Spring is here - Prepare your bicycle properly
by Manfred Rieder
If your bicycle "wintered" outside, I sincerely hope you will contemplate getting a new one, because rust will appear inside the frame, cable housings, crank shell and even in the pedals. If you kept it inside, there is a good chance that you will only have to spend a couple of hours to get it ready for that great first ride of spring.
Start with checking the tires. Inflate them fully and if you do not have a gauge on your pump, pump them up until they feel hard but still have some "give" when you pinch the sides. Now examine the tires for cracks on the sidewalls. If you have them and they appear to be flaking or if they open wider when you pinch the tire surface near the crack, your tires are toast. Get new ones and while you are at it, buy new tubes. The tire size is marked on the side of the tire and you will have to match the tube size to the tire size. At this point let me point out that it is my experience that buying tires and tubes from a bicycle shop will in almost all cases be less expensive than your local department store ! I just purchased a set of 27 1/4" tires and matching tubes for my wife's bike for $ 48.- at a local shop. At a department store they wanted $ 64.- for the same set. They may sell you a crappy bike for $ 125.- but they do not service it and if you need parts they "get you".
(As an aside: Department stores do not have mechanics on duty. Most of them hire a gang of mostly inexperienced people to come in and assemble bikes for them, often at a low fixed rate per bike. As a former bicycle shop owner, I have spent hundreds of hours fixing those ill assembled pieces of crap and eventually refused to even work on them because I did not want the liability which comes with any repair. If you value your life and want value for your money, go to the professional shop which will serve you as long as you own the machine!)
If the tires are good follow my advise and do the following: Wash your bike with warm water into which you have added some dish washing liquid. Let it dry and then spray the whole frame with WD-40. Never use this product as a lubricant because as it dries, it will attract dust and dirt. But it is excellent for cleaning the frame. Use a lint free cotton rag (any discarded tee-shirt will work. I use old socks because I can get my hand into them and have a good grip when I slide my hand around stays and frame rails. Let the bicycle dry for a few minutes and lightly buff it with a clean cloth. This should take care of most surface problems on the frame. If your bike has steel rims and they are showing rust, spray them with WD-40 and use a fine steel wool pad while the WD-40 is still wet. You will be able to remove most of the rust from all chromed surfaces and spokes. Do not forget the cranks or the chrome seat post.
Next, lightly oil the chain and put a drop of bicycle oil on the outside of each axle where it enters the hub. The axles have grease in them but a bit of external oil sometimes helps to keep water out.
Now to the next task at hand: the first thing I do is, go over the basic stuff like checking if the brakes work fine, check if the pads are not worn out, at the same time I turn the wheels to see if they are true, using the brake pads to eyeball this and check the general condition of the brake pads. If they squeak, use some sandpaper to "scuff" them. This works well most of the time. Next I shift all the gears front and back to see they needs any adjustment. If you are not confident about this, or if the chain tries to ride too high up to the spokes, go to the nearest bicycle shop!
After that I check if the cables for brake and shifters are frayed or rusted. If they don't require to be replaced, I lube the exposed portions using ATF or regular bike oil. I then go over the entire bike to tighten everything that can be, keeping an eye out for less obvious stuff like missing bolts, cracked metal, loose parts or anything out of the ordinary. This is also a good time to see if any of the main bearings are loose. Rock both wheels from side to side and if you feel any movement or clunking, the bearings are loose and require your attention. In the case of the main pedal axle, or bottom bracket, grab one of the cranks and try to shake it from side to side as well. If it moves, grab the other crank arm and try again. If both of them jiggle in unison, you have loose bearings. If only one jiggles, your crank arm is about to fall off. Adjust and tighten as needed.
Important. When you are done, grip the front brakes tight and push the bicycle back and forth. If there is a rocking motion in the fork, you have loose bearings in the crown of your headset. Tighten the lower ring by hand as much as you can and then tighten the upper nut (this will probably need a large adjustable wrench or slipjoint pliers, until the fork does not move back and forth but still rotates from left to right without binding. If you have any problems with this - again my advise is the local bicycle shop.
Lastly, let me please tell you that you should only attempt any of the above if your bike was in decent shape when you put it away last fall. Do not try to resurrect a bike you found on the side of the road. This is the fastest way to make the local ambulance service rich.
Enjoy your riding!