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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Basic bike tune-up brings clunker to life

I’m glad there are no potholes in Spokane, because springtime is here again and it’s time to break out my bike and go for a ride.

I have a cool old white Schwinn with chrome forks sitting in my storage unit. It looks like something a stormtrooper would ride, were the Emperor inclined to make 1980s road bikes standard-issue equipment.

(Did you ever hear the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise? He could fix other people’s bicycles, but not his own. It’s not a story your local bike shop would tell you.)

This bike is nearly road ready, but needs a good spring tune-up. The tires look OK but are flat. The chain looks good, but drier than a popcorn fart and needs lubing. Need to double check the brakes and the shifty things (derailleurs? Why, France, why?).

Fortunately, these are all DIY fixes and one of our editorial assistants, Erik Solberg – our resident bike Jedi – walked me through the process, which will be useful to other bikers preparing for the cycling season.

First, he says, pump up your tires about halfway and check them again in about 20 minutes, or whenever you’ve finished with everything else on the list, to see if they’ve lost pressure. It would be a shame to spend all that time finessing everything only to find that the dumb wheels need to come off.

Try to run your bike through all of the gears and squeeze the front and rear brakes to see if anything needs adjusting. We discovered that one of those bike racks that hang off the back of a car works great as a bike stand. A less efficient option would be putting your gym dollars to work and picking it up with one hand, making adjustments with the other.

If your derailleurs need tweaking, there should be two tiny limit screws that set the bounds of how far your chain goes up and down on the gear set. Erik recommends tiny, incremental adjustments to the screws, shifting up and back after each turn. Adjust it too loose, and your chain can fall off or make that obnoxious click-click-click sound. Adjust it too tight and you won’t be able to get to your smallest or largest gear.

When adjusting your brakes, make sure your wheels are set solidly and centered on the bike, eyeballing the distance from the rim to the bike frame as it spins, making adjustments to the alignment as necessary. Twisting the little nubby thing (the barrel adjuster) where the brake cable meets the brakes will move the pads closer or farther away from the wheel. The brake pads should connect firmly to the rim when engaged and not be rubbing on the rim at all when released. Make sure the brake calipers themselves are snug and not too wiggly.

Lubing your chain is a simple matter of applying chain lube as you spin the chain around and wiping off the excess when you’re done.

Double check tire your tires. If you haven’t lost any pressure, inflate to the manufacturer’s lawyers’ recommended air pressure, conveniently written on the side of the tire. If you have lost pressure, you’ll probably need to head to a bike shop for a patch kit or a $7 innertube.

My tube was still good, so Erik didn’t get to show me how to replace that, but I hear it’s easy enough to figure out with the help of our good friend YouTube.

Finally, wipe everything down with a rag or toothbrush soaked in rubbing alcohol to remove accumulated grease and grime. Don’t use a high pressure washer on any of the greasy bits, as this could damage the bike’s grease-packed bearings and other internals.

Now your stormtrooper bicycle is ready to hit the pristine roads of Spokane!

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