Easy Bike Tune-Up Tricks

Teenager oiling bicycle chain
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Want your bike to go faster? Ride easier? Shift smoother? Improvements in these areas are often relatively easy to accomplish with just a few simple steps. Try out these simple tune-up tasks below, which don't require any special knowledge or tools, and see immediate improvements in your riding.

Clean and Lubricate Your Chain

Doesn't matter if you're a spinner or a masher, the chain and sprockets on your bike play a key part in the transfer of power in your legs to your wheels, making them go round and round. When they collect dirt and grit and get gummy, not only does it slow you down, but they also wear out faster. Keeping your chain clean and lubricated is one of the best ways to keep your bike working well.

This is not a daily or weekly task by any means. Plan on doing this every thousand miles or so; more often if you ride in dusty or dirty conditions. That's only once a year if you do one 20 mile ride each week.

Tip: Use a lightweight oil specially designed for bikes. Stay away from motor oil as it is too heavy and will quickly attract dirt and crud. Want a big greasy chain ring mark on your leg? Using too much oil or the wrong kind is a guaranteed way to get one. Light lubrication is the key, and wipe off excess at the end. Also, WD-40 is no good, so stay away from using that as a lubricant.

Lubricate the Moving Parts of Your Brakes and Derailleurs.

Your bike has quite a few moving metal parts that are vulnerable to dirt and moisture. To keep your bike happy and functioning well, these parts should be lubricated regularly.

Pivot points on the brakes and derailleurs are good examples of the types of places you should target because they are vulnerable to attracting dirt and grit due to their placement on your bike. Here's a diagram of common lubrication points on a bike, but you can spot many of these places just by watching your bike in action and seeing where metal parts move against and around each other.

For instance, think about your brakes. On most road bikes, they are mounted on a bolt on the frame above your wheel. When you squeeze the lever, the brake pivots around this bolt as it contracts. It's these places where you want to apply a couple drops of oil.

Inspect Your Brake Pads.

A quick check of your brake pads will often reveal potential problems that are easy to fix. You want to check:

  • Are your brake pads properly aligned?Brake pads are the little rubber things that clamp down on your rims to slow you when you squeeze the brake levers. Make sure they are hitting the rims evenly, and aren't either rubbing the tire or missing your rim partially or completely.
  • Are the brake pads toed in?The bike brake pads should also be "toed-in," which means the leading edge of the pads should touch the bike rim first when you lightly apply the brakes. The pads squish a little, and when you squeeze down hard, you should get full contact to the rim. This helps prevent squeaking
  • Check for junk embedded in the brake padsInspect the surface of the brake pads where they meet the rims, and using a pointy sharp instrument like a knife, pick out any bits of sand or metal that may have become embedded in the pad. Removing this grit prevents the pads from wearing and scratching your rims and helps them provide more even and consistent stopping power.

Check the Pressure on Your Tires.

One of the simplest things you can do is to pay attend to the air pressure in your tire. That is one thing that can have the greatest effect, and that surprisingly, people most often overlook.

Paying attention to keeping the proper level of air pressure in your tires accomplishes many things:

Checking for proper air pressure in your tires before every ride is quick and easy to do. Here's how to check the air pressure in your tire.