How to tune your bike

May is National Bike Month and although there are plenty of ways to enjoy the great outdoors in Southeast. Biking the popular trails of the Tongass National Forest and other prime locations is one the easiest and more fun. But every cyclist knows that keeping your bike in top condition is vital to ensuring a safe, smooth adventure on two wheels. Taking the time to inspect and tune your bike at least once a month before riding will increase the longevity of your equipment and will protect you from injuries caused by bike malfunction. Below are some helpful tips on what to look out for when tuning up your bike.

Young bearded man tuning up his bike in a workshop.

Keep your bike clean

One of the easiest ways to keep your bike in good working order is by cleaning all the grit and dirt that collects from riding. Rather than using soap and water, because over time this can cause your parts to rust, find a reliable biodegradable cleaner like Simple Green or a degreaser like WD40 to clean all your bike’s important mechanical parts.  This includes your bike frame, chain, chainrings, derailleur gears and cassette. Be as thorough as possible by going over each gear and sprocket with an old toothbrush to make sure you are removing every bit of grime. If you have never disassembled your bike before, there are plenty of videos online that will show you how to safely do it so you can clean every nook and cranny. Once reassembled, be sure to apply bike grease to your cleaned parts to prevent long-term wear and rust.

Check your wheels

Making sure your bike wheels are straight and aligned will keep your bike stable and dependable. Damaged or warped wheels will cause uneven wear on your tires and brake pads, which will eventually cause your tire to go flat or burst, which can be very dangerous if it happens when careening down a mountain trail. Inspect if your wheels are dented or damaged in any way and replace immediately. If your wheel is spinning wobbly but is in good condition, you can take a spoke wrench and adjust the tension of your wheels. Be sure to do your research on how to adjust your spokes; otherwise, you might do more harm than good.

Check your tires

Tires are the main bike component that keeps you riding smoothly on the road so always check your tires before every ride. Look for splits, cracks, or tears and if you see any replace immediately. Tires are relatively inexpensive compared to other bike parts, so there is no need to risk riding on a damaged tire. Be sure to inspect the sidewalls of your tires and make sure your casings are in good condition because they often go out before the tire and tread do. Always make it a habit to check your tire pressure before every ride. Look at the printed numbers on the side of the tire and use a pressure gauge to measure whether your tire pressure matches. Let out the air or fill up as necessary.

Test your brakes

Especially during the rainy spring months in Southeast, being able to stop or slow your bike is crucial to safe cycling. Before you go out for a full ride, test your brakes by slowly cruising and pulling the brake levers back. If they touch your handlebar before you come to a complete stop, that is a sign your brake pads are either worn down or your brake cables are too stretched. Look at the indicator lines of your pads. If the pad is worn past that line, take them to a shop to get them safely replaced and calibrated. If your pads look fine, take an Allen wrench to loosen your brake cable’s pinch bolt and pull your brake cable tighter, but not too much. If you spin your tire and the brake pad is rubbing, then you made the cable too tight. Here is a good video showing this process.

Keeping your bike tuned and in top condition means you can enjoy your bike riding adventures with more peace of mind and less risk of injury. Check with your local bike shop for more bike maintenance tips specific to your riding environment. Stay tuned for more bike-riding knowledge from SEARHC throughout National Bike Month!

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