Tips to tune up bicycle
Tips to tune up bicycle

The safety check determines whether the bike’s bearing services – like the cones, wheels, headset or bottom bracket – are loose. Perform these monthly maintenance checks to ensure safety when riding. The solutions for any problems detected are explained in detail.

The following parts of your bike need readjustments when:

The front cones are loose. Feel for this by grabbing the rim of the front tire; if there is flex in the cones, they need readjusting.
The brakes are wide. Look at the front and back brakes to determine this: If there is a large space between the brake shoes and the rim, the brakes need adjusting.
The headset is loose. Grab the front forks and the down tooth. Do you feel flex in this area? If so, the headset needs adjusting.
There is flex in the bottom bracket. Grab a crank arm in each hand. If you feel flex in the bottom bracket, it needs readjusting.
The back cones are loose. Do the same thing as you did for the front cones – grab the rim of the back tire and feel if there is flex in the cones.
The spokes are loose. If there is a lot of play here, the spokes need adjusting.

Did you find anything loose on your bike when performing this safety check? If so, read on to find out how to repair these problems.

Tune up your bicycle: Tools

Tools to repair bicycle
Tools to repair bicycle

Tuning your bike enhances the performance of your ride. If you don’t tune-up your bike, the probability of a breakdown and riding difficulty increases. To tune up your bike, you need the right tools. This list includes all the tools for fixing the brake pads to the handlebar. You can find these tools at your local hardware store or bike shop.

Allen wrenches – Commonly available in sizes 4, 5, and 6, these wrenches are used to turn screws with hexagonal sockets.

Cable cutters – Used for cutting the brakes or derailleur cables.

Chain break tool – Employ this tool to remove, fix and replace the bike chain.

Cone wrenches – This instrument adjusts cones located on the inside of the wheels.

Crank puller – Used to pull the crank arms off of the bike.

Diagonal cutters – These are used for cutting cables and the cable housing.

Fourth hand – This tool can be utilized to hold a cable taut when fixing the brakes or derailleurs.

Hammer – Use the hammer to break pieces loose that have rusted or stuck together. Use it lightly.

Lubricants – Spray or spread lubricants – such as grease – on areas that are rusted or stiff, including brakes, derailleurs, bearings, and cables. A dry rag comes in handy for cleaning and spreading lubricants.

Metric wrenches – Wrenches typically come in sizes 8, 9, 10, 12, and 13. Bikes that have nutted rear wheels will also use the number 15 wrench.

Patch kit – Used for fixing flat tires. The kit includes glue, a rubber buffer, patches, and instructions.

Phillips head screwdriver – This basic tool comes in handy for the derailleur system. The straight, flat screwdriver can be used as well.

Spoke wrench – Composed of a number of different notches for the different size spoke nipples, this tool is used for adjusting the spokes and truing the wheel.

Third hand – Use this tool to adjust the brakes.

Tire irons – When changing flat ties, it removes the tire from the rim.

How to tune up your bicycle chain?

Tune up bicycle chain
Tune up bicycle chain

Whether or not you found anything loose on your bike from the safety check, performing a regular tune-up freshens your bike’s parts and helps prevent emergency trips to the bike repair shop. These lessons take you in logical order around the bike’s frame when making adjustments, beginning with the bicycle chain.

Whichever part you may be tuning – the bicycle chain or the brakes – you’ll need to set the bike on some kind of stand. Purchase a stand that holds the bike up and prevents the front wheel from moving around. A homemade stand is also an option for cost-conscious bikers. It is made from two ropes: one is wrapped around the rear saddle of the bike and harnessed around a beam in your garage, and the other is wrapped around the handlebars of the bike and secured to the same garage beam. A bike on a homemade stand tends to move around more than one purchased at a bike shop but can save you a large chunk of money with it.

Commence the tune-up by removing and cleaning the bicycle chain. The chain must be removed to work on some of the other parts of the bike efficiently. Use the chain break tool to remove the chain from your bike. Place the nozzle of the tool around a link on the chain – it doesn’t matter which link. Secure the tool in place, and begin screwing the pin into the link. If the chain resists, continue screwing. The chain should loosen up after a few turns. Keep screwing the pin into the chain until it completely jabs through the link. Then unscrew the tool so the pin remains in the link.

With the pin intact, pull outward on both sides of the chain until the link breaks apart. Remove the chain from the bike derailleur and sprockets in one long piece. Then soak the chain in a container filled with gasoline, kerosene or paint thinner until the solvent eliminates the excess dirt on the chain. If dirt remains, use an old toothbrush to wipe the rest away. Hang the bicycle chain up to dry.



How to tune up bicycle wheels?

Tune up bicycle wheel
Tune-up bicycle wheel

After removing the chain, work on one wheel of your bike at a time – front wheel first. If your bike has a quick-release feature, first release the quick release brake and then the wheel lever. The wheel pops off the frame into your hand. For bikes with axle nuts, loosen them by hand or with a screwdriver and the wheel comes off easily. Then begin this part of the bike tune-up.

Turn the wheel over so the rubber is facing your hips. Stabilize the wheel against something else so it doesn’t wiggle around as you work. If you noticed that the cones were loose from the safety check you performed, this is the time to tighten them. Use the cone wrenches for this purpose.

The wrenches are different sizes, made to fit around two areas on the cones: one to fit around the cone closest to the bearing surface and the other to fit around the locknut farther above the spokes. Experiment to determine which wrench fits with its counterpart. When the wrenches are in place, one should be on top of the other. Loosen the cones by turning the wrenches away from each other (in opposite directions) about a half of a turn. Keep the bottom wrench in place, and remove the top wrench.

Turn the wheel so it is perpendicular to the ground, and stabilize the bearing with the wrench so you can tighten both the inner and the outer cones. Turn the wheel so it is parallel to the floor again. The bottom wrench should still be holding the cone. Replace the top cone wrench on the locknut, and turn the wrenches toward each other back to their starting position – one directly above the other.

Remove the wrenches, and wiggle the cones and bearing to check your work for tightness. If there is play or the wheel is too tight, repeat the above steps as needed. It usually takes about three or four times to properly adjust the wheel.

Put the wheel back into place on the bike. Slide and center the wheel between the fork blades. Reset the quick releases, and spin the wheel to make sure the brake shoes are still lined up correctly. Then repeat these steps for the other wheel.

How to tune up bicycle breaks?

Tune up bicycle breaks
Tune-up bicycle breaks

The brakes are located on both the front and rear of the bike. Work through these directions for invigorating rusty or squeaky brakes. These exercises detail work on the top brake, but the same procedures should be performed for the back brake as well. You’ll need a basic wrench, grease, third-hand tool, fourth-hand tool, and crescent wrench for tuning the brakes.

Grab a wrench and loosen the anchor nut from the cable housing. This nut is made with a hole through which the cable is clamped. Pull the cable housing out and remove the cable. Grease it with your fingers and then feed it back into the cable housing. Make sure it locks through the hole in the anchor nut.

Use your third hand to clamp the brake shut; if you are missing this tool, tighten the anchor nut on the cable house with your fingers. With the third hand clamped around the brakes, use your fourth hand tool to steady the cable downward while tightening the cable with a wrench. Remove the third and fourth hands.

Next, squeeze the brakes on your headset to stretch the cable and make sure that it is properly attached.

Check the brake pads, also called brake shoes. They should be centered inside the rim of the wheels. If the pads are not aligned properly, you’ll need to true the wheel. They should also be toed-in, which means that the trailing (front) edge of the brake pads are rotated slightly inward so they will touch the bike’s rim before the back edge. Squeaking of the brakes is usually heard when the brake pads are not toed-in. To fix this, readjust the brake pads with a crescent wrench. Grab one side of the brake pad, and gently bend the shoe toward the rim of the bike so the front end is slightly turned inward. Do the same with the other brake pad, check for quality work and go on to the next step, which is truing the wheels.

How to truing bicycle wheels?

Truing the bicycle wheel is probably the most tedious and frustrating tuning job. It realigns the front or back rim of the bike so that it doesn’t rub on one brake pad or another, which can prevent the wheel from turning. The process involves tightening each spoke on the wheel with a spoke wrench. 

First, determine which side of the wheel the brake pad is touching. Spin the tire and observe which side of the rim is either closest to or touching the brake pad.

Use your spoke wrench to either tighten or loosen the spokes. Tightening the spokes on one side forces the rim to move in the same direction. Adversely, loosening one side of the spokes moves the rim in the opposite direction. For instance, if you tighten the spokes located on the left-hand side of the wheel, the rim will rotate to the left as well. Loosening the left spokes will inversely turn the rim to the right. Make sure the spoke wrench fits snugly around each spoke; space between the two could strip the spoke nickels.

Like tuning the strings on an instrument, truing requires a great deal of observation and patience before the process can be completed successfully. As you tighten or loosen each spoke, pay close attention to the rim of the wheel to ensure that it’s moving in the anticipated direction from the brake pad. If the wheel is excessively out of alignment and the spokes are all loose, putting too much pressure on the spokes will amplify your problem. Therefore, only lightly tighten each spoke and work around the wheel as many times as needed to properly align the center of the brake pad inside the rim of the wheel.

How to tune up the derailleur system?

Tune up derailleur system
Tune-up derailleur system


Without the derailleurs, you’d be sweating a lot more on your bike. The derailleur system controls gear shifting. The principles for adjusting the front and rear derailleurs are the same. However, the limit screws vary on each bike and on each gear. In this demonstration, the front derailleur has one limit screw and the back has two.  

First, put the chain back on the bike. Remember, the chain still contains the pin in one of the links; you want the pin to face you. Bring the chain around the pulleys, up through the back wheel, through the rear and front derailleurs, and snap the chain together. Use the chain break tool to screw the pinout of the links. If the links that held the pin are stiff, bend the chain on both sides until you feel them give. Finally, loop the chain through the smallest chain wheel on the front.

Check the derailleurs by fastening the chain to the small chainring in the front and on the larger sprocket in the rear. The derailleur cage should be centered between the bike’s frame and the sprocket.

Next, turn the pedals on the bike so the chain works through the derailleur. If the chain rubs against the cage, you can make adjustments by loosening or tightening the screw located above it while pedaling and changing gears. Shift through all gears and adjust the derailleur for each sprocket. It doesn’t take a lot of turns of the screw to keep the chain from rubbing against the cage.

Make all adjustments to the derailleurs before riding the bike. What may seem to be a small adjustment – such as if the derailleur pauses between downshifts – could viably throw you off the bike. If you are riding your bike when a problem occurs, try greasing the chain and/or pedaling backward to loosen up any rigid links.

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