What items on an older bike should I check for wear and damage and how do I differentiate wear/damage that can safely be ignored and wear/damage that I should repair/replace?

At the start of this summer I started riding my dad's old bike (a 2008 Specialized Hardrock Sport) to/from my summer internship, and I expect to continue riding it regularly when I go back to classes in the fall. Until this summer it was only ridden occasionally, and spent most of the time in the garage. As far as I'm aware none of the original components have been replaced. Everything seems to run fine at the moment (after I re-tuned the derailleurs and tightened the brake cables), but many components have very visible wear-and-tear, and I don't always know how to differentiate cosmetic damage from other damage.

Ideally I'm looking for a list of common components to fail or need replaced, and how to tell if they are about to fail/are ready to be replaced.

I currently have to store the bike outside, if that changes what I should be looking for.

  • 3
    This is a very broad question whose answer can fill a book. You will find better answers with more specific questions: when to replace a chain? How to adjust brakes cantilever/V/disc brakes? Consider adding a photo to give people a better idea of the problem. Aug 8 '17 at 20:21
  • @ChristianLindig A link to a relevant book or website would also be appreciated. I've generally been successful when trying to find how-to resources for performing a specific repair/adjustment—I ask this question because I feel like I am not able to tell that I need to look up a specific how-to in the first place. My knowledge of bike components/repair is relatively limited at the moment, so I suspect that many possible issues are an unknown unknown to me.
    – Nyle
    Aug 8 '17 at 21:15
  • 2
    If it hasnt really been used, then its probably fine. Just oil the chain, check that the brakes stop you and go on with life.
    – Batman
    Aug 8 '17 at 21:35
  • Agreed with Batman's advice. Just ride it and when something seems off (brakes, chain, gears) then looking into replacing them.
    – RoboKaren
    Aug 8 '17 at 21:49
  • Photos of specific parts might get you better answers. Otherwise its quite a generalised question.
    – Criggie
    Aug 8 '17 at 22:45

Clean and oil the chain regularly. A "chain washer" (about $30) is good for cleaning while making minimal mess.

Since you have to store your bike outside, use "wet" chain lube (at least in rainy season).

Buy yourself an inexpensive "chain wear indicator" for about $10. Replace the chain when it's stretched to about 0.8, and, when you replace it, check your cogs to see how worn they are. (The Park Tool site likely gives some hints as to how to check for cog wear.)

Visually check your brake blocks every now and then (assuming rim brakes), and replace before the metal part comes close to touching the rim.

Occasionally inspect your cables for fraying or excessive rust, and replace if indicated. As the bike is stored outside, occasionally put a few drops of lube on the cables where the inner cables slide into the outer housings.

Occasionally inspect your tires for wear, and for cracks in the sidewalls that indicate they are "drying out". (And, of course, get a good "floor pump" with built-in gauge and check your tire pressure at least weekly.)

  • Regarding chain cleaners some chain manufacturers recommend against them.
    – Batman
    Aug 8 '17 at 22:23

Effects of age would be initially be the most important issue to think about. Brake pads (presuming rim brakes) harden and lose effectiveness. These are cheap, easy to replace and safety critical - at 9 years old, I would suggest should be replaced. Tires are similar, the rubber can harden and crack. If they look ok, use the bike but do keep a close eye on them as old tires can look great one ride and fall apart then next. Cables are possibly corroded and stiff, affecting braking and shifting performance. If there is is any doubt about cables, especially with brake cables, replace them (cheap and not too hard to do) Rust is obvious, and dried grease on headset and bottom bracket may cause some minor, but not safety, issues.

For the rest, look at the answer by @Daniel


The question as stated is very broad and a complete answer to your question would be very, very long! I'll endeavor to provide something useful in an answer of reasonable length.

Your best approach is:

1) Clean the bike thoroughly (kinda optional but it makes everything else easier and more pleasant). There are many videos and web articles on this subject.

2) Make sure the bike is safe and check for any obvious problems. Again, there are many videos and web articles on this subject, but I'll give a basic checklist. In regard to cosmetic vs. real damage: if there is anything that you are in doubt about, post a specific question on this site with a good description and photos or go to a good bike repair shop to get the issue addressed.

3) Deal with items that show wear or become maladjusted the quickest.

4) Start learning bike repair and maintenance to deal with everything else. There are many great resources available: books, YouTube instruction and how-to videos, and web pages. My personal favorites are the videos and web articles produced by Park Tool and Global Cycling Network.

For brevity I won't go into lots of detail below. Look for questions and answers on this site or Google for articles or instruction videos.

Safety Checks

  • No dents or damage to frame or forks, fork legs aligned
  • No damage to any components; scuffs, scrapes or worn paint or finish is OK
  • Brakes functioning and adjusted properly, brake pads not worn out
  • Tires inflated to pressure in recommended range, not obvious damage to tread or sidewalls
  • Gear shifting working OK, chain not slipping over sprockets, chain does not fall off sprockets when shifting
  • Wheel rims run reasonable true, no dents in rim walls, no loose spokes
  • Wheels, cranks, pedals spin freely
  • No excessive play in wheel hub bearings, bottom bracket bearings, pedal spindle bearings
  • Handlebars turn freely
  • Headset bearings not loose
  • Seat, seatpost, stem, handlebars, brakelevers, gearshifters. forklegs etc. not loose; generally all bolts and fasteners checked for tightness
  • No excessive wear in chain, cassette, chainrings, chain cleaned and lubed appropriately
  • Suspension forks air pressure set correctly, suspension works correctly and has full movement, no oil or fluid leaks
  • Handlebars aligned with front wheel
  • No fraying or obvious wear in brake or gear shifter cables, no kinks or cuts in housings, housings inserted in stops properly

Major wear items

Obviously everything wears out eventually but the primary wear items are:

  • Brake pads
  • Tires
  • Chain (chains wear before cassettes and chainrings, but a worn chain wears cassettes and chainrings out faster.)
  • Cables and housings - they don't really wear as such but get contaminated with dirt which increases friction leading to spongy brakes and impaired shifting

Primary adjustment items

It's basically: brakes and gear shifting, but if you are riding the bike everyday you will want to go over the safety checks every couple of months at least to catch any issues before they become major problems.

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