How to Tune Up Your Bike for Spring

This is my bicycle.  I bought it in Bel Air Maryland in 1990 shortly after I arrived at my Officer Basic Course for the US Army at Aberdeen Proving Grounds.  It’s a Gary Fisher 13″ Marlin and I believe it cost me $400–making it (at the time) the most costly thing I had ever purchased for myself.  It was never ridden particularly hard, but I have used it over the years.  It’s a well traveled bike–it’s been in Maryland, Germany, Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia (again) and finally New York.  It is now (ack!) 23 years old.  I think in that time I’ve had it in to a bike shop for a tune up 3 times.

My bike

I actually ride it quite a bit now–not for hard hitting, blood pounding trail adventures (I’d probably have a heart attack at this point-I’m out of shape) but for general transportation.  The Frugal Village Homestead is in, well, a village with nice wide,  level streets.  The post office, grocery store, main street shopping, library, my church and even my Mom’s house and Mother in Law’s house are all within a mile radius.  It just seems plain wasteful when the weather is nice to jump in the car and use gasoline to go that measly distance. . . but on the other hand sometimes you want to get there quicker than walking (or–for the last year or so–you have painful plantar fascitis that makes walking too far a bad idea).  That’s why I purchased the rear carrier rack, the basket and the saddlebags (panniers) at Walmart last year–so I’d have more carrying capacity!

Grocery Store

As I’ve become more and more interested in sustainability and preparedness, I have come to believe even more that it’s important to have quality items that will last you a long time.  Of course buying quality doesn’t do you much good if you don’t treat the item well. . . so that makes maintaining and caring for items just as important!

I am embarrassed to say that I have not taken very good care of my bike–thank goodness it IS a quality item to start with or I’d have probably destroyed it by now!

When Walmart told all of the Walmart Moms that May is National Bike Month and that they’d love for us to do a bicycle related post I knew just what I wanted to do. I wanted to learn how to tune up my own bike!  That way I’d have no excuse not to do it annually.

How to Tune Up Your Bike

A bike tuneup primarily revolves around cleaning, lube and a few minor adjustments

How to Tune Up your Bike

To start I purchased a few items at Walmart:  A bicycle multi-tool (that also includes some patches and bike levers for changing tires in the carrying case), tube sealant, chain and gear cleaner and bicycle lubricant.  From home I used a bucket, sponge, dishsoap etc.

Bike Tune Up 1

It’s best to start the tune up process with a clean bike!  I read conflicting information about the best way to clean your bike.  Some sources stated that you should use as little water as possible–one even suggested using a spray cleaner and no water.  The thought process in these articles seemed to be that water could cause rust on various parts of your bike and could get down into the joints and such. This seemed to be a concern on sites that were aimed mainly at racers and extreme sports type bikers.

Other sources went ahead and recommended hot water and soap.  I decided to use that for mine :)  I figure the dang thing is meant to be ridden in the rain and mud and such–how much damage could a bit of soap and water do?  Popular Mechanics states:

If you’re a mountain biker and you often get muddy, Gonzalez says you can wash the bike with a light mist. Make sure not to direct a stream of water to the hubs, bottom bracket or headset. These can cause the bike to creak and rust internally. Use dishwashing soap, worked to a light lather, then rinse thoroughly, and make sure to bounce the bike after thoroughly drying it with a towel to remove all excess water.

Washing the Bike

When cleaning your bike make sure you get the the frame, chain, gears, pedals, and seat.

To do the tune up I decided to use the League of American Bicyclists “ABC Quick Check” from their beginning cycling section.  “ABC Quick Check” is a phrase to help you remember the steps of the tune up:

C-Cranks Chains and Cassette
Quick-Front Tire Quick Release
Check-Check it Over

So let’s go!

1. Air (& Tires)

Check your tire to see if they need to be inflated. Here’s a tip–if you can actually compress the tire when you squeeze on it–it needs more air!

The sidewall of the tire will list the recommended air pressure.

PSI on the tire

Use a tire gauge (which you should have in your car anyway) to check the pressure and to know when you’ve filled it enough.  You can inflate your tire with a hand or foot pump, an air compressor (if you are lucky like me and have a husband who has such a thing just sitting in the barn!) or even head down to your gas station that has an “air” pump.

bike foot pump
While you are down there messing with the air–take a look at the tires themselves.  Do they have any rubbing, tears or splits in the sidewall?  Are there signs of uneven wear in the tread?  It’s best to replace damaged tires immediately–you don’t want to have a blow out while you are riding down the road! I think it’s a good idea to keep some “slime” on hand to use as a quick fix for pinholes and small leaks in the inner tubes until I can get in to purchase a new one.

I was quite embarrassed to notice this when I did my inspection:

I need a new tire

Ummm.  Obviously I need a new tire.  I think the one on there must be one of the original, 23 year old tires. . .  The front tire we replaced a few years back–so that’s just fine :)

note:  My Walmart has a huge selection of tires and innertubes–including ones with the “slime” already built in!  Make sure you know your wheel size if you head in to get a new wheel or inner tube–it will save you a lot of frustration in the store.

2. Brakes

Inspect your brake pads visually. You may need to use a flashlight to take a good look, or else you will have to carefully release the brakes.  There are a couple of different kinds out there-so this is a case where Google is your friend.  Once you get a look at the pads, if they show wear indicator lines on the surface, have metal poking through or are worn down to 1/4 of an inch it is time to replace them.

note:  My Walmart carries replacement break pads for about $5 a set.

If the break pads are wearing unevenly then your breaks need an adjustment.  Squeeze your break levers and watch the pads–they should both hit the metal rim of the tire (not the rubber or the spokes) at the same time, at the same level.  If they do not you will have to adjust the brake arm tension screw, which is located on one of the brake lever arms near the tire.  You loosen this screw using the appropriate Allen wrench on your multi tool, move the break pad into alignment and then tighten the screw back down.  (the video embedded at the end of this post shows this process)

3-Cranks Chains and Cassette

Bicycle Drivetrain labled

Visually inspect the cranks, chains and cassette for rust, gunk and damage.

Note:  You can fix minor rust spots on the cranks and cassette by rubbing them with steel wool.  It’s best to just replace a rusty chain.

Check the crank bolt (the bolt that holds the crankset on) to ensure it is tight.  Check your bicycle chain for wear.  If it seems loose you can measure it–12 links should measure no more than 12 1/8 inches.

Note:  You can buy replacement chains at Walmart for around $10

Clean the chains and gears using a bicycle chain cleaner (I picked up the White Lightening brand) and a rag.  The easiest way to do this if you don’t have a bike stand (and I don’t) is to flip the bike over so it is resting on the handlebars and seat.  Then you can easily access the chains and crank the pedal to turn the chains.

Lube the chain and gears using a bicycle lubricant (again I used the White Lightening brand lube). Apply the lube to the chain while slowly turning the pedal.  Wipe off any excess with a clean dry cloth.  The correct amount should be barely visible, but still leave a tiny sheen on your finger when you touch it.

4-Quick Release

The quick release is the lever that allows you to pop the entire front tire off of your bike.  It needs to engage firmly, so firmly that it’s almost a bit difficult to do–you don’t want your tire popping off as you ride down the street!  If it is loose you can tighten it using the knob/bolt/WHATEVER on the other side of the tire.

5-Check It Over

Check your bicycle for any loose or broken parts that might need to be replaced or fixed.

The bicycle seat should not be able to be twisted, pulled out or pushed in–clean, lube and tighten as necessary

The handlebars should be solid.  Try standing in front of the bike with the front tire between your legs–try to twist the handlebars.  If you can move them independantly of the tire then they need to be tightened!

Take a test drive. Use the breaks.  Run through all the gears.  Ensure everything is working properly.

Yay! You have tuned up your own bike!

This is one of those processes that will get easier each time you do it.  For right now I’d give myself an hour or so to slowly run through the process without rushing–but in time I bet you’d be done with the whole thing in about 20 minutes annually.

PS–if you are in the market for a new bike–Bicycle shipping is free all this month at Walmart and they have an online bicycle buying guide to help you pick the perfect bike.

Want to check out what the rest of the Walmart Moms did?  ModernMami wrote about Baby’s First Bike, Lille Punkin equipped her kids for safety, Hoosier Homemade did a vintage bike makeover, Green and Gorgeous gives you six reasons to go biking as a family, Wholesome Mommy got her son his first big boy bike, and Classy Mommy spruced up her kids bikes–now they can bike while she runs!
****This is a sponsored post****
Disclosure: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own
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