What Does a Bicycle Tune-Up Consist Of?

What does a bicycle tune up consist of?

If your bike that has been lying in the garage for a while and you want to start riding again, or you’ve been using it and it needs a service of sorts, you have to make sure that what you do is right to keep the bike in good shape.

A bike tune-up may  be just what’s needed. And while a bike mechanic may possibly be best placed to do this for you, a bicycle tune-up is a procedure that you can actually do yourself with the right guidance.

So what does a bicycle tune-up consist of?

A Bike tune-up consists of:

  • Cleaning any dirt, oil and old grease off the bicycle.
  • The gears and derailleurs are checked for damage and alignment
  • The drivechain is checked for stretching or kinking
  • Brakes are inspected for wear and grip
  • The tires are checked for wear, cracks or swellings
  • All and any tension adjustments needed are made to the various cables 
  • The wheel and frame alignments are checked
  • The wheel spokes (if any) are checked and tightened if needed
  • Headstocks and seating poles must be checked for unwanted movement
  • Every nut and bolt must be tightened to ensure that the bike is stable while riding.
  • Appropriate oils and greases are applied to moving parts where required

A bicycle tune-up basically means getting your bike into the perfect shape for you to use. And while the level of tune could range from a basic tune to a complete overhaul.

The right type of tune-up for your bike will depend on the state it is currently in, the extent to which different components are worn, and how you are planning to use the bike.

Cleaning the Bike

Before you start the tuning up procedure, you want to make sure that your bicycle is clean. This will ensure that you get a better look at the bicycle during inspection.

Besides, cleaning the bike helps to prolong the life of its components. You want to use any basic biodegradable cleaner, an old toothbrush, and a dry towel to help you with the cleaning.

Dip the towel in water and wipe down the entire length of the bike; for more stubborn stains, use the toothbrush to scrub off the dirt smudge.

Try to use as little water as possible and make sure all the components from the seat, brakes, pedals, derailleurs, frame, drivetrain, chainrings, etc are dirt-free. Remember to remove the seat post and apply a little grease before reattaching it back to the frame.

The chain and other crucial parts of the drivetrain should also be treated with a quality lubricant after drying.

Tools required

To carry out a comprehensive and successful bicycle tune-up, you need to have the right tools for the job. Make sure you have the following tools before you start:

  • Mini-pump
  • Screwdrivers
  • Tire levers
  • Pliers
  • Chain tool
  • Wrenches
  • Bike stand
  • Chain whip
  • Grease
  • Multi-tool

Check the Cables

Cables are made using tightly coiled metal wires inside a plastic housing. They connect brakes and gear shifters on the handlebars to the derailleur and brake pads.

Those connected to the brakes help to stop the bike whereas those connected to shifters aid in moving the chain between gears via the derailleur.

You want to examine the cable and its rubber coating for any crimps, cracks, rust, and looseness. Replace any worn out cables with new ones. If the brake cables are loose, adjust them to the right length and tighten them as required.

If you don’t have special tools, you can ask a friend for assistance so that one person holds the calipers in place as the other one tightens the cable with a small wrench.

Once you are sure the cables are tight, squeeze the lever to check for play in the line. A brand new cable is likely to stretch a bit and may require some readjustment.

Check the Wheels

The wheels on your bike should spin freely with no signs of wobbling and there should be no contact with the brake pads as they spin.

Most wheels have quick release levers situated at the hub that makes for easy wheel removal. If there is sideways play of the wheel you will have to adjust the external tension on the wheel bearings.

Run your fingers across the bike spokes to check for any loose, broken, or missing spokes. Replace the broken spokes with new ones and tighten the loose ones so that the rims are straight.

Don’t forget to inspect the tires for cracks, tears, or flat spots, replace them if worn. If the pressure is not right, use your bike pump to get the tires to the correct pressure.

Check the Gears and Brakes

Gears and brakes are an important part of the tune-up. You need to spend time coaxing the gears into a smooth adjustment. Make sure the chain is moving smoothly up and down the gears.

Make sure also that the brake pads are aligned so that there is no squeaking from contact with the rims. If the pads are worn out I suggest you have them replaced.

Adjust the tension of your brake cables and the position of the brake arms so that both the brakes stop the wheels firmly. If the brakes are making a grinding noise after alignment, you may need to sand them down to the right size.

The noise is an indicator that the pads are either hitting the rim too high or too low. Sanding them down ensures they hit the right point. You can use fine sandpaper or steel wool to do this.

Inspect, Clean and Lubricate the Drivechain

If you use your bike a lot or have cheap components, you might find out that some components on the drivetrain particularly need to be constantly replaced. For instance, no amount of lubrication can restore the functionality of a worn out chain.

In fact, a worn out chain leads to excessive wear on the rear derailleur cassette, gears and sometimes the front chainrings. The drivetrain plays an important role in the transference of power generated by the rider to the rear wheel. (We have an article here that looks at and compares Shimano and KMC chains)

If you have one place your bike on a stand for this part of the tune-up. Raise the back wheel and spin as you shift through gears to make sure the shift is smooth and easy.

Inspect the drivechain for any damage; dents, scrapes, dirt, or excessive wear. Clean any smudge on the drivechain and lubricate with grease to eliminate any friction during movement.

Apply the lubricant evenly on the chain while slowly rotating the pedals in an anticlockwise direction.

Don’t forget to lubricate the pivot point on the brake levers, derailleur, and any exposed cables. Wipe off any excess oil that you are using as a lubricant. Remember that smaller chainrings wear out sooner than larger ones and chains are the most constantly replaced parts of the drivetrain.

Please use recommended oils, greases and other lubricants where necessary.

NB: If the shifting of the gears is not smooth, it may be better to take the bicycle to a repair shop for adjustments to the derailleur.

Tighten Everything Up

Make sure that all the nuts and bolts that are holding your bike together are properly tightened.

Even a correctly tensioned bolt may loosen itself over time. Use your torque wrench if necessary, to confirm that every bolt on the bike is okay; pay close attention to the stem bolts. Consider also the bolts on the seat post, handlebars, pedals, etc.

Please take caution not to overtighten the bolts as this may end up ruining the threads on the bike.

It may be a worthwhile investment buying a torque wrench as it eliminates any guesswork during tuning.