Got a squeaky wheel? Time for a bike tune-up

Published April 4, 2014 3:38 pm

Make sure your ride's in good condition after waking from its winter hibernation.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

You know the drill, the first warm day of spring arrives and you eagerly rescue your bike from the depths of the basement or the corner of the garage where it has spent the long, cold winter. You hop on and instead of being greeted with the wind in your face, you are greeted with a cacophony of noise as the bike squeaks, rattles and rolls — not always in a straight line — down the road.

Suddenly you remember the worn brakes, the loose spoke and that annoying squeak that your bike developed at the end of the season. Time to get that tuneup you've been putting off all winter.

But what, exactly, should that tuneup entail and are such maintenance expenses necessary? Will a tuneup really help you avoid some catastrophic event on the trail or would the money be better spent on a post-ride latte as you celebrate yet another ride without incident?

Skip the latte and get the tuneup, most bike experts say. Otherwise you could be pedaling on borrowed time.

"It's like letting your car go without doing proper maintenance," said Preston Jacobsen, one of the mechanics at Guthrie's bike shop. "If you do that, chances are it's going to break down at some point."

As bikes have gotten more high-tech, with hydraulic brakes and better gearing systems, tuneups by professionals might be the best way to go if you don't have the savviness or desire to do it yourself. Any novice who has tried to adjust their spokes and ended up with a weeble wobble of a bike will tell you it sometimes isn't worth the hassle.

The good news is most people don't have to fork over a ton of money for a tuneup. Spending as little as $50 a year for a bike you ride occasionally is normally sufficient.

For the more avid riders, "pro" tuneups might be more appropriate and can cost upwards of $100.

The difference between the two varies from bike shop to bike shop, but most follow the same principles.

Basic tuneups are a good once-over in which mechanics check the tires, brakes, cables, et cetera, and make any adjustments or oil any necessary parts. The pro tuneups are more detailed, and often include new cables, brakes, a check of the bearings and lube.

By the time one is done, a pro tuneup can be upward of $200, depending on what is needed. Of course, anyone considering anything with the word "pro" probably won't blink at such an expense for a smooth ride.

"Most people who are riding four or five times a week know when their bike needs something like that," said Mo Burki, an employee of Wild Rose bike shop. "The main thing is noticing if anything is wrong and then getting it fixed. If it isn't broke, you don't necessarily have to pre-fix it."

Burki recommends giving your bike a once-over, looking for any wear or issues that can be pointed out to a mechanic when you take it in.

"You want to make sure it's shifting smoothly or not pulling," he said.

Johnny Barlow, known as "The Bike Guy," said people need to check their shocks as well, something that often goes overlooked.

"A lot of people don't know how to do it or the shop the bike came from didn't show them and they ride it without pumping up the suspension," he said. "That is a sure way to destroy the suspension."

The good news is having a bike sit over winter won't hurt it. The most important thing is storing it in a dry place, such as a garage or basement, where it is protected from the elements. If you do decide to brave the elements and ride in the winter, make sure you clean it well when you are finished. Ride more than a few times and go ahead and plan for a major overhaul when the weather warms up, Jacobsen said.

"The worst conditions you could ever put your bike in are riding in Salt Lake in the winter," Jacobsen said. "You just have to know that everything is going to try and rust on you. New housing and cables — all that stuff is almost mandatory if you ride in the winter."

If you think your bike is in need of some love, get it into the shop soon. The longer you wait, the longer you might have to wait to get your bike back.

"It's starting to get really busy," Barlow said.


5 things to check for spring

Clean it • Ideally you cleaned your bike before you put it away for winter, meaning a spring clean is simply a wipe down to make sure the chain is clean and the moving parts don't have any residual grit. Pay particular attention to the wheel rims, removing any accumulated dirt or grit. You can use a cleaner made specifically for bikes or another such as Simple Green.

Check the tires • Check the tires for splits, cracks or wear, in addition to the air pressure. A quick inspection now could save you a long walk later if a problem is found.

Check the brakes • Grit, mud, brake-happy riders — they all account for a lot of wear and tear on the brake pads. If your brakes feel "soft," get them checked out.

Watch the wheels track • Wobbly tires are a sign spokes need to be adjusted or the rim could be bent. A quick spin of the tire while you hold the bike in the air is an easy way to see if the wheel is true.

Add a little lube • Adding a little oil to the chain, cable wires, derailleur, et cetera, can make for a much smoother ride and eliminate some of those pesky squeaks. Make sure you buy an appropriate oil for the kind of riding you do so as to avoid gunking up your chain.



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