We give our bicycles a spring tune-up in preparation for summer, so why not give them an early fall tune-up as well? Even if you live in a place with harsh winters, there are still a few good months left to head out on a long ride on your two-wheeled transport. Below are some tips for a DIY tune-up as well as advice on when to fix and when to replace various components:
What you'll need
Here are the basic tools and materials you'll need for a tune-up:
- A few old towels or cleaning cloths
- A small fine brush or old toothbrush
- A bucket with warm water and dishwashing soap
- Extra-dry bike chain lube
- Bike pump with a pressure gauge
Even if you're not a complete cycling expert, there are some easy things that don't take much expertise – just a little elbow grease:
A thorough cleaning
One of the best things you can do to get your bike looking sparkly and new and, yes, even running better, is to clean it from wheel to wheel. So, grab your bucket of warm soapy water and get started. First, check the dirt around the chain and drivetrain – you don't even have to know what that is, but it's just the center of the bike down where the pedals and gears are located. Wipe it down with a wet towel. There are a lot of nooks and crevices in this area of the bike so if yours seems particularly dirty, you might want to use a small wire brush or old toothbrush to reach all the little complicated spots. Also, if your chain seems particularly rusty, spray on a bit of WD-40 and wipe the chain down. Let the chain dry completely and then use a strong magnet to attract metal filings that might have collected there.
It's important to check your bike chain once a month to make sure the bearings are well-oiled and not grind and rubbing on each other. Before applying the lube – which keeps everything running smoothly – make sure to let the chain dry completely. To apply the lube, put a few drops or spray it on the top and bottom of the chain and run the gears. Use a towel to wipe away extra product - if you use too much, it will attract dirt and grime. A good amount of lube is when you can't see it but there's a light oil residue when you touch it.
Many avid bikers keep a chain fix kit with them at all times. If your chain happens to break, then you'll have the right tools to fix it, which usually involves taking out the broken link plus an additional link and using the chain tools to reattach the ends. Luckily, a chain break isn't a very common occurrence, but if it happens, it can usually be easily fixed.
It's really important to have a pressure gauge with your tire pump, and you should probably check your tires at least once a week to save yourself from getting a flat. The pounds per square inch (psi) will be printed on the side of the tire so you know what level it should be at. Mountain bikes usually have 40 to 80 psi and road bikes can have up to 120 psi. Most bikers put 5 to 10 less psi in their front tires since we don't put too much weight on them.
If you have a flat tire from a puncture, you can likely fix it using a patch kit. But if it's a huge hole, you'll want to replace a road bike tire and use your best judgment for a mountain bike tire. Most people would rather not risk having a blowout and a major accident and will just choose to replace the tubing!
Brakes are also something you should check frequently, but here's what you need to do for a tune-up. Look at the brake pads – if you can see the wear lines or metal peeking through, they must be replaced. If your brakes are making a weird noise, you can sand the pads down to eliminate it. Check your brake cable next – if it has rust or loose strands, you should get it replaced.