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Cycle Workshop Manual

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The steering system is the collection of components that allows you to control the direction of your cycle. It consists simply of your handlebars and stem.

Handlebars can be straight, or curved metal bars onto which the grips and brake levers are fitted. The stem is the metal "shaft" that connects the handlebars to the fork.

What you should check for?

Your handlebars should be checked for damage or cracks and to make sure they are securely anchored. The stem should also be checked for damage, make sure it's lined up properly, is securely anchored and that the extension "limit" (the furthest point that the stem should be extended out of the head tube) hasn't been exceeded.

Steering Problems and Solutions

Handlebar movement.

If you notice handlebar movement, check that the clamp bolt(s) is securely tightened. If there is still movement after tightening this bolt, consult an experienced mechanic.

Stem movement.

If you notice stem movement or if you just need to adjust your stem, you can make changes by loosening the stem expander bolt. This bolt is located inside your stem. The tools needed for this adjustment will depend upon the type of expander bolt you have. The bolt head itself should be located at the top of the vertical section of your stem, where the stem bends to meet the handlebars. To adjust, loosen this bolt until the stem rotates freely. Be careful not to loosen too much or the expander nut may drop into your fork tube.

If the stem is still difficult to move even after the stem expander bolt has been loosened, tap the bolt head firmly with a padded hammer. This will jar the expander nut inside the steering column free.

Once you've adjusted your stem and have it in the right position, simply re-tighten your expander bolt so that it holds the stem firmly in place. If you have an A-head stem replacement of bars, adjustment etc. is much easier.

Check Procedures

Road bike handlebars

Stand facing the front of your bike and straddle your front wheel. Place your hands on the brake hoods, then gradually put your weight on them. The brake hoods and bars should be able to support your weight without rotating downwards.

Mountain bike handlebars

Follow the same procedure as above, but place your weight on your bar end extensions. If you don't have bar ends, try rotating your handlebars by pushing up and down on your brake levers. If you notice movement, check closely to see if your bars are rotating in your stem or your bar ends or brake levers are loose.

The stem

Straddle your bike facing forward and hold the bike frame steady with your legs. Turn your handlebars so that they are perpendicular to the frame. Check to see that your stem lines up parallel to both the top tube of the frame and front wheel. Then make sure that your stem is held firmly in place and that the minimum insertion line is not visible on the stem.

Special notes on stems and brakes

Before performing any adjustment, check to make sure that your brake cables are not attached directly to your stem. If they are, any significant stem movement may affect your brakes.

Stems, like seat posts have limits to how far they can safely be extended out of your frame. If your stem limit line is visible, don't ride your bike until you've adjusted this. If you can't ride your bike comfortably without the stem extended beyond its limit line, stem extenders are available or alternatively purchase a different stem.


Types of gears

The gearing system on your bike is, next to your brakes probably the next most important part of the bike (assuming you also include the chain). In this section we provide a quick summary of the different components within the gearing system and the different types of them.

Rear derailleur

Mountain Bike Rear Derailleur

This has a long chain cage and is usually controlled by a handlebar gear shifter.

Road Racing Rear Derailleur

This has a short chain cage. This keeps the weight of the bike down and makes gear changing easier. The shifter on the down tube of the frame or STI/Ergo power levers, on the handlebars controls it.

Economy Rear Derailleur

This one is made of steel. It bolts straight into the frame rather than onto a gear change hanger.

Front derailleur

Mountain bike front derailleur

This has a wide chain cage to accommodate triple chain rings that have big jumps in size between them. An indexed shifter on the handlebars controls them.

Road racing front derailleur

This is a light chain cage is less wide to accommodate the 2 chain rings normally present on this type of bike.

Hub gears

Five or Seven-Speed Hub Gears

They are designed as low-maintenance gears for city bikes. Again a click shifter of some description fitted on the handlebars controls these.

Three-speed hub gears

These are for utility bikes and have a click shifter on the handlebars.


Hubs and bearings

Although many modern bikes have non-adjustable wheel bearings, many still require adjustment. If your bike has "cartridge" or non-adjustable bearings, you can skip this section. "Sealed hubs" only means that your bearings have seals to help keep dirt and water out, but does not identify whether your bearings are adjustable. Your local cycle retailer can help you figure out what you have.

If the bearings are too tight or too loose, you will soon damage the parts. By setting the bearing cones close together, the adjustment becomes tight. Screwing them farther apart causes looseness.

When a wheel is off the bike, set the adjustment to slightly loose, because clamping the wheel into the bike compresses the bearings slightly. Once installed, there should be just barely detectable looseness at the rim, or none at all.

Most hubs have thin locknuts that are jammed against the cones to keep the adjustment from drifting. To operate on this type of hub, loosen the locknut on one side using thin "cone wrenches", then retighten the locknut. If it is impossible to adjust the wheel so that the bearings are not too tight or not too loose at the same time, or if the bearings feel gritty when turned, a complete service is probably recommended to examine all parts for wear.

Also if the side of the wheel hub looks particularly dirty, and if the bearings are not sealed, then again a service is usually a good idea to clean out the old, dirty grease, and replace it with fresh grease.

To service the bearings, unscrew one locknut and bearing cone from the axle over a cloth. In most hubs, the bearings will fall out. Clean everything as much as you can, using a high quality degreaser. Examine everything for wear, especially the bearing cones, the cups (inner surfaces of the hub) and the ball bearings.

The ball bearings should be shiny, not dull. Although rare, you should check for cracking of the hub body itself, especially around the outsides of the cups.

Put fresh grease in the cups, stick the bearings into the grease, put the cones and locknuts back on the axle, and adjust properly.

If your hub has cages that hold the ball bearings, note which way they fall out and put them back the same way. Almost always, the balls face each other, and the backs of the cages face toward the outside.


Wheels and tyres

The wheels and tyres are probably the most important parts of your bike after the brakes. Keeping them in good condition is important for the good upkeep of your bike and for your safety.

Rims are the circular, metal frames on which your tyres are mounted. They provide strong, lightweight support for your tyres, anchor-points for the outer spoke ends, and a smooth braking surface for your brake pads.

Spokes are the thin metal supports that form each wheel's structural skeleton. They provide the strength and structure to your wheels and keep them "true" (lined up and balanced).

Tyre Problems and Solutions

Worn tread patterns and tyre damage

Worn or damaged tyres can cause you to lose traction, braking efficiency and overall control of your bike. Worn or damaged tyres are also more prone to punctures and blowouts. Replace them as soon as possible, before serious problems develop.

Debris in your treads

Foreign debris lodged in your tyres tread can work its way through the tyre and puncture the tube underneath. Many flat tyres are caused this way. Check your treads quickly before every ride and clean out any foreign objects that you find. Keep in mind that removing an object from your tyre may unplug an existing puncture. Tyres are in contact with dirt, mud and grime all the time. Frequent cleanings therefore aren't necessary. However, you should clear your treads of debris regularly. You should also wipe down your tyre sidewalls from time to time so you can spot tyre damage more easily. Learn how to fix a puncture so you're ready for "surprises".

Incorrect tyre pressure

Incorrectly inflated tyres are less efficient and less safe than correctly inflated ones. They wear down more quickly and they're less effective at protecting your rims from damage. Incorrectly inflated tyres can also lead to tube pinches or the type of puncture we call snakebites, because of the double hole caused by the rim. Check your tyre pressure before each ride and correct it when necessary.

Tyres basic checks

Lift the front wheel off the ground and spin it. If it doesn't spin smoothly, determine if it is the tyre, or the wheel that is out of true. Turn the wheel slowly and use the brake pads to determine how bad any buckle may be. If it is the tyre that is not running straight take it off and refit it. Then 'squeeze' each pair of spokes with your finger and thumb to make sure they are correctly tensioned.

Inspect your tyres visually for worn treads, cuts, abrasions, sidewall bulges and foreign objects lodged in the treads. Pry out any thorns, glass, stones and pebbles that are stuck in the tyre tread, watch out for glass. If there is any serious damage, such as deep cuts, whilst super-glue does work, consider buying a new tyre.

Check your tyres to make sure they're properly inflated. Use a tyre gauge if you have one, but also learn to gauge by feel whether or not a tyre needs more or less air. Suggested air pressures are printed on your tyre sidewalls. Make sure your tyres are properly seated on your rims, that they aren't pinching the air-filled inner tube underneath, and that your valve stems are pointing straight out of your rims.

Check to make sure that the wall is covered evenly and there is an unbroken coat of rubber all the way around the rim. It may be necessary to deflate the tyre if the fabric is showing, or there are cuts and splits in order to determine how bad the damage is.

Rim and Spoke Problems and Solutions

The best way to avoid rim problems is to avoid potential damage altogether. Watch out for potholes, rocks and trees, and keep your tyres inflated to the correct pressure at all times.

Wheel out of "true"

Bent or damaged wheels can be serious cycling hazards. They should be repaired or re-built by an experienced mechanic before you ride your bike again.

Damaged rim

Bent, dented, gouged, or cracked rims can lead to braking problems, tyre damage, and unsafe riding. They should be repaired (by an experienced mechanic) or replaced immediately, before riding. If in doubt about the soundness of a rim, take it to an experienced mechanic for evaluation.

Broken spokes

Any broken spokes should be repaired and/or re-installed by an experienced mechanic before you ride your bike again. Riding on a damaged wheel can cause more serious bike problems and it can be a safety hazard.

Rims and Spokes Basic checks

You should check the rim sidewalls and spokes for damage and the trueness of the wheels You should make a quick, visual inspection of your rim sidewalls and spokes before every ride.

Visually inspect your rims to make sure that the rim sidewalls are clean and free of dents or cracks and that your spokes are not broken or damaged. Check your wheels to make sure they are "true" every month or so, and after any crashes or accidents.

To check the "trueness" of a wheel, lift your bike so the wheel is off the ground, then spin it. Watch closely where the rim passes by one of your brake pads. If either side of the rim wobbles or appears to "jump" with respect to your reference point, the spokes may not be tensioned correctly and the wheel may be "out of true".

Rim Cleaning

Dirty wheel rims can cause your brakes to slip and/or bind up, so clean them whenever grime and/or brake pad residue builds up on them. Many cyclists typically clean their rims every month or so, though you may have to do it more often depending on the conditions that you ride in.

To clean dirty rims, wipe them with a dry, clean rag, or use a clean rag and alcohol. Don't use oily soaps or cleaners, since they can leave residues that affect your braking power. If brake pad residue or other grime is difficult to remove, use a fine steel wool to clean the surface. If you choose to use a solvent to loosen stubborn grime, be careful not to get any on your brake pads or tyres. Also be sure to choose a solvent that is safe to use and easy on the environment.

Spoke Cleaning

Wipe your spokes down every couple of months to keep them free of grime and to protect the spoke nipples (located at the rim end of the spoke) from corrosion. Corroded nipples should be carefully wiped clean. Ask your bike mechanic to check any corroded nipples the next time you have your wheels trued. Check your spokes for looseness as you clean them. Loose spokes can be tough to spot visually, so squeeze spokes together in sets of two, or pluck them individually and listen for ones that sound different from their neighbours. An experienced bike mechanic should tighten loose spokes.


General checks

Check the toeing-in of your brake blocks. Brakes should work smoothly and silently. Install them so that the front edge of the brake pad is 1/32mm closer to the rim than the back edge. Oil and grease that may have built up on the rim impairs braking. Remove this with alcohol or degreaser.

Check the tyre pressure. If they are too soft, the bike will feel sluggish. If too hard the bike will vibrate. The correct pressure is on the sidewall of the tyre.

The sprockets and chain should always be kept extremely clean. Clean them after a long ride and remember to re-lubricate them. If you can lift the chain off the chain ring, the chain is almost certainly worn. This will cause the chain ring and sprockets to wear and your gear changes will be inaccurate.

If your chain jumps off the sprockets, you can try readjusting the rear derailleur from scratch. If this doesn't fix things, the chain may be too long. When the chain is on the biggest chain ring and the biggest sprocket, the rear derailleur should point roughly to the floor.

Make sure the chain ring bolts are not loose or missing. If one is missing, replace it immediately as it may cause the chain ring to bend.

Make sure the spokes are adjusted to the correct tension.

Make sure the bearings in your hubs, bottom bracket, headset and pedals are tight.

Always make sure that your seat post is well greased where it goes into the frame. It may become stuck if you do not do this regularly.

If your seat post does become corroded and jammed in the frame, remove the bolt and use penetrating oil around the bottom of the seat post. Oil the seat post every few hours for a couple of days and the seat should move. Replace an old saddle onto the seat post so that you don't ruin the newer one while trying to move the jammed seat post. Hit the saddle with a hammer to try and move it. If this doesn't work, try turning it with a long pipe wrench.

If your brakes chatter it may be caused by a badly adjusted or loose headset. Wrap your fingers around the bottom brace and put the front brake on. If you can feel movement, the headset must be looked at.

If pedaling produces noises from the rear of the bike that stop when you stop pedaling, the indexing on the rear derailleur may need adjustment. To fix this try turning the cable adjuster on the rear derailleur one half-turn counter clockwise.

Pedals that have bearings that grind, or bent axles, make it almost impossible to pedal. Check that the axle is straight and then check the bearings by removing the front crank.
If you remove a bolt that has had Loctite applied to it make sure you apply it again when you put the bolt back on. Loctite will leave a blue residue.



The brakes are the most important part of your bike. Failing brakes are extremely dangerous and there are many possibilities that could cause this problem. So make sure your brakes are in good working order by following a simple check over of your bike.

Check the brake cables regularly for fraying. This will normally occur at points of high tension and where the cable is bolted. Lubricating the cable will reduce the chances of fraying. Be careful to never over tighten the cable bolt. This will cause it to fray and break.

Periodically check the state of wear on your brake pads. Pads that have worn down to the metal base will damage the rims. Release the link wire and inspect the surface of each pad. Remove the lip, which normally develops with wear on brake pads used with cantilevers. The lip prevents the cantilever from releasing properly causing the brake pads to drag on the rim.

As the pads wear, you must adjust the position of the brake blocks. The pads should sit firmly on the rim of the wheels, but because the cantilever brake moves through an arc, the pads tend to slip off the rim and into the spokes as they wear down. It is important that the springs on the cantilevers are on equal settings, as they are individually sprung. Most brakes will have an adjustment screw for fine-tuning the spring power.

The link wire is what pulls the cantilever wire together. They will not pull properly if they are kinked. They should be tight through the anchor bolt. The endcap should be attached to the end of a cut wire.

Make sure you lubricate the barrel at the end of the cables. This is the area that brakes are most likely to fail. The best way to prevent the brakes from jamming is to use thick water repellant grease on the cable barrels. Access this by reaching underneath the brake lever body.

You should routinely remove the brake calipers and grease the cantilever studs. When removing a caliper, hold the complete mechanism together to keep the parts in the right order. Note which of the 3 settings the brake spring is slotted into. Once cleaned and re-greased, use Loctite on the mounting bolt to prevent it from rattling loose.

Keep the brake cable housing clean and free of kinks. Get rid of any dirt by removing the inner cable from the housing and use a spray lubricant with a hose. Then put a thicker, Teflon-based lubricant inside the housing before reinstalling the inner cable.

Clean the braking surface of the rim regularly and rub down the surface of the brake pads with a light grade wet-and-dry paper. This will remove the residue, which can build up, and will improve braking performance of the bike.


Gears and chain

The rear cable housing must be taken out and cleaned and lubricated regularly. Dirt and water get into it, affecting the derailleur and the index system.

If your chain is slipping when on one of the smaller sprockets it may be worn. In this case you will have to replace the rear cassette or freewheel.

A bent derailleur hanger will throw off the synchronization of the gears. Straighten the rear derailleur by removing it and using a large adjustable wrench. It might be easier to take it to the bike shop where they have special tools for that kind of job.

A stiff link will cause the chain to jump. If you have one, most chain link extractors have a setting from removing stiff links. If not, press hard with your thumbs on either side of the rivet.

Keep your chain clean. You can clean a chain with a toothbrush and solvent.
Check your front derailleur regularly. It should sit 1mm above the outer chain ring and the chain should be able to travel across all 3 chain rings easily.

Check that your chain isn't worn. Do this by pulling the chain on the outer chain ring. If it comes away easily, it needs it be replaced.

Crank set and Pedals

Most importantly, make sure that all the mounting bolts, chain ring bolts, and the crank bolt are tight.

The cranks and taper have specific edges and will come loose when worn beyond a certain point. Never over-tighten the crank. This will cause the taper on the crank arm to flare and the crank will be impossible to tighten.

A bent chain ring, if not bent too severely can be straightened back into shape. Carefully straighten it using an adjustable wrench slotted over the ring. Then spin the cranks backward to check its straightness.

Pedals with pedal bearing will last significantly longer than those without because of the small size of their surface. Grease the threads before you screw them into the cranks.

If you have a loose crank, hold the bike frame and gently pull a crank arm outwards. If there is movement to one side only, it means that only one side of the cranks is loose. If both sides move, the bottom bracket is probably loose. Get either of these problems repaired as soon as possible.

If your gears slip under pressure, the teeth on the chain rings may be worn. If you buy new chain rings, check the BCD size before you leave for the shop, or bring your old chain ring with you.


Fork and frame

Front End

If you are feeling a huge amount of vibration on the headset when you are braking, your headset is loose. This can make the bike difficult to control and dangerous. The frame can also be damaged beyond repair. To tighten it, loosen the top locknut first and then tighten the bottom one. Check it by lifting the top wheel off of the ground. The handlebars should be able to turn smoothly and easily. Adjust the bottom locknut to the correct position and tighten the top locknut against it. If it keeps coming loose your headset is worn.

A dirty stem will cause your bike to creak when pressure is applied to the front end. Solve this by removing the stem and checking that it is greased, clean and not rusty. Remove any grit from the bars by undoing the clamp.

If there are cracks going around the bars where they are clamped to the stems, the handlebars must be replaced.


Leaks are the most common problem with air and oil suspension forks. If the fork is sluggish or there is a slight hissing when they are compressed, it is a sign that there is a leak. You can tell if there is an oil leak if there is oil trickling down the sides . If you have leaks, take the forks to be repaired at a service center.

Common problems with elastomer forks is that they seize up, causing them to be unable to move at all, or they feel mushy. Seizing up usually means your fork needs to be cleaned and regreased. Take them to a service center to get this done. The elastomer compound may need replacing and this can be done at home.

Suspension forks need to be kept clean. If the area where the slider goes over the stanchion gets dirty it will cause the bearings to wear out. If a bolt on the brace and crown are removed remember to use Loctite when replacing them. Make sure that you tighten them to the correct torque.

Checking your frame

Check to see if the forks are bent. Look from above, the top 6 inches of conventional forks should run parallel with the head tube. A bike with a bent fork will feel odd to ride.

Find where the bottom tube, top tube and head tube meet. Look for cracking in the paint on the top and down tubes. Run your fingers underneath the tubes to feel for ripples. If there are ripples the only solution is to replace the frame.

Rear Dropout

Check the rear dropout to see if it is bent or cracked. Most steel frame dropouts can be straightened. An aluminum rear frame should have a replaceable dropout. If it is cracked where it joins the frame you may have a bike with a defect. Have the bike shop check it out.


Wheels and tyres

Spokes should be kept clean. Put a drop of oil on the end of each one every once in awhile.

A small dent in the rim of a wheel can easily be straightened with an adjustable wrench. However if it is a big dent, you will have to get a new rim. The braking pads will wear the braking surface of the rim. This will cause a deep ridge to be formed all around the rim. If you are able to flex the rim in with your fingers when the tyre is not inflated, the rim needs to be replaced.

Hubs should be kept clean and well greased. If there is any play in the bearings, it needs to be tightened immediately. Check for play by rotating the axle and trying to move it from side to side.

Tyre tread should be checked regularly for wear. A worn tyre is more likely to get a puncture.

Hub bearings should be checked for wear by lifting the wheels off the ground and spinning them. It is a sign that the bearings are worn if you feel a vibration coming up through the handlebars.

Tyres should be checked for thorns, pieces of glass and wire. Keep them pumped up to the correct pressure. Check that the rim of the wheel does not have any sharp edges and that the rim tape is properly installed. After installing the tyre make sure that the brakes clear the sidewall properly. If the pads are rubbing against the tyre you will hear a scuffing sound.


After a crash

Need some tips on easy repairs after a crash so you can make it home?

Well, we've provided you with some easy tips on how you can solve these problems simply and easily. To be safe, never ride further than necessary before installing new parts.

1. Bent stems can be straightened if the front wheels are held between your legs and you twist the handlebars.

2. If one side of the handlebars is bent, lay the bike on the ground, put your foot on the stem and pull hard. Remember not to yank though, bent metal is best bent back into place slowly as you steadily increase force.

3. Damaged forks usually occur after a frontal crash. If possible straighten them with a wrench or a piece of tubing.

Best advice really is that if you've had a major incident, take the bike home by whatever means available, and then have the bike checked out by a mechanic.
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