There is nothing worse than setting a time with your ride buddy to on a long-distance ride, and yet you notice something wobbly on your bike or you hear an unpleasant sound. Before even thinking of heading straight to the bike repair shop – did you think about learning how to tune up a bike?
Tuning up a bike is a regular procedure that doesn’t require a lot of tools or knowledge. It’s very easy to get a hang of it – and once you do it a couple of times, you’ll know exactly what to do without having to read this post ever again.
In this post, you can find the steps with detailed instructions on how to do the basic tune up of your bike so you don’t have to bring it to the bike shop every single time.
However, if you’re not the biggest fan of DIY – I’ll also show you a valuable asset that helped me learn everything about maintaining and repairing a bike – so keep on reading!
How to Tune Up a Bike – Complete Beginners Guide (With a Checklist)
Check Treads and Tire Pressure
The pressure of your tire is an important thing to check in order to keep your bike rolling smoothly. And it’s one of the first requirements to check in order to make sure to keep your bike in good condition for every ride. Before using your bike, check the pressure of the tire. Feel free to fill the tires with an air pump, however, always pay attention to recommended PSI.
You can find the recommended PSI on the side of your tires, and if you own a road bike – don’t let the higher tire pressure (for such narrow tires) surprise you!
Once you pump up your tires, re-check the pressure after a couple of hours to ensure that the tires hold air well.
If valve caps are missing, you shouldn’t go on longer rides without one. Luckily, you can buy these from a local bike shop for a dollar or two.
I think of it as a cheap way to replace and protect the valve stem from dirt. Make sure to keep extra valves in your hand because you can easily lose accessories.
How many times did you lose one in your garage? I did many times.
Focus on Treads Shot
If you’re a very active rider, feel free to replace the tires every season. But if you are not sure, check for the warning signs which may be performance-based or visual.
Check for these signs:
- The tires can be leaking (a flat reoccurring tire may be an essential sign)
- Treads may worn out (less grip and more rounded)
- You may not be able to handle your bike (you can notice the difference on wet roads and across gravel)
The rim size of your bike can’t be the only factor. Your riding style is also essential. If you don’t understand the variance between tires, feel free to check out our post on this topic.
Polish Up the Frame of a Bike
With a good wash, you can give a refreshing touch to your bike. Remember, a bike may be extra sensitive for pressure or hose water. So if you have a fancy paint job, I highly recommend a good old hand wash.
It’s best to use a gentle soap, microfiber cloth, and a toothbrush (for the chain and components you can’t reach).
If you don’t have a specific bike soap, car soap will help you to remove dirt, pollen, and dust from the frame without any damage.
For metal areas, you can use a polish and protectant. These are fairly cheap and you can get them anywhere. There are many brands specially made for bikes so I highly recommend checking them out.
With long-term care, this can prevent rust and keep the frame of your bike. Even though it’s one of the steps that most riders overlook to do (even if you take your bike to a local shop for a tune up), it’s a good thing for your bike and it doens’t take a long time!
A bike with matte finish needs a specific product that doesn’t add a shiny coat to the paint, so that’s something to keep in mind!
Fine-Tune Handlebar Height and Seat
Carefully check the height of seat and angle and height of handlebars. If you aren’t sure how to do the basic road bike fit – check out my profer road bike fit guide as I’ll guide you through the basic steps.
If you have some money to spare and you ride a lot, a professional road bike fit will be very well worth the investment.
If you aren’t changing your seat or handlebar height often, here’s one trick you can do. Spray these tubes and posts with lubricants to loosen a threatening connection.
Adjust Tensions of Brakes
With time, you will notice some decrease in the performance of the brakes. For example, it will take much more effort to pull the brake lever and the brake lever will go a lot further than usual.
And this can be an issue because it won’t help you to slow the bike quickly or easily when you need it to.
Another thing you should look out for is that the brake pads aren’t damaging or rubbing against the rim (other than the appropriate space on the rim).
There are two secure methods for adjustment of the tension in brakes.
Focus on the adjusters of the barrel of hand brakes. Sliding the barrels and loosening the nuts may tweak the tension. Make the nuts tight again and give a squeeze to the brakes. If they feel a lot more firm and take less time to engage – you just adjusted your brake tension!
The brake handles must have sufficient resistance as they enable brake pads to grip the rims tightly when you need it the most.
The great thing is that both brakes work the same way. Once you’re done with one brake – do the same process on the other brake. If adjustments of the barrel are not sufficient to give stopping power, move your attention to V-brakes. These will pinch both the back and front rims.
Remember, V-brake comes with a brake cable to make them tight manually. You can pinch the cable on the brake with one bolt.
By loosening the bolt and nut to adjust the cable position, you may affect how tight or loose the brake pads lies around rims. Pinch back the brake cable and give a squeeze to handbrake to keep brakes in the best shape.
Replace or Clean the Brake Pads
By checking the tension of brake, you will be able to notice possible faults with the brake pads.
As these are the replaceable parts, they’ll wear out eventually.
You have to check if the brake pad must be replaced or cleaned thoroughly. Remember, rubber of brakes may wear down with time and decrease their effectiveness.
You can swap old brake pads with new ones in just a couple of minutes and it’s a very simple procedure.
We all love the descents, but that’s when we use our brakes the most. By frequently using out brakes under such pressure, they can overheat and even melt.
Therefore, if you’ve been going through some downhill adventures with a lot of braking – you should check your brake pads more often.
If you have to swap the brakes, all you have to do is remove the wheel, loosen the brake cable, and use a special key to untighten the brake pad.
Swap the brake pad, tighten it, tighten the cable, add the wheel – and the job’s done!
Degrease, Clean and Lubricate the Chain
On the bike, the chain may be one of the hardest working components and therefore, it deserves additional attention.
Lubricating your chain is always essential to prevent rust and maintain performance. Use lubricants that are specifically designed for bicycles.
These may be different than several other types. If you are riding during rainy days or winter months, select wet lubricants. For sunny seasons, you will need dry lubricants.
Start by cleaning off a chain with cloth spritzed with a degreaser. Remove dirt before adding lubricant. It must contact the full chain, such as chainring and other related components. For this reason, drip the lube on the chain when backpedaling your bike pedals by hand.
This is where having a bike stand comes very handy.
After dripping oil on the chainring, you can backpedal your chain consistently to distribute the lubricant equally. Excess lubricant may not be a good thing. It may act as a magnet for road debris and dust. Moreover, it can splatter over your bike or your legs and clothing.
And if you didn’t learn this lesson in your own way yet – I’m glad to be able to prevent you from making the same mistake I did!
Remove extra oil with the help of clean cloth before hitting the road. But if a chain is rusted, you should buy a new chain. To purchase an ideal chain for your bike, you can take your rusted chain along you to a shop or check out the same brand on the internet.
Check the Shifters
Your bike must change gears easily without hiccups in shifting system. It is essential to look for a lack of tension in the chain. To test the cable tension, you have to set your bike on the stand and shift it all the way to the smallest cog.
Turn the barrel adjusts on the back derailleur ½ turn clockwise before shifting a gear or rotating pedals. The chain must jump to the subsequent cog. If it doesn’t happen, you have to do another half-turn clockwise. This chain must jump to another level to execute another ½ turn.
Important Pre-Ride Checklist
If you’re learning how to tune up a bike – this is a list you should follow and always keep with yourself.
- Ensure the proper functionality of your brake by testing them. The pads must contact the wheels equally on both sides.
- It is important to check tires once after every ride. You can ensure appropriately inflated tires.
- Rattle check becomes necessary. For this reason, you have to let your bike fall a couple of inches off the floor and listen to any unusual sounds. With this procedure, you can eliminate problems and find loose components before it’s too late.
- Wheel check is another vital thing to ensure maximum safety. Spin every wheel to ensure there are no wobbles, and that the brakes are securely attached. Moreover, quick-release levers must be tightened securely.
- Make sure to check the headset that is situated in the front of the bike. It serves as a connection between the frame and the forks. If you hear clicking, you have to tighten the headset of your bike.
Before riding a bike, you have to inspect moving parts, as well as the frame of your bike. It may be dangerous to ride on cracked frames and yet it’s one of the things that riders don’t even look out for.
Carefully inspect all the components and pay attention to shifter cables and brakes.
Keep your bike lubricated to avoid any additional wear and tear. However, avoid getting oils on brake pads and always remove the extra chain oil.
If your bike has some defective parts, make sure to replace them. For instance, it is vital to reinstall wheels and adjust brake pads. After completing a tune-up, you have to take this bike on a test ride.
Conclusion + Bonus Advice
Did you ever feel like you’d like to fix at least the smallest thing on your bike? If you haven’t – you’re missing out.
Bicycle maintenance or even the smallest repairs aren’t cheap. Having to bring your bike to the shop every time for the smallest issue can add up and cost you over hundreds of dollars a year.
With the help of this article, you can easily do most of the things by yourself – even if you have no previous knowledge.
I know how you feel. I used to be scared to do anything on my bike as well. However, if you’re still feeling this way – I highly recommend checking out the DIY bike maintenance 101 Course.
This course has step-by-step video lessons on everything, from the smallest to the most complex bike repairs and tune-ups.
Did you ever try and learn how to tune up a bike? If you did, what was the feeling like?
I bet it was great and I’d love to hear your thoughts – so don’t hesitate to leave a comment down below!