If your bike has been hung up in the garage for the winter, you’re probably itching to get it on the road. But before you make this season’s maiden voyage, take the time to give your bike a tune-up to make sure it’s ready to roll. Otherwise, you could end up carrying your bike home instead of the other way around.
Here are some things you should check out before you don your helmet and spandex:
1. Clean Your Bike. If you’ve had your bike stowed away for months, it’s probably got a good amount of grimy buildup. You should have cleaned it before storing it, but if not you might also have some dirt from last season. Go over the entire bike with a biodegradable cleaner, and avoid using water. While cleaning, keep an eye out for any cracks or damage that should be addressed.
2. Check Your Tires. First check that the tires are in good condition and free of any bulges, cracks, splits or tears in the sidewalls. Check to make sure the tread is even and not excessively worn. Even if you tires are in good condition, you probably need to add air. Air seeps out of tires over time. Use a pressure gauge to add the right amount of pressure. Spin the tires to check the wheel motion. If it’s wobbly or doesn’t spin straight you need to “true” the wheel by balancing the spoke tension.
3. Check Your Chain. Examine your chain to make sure it isn’t stretched or worn out. Chains only last up to a year, so they need to be checked regularly. Riding on a worn out chain can damage your cogs and rings, which can lead to a costly drivetrain replacement. It’s cheaper to replace a chain when needed. Your chain should be cleaned and lubed before you hit the road. To clean it, run it through a cloth. Then apply lube and let it sit for a few minutes before removing the excess.
4. Check Your Brake System. Examine your brake pads for even wear. If they’re not even you can adjust the brake arm tension screw to balance them out. If the pads are worn down, get them replaced. Squeeze the brake levers to make sure they are engaging correctly. You don’t want to find out there’s a problem with your brakes on your first downhill ride.
5. Tighten Up Connections. Shake your bike to make sure all the connections are tight. If not, tighten up the bolts to stabilize the connections. Check the height of the seatpost and handle bars as well. Do a drop-test upright from about three or four feet to make sure the bike is solid. If anything is rattling and you can’t identify the cause, take it to a mechanic for a look.
If you don’t have time to do your own bike tune-up (or just don’t like to get your hands dirty), you can get a tune-up for about $30 to $50 at a bike shop. That’s a worthwhile investment in maintaining your bike and a small price to pay.
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