The act of maintaining one’s bicycle is considered by many riders to be a necessary rite of passage. Once you have a basic understanding of how to fix a bike, knowing how to tune up a bike can be a joyful and empowering experience in and of itself. My years spent working in bike stores and as a technician for professional cyclists allowed me to establish a procedure for tuning bicycles that is both time and labor saving and highly efficient. This checklist for maintaining your bike’s smooth operation consists of five steps that cover the fundamentals that must be maintained.
How To Tune Up Your Bike
- Cleaning and Degreasing
It is necessary to clean the frame and remove any grease from the drivetrain before beginning to spin any barrel adjusters or tighten any fasteners. Even though every moving part on your bike has been designed to continue functioning even when it is wet, pressurized water has the potential to displace the lubrication that ensures your bike rolls smoothly and shifts gears without a hitch. To dampen the frame, use a garden hose equipped with a nozzle that produces a broad spray pattern. Take care not to drench the shifters, hubs, and headset bearings with an excessive amount of water by spraying it directly on them.
After getting the frame wet, you can wipe it down with a brush with soft bristles, a dish sponge that won’t scratch, or even an old t-shirt, working from the front to the back. There are a lot of cleaning products designed specifically for bicycles on the market, but I find that regular dish soap works just as well. The majority of filth, grease, and caked-on residue from spilt sports drinks and energy gels may be broken up using dish soap, which is non-toxic, gentle on frames and components, and still powerful enough to do so.
After the frame has been thoroughly cleaned, you should turn your attention to the drivetrain. When your drivetrain is unclean, your chain and cassette will wear out faster than they should. You will lose precious watts due to excessive drivetrain friction, which will force you to work even harder. Ride more intelligently by ensuring that your drivetrain is always clean, fast, and efficient.
You may be tempted to use solvents such as Simple Green, but degreasers that have been specifically developed to clean drivetrains perform more quickly and are the best option for cleaning chains and cassettes that are unclean. The friction-fighting surface treatments that are found on high-end chains and cassettes will not be degraded by the use of these products.
When performing a thorough cleaning of the drivetrain, it may be necessary to remove the chain and the cassette so that they can be soaked in degreaser. If you clean your bike on a regular basis, you may get the same outcome by washing the components while they are still attached to the bike. This is true nine times out of ten. If you are going to spray degreaser on the chain and cassette, you need to be very careful not to get any on the rotor or pads of your disc brakes or on the braking track and pads of your rim brakes. Allow the degreaser to settle for five to ten minutes so that it may do its job.
After the degreaser has finished doing its job, grab a brush with stiff bristles or even an old toothbrush and scrub the cassette and the chain well. The drivetrain should be sprayed with water to remove any leftover grime and degreaser. After that, the cranks should be turned a few times to remove any water that may be stuck in the chain.
- Safety Check
This is the most crucial step in adjusting the settings on your bike. Before doing a safety check on the bicycle, we gave it a thorough cleaning to make sure that dirt and grime did not conceal any potential dangers, such as a fracture in the frame.
- Frame and fork: Whether your bicycle is made of carbon, titanium, aluminum, or steel, cracks frequently form in the same high-stress regions. This is especially true of the frame and fork. Beginning with the fork legs, move your way up to the rest of the fork. Inspect the area around the bottom bracket shell and the chain stays, as well as the head tube’s junction with the top tube and downtube, as well as the downtube’s connection with the top tube. These are all important spots that have a high probability of developing cracks.
- Cockpit: Examine the area of the handlebar where it connects to the stem as well as the area of the seatpost where it connects to the seatpost collar. These are the most common places for failures in both the seatpost and the handlebar. The next step is to examine the underside of the saddle to determine whether or not the saddle rails are cracked or bent.
- Check the handlebar for hairline cracks where it meets the stem, as well as the seatpost for cracks where it meets the seatpost collar. These are the most common places for seatpost and handlebar failures. The next step is to examine the underside of the saddle to determine whether or not the saddle rails are cracked or bent.
- The wheel and the tire: Check the tires for any punctures or embedded glass, the rims for any wobbles, hops, or cracks in the eyelets, and feel the spokes to see if any of them are loose. In order to check for loose hubs, take each wheel by its rim and try to move it laterally (in a direction that is perpendicular to the direction in which it is rotating). There shouldn’t be any side-to-side movement in the hubs.
- Examine the brake pads for signs of wear and ensure that they are aligned correctly. Make sure the brake cables on your bike are not frayed if it has brakes that are activated via cables. This typically happens at the point where the brake wire is attached to the brake caliper. If your bicycle is fitted with hydraulic brakes, check that the brake lever comes to a complete stop before coming into contact with the handlebar. If you find that you need to pump the brakes multiple times before they engage properly, you will need to perform a brake bleed in order to eliminate any air that may be present in the system.
- Drivetrain: Now that you’ve cleaned your drivetrain, you should inspect it for worn teeth on the chainrings, cassette, and rear derailleur. Try to move the cranks from side to side, much like you did with the rims. There ought not to be any movement to the side. Proceed through the gears and pay attention to any skipping or hopping that may occur between the gears. This skipping may be the result of cable stress or a frayed cable, both of which are possible causes.
Make sure there isn’t any wear on the chain by using a chain checker. Both chains and cassettes eventually need to be replaced. The “stretch” in a chain is actually just play caused by worn-down pins and rollers over the course of its lifetime. To avoid problems with shifting, you should think about changing both the chain and the cassette at the same time if the chain is more than half way through its lifespan. Misshifts are common when a fresh chain is paired with an old cassette of the same size.
After the completion of the safety inspection, we will be able to begin making modifications. Begin by putting the wheels on.
During your inspection, if you saw any wobbles or discovered any spokes to be loose, you should make use of a truing stand and spoke wrench in order to re-tension the spokes and true the wheel.
Replace any worn tires on the bike with new ones before you put the wheels back on the bike. When installing tires that are difficult to mount, Pedro’s tire levers are not only economical but also incredibly effective.
If you are using tubeless tires, now would be an excellent opportunity to put some new sealant on them. Over time, sealant loses its effectiveness. The vast majority of tubeless sealants need to be updated every four to six months. Over the years, I’ve experimented with over a dozen different kinds of sealants. For the majority of riders, I recommend sticking with NoTubes or Orange Seal.
- Adjust Your Beaks
We can begin working on the brakes as soon as the wheels are aligned properly and are spinning freely.
The first thing that must be done is to check that the brakes have been bled correctly. Park Tool produces a wide variety of high-quality bleeding kits that may be used with either mineral oil or DOT-based brake systems.
If the brakes on your bike are pulled by a cable, check that the cable is not frayed, that it is correctly secured, and that it pulls the brakes smoothly.
If the brake pads are worn, replace them. After the brake pads have been inserted, you should spin the wheels to ensure that the brake rotor (or rim, in the case of rim brakes) is not rubbing against the brake pads. If your current pads still have plenty of life left in them, this step is not necessary.
Place the pads so that they are centered on the braking surface. This will allow both sides of the caliper to make simultaneous contact with the rotor or rim.
- Lube Chains And Derailers
A subject like the benefits and drawbacks of the numerous chain lubricants that are available to bicycles is deserving of its own in-depth investigation. The application procedure is, in the vast majority of instances, the same, and it is essential to ensuring that you have a clean and high-performing drivetrain.
Lubricant is not spread evenly across the entirety of the chain. In point of fact, doing so will cause additional dirt and filth to accumulate, which will slow you down and put unnecessary strain on your powertrain. Take your time and apply one drop of lubrication to each roller in a thoughtful and methodical manner. After the oil has been applied, you should turn the cranks a few times to ensure that it is dispersed properly, and then you should use a clean rag to remove any excess.
After you have ensured that the chain is turning freely, you should inspect the derailleurs to ensure that they are smoothly shifting up and down the chainrings and cassette.
Begin with the derailleur at the front of the bike. When changing into the big ring, make sure that the chain is picked up as rapidly as possible. If it appears to be hesitating, the barrel adjustment can be used to enhance tension. Reduce the strain on the shift cable by tightening the barrel adjuster, which you can do if the chain is difficult to move into the smaller ring. Because even slight alterations can have a significant effect on the cable tension, you should begin by making modifications in increments of a quarter turn.
Run through the range of gears on the cassette once you are comfortable with how the front derailleur is shifting, or if you only have a rear derailleur, do so. It is necessary for the derailleur to shift into each cog in a brisk manner and not skip gears. In order to quicken the process of shifting into lower (bigger) cogs, increase the cable tension by unscrewing the barrel adjuster. Reduce the tension in the cable to facilitate faster shifting into the more difficult (smaller) cogs.