Now that it's finally starting to feel like spring, it's time to dust off that bike you've had stored away all winter. Before you head out for your first bike commute, give it a bath and a good spring tune-up.
Ride with damaged tires or worn brake pads, and you increase your risk of a crash. That's not the way to start your spring riding season.
Here are 5 things to check to get your bike in working order.
1. Check your tires.
Look at your tires' tread and sidewalls. Do you see cracks along the sidewall or lots of cuts in the tread? If so, it's time to replace. When inflated, do the tires look more square than round? If so, they could be past their prime.
If you have the cash, go ahead and replace both the front and rear tires. If budget is an issue, put a new tire on the front and move the old front tire to the rear (provided it's in good condition). Why? "You want the best quality tire in front because if the front tire fails, you're likely to fall face-forward," says Chris Blease, manager of Cycle Sports Oakland.
2. Check your brake pads.
Worn brake pads don't do their job as well as they should, especially in wet weather. Most standard rim brake pads have a wear indicator, or grooves, in the pad. If they're worn beyond that line, replace.
Most rim brake pads slide easily in and out, making replacement a relatively easy DIY job. Once you replace the brake pads, you may have to adjust the cable tension so the pads sit as close to the rim as possible without touching it. On most bikes, you can do this by turning a barrel adjuster found on either the brake caliper or by the handlebars.
3. Clean your chain.
A winter of inactivity won't damage your chain, but you will need to lubricate it. A lubed chain runs smooth and quiet. A dirty and/or poorly lubed chain is prone to rust.
Before you add lube, give your chain a good cleaning. You can pick up a handy chain cleaner at your local bike shop, which makes the job much less grimy. Or, use a rag, some citrus degreaser and go town. Clean the cassette and chain rings while you're at it. When you're done, wipe it off and add several drops of a light oil. You can find TriFlow at your local hardware store or a more bike-specific brand at a bike shop.
4. Check the shifting.
When you pull your trusty bike out of the garage, run through the gears to make sure it shifts smoothly. Ride it around the block, testing all the gears, for the same reason. If gears slip, you may need to adjust the derailleur or replace the chain. Unless you're a savvy bike mechanic, it's best to leave the derailleur adjustment and chain replacement to the bike shop. Both are inexpensive fixes.
"If a bike was in good condition when it was parked, and if it was stored well, it won't un-adjust itself," says Blease. "However, the shifting could feel a little sluggish from inactivity."
5. Give it a bath.
Don't ride to work on a dusty bike with cobwebs flying behind you. Besides looking bad, dirt in the cassette, chain rings and cables can cause on-the-road breakdowns.
Cyclists use all sorts of products to clean their bikes: Dawn dish detergent, household cleaners, and bike-specific cleaners. Whatever you choose, make sure you thoroughly dry the frame and components to prevent rust. After it's dry, wipe the frame with Pledge to give it a nice shine and to repel dirt.
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Photo courtesy of Colin Stevens, Flickr