Biking is an excellent way to save on your commute–but bicycles need monthly maintenance to work at top performance. If you go to a bike shop, the charge can range from $30 to $75, which can quickly eat into your lunch money. For avid bicyclists, learning how to tune up a bike is worth the investment of time and effort.
Start by investing in a wishbone-shaped stand (which costs about $20) to keep the bike steady when it’s turned upside down. If you don’t have a stand, you can remove the wheels while you do the work.
Next, clean the bike thoroughly: Check the chain and drivetrain; and remove dirt and excess grease with a degreaser and a fine brush that gets between the links. The degreaser must be completely wiped away before the chain can be lubricated again. You can use a light spray of water to clean off dirt, but damp cloths are a better bet to prevent rust from developing.
Without proper lubrication, the bike won’t run smoothly. But don’t over-lubricate, because then dirt will attach itself like a magnet. The right amount should be just visible, leaving an oily residue when it’s touched.
An extra-dry Teflon lube works best on chains because it doesn’t attract as much dirt, although for mountain biking, wet lubricants are usually more effective. After applying a few drops to all of the links, run the gears up and down, then wipe off the excess lube. Don’t forget to lubricate where the brake cable enters the housing.
When you see lines on your brake pads, it’s time to replace them. If they make a grinding noise, they may have to be sanded with steel wool or fine sandpaper so they hit the rim in just the right spot.
Also, be sure to check the brake cable for wear. It’s best to have someone help you if you have to replace the cable. While one person holds the calipers in place, the other pulls the cables to tighten them. Before riding again, test by squeezing the brake lever, because some adjustment may be needed.
Checking tire pressure should be a regular occurrence. Using a gauge, add air according to the recommended levels by the manufacturer. Typically, 40 to 80 pounds per square inch of air is needed for mountain bikes. Road bikes take no more than 120 psi. There should be 5 to 10 psi less on the front wheel to compensate for the heavier weight placed on the back.