Welcomt to the group!
I completely sympathize with you. There doesn't seem to be a quick and easy guide to exactly what you need to do to maintain a bike. I'll try and offload as much as I have learned, but a majority of the stuff you'll just have to learn from experience.
Fortunately, if you have a newer bike, there really isn't much you need to worry about with regards to bearings and spinning parts. These parts are more or less sealed and were not designed to be opened and repacked. So when the crank shaft or hubs get squeaky or don't turn smoothly, you replace them.
My bicycle dealer told me the most important thing is to keep the bike clean. He recommended bathing my bike every 1-2 weeks, just to keep dirt and debris off the frame and away from moving parts. He told me to use a mild soap (like Dove) and a garden hose. Just make sure you don't spray water with a lot of force towards places that rotate. It's ok if they get wet. You just don't want water getting inside oiled components. Wash, rinse, and dry well. He also recommended spraying the frame with pledge or some other type of wax to protect it further.
As far as maintenance, I took a bike course from Pima county that covered three major areas you'll want to become familiar with. They gave us information on what you should check as well as how to handle emergencies in these areas if they should fail while on the road. They called them the ABCs of bicycles.
A: Air pressure
Check the pressure in your tires before each ride. Locate the PSI rating on the side of your tire and make sure your tube is properly inflated. During this section, they gave us a demonstration on how to remove the tire and tube, how to patch a tube, some tips on how to repair a hole in the tire itself, and how to put it all back together. This is one thing you will definitely want to get some experience with. You can research it on the web, but I never really learned how to comfortably patch and change a tire until I had done it about the 5th time.
Make sure your brakes are in working order. You should be able to pull the brake levers without them getting close to the handlebars. You should also be able to freely spin each tire without it rubbing against the brake pads. The course gave some tips on how to adjust the brake pads but didn't cover what to do in case a brake cable broke. But, I've never had a cable brake on my yet. I believe that is a rare issue.
Make sure your chain is clean and grease and that you are able to change gears easily. Again, the course gave as details on how to adjust the derailleurs. We also got some hands on experience using a chain tool to remove and reinsert chain pins, in case you break a link while on a ride.
So if you can find a bike course in your area that offers a class on how to do these types of things, I would definitely recommend it. The next best thing would be to find someone you know that is knowledgeable and ask them to either show you how to do it or let them help you do it. These quick maintenance items are not necessarily difficult, but even I wasnt comfortable changing and patching my tire until about the fifth time.
I hope that was helpful, if not too brief.
Last Edited: 3:32pm UTC, September 29th 2007