Here are ways to keep each of the vital parts of your bike in shape for spring cycling:
Make sure they are properly in contact with the rim when the brakes are engaged. Pads should not hang under the rim or contact the tires. Check for wear on the brake pads.
Scour the rim of your wheel with a mildly abrasive pad or fine steel wool to remove brake pad residue.
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With hydraulic disc brakes, make sure there isn't brake fluid leaking anywhere in the brake lines and ensure the rotors are not excessively rubbing against the pads. Make sure there's no give when the brake levers are squeezed and the brakes stop your bike quickly and smoothly as you squeeze the brakes.
Head to the bike shop if ... your brake pads are worn and need to be replaced. Take your bike to a mechanic if brakes are rubbing, squealing, squeaking or not providing adequate stopping power.
Check the air pressure and inflate them within the recommended range listed on the sides.
Higher pressure means less rolling resistance and reduces the likelihood of pinch flats. It also means less traction and a harsher ride.
Lower tire pressure results in a softer ride and more traction, but it requires more pedaling effort because of the increased rolling resistance.
Varying the air pressure is one of the simplest ways to fine-tune your bike. Experiment with it on different terrains to see what best suits your riding style.
Add Slime to avoid small punctures.
Head to the bike shop if ... there are signs of excessive tread wear or cracked, split or frayed sidewalls.
Your bike probably has been sitting idle for months, and if you want it ready to ride when the weather turns, take some time to get it in top shape by making necessary adjustments and repairs.
When you have the chain off, clean your derailleur with a solvent or hot, soapy water to dislodge all the gunk.
Ride the bike to make sure it is shifting properly. Go through the entire range of gears and listen for grinding or rubbing. The bike should shift quickly and not skip gears or change gears by itself.
You can make minor adjustments with the barrel adjusters on your shifters, but do so very gradually, like a quarter- or half-turn at a time.
Head to the bike shop if ... you have cleaned and lubed the entire drive train and the bike still doesn't shift properly.
Check the air pressure in your shock. Check your owner's manual for the proper pressure or go to the manufacturer's Web site to find it. To check for leaks, put a little soapy water near the seals and watch for bubbles.
Check for oil seeping or leaking out of the shock.
Make sure it's working smoothly throughout its travel when the shock is compressed and released.
Head to the bike shop if ... there are any leaks, rough spots in the travel, clunking, or if you haven't had your seals inspected in a long time.
These tend to be pretty low maintenance, but they can be the source of the annoying creaks, squeaks and clunks you hear when you're riding.
Pedals should spin freely and SPD-style clipless pedals should easily engage and quickly release under the proper amount of lateral pressure. If they don't, check your owner's manual on how to adjust them.
Cranks should periodically be detached from the bottom bracket — a task that requires a special tool.
Bottom brackets should periodically be removed and inspected — which also requires special tools.
Head to the bike shop if ... you hear grinding, clunking, or your cranks and pedals don't turn smoothly. If your clipless pedals don't properly engage and release, have them repaired or replaced. If you want to have your cranks and bottom bracket inspected and don't have the proper tools, have a mechanic do it.
A clean, lubricated chain is critical to smooth riding and good shifting.
The best way to clean it is to remove it from the bike by finding the master link or by using a chain breaker, which is a small, inexpensive tool.
Soak the chain in a solvent or hot water with a grease-cutting detergent and scrub it clean. Rinse it and allow it to dry, then lubricate it.
You should clean the rear cassette (the cluster of sprockets) and the front chain rings.
You can do an adequate job of cleaning the cassette when it is attached to the rear wheel. The best way to clean it, however, is to remove it, which requires special tools.
Head to the bike shop if ... the chain is excessively rusty, links are sticking or the chain jumps on the cassette or chain rings. Bike shops have a gauge that determines if the chain has overstretched.