Time for your Spring Bike Tune-Up

A bike rider riding in the winter
April 13, 2011

D3 Staff


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Time for your Spring Bike Tune-Up! But What does your Bike really need?

Daylight savings just flipped to “exercising-after-work-mode”, and spring is right around the corner. Depending upon where you live, you may be looking forward to regular outdoor bicycle rides again for the first time in a while. But before you buckle up that helmet, now is the time of year to ask yourself a question: what has your bike been doing all winter?

With a few exceptions, the answer is usually one of three things, or a combination:
1) Hibernating
2) Being ridden like normal
3) Sitting on a trainer

And each has it’s own unique set of springtime steps to take in order to keep your trusty steed running like new.

Every bicycle needs routine maintenance. A spring tune-up is never a bad idea. But your bike’s specific needs are determined by the answer to the above question. How has winter been treating you? Here are some great tips for each scenario – they may not cover everything, but generally speaking, they’ll get you back on the road (or trail) in good shape.

Scenario 1: Hibernating
Maybe you’re not a “die-hard”. Maybe the weather around you just plain stinks in the wintertime. Whatever the reason, your saddle hasn’t seen a butt in a few months. Contrary to many cyclists’ intuition, this is actually the least troubling scenario. Off the bat, your bike will need 3 main things:
1) A cleaning (or dusting) especially of any “soft” parts like saddles, cable housing, and anything else plastic or rubber. These tend to dry out, and a protective product like “Armor-All” is a good trade secret.
2) You will need to clean and lube your chain. Apply a healthier than typical amount of a lubricant appropriate to your climate and riding type. The trade secret here: pretend that was a HUGE mistake. Do everything you can to wipe it all off. The rag you use should be filthy. Then, repeat the process.
3) Air up your tires. This seems like a silly recommendation. Most of us do this weekly. But as a mechanic, I can’t tell you how many cyclists have come to me for their Spring Tune-ups having already bought new tubes to fix their “flats”. Tubes lose air over time, but there is nothing wrong with them. Just air them back up.

Scenario 2:
Being ridden like normalLucky you. Or possibly “Persistent you.” Either way, if your bicycle doesn’t take the winter off, then everything about its maintenance is routine. However, the conditions in which you have been riding may have been less than ideal. If you live in Hawaii, get a spring tune-up and enjoy some P.O.G. juice. If you live anywhere else and were still riding all winter, your bike has had to withstand some slightly tougher conditions. Here are some tips:
1) In addition to your standard tune-up, you will want to pay some special attention to the lower parts of your bike. Hubs, bottom brackets, and derailleurs are much more prone to getting splashed and covered in winter road grime during the colder months.
2) If you live somewhere that uses chemicals or gravel on the roads to melt snow, you or your mechanic should take a very close look at your tires. Inspect them for cuts or gashes in the tread. Also look for sidewalls that may appear dry or cracked. It might be time for new tires, or you might be able to rotate the front and the back to maximize their life.
3) Cables and housing deserve a spotlight here – make sure your shifting is still smooth and that your brakes (especially the rear brake) retract quickly and smoothly when you release the lever. If the small piece of housing curling down into your rear derailleur has had magnesium chloride splashed on it for 3 months, you can count on much better shifting after replacing it.

Scenario 3: Sitting on a trainer
It can be painful to admit it, but this is the most common answer to the question, and it is also the worst for your bicycle. When you approach your mechanic this spring, you may want to use the word “overhaul” in place of “tune-up.” Human sweat is more corrosive than any of us would like to know. It’s worth the effort to open up, clean, and re-grease everything. Here are some tips:
1) Your headset is the primary target for sweat. It makes sense – it’s been right below your nose all winter long. It will need some new grease.
2) Your bottom bracket is the next to take a hit – the reasons are a little gross. Sweat runs down your seatpost – literally right through the “perineum relief cutout” that you may have in your saddle, and it pools at your bottom bracket. It will need to be removed and re-greased.
3) It is a good idea to remove many of the bolts on your bike and lube the threads. This is extra important for your stem bolts (again, always getting sweaty), your seatpost clamp bolt, and the bolts holding your water bottle cages. Have you ever removed a bolt to have it squeak when you turn it, and then find a white powder coating the bolt? That’s sweat corrosion. Trade secret: do not smell the bolt. It won’t be pleasant.
4) Take a VERY close look at your rear tire. An unfortunate reality is that trainers and rollers are horrible for your rear tire. There are tires specifically made for trainers, and if you have one, you’ll want to put your normal tire back on. If you don’t, it’s highly likely that your rear tire lived 8 of its 9 lives over the winter. Don’t subject yourself to the rash of flats to come – get a new tire if your bike has been on the trainer.

Regardless of what your bike has been doing this winter, it’s worth it to give it a little T.L.C. this spring so that you can get the most out of training now that better weather is upon us. Talk it over with your mechanic – it won’t cost you any extra to say, “Would you mind lubing the threads on my stem and seatpost clamp bolts? My bike’s been on the trainer all winter.”
Now is the time when we get our money’s worth out of our bicycles, so enjoy a well-tuned bike, and enjoy the better weather! Happy training.

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