Pile of Bikes

Has your bike been neglected for the winter months, or even longer? It is time to perform a bicycle tune up. Many of the necessary tasks of preparing a bike for the new riding season are things that most people can do with simple tools they have at home. There are more advanced bike maintenance tasks that require special tools; but, the job of keeping yourself or your children safe during this bike season should start with basic things that you can do at home on your own.

Bicycle Tune Up: Cleaning

You will end up cleaning the bike several times during the process of tuning up your machine, but it is helpful to give it a good cleaning from the very beginning. Choose a clean place to work. Use a biodegradable cleaner such as Simple Green to clean the whole bike. These types of cleaners remove oil, grease and road grime. The solution is non-toxic for people, pets and the environment. Grease and grime will drip from the bike when using a cleaner, therefore insure that there won't be any damage to the floor under the bike.

Spray the cleaner on and use a soft cloth to wipe down the whole bike. You can dilute the cleaner for the frame. For the chain, spritz on the cleaner at full strength and let it sit for a few minutes. Using a stiff bristled nylon brush, clean the entire chain, chainrings and freewheel. Clean all the moving parts on the bike as well as you can (brake machines, pedals, etc.). For the smaller parts you can use a toothbrush.

For a more thorough chain cleaning you can remove the chain. If your chain has a master link, it is a simple matter of removing it by removing the link. If it does not, then you will need a chain breaking tool. If you don't already have one, it is not necessary to do this step. But your chain will be much cleaner if you can remove it. Drop the chain into a bucket of degreaser like Simple Green or WD-40. Let the chain sit for a bit before cleaning with a toothbrush as completely as possible.

Note about WD-40: While WD-40 is not a good lubricant, it is an excellent cleaner. On particularly grimy bikes and chains you can use WD-40 (or similar degreaser) to help get the bulk of the grease off. Bike mechanics have a love/hate relationship with WD-40. Too often people want to use WD-40 as a lubricant for their chains. They don't realize that this will actually remove good chain lube when it dries and leave the chain vulnerable to worse wear by sand and water. WD-40 can be used as a cleaner, but should never be used as a final lubricant in a bicycle tune up.

In the cleaning process, be careful of getting water in the hubs, bottom bracket and headset. These are parts of the bike that need to stay well lubricated. If the lube gets washed away, they will rust internally and your bike will begin to rust and seize up in places you cannot see and may require expensive replacement work.

If you removed the chain, after a thorough cleaning, it is time to replace it.

Bicycle Tune Up: Lubrication

With the bike as dry as possible, you need to lubricate the drive train and other moving parts. Use a light oil, or a special chain oil, to lubricate your chain and all the drive train parts. This includes the front and rear dérailleurs. Use a drop of oil on each of the moving pivot points on the brakes. Try not to get any oil on the brake pads or on the rim of the bike where the brakes grab.

Remove the seat post to clean and lubricate it. You can mark the post with tape or a permanent marker to know where it was previously located. Put a drop of oil on the post so that it won't seize up through the riding season.

If you have normal steel brake and shift cables, you can lubricate them in a couple of different ways. The ideal way to lubricate them is to pull the cables out of their housing and work a light grease into the cable with your fingers. This may not be practical if the ends of the cables are frayed and you think you may never get the cable threaded through the housing again. Shift cables are more complicated unless you know how to adjust your dérailleurs. Therefore, a good alternative is to disconnect the brake and shift cables from the handle bar end and use oil. You can work a few drops of oil into the housing any place where it does not cover the cable.

After everything is lubricated and the oil has had time to work its way into all the parts, wipe down the lubed areas again. This is especially important with the chain as it will sling oil on you and the bike if excess lube is not wiped off.

Bicycle Tune Up: Brakes

You need to inspect, adjust and replace the brake pads if necessary. If the pads are dry and do not grab the rim, you can give them a light sanding to remove any "glazing" that they have on them. They may still need to be replaced.

When adjusting the brakes you want the pad to grab the rim completely. Not above or below the rim. You loose breaking power if only part of the pad is touching the rim. To help eliminate brake squeal you can toe-in the front of the pads. This means that when you use your brakes the front of the pad grabs the rim a little sooner than the rest of the pad. Remember that this is a slight toe-in; if it is too drastic then you will only be using the front of the brakes and not the whole pad which will lessens your braking power.

Adjust the brakes by using the adjustment screws at the brake lever on the handlebar or at the calipers. If you need more adjustment than that, you can adjust the brake cable directly. Most brake cables can be adjusted by using an Allen wrench or a 10 mm wrench.

Clean the rims of the wheels with a degreaser and soapy water. Oil and grease on the rim will keep the brakes from working effectively. If you need extra cleaning strength use a Scotch-Brite pad, or very fine steel wool. You are cleaning the rims, not sanding down the metal.

Bicycle Tune Up: Tires

Check your tire pressure and tire condition often-not just the start of bike riding season. Your tires will have a pressure range printed on the side. There is much debate as to the validity of these pressures being the best for all conditions, but you will be safe starting with these numbers and experimenting from there. You should never go under the numbers printed on the tire, and usually you can go over by quite a bit. Legal departments at tire manufacturers require that they print a lower number than what the tire can actually withstand. You won't go wrong by following the recommendation on the tires, but you also probably won't get the best ride a tire can offer you.

Running your tires with too little air pressure can cause damage to the tires and the rims. Too much pressure and the tires could pop. You don't have to worry about the amount of pressure your tubes are rated for; they are simply air sacks. It is the tires that withstand the pressure.

If your tires do not say what the proper amount of pressure is, here are some general guidelines. For road bikes (racing bikes) the pressure is usually around 100 to 110 PSI. For mountain bike tires the pressure is 40-50 PSI.

Check the tires for cracks and seriously worn spots. Replace as necessary.

Patching bicycle tubes is not difficult and can yield great results. However, it is usually good to have at least one spare handy for each of your bikes. This will allow you to replace a tube quickly until you have a chance to patch the punctured one.

Regular inspection and maintenance of your bike will make future bike tune ups quicker and easier. With special bike tools you can do more than this. You should visit your local bike shop for recommendations on the right tools for your bike. If you need help in getting your bike ready for the riding season they can do a bike tune up for a reasonable price.