3 Steps To Tune Up Your Bike

Mountain Bike Tune Up
Mountain Bike Tune Up. ubrayj02 via Flickr

Need to tune up your bike, but don't know where to start? We've all been there. Bringing your bike to the shop for simple maintenance can start to add up. But once you learn what to look for, you’ll be wondering why you haven’t always spent the minimal extra time to keep your trusty steed in tip-top shape.

1. Clean It

I’m not pointing fingers, but your mountain bike is dirty. Your first, and likely easiest, tuneup task is to clean it.

 Before you reach for cleaning supplies, take your bike outside. This is going to be a messy job. Secure your bike in a bike stand, hang it from a tree or flip it upside-down so it balances on the seat and handlebars. Now grab the needed supplies:

  • bicycle cleaning brush
  • chain scrubber
  • degreasing solvent
  • chain lubricant
  • towel
  • bucket
  • dishwashing liquid
  • water/hose

Pay close attention to your drivetrain and spray some degreaser on the chain if it’s greasy, rusty or dirty. If you use degreaser, make sure you let it dry before you lube it again. Wash the body of your mountain bike so it’s free of any caked-on muddy material. Be careful to avoid your headset, bottom bracket and hubs with water. Water in those parts can lead to internal rust. Not good. Once you bathe your beauty of a bike, towel dry it thoroughly.

2. Lube It

If you forget to routinely lube your bike, you are setting yourself up for problems down the road.

Because under-lubricating and over-lubricating can cause your bike to stop riding smoothly, here are some tips to make sure you apply the perfect amount.

  • Use a bike-specific lubricant that’s neither too thin (it’ll dissolve too quickly) or too thick (it’ll thicken up and attract dirt and grime).
  • Squeeze a couple drops on the top and bottom of each and every chain link.
  • Slowly spin your pedals backward with one hand and hold the lube with your other for quick and easy application. 
  • Wipe away any excess lubricant with a rag. A thin coating on the chain is the way to go, unless you live in a rainy environment. 

Other areas on your bike deserve some lubrication as well. After you’ve lubed your chain, turn your attention to your bike cables. If rain or other water makes its way inside the cable housing, it’ll rust. A few drops of lube where the brake cable enters the housing should suffice. Shifting from the easiest to the hardest gear (without pedaling) will give you enough slack to tug the cables out of the housing a bit so you can apply the lube. 

Pivots on the front and rear derailleur will benefit from lubrication as well. Place a spot of lube anywhere you see movement when you shift.

Lastly, don’t forget about your pedals. You’ll want to remove your pedals and apply a couple drops of lube (or some bike-specific grease) on the threads that screw into the crank arms.

3. Inspect It

  • Check for play where the fork and headset meet. Place your right hand at this spot and use your left hand to apply the front brakes. Roll the bike forward and backward with your right hand (brakes still applied). If there’s play, loosen the stem bolts and tighten the headset. 
  • Make sure the hubs are in working order by giving your front wheel a powerful push—it should spin freely. Check for lateral play in your wheels by jiggling them from side to side.
  • Don’t forget to check your tire pressure before you hit the trail. You’ll find the suggested psi printed on the side of the tire.