Tune-up time: How to get your bike ready for spring

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Dirty bikeDaylight Saving Time has imposed itself upon us and spring is right around the corner. It’s a perfect time of year to give your bike some TLC. Unless you’re obsessive about keeping your bike in perfect working order, riding through the winter has resulted in dirt and grime building up on your bike. Grit from the wet roads has worn down the brakes. Your cables are stretched and worn. Generally speaking, the bike has seen better days.

My typical suggestion is to take the bike into one of the fine local bike shops for a full tune up. But everyone tends to have these thoughts around the same time of year and it can be anywhere from several days to a week before the shop can get your bike back to you. A bicycle isn’t really that complicated of a machine and doing your own tune-up is relatively easy given sufficient time and patience.

The best thing you can do is a simple clean up. Wash the dirt and grime off the wheels, the rims, the frame, and the drive train. You can use a biodegradable degreaser, and brushes to scrub the drive train … the chain, the derailleurs, the cassette, the chain rings, etc. You can also buy a chain-cleaning device that has small brushes in it and allows the chain to pass through a soapy bath. It does a reasonable job at cleaning the chain.

Next up are the brakes. You should take the brake pads off and inspect them. If they’re too worn, the should be replaced. In fact, if you’re driven your bike all winter long, the brake pads should probably be replaced as a matter of course. After you’ve put the brake pads back on, it’s a perfect opportunity to inspect the brake cables and tighten them up.

With your newly cleaned bike, it’s now time to lubricate everything. Everyone has their own favourite lube and if you’re unsure, drop by one of the bike shops and ask for a recommendation. Triflow is a common choice for cyclists, but it’s well know for being a dirt and dust magnet. One of the benefits of Triflow is that you can use it on the drive train as well as other components, like the various cables, the derailleur mechanisms, your clip springs (if you use pedal clips), and so on.

The last step is tightening and adjusting the brake and derailleur cables. Make sure the fine adjustment screws are tightened up so that you can make adjustments later after the cables have settled and stretched. Be sure to adjust the brakes so they are just barely rubbing the wheels as they spin. You also want to make sure the derailleur is adjusted so that everything shifts smoothly and cleanly.

If you want to learn more about maintaining your own bike, there are a number of courses that you can take, including “Demystifying Your Bike” by the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition. There are a few smartphone apps that also can help you learn some of these tasks (Bike Repair, BikeDoctor). And, there are a number of spring tune-up checklists on the web too.

What are your tips for getting your bike ready for spring riding?

Last modified: March 19, 2012

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