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Dust off your ride with this easy 8-step spring tune-up

Lennard Zinn, the author of Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance, has some tips you can use to tune up your bike this spring.



Maybe your beloved bike has been sitting neglected in the basement or garage throughout the winter months just waiting for the days to grow longer and the temperatures to rise. With the sun shining and clear roads calling, it’s time to think about what you need to do before heading out on your first ride of the season. Going through this easy eight step tune-up will not only ensure your bike functions smoothly, but will prevent any unnecessary wear and tear on your components.

1) Wash your bike

“The first thing to do is a general full cleaning of the bike to make identifying what needs to be done next much easier,” said Zinn. Use some degreaser to clean off the chain, chainrings, jockey wheels on the rear derailleur and any gunk that has built up on the cassette. Then use a wet rag to wipe off the braking surfaces on your rims and any grit that’s accumulated on your frame, especially in the nooks and crannies around the brakes, cables and bottom bracket.

>> Find out how to give your bike a good bath 
>> For more on chain care 

2) Check the chain for wear and replace it if needed

“Check the chain length with a chain-checker tool before you do anything else and replace it if it’s worn out,” said Zinn. If you ride too long with a stretched chain, you risk wearing out your chainrings and cassette, which will mean you’ll need to replace soon than you should have to. So save yourself the hassle, get a chain tool and get in the habit of checking chain wear.

>> For more on drivetrain care 

Cyclocross Bike Maintenance - How to adjust your cantilever brakes and stop with confidence in the mucky stuff. Photo by Gus Alexandropoulos
Photo credit: Gus Alexandropoulos

3) Check your brakes

“Inspect the brake pads at their wear indicator lines. Replace the pads if they’re getting thin,” said Zinn. Next, pull down on the brake levers to make sure the pads are engaging properly on the braking surface of the rim. If it takes a lot of force to engage the pads, loosen the cable’s pinch bolt with an Allen key and pull the cable through a bit farther to tighten them up. Next, give the wheel a spin to make sure the brake pads aren’t rubbing.

>> How to replace and adjust your brakes 

Bike repair maintenance

4) Make sure your wheels are in good condition and true

“Check that your wheels are true and tighten any loose spokes,” said Zinn. Sping you wheel to see if it has any wobbles or hops. You can fix these irregularities at the truing stand with a spoke wrench. While the wheel is on the stand, squeeze all the spokes to make sure they are properly tensioned.

>> How to true your wheels properly 

5) Make sure your cables are in good condition

Zinn’s advice is to first inspect your brake and shift cables for fraying at the ends and proper tension. If you find nicks or fraying replace the cable. If they are stretched, tighten them. These adjustments can really improve your shifting and braking performance. While you are at it, Zinn said, “Consider lubing your cables with a few drops of chain lube to keep them sliding smoothly.”

6) Make sure your headset is properly tightened

First, turn your stem to make sure it moves freely and smoothly. “Drop the front end of the bike to see if you hear any rattle that would indicate anything in the headset is loose. If there is a lot of rattle, investigate further by engaging the brakes and pushing the bike forward and backward to see if there is any movement in the headset,” he said. If the rattle is coming from your wheel’s hubs, consider bring them into your local bike shop so a mechanic can have a look at it.

>> Tune up your headset 

7) Check that your pedals and bottom bracket are rotating smoothly.

Before you jump on your bike, remove the chain from the chainring. “Rotate the crank and just feel how the pedals and bottom bracket are rotating,” said Zinn. There should be no resistance or lateral movement. Removing the pedals and the BB to clean and lubricate them seasonally is also a good idea.

8) Check your shifting

Go through all the gears and make sure the chain isn’t skipping. Make any final necessary adjustments with the barrel adjuster and finally lubricate your chain.

>> Improve your bike’s shifting 

Now it’s time to pump up your tires and head out to the open roads.

For more information about the procedures necessary to undertake a full tune-up, look for the fifth edition of Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance in bookstores or online. It is a comprehensive step-by-step guide that will help you get the job done right and is available for purchase for US$26.95.

Zinn bike maintenance