When you’re a cyclist, you know the importance of finding a good bike mechanic who can help you fix problems when they come up and tune your bike so it rides like new. As a general rule, bike mechanics recommend taking your bike in for a professional tune-up once a year if you’re a fair-weather cyclist (Read: You mostly ride when it’s nice outside.) and twice a year if you’re an avid all-weather cyclist (Read: You’re not afraid of getting out there in the rain, snow, sleet and hail.).
One exception, says Kevin Harrison, education and training rep for Cannondale (and a former bike mechanic), is just after you buy a new bike. “This seems counterintuitive, but high- and low-end bikes alike all have a break-in period, particularly with their shifting systems,” says Harrison. “The tension of the shifting cables is what determines a bike’s precision when shifting, and when a bike is new, these tensions can change slightly as everything settles into place.”
Maria Benson, Cannondale road product manager who was also a bike mechanic in a former role, agrees, adding that after this break-in period, there’s a lot you can do to tune your own bike at home. Here, Benson and Harrison share their top-five tips for getting your ride road-ready on your own:
DIY TUNE-UP TIPS
1. CLEAN AND LUBE THE CHAIN
After every few rides, run a dry rag over your bike’s chain until the rag comes away relatively free of black grease, says Benson, and only lube the chain when it becomes shiny or squeaky. “A common mistake is to over-lube the chain, but this can actually attract dirt and cause the chain to wear out prematurely,” she says, which necessitates a trip to the bike shop.
2. CLEAN YOUR BIKE REGULARLY
“A clean bike is a happy bike,” says Harrison, “and you need very little to keep your bike clean.” Grab a bucket, dish soap, water, a plastic-bristle brush, a metal-bristle brush and a dry cloth. Then, scrub down everything with the plastic-bristle brush, using the metal-bristle brush on the chain and cassette only, says Harrison. It’s also important to make sure you dry your bike thoroughly. “Bikes are OK to get wet, but not to stay wet,” he says. You’ll also want to lube your chain after cleaning it.
Benson agrees that regularly cleaning your bike can go a long way toward keeping it in top condition, as well as prevent premature wear on moving parts. “It’s also a great way to spot things that need attention before they become a problem,” she says.
3. CLEAN YOUR BRAKE PADS AND BRAKING SURFACES
In addition to cleaning your bike, pay close attention to your brake pads in particular say Benson and Harrison. “If you have disc brakes, have the shop teach you how they function,” says Harrison. While disc brakes don’t mean more maintenance, they are different than traditional brakes. “Disc brakes produce brake dust, and cleaning this from the calipers, rotors and frame will keep them running better,” he says.
For caliper rim brakes, scrape or file the pads and clean the brake surface of the rim, which pick up material from your rims and can make a lot of noise and wear your rims excessively, adds Harrison.
READ MORE > 35 SIGNS YOU’RE A CYCLIST
4. CHECK YOUR REAR DERAILLEUR
The rear derailleur — the mechanism that moves your bike’s chain between the sprockets on your rear wheel — has limits (determined by small screws) that prevent the derailleur from going too far in any direction. “To check these limits, hang your bike and physically push the derailleur toward the wheel while slowly pedaling with your other hand, then turn the low limit screw until the chain can easily mount the largest cog,” says Harrison. “A good bicycle retailer can and will teach you how to do this.”
5. CHECK YOUR SHIFTING
Similar to checking your rear derailleur, this DIY bike maintenance tactic is a bit more complex than the others, but Harrison says it’s easy to get the hang of, particularly after a bike mechanic shows you how.
“Hang your bike by the seat and, starting in the smallest cog, shift through the gears to make sure everything runs smoothly and quietly,” he says. The chain should move up the cassette (toward the wheel) as quickly as it moves down the cassette (away from the wheel). “There is a small barrel where the cable goes into the derailleur, which can be turned to adjust the tension,” adds Harrison. “If the chain seems to lag or move slowly going up the cassette, turn the barrel adjuster counterclockwise half a turn, then re-check. If it moves slowly going down the cassette, turn it the opposite way.”