The secret to a long-lasting bike is cleanliness. Use a damp cloth to wipe grimy winter buildup and dust from the frame, rims, brakes, handlebars and forks. If there's stubborn grease and dirt, soak your rag with Simple Green. An old toothbrush works great for the gunk in your bike chain and chain rings (just be sure to lubricate again once it's dry).
Check to see if your brake pads are worn out. Good signs they're finished include 1) you hear a scraping sound when you brake, 2) the grooves in your pads have nearly disappeared or 3) you notice a stickiness when you brake.
If any of these is the case, you need new pads. Replacing them is fairly self-explanatory and will save you the $20-40 a bike shop will charge you. Using a hex wrench and screwdriver, remove the screw, bolt or pin holding the old brake pad on and remove it. Slide the new pad in place according to the directional marks. Replace and tighten any screw, bolt or pin that was removed.
Make sure all drivetrain components (chain, chain ring, derailleur and rear wheel cassette) are up-to-speed and functioning well. These parts transfer your pedal power into force, so it's super important that they—and, in turn, you—are moving efficiently. Flip your bike over, turn the pedals and see what happens. Try cycling through your gears. If the shift isn't smooth, you probably need to tune a derailleur.
Chains are usually the first to go, and should be replaced every 2,000 to 3,000 miles. If your chain is worn (find out how to tell here) and you're up to the challenge, replace it.
Assuming you scrubbed your chain with a degreaser like Simple Green (per previous instructions), wipe any remaining grime and degreaser off with a rag. Apply a lubricant (Tri-Flow and Park Tool make good stuff) to the chain. To be thorough, simply apply a single drop of lube to each link. Wipe off the excess with your rag, to keep it off your legs while riding, and to keep it from becoming a dirt magnet.
If you notice any damage or wear to your cables—fraying and rusting are the most common signs of wear—get them replaced at your LBS (that's biker lingo for "local bike shop"…file it away). If you bike year-round, consider replacing your brake and gear cables annually.
The last thing you want on a ride is to have your brake calipers come loose or drop a reflector in in the street. Tighten everything down! Grab a wrench to secure nuts or, more commonly, use an Allen wrench to tighten down socket-head screws. Try not to go all He-Man, though. You want everything snug and secure, not stripped and, well, useless. Save that extra elbow grease for inflating your tires.
Even if you didn't wheel about in the harsh wintry weather, it’s a good idea to check for wear on your rims. Clean the wheels with a dry cloth and rubbing alcohol for better inspection. Major scrapes and dents in the rim should send up red flags. Also, spin your wheels to see if they're wobbly. In either case, take your bike into your LBS (get it this time?), where they can adjust your spokes or, if your rim is badly damaged, replace your wheel.
Deflate your tires, and examine them closely for deep splits, cracks and tears. Then give them an extra boost of air, even if you think you don’t need it. Even in good condition, tires lose up to 5 psi a week. Fill your tires to the recommended pressure, which is printed on their sidewalls. If it's a hot day outside, be sure to leave a little room for expansion.
Flats happen. So do loose parts. And chain problems. Build a kit you can carry with you when you ride, and you'll always be prepared. You'll need a spare tube, tire levers, a compact tool set to make adjustments on the go, a tire patch kit and a compact pump that you can attach to your frame. If you want an easy place to carry it all (save for the pump), get a pack that attaches to your bike seat (just be sure to remove it if you're locking up outside…thieves love them).
Don't know how to use all that stuff? Oftentimes, local bicycle clubs and advocacy groups hold clinics on bicycle repair and fixing flats. If that's not the case in your area, check with local bike shops or register with REI to get some hands-on experience.
Certain add-ons, like lights and fenders, make your bike more versatile and give you fewer excuses to skip riding. Bright lights are an essential safety precaution if you plan to ride before dawn or after sunset. Get one for the front of your bike and one for the rear. Attach one to your helmet. Tape them all over your back. Do whatever it takes to be sure motorists know you're on the road.
Another good accessory, to keep riding through those famous spring showers, is a set of fenders.