Spring is in the air, the birds are singing, and finally, daylight saving time is here! Some of us have been dedicated cyclists throughout the winter while others have just hung up our bikes through the cold wet months. Either way, now that it is warming up outside it is time to get your ride ready for spring.
Most of these checks can be done by a novice. If you do not have time or energy to go through the full bike inspection of your bike checkout the pre-ride checklist for the basics. If you see a problem take your bike to your local bike shop and let them check out your bike. A basic tune-up costs between $30-50, a good value if you do not like getting your fingers dirty. All others should go through the following bike inspection. There can be a great sense of satisfaction that comes from maintaining your own bike. We will cover many of these sections in depth in future issues.
Cleaning - It is important to start with a clean bike. Keeping your bike clean will extend the life of your components. As you clean the bike take the time to inspect everything. Look for cracks or other signs of wear that could cause future breakdowns or part failures. Clean the chain, chainrings, cassette, derailleurs, etc. with a biodegradable cleaner. Simple green works great for this. Use an old toothbrush and clean everything. Use as little water as possible. Clean the pedals, the brakes, tires, rims, and the frame. Remove the seatpost from the frame and wipe off any dirt. Wipe the inside of the frame where the seatpost slides into. Apply a very small amount of good grease to the post and reinstall.
Brake System - Check the brake pads. Unfasten the brake cable and look at the brake pads closely. The pads should be wearing evenly. If you have a ridge in the pads then your brakes may need to be adjusted. If the pads are worn or not smooth then get some new pads. Old brake pads tend to harden and If the pads are ok then reconnect the straddle cable and squeeze the brakes. Do the pads strike the rim at the same time? You can adjust the brake arm tension screw that is usually on one of the brake arms so the brakes are even.
Wheels - Clean the rims with a cloth and rubbing alcohol, beer won't work! Check the rim for pits or grooves in the sidewall of the rim. Spin the wheels. Do they go around straight or do they wobble? You can make minor adjustments to the wheel with a spoke wrench. For major tweaking take it to a shop or use a truing stand and get it back in true.
Drivetrain - Elevate the rear wheel and spin the pedals. This is where a stand comes in handy. Shift through all the rear gears. Shifting from gear to gear should be smooth. If it skips try adjusting your rear derailleur. If this fails to correct the problem your chain, cogset, and chainrings may be worn. The chain is the first to go. Chains last from 6 months to a year. A good chain only costs $15-40 and is well worth the investment. Examine your chain closely for side slop and stretch which are signs that your chain is wearing out. If your chain is worn it can prematurely wear on your cogs and rings. In the front try shifting the derailleur. Adjust your front derailleur if needed. Check the front chainrings for excessive wear or missing teeth. Small chainrings wear out much faster your larger ones. If all is well your bike will now shift perfectly. Apply some fresh lube of your preference.
Tires - If the brake pads were out of alignment they may have damaged the tires. Check tires for splits, cracks, or tears in the sidewall. Check the tread of the tire for worn knobs, uneven tread wear, or excessive wear. Replace the tires if needed. There is nothing worse than having a tire blow out because it needed to be replaced.
Cables - If you ride all year round you should replace your brake and/or derailleur housing once per year. If you keep your bike clean you can use the same housing for many years. For all other then once every 2-5 years is fine. Dirty or rusty cables will diminish shifting performance. You can purchase bulk housing and install it yourself if you have some quality cable cutters. The cable ferrules can be reused. Install the new housing and adjust the brakes and derailleurs. Fresh cables make shifting and braking smooth.
Lube - Apply lubrication to the chain. It should be applied so there is an even coat on the inside and outside of each link and between the pins and rollers. Leave it one for a few minutes, then wipe off the excess lube with a rag. A few drops should be added to the cables at the nipple end. Gore-Tex and other Teflon cables should never be lubricated. All the pivot points on the front and rear derailleur should be oiled. Apply a few drops to the brake lever pivots and to the exposed brake cable.
Is everything tight? Check all nuts and bolts on the bike. Do not over-tighten any of the quick releases or bolts. For Shimano torque specifications click here. Congratulations if you made it through and completed your spring tune-up.