From the Stable to the Streets: 10 Tune-up Tips for your Bike

Photos by Tj Turner

Cali Jirsa knows bicycles. The owner of Cherry Cycles has been working with bikes for about 15 years and has studied her craft at the United Bicycle Institute in Ashland, Oregon, and SRAM Technical University in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and earned medical education credits from the Medicine of Cycling Conference in 2017.

Jirsa is especially passionate about supporting riders in communities that have been historically underserved by cycling culture. All ethnicities, all income levels, LGBTQ+, femme, trans, non-binary, two-spirit, cis women: all are welcome at Cherry Cycles, the first and only solo woman-owned bicycle shop in Minneapolis. In addition to offering a wide array of fee-based classes, Jirsa hosts a free Queer Open Shop Night the second Wednesday of every month, as well as a free “fix a flat” class every other week during the summer. There, attendees can ask questions about their bikes and learn basic maintenance techniques in a safe environment.

As winter turns into spring and bikes are unearthed from storage, there are a few things riders should do to prepare for their return to the roads. Here, Jirsa offers 10 tips for making sure your transition back to biking goes as smoothly as possible.

1. Air your tires. If your bike was hanging up, you should be able to air the tires to the pressure listed on the side of the tire. If your bike has been resting on the ground, the tube may have gotten out of alignment. To check, let enough air out of the tire to be able to push the tire aside. If you can see a lip of tube in the space between the rim and the tire or underneath the edge of the tire, then the tube is out of alignment and can get pinched. If you’re not sure what to look for, there are multiple videos online that can help clarify this.

The sidewall of your tires should read “PSI,” which means pounds per square inch of pressure. It will give a range of pressure options—the lower number provides better traction; the maximum pressure means you won’t have to inflate your tires as frequently. If you don’t have an inflator with a gauge or are unsure if the tire pressure is accurate, you can check manually by squeezing the sides of the tire. There should be very minimal flex unless you’re aiming for a high-pressure tire of 90+ PSI, in which case there should be no flex.

Fixing a flat at Cherry Cycles // Photo by Tj Turner

2. Check your lights for brightness. This may be a good time to replace the batteries.

3. Replace your helmet if it has any cracking or if you’ve owned it more than eight to 10 years, as the foam degrades over time.

4. Oil your chain using a bike-specific product. Options such as WD-40 or vegetable oil can allow build-up of grit and debris, which can slow down the moving mechanism or strip the original oils and allow water penetration. Dry lube is good for average weather conditions; wet lube is less likely to dry out or get washed away in rainy or slushy conditions. Waxes are another good option, but they are best used on new chains. According to United Bicycle Institute, the ideal method for washing a chain is to use chain oil: it will flush out dirt without stripping away oil and ensures that the inner parts of the chain stay lubricated.

5. Wash your bike using a rag to avoid soaking areas that have grease (hubs, headset, derailleurs, bottom bracket, etc.). Some degreasers have been linked with weakening alloy components, so a spray bottle or rag with a combination of dish soap and water works best. Treat places that look rusted with a bit of chain oil to prevent them from corroding further. Small spots of rust on a frame are not usually a major problem, but it’s always a good idea to consult a professional.

6. Check that your wheels spin freely without rubbing on the brakes or the frame. Lift the bike frame and spin each wheel separately. If the wheel is rubbing, remove or loosen it, then tighten it back into place so it’s all the way back and up. If rubbing still occurs, it is a brake issue; if the tires are too close to the frame, it is an alignment issue.

Cherry Cycles // Photo by Tj Turner

7. Make sure your brakes are functioning. You don’t need to ride your bike to do this. Simply lift up your front wheel using the handlebars and then pump the brake to see if it’s engaging and releasing. Do the same by lifting the back of the saddle and spinning the wheel by hand. If your brakes are squeaking, that typically means they need replacing.

8. Look for an out-of-place shifter. Shifters often get bumped out of alignment while in storage. If your bike has numbered gears, check that the chain is in the right place according to your shifter. If your bike does not have numbered gears, try eyeballing the chain from behind to see that the rear derailleur (the shifting mechanism) is lined up with where the chain is sitting and that the chain is not going to rub on the front derailleur. Another option is to lift the back of the bike off the ground by the seat and turn the pedal a full rotation with your hand. This should shift you cleanly into a gear.

9. Adjust your bike to fit you. If you ride standard flat pedals, your seat height changes based on the shoes you are wearing. Also take into consideration that flexibility and strength change during the offseason, even if you ride on a trainer or take spin classes, and therefore your bike may not fit the way it did at the end of the season. If you already know how to adjust your bike, go for it! If not, Cherry Cycles offers half-hour, hour, and full-fit, two-and-a-half-hour sessions to make sure your saddle, shifters, brake levers, and bars are working the best for you to keep you comfortable during the transition back onto the road.

10. Consider routine maintenance. Many people spot treat or wait until a problem arises, but often “one” problem involves several other things that need tweaking or fixing. If you’re not confident doing a complete bike assessment, most bike shops offer free estimates. It is recommended to get a tune-up or overhaul once a year. A tune-up includes a full assessment as well as dialing in all of your bike’s components. An overhaul includes fresh grease and ensuring that the inner workings of your bike’s components will continue to do their job and prevent untimely breakdowns.