Tune a bicycle? Tuna fish?
February 11, 2004
The single most common advice offered by people in the world of bicycling is this: Keep it clean. Charlie Tarver, owner of the Hub of Aspen, Mick Ireland, one of many year-round cyclists in Aspen, Chris Keating, manager of Aspen Velo, and even Jeff Napier, whose Web site gives step-by-step instructions on how to tune a bicycle, all say, one way or another, that cleanliness is next to godliness when it comes to your bicycle.
“Lube the chain, pump up the tires and, above all else, keep your bike clean,” says Tarver, who’s been racing and selling bicycles for more than two decades.
“Keeping the drive train clean is the number-one deal, because that’s where the majority of moving parts are,” Ireland says.
Keating and Napier also advise cleanliness. But that’s about the only point those four agree on when it comes to keeping a bicycle in tune.
Predictably, the guys at the bike shops think you should bring in your velocipede (that is, your bicycle, tricycle, unicycle or whatever) for even minor adjustments.
“I tune my bicycle every time it needs it, usually after 500 to 1,200 miles,” Keating said. He says the way to know whether your bike needs to come in for a tune or adjustment is to perform a pre-ride check: “A minute of your time can save you from injury and more costly repairs.” Spin the wheels to see that they are true. Check tire pressure. Pull on the brake handles to check the tension. Bounce the bicycle lightly to make sure it is tight and sound. And if anything isn’t right, Keating advises you to take it to the shop.
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“People ride and don’t do this basic check, and some of them get into trouble,” Keating said.
Ireland and other serious cyclists aren’t quite so willing to fork over the cash needed for a full tune at any of the bicycle shops around here. Instead, they do a lot of repairs and maintenance at home, reserving their visits to shops for more serious tasks like installing bearings and fixing broken derailleurs.
“I’ll actually take the chain off my bike, soak it, clean between each link with a Q-tip, dry it and reinstall it myself,” Ireland says.
Ireland is a county commissioner and attorney who lives in Aspen and gets around town by bicycle throughout the year, no matter the weather. He says he’s also adept at adjusting his brakes, up to a certain point, and performing other minor repairs. But he adds that gaining that skill took time and patience – the kind of patience that is required to do a time-consuming and tedious chore all over again if you put something on backward.
Napier’s Web site, at http://member.aol.com/biketune, attempts to keep people from going through the frustration of learning alone by offering a free nine-step guide to tuning your bicycle. Napier, now a Web page programmer, is a former bicycle mechanic who put his Web site up a few years ago hoping to make a few bucks. That didn’t work out, however, but the response was positive enough to convince him to keep the page up and running.
“A tune-up is the package of small repairs and adjustments which are applied from time to time to keep your bike in top shape.” Napier writes.
“Why pay the bike shop $30 or more every time your bike needs a tune-up, when with just a little reading and practice you can do a better, more caring job? Why pay them to have all the fun?”
In addition to a how-to guide to bicycle tuning, the Web site also contains other information about bicycle repair and adjustments.
The tuning section starts with a guide to bicycle terminology, tells you what tools you need, and then moves through the tuneup in thorough item-by-item steps, with readable text and diagrams and pictures where needed. It includes information how to adjust the derailleurs, brakes, spokes, headsets and handlebars, brackets and pedals, and bearings. Step nine is a guide to checking the work you’ve done. Napier writes that people can “enjoy the satisfaction in knowing you have tuned up the bicycle yourself, and have probably done a better job than many professional tune-ups.” Tarver concedes that many of the people working on bicycles are able to do little more than change parts. “That’s what most people start as – parts changers,” Tarver said. “You need a new derailleur, the parts changer is the guy who puts it on.” If they stick with it long enough, Tarver says parts changers can become bona fide mechanics, like the guys who work in his shop on Hyman Avenue, across from the Wheeler Opera House. “A mechanic knows how to make the parts on a bicycle work they way they’re supposed to for optimal performance,” Tarver said.
The Hub no longer offers the tuning package that is the mainstay of most shops. Instead, Tarver says Hub mechanics work on specific needs. “To put every bike into a package is not good for the bike or the rider,” he said. “We make assessments on a rider-by-rider, bicycle-by-bicycle basis.” Depending on what’s being tuned, the bill can run from $1 to $170.
Aspen Velo still offers the basic tune package for $60 a pop and a more extensive tune for $150. The basic tune includes a check of all the moving parts with adjustments as needed. The more expensive option has Aspen Velo mechanics taking the bicycle apart, soaking the parts in solvent, hand cleaning and relubricating the parts and putting it all back together. Keating says that in either case his shop can turn the job around in 24 hours or less. Looking for a better deal? Colorado Custom Cycles in Rifle will tune your bike for $20. Owner Andrew Legg says the price can get up to about $100 if he has to make some major repairs. “I used to charge $40 for the basic tune, but all I’d do is adjust the derailleur, clean their chain, wipe it down and send them out the door – I can’t charge someone $40 for something like that,” Legg said. But if the Internet makes you nervous, if you’re not willing to pay $20, $60 or $170 for a tuneup, if none of the above is for you, then your last, best hope is probably a maintenance class at Colorado Mountain College.