what you need to know before a spring tune-up

Bicycle Gears

Just like it’s a good idea to go to the doctor from time to time, it’s also smart to get your bike tuned up regularly. With prompt maintenance you can catch small problems before they get big and expensive, and your bike will run smoothly throughout the cycling season.

Here are some pointers on what to think about before you take your bike to the shop for a tune-up:

Beat the crowds. Bike shops are swamped from spring through fall. This can mean a wait of a week or more without your bike while it is being tuned. Get it into the shop now and avoid backlogs.

Do a quick check of your bike before you bring it into the shop. This will help you anticipate what extras you should expect to take care of when the bike is in the shop. The cost of a tune-up typically only covers labor, and it’s not uncommon to need a few parts replaced on top of that. It makes sense to get it all taken care of at once to avoid multiple trips to the shop during prime riding season. Here’s what to look for:

  • Check brake pads for wear – Most pads have slots cut into them and some have an actual “wear indicator line” imprinted on them. Have you worn the rubber past or up to the slots or wear lines? If so, it’s time to replace them. It’s also time to get new pads if the rubber is old and hard or if it has debris embedded in it.
  • Give cables and cable housing a once-over – Check cables (the wires that are attached to brakes and derailleurs) for rust or fraying. Check cable housing (the tubes that the cables run through) for cracking or sharp bends. Give your brake levers a squeeze, and quickly release them. They should snap back with nice quick force. If your cables and housing don’t pass these tests, they should be replaced. They are relatively inexpensive and easy to replace when the bike is being tuned. Fresh cables will do wonders for brake and shifting performance.
  • Is your chain worn out? – If it is very rusty or you’ve noticed a ka-chunk! when pushing hard on your pedals, then it is time for a new chain.
  • Inspect the tires – Examine the tread to see if it is worn smooth. Also check to see if it has many nicks from glass on the road. Check the sidewall of the tire for cracking, dry rot or cuts. If you see much damage, or if you’ve had a multiple of flat tires, it’s time to go for some fresh tires. A good tire with Kevlar in the tread is worth the extra cost for preventing flats.

Think about accessories you may need to pick up. A good lock and lights and a helmet are must-haves. Plan on picking up these essentials if you don’t have them or if your current ones are in rough shape.

Do you qualify for a discount? Some bike shops offer early-season specials on tune-ups. Also note that your memberships in local cycling advocacy organizations or bicycle clubs may earn you a discount on accessories, so keep your membership cards in your wallet.

Now head on over to your beloved local bike shop and treat your bike to a thorough springtime tune-up.

— Susan Lindell

photo: justchillin_1 flickr

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