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How to Tune up Your Bike this Spring

Muddy Bike

Spring is finally here, bringing with it longer daylight hours, warmer weather, and more opportunities for outdoor cycling. Biking is an excellent, gas-free alternative to cars that can save you money and improve your physical health simultaneously. So, it’s time to dust off your bike, take it out of storage, and hit the road. However, before you do, it’s advisable to give your bike a thorough check from tire to tire.

Regardless of whether you’ve been cycling all season, continuing to ride through the colder months, getting your cycling fix on an indoor stationary bike, or not riding at all, your bike could certainly benefit from some tender loving care.



All that time sitting dormant can take a toll on your bike. So, before you get out on the road (or trails) make sure to give your bike a thorough tune-up. Most of these checks are easy to perform and if you aren’t feeling too confident, a bike shop can tune your bike (cost is about $30 to $65).


#1: Clean your bike.
Use a mild detergent with a degreasing component (that doesn’t hurt the environment) like Simple Green and warm water to wash your bike. A stiff brush can help remove any sand or debris that may have gotten stuck in hard to see areas., Removing dirt buildup and road spray from the frame of your bike will protect the frame from losing its protective coating and reduce the risk of chipping paint or rust. Once washing is done, re-lubricate the moving parts on the drivetrain of the bike, paying special attention to the chain.


#2: Inspect your brake system.
First, check your brake pads. These are the rectangular rubber pads that rub against the metal of your tire rim or brake disk at the center of your wheels. Depending on your bike’s braking system accessing your brake pads can be simple in the case of center pull brakes, or harder if you have disk brakes. Again, if you ever feel unsure about an adjustment, a bike shop can help make many of these adjustments for you.

When checking your brake pads look to see how they have worn down. Make sure there is still plenty of rubber on your pads. If you notice a ridge or sloping, you may need to have them replace or adjusted. Next, squeeze the brake lever on your handlebars and watch the brake pads as they contact the wheel. They should hit the rim or disk at the same time. If they don’t, you can remove some of the slack on your brake line by adjusting the tension screw on one of the brake lever arms near the tire. This will reduce the distance between your brake pad and the wheel making the brakes react more quickly.


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#3: Inspect the drivetrain.
Your bike’s drivetrain includes the pedals, chain, chainring, derailleur, and rear-wheel cassette. Each of these parts is vulnerable to wear over time and should be checked to ensure functionality. Worn teeth on a cassette can cause your chain to slip or warp, a dirty derailleur can slow or prevent shifting, and a warped chain or chainring could break.

To inspect your drivetrain, raise the rear wheel and operate the pedals with your hands to spin the wheel. Shift through all of your gears and check that each shift works smoothly and quickly. Inspect the chain, chainrings, derailleur, and cassette for wear, missing teeth, cracks, or oily buildup.

If shifting isn’t smooth or the chain slips during shifts, take your bike to a repair shop to adjust the derailleur or replace a cassette. Chains are usually the first component to go as they take the brunt of the force when riding and should be replaced every 2,000-3,000 miles. Replacing a chain is a very quick process for a professional and cost about $30. Waiting too long to replace a chain will wear down the other drivetrain components faster and become a much more costly repair.


#4: Check the tires.
Check your tires for splits, cracks, or tears especially along the sidewalls of the tire. Also, check the tread for uneven or excessive wear. Tires are inexpensive to replace and can dramatically affect your overall safety, so you should replace them as soon as they start to show damage. Replacing a tire can be done at a bike shop but it is fairly easy to change on your own using a set of tire irons and a floor pump.


#5: Add lubricant.
Using a lubricant on your chain and other components will help them last longer and work more efficiently. Lube also prevents dirt and grime from sticking to your drivetrain’s components, which helps increase the performance of the moving parts.

Apply a small amount of lubricant to the chain using a static-free cloth. Slowly rotate the pedals in a counterclockwise direction so each link passes through the cloth. Once each link has had lubricant applied, repeat the process with a clean cloth to wipe off any excess.



Now that your tune-up is finished, you’re almost ready to ride. Inspect your bike before every ride to avoid any problems on the road. Use the following checklist before each ride to prevent damaging your bike or risking your safety.

  1. Test your brakes: engage the brake levers to make sure they are functioning properly and responding quickly.
  2. Fill your tires: fill your tires according to the specifications on the sidewall of each tire. Check for cuts, tears, and wear and replace if necessary.
  3. Check your wheels: test your wheels by pedaling in place. When moved, they should spin straight and easily. Make sure there is no contact between it and the brake pads.
  4. Tighten your wheel bearings: many bikes are fitted with quick-release levers, which are levers located at the hub that allows for easy removal or adjustment of the wheel without using a tool. These should be securely tightened. If your bike has standard tire bolts, you can ensure these are tightened with a standard Allen wrench.


While many of these checks can be easily performed at home, if you’re not comfortable working on your bike, a local bike shop can handle these steps for you. Keep in mind that almost every rider is tuning their bike for spring, so bike repair shops are likely to be busy. Many bike shops offer appointments, so it’s a good idea to call ahead to reserve a spot and avoid a wasted trip.


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David Tepfer

About David Tepfer

David Tepfer previously served as the creative marketing specialist at VSECU. He has a passion for all mediums of visual art, is an avid cyclist, and is an influential member of Burlington’s gaming community.
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