Number 1 U.S. city for most bicycle thefts was Philadelphia, PA, followed by Chicago, IL; New York City, NY; San Francisco, CA, Tucson, AZ; Phoenix, AZ; Portland, OR; Denver, CO; New Haven, CT; Cambridge, MA; and Austin, TX. For several years in a row, New York City held the top spot for worst bicycle theft in a U.S. city, so New Yorkers have now significantly improved protecting their bicycles.

For about more information about the worse cities for bicycle theft and how to properly lock your bicycle, visit Kryptonite's blog, Unbreakable Bonds.

The National Bike Registry—an American national bicycle registration database—estimates that a million bikes are stolen each year in the United States. About half of those stolen bikes are recovered by police, but less than five percent are returned to their rightful owners because police often have no way to identify the owner. For information on registering a bike in the US with the National Bicycle Registry, go to their website.

And bicycle theft isn't by any stretch of the imagination solely a problem in the US. It's rampant in all countries that have rising gasoline prices and an increase in bicycle ownership.

For example, about 700,000 bikes were stolen in the Netherlands in 2007, where there are 18 million bikes. In London, an estimated 74 bicycles are stolen daily—more than 21,000 each year in that city alone. Cyclist groups believe the theft numbers are much higher than those cited because not all bike thefts are reported. A decrease in bike thefts have been reported in China, home to a record 460 million bicycles, because law enforcement there has greatly increased its efforts to break up thousands of major bike theft rings. Additionally, the Chinese government has introduced a system of identification numbers and buyers must register their bikes using their real names as part of efforts to curb widespread theft.

The smartest, most frugal way to take care of a bicycle is to keep from having to replace it because of theft.

Always use a lock when you're out in public! A reliable U-Lock is much better than a lightweight cable or a chain lock because they can be easily cut in a matter of seconds by thieves. When locking your bike in a public place, remove as many accessories as possible, such as pumps, computers, lights, seat bags, and seats. Always lock your bike to an unbreakable, immovable object. Consider using a combination of locks—the more difficult your bike looks to steal, the lower your risk of theft. Remove your quick-release wheel and include it in your U-Lock. The more space you use in your U-Lock, the more difficult it is for thieves to pry open. If your U-Lock has a keyhole at the end of its crossbar, position it towards the ground to deter thieves from picking it.

To store your bicycle indoors, you can install a bike hook in a stud in a wall and easily hang your bike from one of its a wheel. These hooks are cheap (about 3 - 4 US dollars at local hardware and discount stores like WalMart). Most don't need any tools to screw into a wood wall or stud in a plaster or sheetrock wall. Bikes can be stored in a variety of places: in a closet, above a bed, behind a door, under a stairwell, in any room of the house (some bicycle enthusiasts store them in the kitchen or bathroom, wherever space permits).

Winter Bike Care

In most areas of the country where winters are wet, snowy, and/or icy, regular bike maintenance will keep your bicycle in tip-top shape and offset costly repairs or bike replacement. Riding on slick roads can be precarious for bikes, but here are some tips to keep you safe and the bike in good, working order.


Rims When wet, brake pads grip aluminum rims better than they do steel rims.
Tires Fat tires have better traction. Tires less than 1 1/4-inches wide work better on wet streets when under-inflated. Use tires with a deep tread pattern.
Fenders Fenders beat almost anything to keep you dry on wet pavement. The newest plastic ones are inexpensive and light, but can break if installed wrong.
Bearings After biking in wet weather, put your bike indoors so the bearings can thoroughly dry and keep from being damaged.
Brakes Grime builds up on brake pads, making them squeak or scratch your rims. Run a rag between each pad and the rim, like shining a shoe. On occaision, you should remove the wheel and check the pads for wear.
Salt Damage With lots of winter riding, occasionally wipe your frame, rims, spokes, and derailleurs, and lube your chain to prevent salt damage. Use a toothbrush to dislodge salt from hard-to-reach parts.


Bike Repair Tools

One good source I've found for bicycle information is Jim Langley's website, Jim Langley Bicycle Aficionado. His homepage has a cool audio of a bicycle wheel spinning and slowing down. Jim has extensive experience working with and writing about bicycles. He has a refreshingly frugal attitude toward equipping yourself with the right tools for performing bike repair, which is apparent from this quote from his section on bike repair tools:
"When rounding up your tool kit, don’t think you need beautiful matched wrenches and screwdrivers. Often, odd flea market tools and things you find around the house can work just fine for basic bike repairs. And there’s an advantage to having these in your collection: they make it easier to find the right tool when you’re searching through a tool box or your work bench because they look different."

Buying specialist bike repair tools can be costly, so be sure to shop around. Check out used tools on eBay and Craig's List on the 'net, and keep your eyes open at yard sales. However, the basic tools needed can be found in most hardware stores. The table below gives a basic list of what you need for most simple repairs. Good tools cost more than sub-standard tools, but they last much longer.

Allen key set
9mm Allen key
Crosshead screwdriver Various size screwdrivers
Adjustable wrench Cable cutters
Chain link tool Scissors
Tire levers Pliers


Check Brakes

Like a car, the brakes on a bicycle are one of the most important components for safety. You want those brakes to work every time you need them. Be sure to check your brake pads often for wear. Most newer bikes have ridged brake pads, replace the pads if the ridges are entirely worn down. Check your brake pad adjustments, they should hit the rim, not rub against the tire or dive into the spokes. Check your hand brakes, they should travel at least 1 inch between the bar and lever when applied.

Check Tires

Check bike your tires regularly! Soft tires make the bike tougher to ride and increase the risk of getting a flat. Soft tires are more likely to pick up harmful debris when you're riding, which may work into the tires and pop the tubes.

When you hit ruts, holes, or rocks, soft tires can be so impacted that they become deformed. This can lead to the rim pinching the tube (between the rim and debris) and cuts into the tire in two places, commonly called a pinch flat or snakebite puncture (because the holes in the tube resemble a snakebite). Besides damaging the tube, this impact can bend the rim, leading to an expensive repair.

Bicycle tires lose air slowly. Because they don't hold a lot of volume of air and the air seeps out over a relatively short period of time (just a week for a road bike tire and about two weeks for a mountain bike), there's a definite risk if you ride without checking the tire pressure beforehand. If you bike on soft tires and hit a pothole, rock, or other obstacle, you can damage or ruin the tire, the tube, and/or the rim. Having a too-soft tire also means that you’re working a lot harder and on a mountain bike, it can make for a wobbly, hard-to-handle ride.

Under-inflated, soft tires lack the sidewall rigidity needed for safe cornering. They also wear out quickly. So, save yourself time and money by purchasing a good floor pump for home use. Use it to top off the air in your tires regularly. Check every week you ride for mountain bikes and before every ride for roadsters. If you check your tire pressure regularly, you will avoid most of the reasons for a flat.

Check Tire Pressure

Most people put too little pressure in road tires and too much pressure in off-road rubber. Road tires usually require 95 to 125 pounds per square inch. The pounds per square inch is influenced by the weight of the bicyclist. If you weigh less than 150 pounds, go toward the lower end (95) and if you weigh more than 150 pounds, the higher end (125). For mountain tires intended for off-road use, a good range is from 35 to 45 pounds per square inch. Use the same rule for weight. With off-road rubber, less air gives a softer ride and improved control because the tire has a larger footprint on the road or trail. Consult a bike expert or your owner's manual for more information about your type of bicycle.

Check Cranks and Chain

Your crank bolts should always be tight. Check your chain for signs of wear often. Lubricate your chain sparingly. Do it first with your bike upside down and hold a section of your chain with a cloth. Pedal and run the cloth lightly over the chain to remove dirt. Then keep pedaling and apply a thin layer of chain grease. Be careful because excess grease will attract more dirt. Apply a drop of link lubricant to every other link any time you notice that the chain is beginning to look dry. You don't want the chain link to ever squeak. If it does, this indicates that the links have become dry, not a good thing. If you keep riding with a dry chain link, you'll speed up chain and sprocket wear, plus it becomes increasingly more difficult to pedal. If your chain skips on your cassette, you might need an adjustment.

Check Quick Releases

Your bike's hubs should be tight in the frame and the quick release should engage at 90 degrees. Your hub quick release should point back to insure that nothing catches on it. Inspect your brake quick releases to insure that they have been re-engaged if you have removed your bike wheel.

Bike Repair Info Websites

There are a number of excellent bike repair guidance websites. Check out the Park Tool website. This site features a helpful, interactive image map for you to point, using your computer mouse, to areas of your bicycle that need repairs. In the snapshot below, we pointed to the inner tube in the lower right section of the graphic; a navigation box popped up to click to get more information on how to repair.

Snapshot of Interactive Image Map on Park Tool Site

Snapshot of Interactive Image Map on Park Tool Site

The bike graphic above is not linked to the website; it is just a snapshot for your clarification. You'll need to go to the Park Tool website to click on the interactive/navigational graphic.


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Bike Registry Canada website (
Burns on the Saddle website (
Jim Langley, Bicycle Aficionado website (/
Park Tool website (
Posner, Andrew, "Choose the Right Kind of Bicycle," Planet Green website, (, September 12, 2008.
Reuters, "China Says Cuts Bicycle Thefts by Half (, January 24, 2008.
Reuters, "Curbing Bike Theft with Thievery Lessons?," (, June 4, 2008.
This Is London website, "Just 30 Minutes to Steal a Bike in Central London," (, August 1, 2007.
Wikipedia website, "National Bike Registry" (