How To Tune up a Bike

Table of Contents

Knowing how to tune up a bike is crucial if you’ve taken your bike from storage or put in serious mileage in the past months.

It’s time to do a basic checkup!

You’ll need to go through your tires, chains, brakes, gears and derailleurs, as well as the headset and seat post.

Tuning-up on your own requires developing a couple of skills that will come in handy whenever something breaks on the road.

What Does a Bicycle Tune-up Consist of?

 

The definition of a tune-up does vary depending on who does it. If you take your bike to a shop, remember to ask to make sure you’ve got everything covered.

A normal bike tune-up consists of checking that everything is working correctly. This means inspecting your bike completely to see what’s worn out and what needs adjusting or replacing.

How Do I Tune-Up My Bike at Home?

 

If you already know something needs replacing, remove it from your bike. This way, you won’t waste time scrubbing down a dirty bike chain you’re going to change for a new one.

To tune up your bike at home, begin with a thorough cleanup with soap and water.

You’ll also need to inspect, adjust and possibly fix or replace these bike parts:

  • Chains.
  • Tires.
  • Wheels.
  • Brakes.
  • Gears and derailleurs.
  • Headset and seatpost.

Chains

Bike chains, like many other bike parts, wear out after a couple of thousand miles and will eventually need to be replaced.

You’ll notice the wear as stretching, when the holes in the chain links grow bigger and the chain longer. This will end up affecting your pedaling, making you work harder.

You can sometimes see if your bike chain is stretched by sight alone. A loose chain can hang slightly instead of being taut. If you can’t see the problem, test the chain with your hand. It shouldn’t move more than about half an inch in any direction when you stretch it.

You can fix a loose chain by moving the rear wheel back on a single-speed bike, or adjusting the B-tension screw if your bike has a derailleur. If that doesn’t work, you’ll need to remove and replace the chain. Be sure to check out our guide for more help on this task.

Also, remember to oil your chain after maintenance to help it run smoothly.

Tires

If you suspect you have a flat, try to find the puncture by sight or test it.

  1. Go around the tire, spraying some water with dish soap on it.
  2. Then, gently press it, and see if bubbles form on the surface.
  3. You can also submerge the inflated tire in water completely to see if air comes out.

You can either replace the tire or patch it with a repair kit. Remember that, depending on the condition, you may also need to replace the tire’s inner tube.

If there aren’t any punctures, go through the tire on both sides and check the treads. They should be evenly worn and without cracks.

Wheels

Go around the spokes with your fingers, looking for any loose connections. If you notice one that’s loose or you notice the bike veering to either side when riding, you might need to true your bike wheels.

You’ll need a spoke wrench for this job, which is a small tool that’s sold separately or in many multi-tools for bikes.

The spokes need to be balanced to keep the bike straight and support your weight. Truing a bike wheel means adjusting the spokes’ tension to be equally tight all around the wheel.

Doing this takes practice, measured movements and patience, but you can do it all at home. Just find the loose spokes, tighten them and make sure the tension is equal on both sides of the wheel.

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Brakes

Your brakes will wear out now and then, but they’re one of the most important parts of the bike for safety.

Brake safety comes down to two things: the cable and the pads.

How To Adjust Brake Cables

  1. First, press the brake to see how much room there is between the handlebar and the brake handle. If the handle is loose and the distance is less than about two fingers’ width, the cable is likely too loose. If the handle is tight and you can hardly press it, loosen the cable.
  2. Find the barrel adjuster at the brake handle and turn it to tighten the cable.
  3. Test the brake again. If it’s still not tight enough, move on to the caliper, which is where the brake attaches to the tire.
  4. Use an Allen wrench to loosen up the bolt that holds the cable on the caliper, but be careful not to unscrew it all the way.
  5. Pull the cable to tighten the brake until the pads are barely touching the tire.
  6. Then, tighten the caliper’s bolt.
  7. Move back to the brake handle and tighten the barrel adjuster. This will separate the brake pads from the tire and create the correct tension to the cable.

If these adjustments don’t work, or you notice the cables loosening again after a short while, they might need replacing. Many cyclists change their cables in every tune-up to be on the safe side.

Another issue you may have is that the brake pads are worn. Check your brakes and see if you find a line or ridge on the pads’ sides, which is an indication that they need changing.

For more advice on brakes and instructions for adjusting disc brakes, refer to our guide on how to tighten your brakes.

Gears and Derailleurs

If your gears haven’t been shifting correctly, you might need to give them a couple of adjustments.

You’ll need a couple of different screwdrivers for this, either a flat head or a Phillips head screwdriver, and an Allen wrench.

These are the gear parts that might need some adjusting:

  • Cable: Check the cable isn’t loose at the barrel adjuster.
  • Limit screws: Use the limit screws to align the derailleur to the sprockets.
  • Clutch: The derailleur clutch adds tension to the cable.
  • B-screw: Adjusting the B-screw lowers the derailleur’s lower cog and increases chain tension.
  • Hanger: Make sure the derailleur hanger isn’t bent, and replace if necessary.
  • Pivot points: Add some oil to the derailleur’s pivot points when you’ve finished.

Need more help with your gears? Check out our guide on how to adjust bicycle gears.

Headset, Seatpost and Frame

The headset and seat will also need some love, so don’t forget to include them in your tune-up.

  1. Take out the handlebars and seat, and inspect and clean all parts.
  2. Check the tubes for wear or bending, especially if they’re from a light material, like aluminum, which weakens with use.
  3. Grease all parts in the headset and seatpost before you put them back in their place.

Finishing Touches

You’re done with your tune-up!

Just go around the bike to make sure all the bolts, screws and cables are tight and that your bike doesn’t make any noise.

Frequently Asked Questions

 

How Do You Know If Your Bike Needs a Tune-Up?

Whenever you notice that something isn’t working like it should on your bike, you should do a full checkup. If your brakes make noise or don’t work well, or your gears don’t shift, it’s time for a tune-up. Your bike chains might also be worn, and you’ll notice you’re using more strength when pedaling.

How Often Should You Tune-Up Your Bike?

How often you should tune up your bike depends on how much you use it, but a good rule of thumb for occasional cyclists is once or twice a year. If you haven’t used your bike in a while, do some basic tune-up and maintenance. If you ride every day, we recommend doing a tune-up every couple of months.

What Does It Cost To Tune-up a Bicycle?

A basic tune-up will likely cost you around $50 and $75, depending on the services included. If you need to replace parts, you’ll have to pay extra. It’s definitely a money-saver to learn how to tune up a bike on your own if you cycle a lot.

Is It OK To Use WD40 on Bike Chain?

No, you should never use WD40 as a lubricant on your bike chain. Contrary to what people believe, it’s not a lubricant but is a rust dissolver. It will strip the lubrication your chain already has.

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Ready for Your Tune-Up?

 

Putting in the time to learn how to tune up a bike will keep your ride in good condition for longer.

You can perform most of these checkups with a couple of basic tools, but if you decide to make the repairs as well, you’ll need some specialized equipment.

A basic bike tool kit with wrenches, screwdrivers, pliers and a chain tool will save you money in the long run.

Remember to give your bike a full tune-up at least once or twice a year and whenever you feel something isn’t working correctly. If something’s amiss, it can affect other parts of your bike.

 

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