Between-ride bike refresh


There’s something about riding a freshly tuned bike that can be even more satisfying than riding a brand-new one. Components that have broken in together as a system, when finely calibrated, mesh together like the broken-in pistons and cylinders of a well-tuned motor. Bikes that have been freshly tuned are at the mercy of miles and elements the moment you go for a ride. Since nobody wants to take their bike for a professional tuneup after every single ride, we take the time to do a quick at-home DIY tune between our regular rides to preserve that “freshly tuned feeling.”


A clean bike is a happy bike, and there’s no shame in using running water from the hose to clean your ride, as long as you take the proper precautions to prevent corrosion in some key areas.


Start by spraying off areas that have the most dirt or dust. Avoid spraying directly at any bearings or suspension seals, as the pressure can force small bits of water where it shouldn’t be.


There are lots of degreasers on the market, but plain old dish detergent works reasonably well for a basic degreasing of the drivetrain. We like to drip some directly onto the chain rollers and let it sit for a few seconds to begin breaking down old chain lube.


Next, use a brush with some stiff bristles to scrub the cassette, chain and derailleur. You can rotate the wheel backwards, and as you do, scrub the entire length of the chain, too.


While not necessary for performance, we like to use the same (kinda dirty) brush to scrub the knobbies on the tires. This gets rid of rock scuffs, and leaves them looking fresher and newer when they’re dry.


Use a different brush to scrub the rest of the bike with soap. This should be a soft one that won’t damage paint and shouldn’t be used on the greasy parts of the bike. Be especially careful not to use a dirty drivetrain brush anywhere near the brakes, as this can contaminate them.


Spray off all the soap and remaining dirt. Be careful again here not to spray directly into any sensitive moving parts.


Just-washed bikes should always be left out in the sun to dry thoroughly before being put away. A leaf blower can be useful to speed up the drying process.


The airflow is especially helpful blowing out drops from small crevices, like in bolt holes and between clamping surfaces. The handlebar and headset areas have lots of these nooks and crannies.


With the bike clean, put the bike in a repair stand if you have one and remove the wheels. If your derailleur has a clutch or cage lock to make the chain easier to deal with, now is the time to switch it off.


Use a rag to clean the derailleur pulleys. There will likely be some caked-on black grit if you tend to just add chain lube rather than remove the old stuff before every ride.


Clean the teeth of the chainring using the same rag. The teeth under the crankarm will be a little tricky to reach with your fingers.


With the wheels still removed, you can reset the pistons in the brake calipers, and the seals will re-lubricate themselves in the process. This tool makes it extra easy to push them back, although the same procedure can be done with a large, flat-head screwdriver. No matter what you use, be sure not to damage the brake-pad surface, which is much softer than the metal tool you’re using to push them with. Be careful.


With the brake pads pushed back fully into the caliper, you can loosen the caliper mounting bolts. This will allow the caliper to move freely and center itself during the next step adjustment.


Now, hold the brake lever firmly to advance the pads and contact the rotor. This should, in theory, center your brake perfectly over the rotor. While still holding the lever, tighten the bolts in a 1-2-1 alternating fashion. When you release, the rotor should be centered between the pads and not rubbing. If it’s still causing drag, your brake may need more service.


Replace the wheels in the bike and shift into the highest gear, or the smallest cog. This will also release the cable and spring tension.


Turn the cranks and advance the shifter one click at a time. The chain should jump up one gear with every click. If it doesn’t, or if it jumps multiple cogs with one click, you will need to adjust it.


The barrel adjuster on the shifter is the quickest way to add or release cable tension. Unscrewing it out will make the cable more taut, while screwing it in will release tension.


The barrel adjuster should only be used for one to two turns of tension adjustment. If you need more than that, it’s best to adjust it at the cable anchor bolt. With the shifter fully released and the chain in the small cog, the cable should be finger-tight and then held in place with the bolt.


With the drivetrain adjusted, it’s time to hit the chain with your favorite lubricant. We strongly prefer a drip bottle to an aerosol can, as it’s much cleaner and more precise. For an in-depth service, we like to put a drip on the roller of each individual chain link. If you’re in a hurry, just do a lap on the inside of the chain rollers while backpedaling.


Be sure to wipe off any excess you may have dripped on the rest of the drivetrain. It may feel wasteful, but the lube you spilled on the outside of the chain links or rest of the drivetrain isn’t doing any good, and actually attracts more dirt and grime.


While it’s not recommended to tighten bolts after every ride, it’s critical to check them to make sure they haven’t come loose with use. Every bike, no matter how expensive, can be vulnerable to damage from loose bolts, and nothing can end a good ride more quickly than when a critical part fails.


Using the proper-size Allen wrench, check to see if any bolts have worked their way loose. If they feel tight, resist the temptation to simply ham-fist them tighter. Most linkage bolts are expensive, made from lightweight materials and demand precise torque with a torque wrench to function properly.


If you do find a loose one, take the time to remove it and inspect for damage that may have happened while riding loose. Linkage bolts are generally greased on the threads before reinstallation. Some bikes may use thread-locking compound to prevent loose bolts in the future. Check the manufacturer’s website for this, along with the torque info.


Replace the linkage bolts, and torque them to the recommended setting.


Finish the cleaning with your favorite frame polish. Whenever using these products, be sure to spray them on a rag first to avoid overspray and contamination of components like the brakes.


Put down the cleaning products and remember that spending time cleaning your bike directly decreases the amount of time you can ride it. Go hit the trails now.

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