Four Easy Bike Tune-Up Tricks

by David Fiedler

The weather’s warmed up and it’s time to get outside! Want your bike to go faster? Ride easier? Shift more smoothly? Improvements in these areas are often relatively easy to accomplish with just a few simple steps. The following simple tune-up tasks don’t require any special knowledge or tools, and yield immediate improvements in your riding.

1. Clean and lubricate your chain.

The chain and sprockets on your bike play a key part in the transfer of power from your legs to your wheels. When they collect dirt and grit and get gummy, not only does it slow you down, but the parts also wear out faster. Plan on doing this every thousand miles or so; more often if you ride in dusty or dirty conditions.
Tip: Use a lightweight oil specially designed for bikes. Stay away from motor oil; it’s too heavy and will quickly attract dirt and crud. Using too much or the wrong kind of oil is the guaranteed way to get a big greasy chain mark on your leg. Light lubrication and wiping off excess are the keys to success.

2. Lubricate the moving parts of your brakes and derailleurs.

Your bike has quite a few moving metal parts that are vulnerable to dirt and moisture. To keep your bike happy and functioning well, these parts should be lubricated regularly.
Pedals and pivot points on the brake and derailleur assemblies and cables are good examples of the types of places to target. Because of their location on your bike, they’re vulnerable to attracting dirt and grit.
You can spot others just by watching your bike in action and looking for places where metal parts move against and around each other. For instance, think about your brakes. On most road bikes, they’re mounted on a bolt on the frame above your wheel. When you squeeze the lever, the brake pivots around this bolt as it contracts. It’s these places where you want to apply a couple drops of oil.

3. Inspect your brake pads.

A quick check of your brake pads will often reveal potential problems that are easy to fix.

• Check for proper alignment. Brake pads are the little rubber things that clamp down on your rims to slow you when you squeeze the brake levers. Make sure they are hitting the rims evenly, and aren’t either rubbing the tire or missing your rim partially or completely.

• Are the brake pads toed-in? The bike brake pads should be “toed-in,” which means the leading edge of the pads should touch the bike rim first when you lightly apply the brakes. The pads squish a little, and when you squeeze down hard, you should get full contact to the rim. This helps prevent squeaking.

• Check for junk embedded in the brake pads. Inspect the surface of the brake pads where they meet the rims, and using a pointy sharp instrument like a knife, pick out any bits of sand or metal that may have become embedded in the pad. Removing this grit prevents the pads from wearing and scratching your rims and helps them provide more even and consistent stopping power.

4. Check tire pressure.

Proper air pressure makes pedaling easier, protects your rims from damage, prolongs the life of your tires and makes it much less likely that you’ll get flats.
It’s quick and easy to check for proper air pressure in your tires before every ride. The recommended air pressure for your tire will be printed on the sidewall in both English and metric units. As you inflate the tire, use a tire gauge (which may be built into your pump) to check the air pressure to ensure that you’re on target. As you pump the tire, check the pressure frequently so that you don’t overinflate your tire.

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