How to tune up your bicycle for a season of smooth commuting

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      Unless you enjoy getting caught in torrential downpours and drying off in high winds—before being met with yet another bout of rain because, damn it, those meteorologists were wrong again—you’ve likely kept your bicycle locked safely in the garage for the entirety of Vancouver’s “spring”. But with clear skies and sunny weather (hopefully) on the horizon, fair-weather cyclists will soon have an opportunity to trade in their car keys or Compass cards for helmets and U-locks.

      If you’re a casual biker waiting for the weather to warm, it’s worth making use of this time for a tune-up to ensure your two-wheeler is set for a season of easy riding. “A well-tuned bike is more enjoyable to ride, it shifts more smoothly, it’s more comfortable, and it’s just a better piece of equipment to use,” Paul Dragan, owner of Vancouver’s Reckless Bikes, tells the Georgia Straight by phone. “And it’s a lot safer to ride, too.”

      Below, Dragan offers his top tips for getting your bicycle of choice in tip-top condition for commuting.

      Get pumped

      Bicycle tires deflate naturally over time, so it’s important to inflate them after a few months of inactivity. “Some people wonder, ‘Gee, did I get a flat tire over the winter?’ ” Dragan says. “More than often, no. It’s just like a balloon after a birthday party, where it goes soft after a couple of days—tires do the same thing.”

      Recommended pressures—measured in PSI (pounds per square inch)—are noted on the sidewalls of tires. Cyclists should observe this number to avoid under- or overinflating their tires, which may affect riding efficiency.

      Lubrication is key

      To keep your bike moving like—quite literally—a well-oiled machine, apply a lubricant to the chain, points of pivot, and derailleur. Invest in a dedicated bike lubricant (Dragan swears by Tri-Flow) and avoid using seemingly acceptable substitutes like motor oil or grease, which may actually inhibit a part’s function over time.

      Lubricants should be applied to the inside of bicycle chains; anything left on the outside only attracts dirt and grime, Dragan explains. Lubricants should also never be applied to brake pads, which may prevent you from slowing or stopping effectively. “People get a squeaky brake and they think that it needs oil,” Dragan says. “It doesn’t; it needs to be adjusted correctly.”

      Saddle up

      If you’ve adjusted your saddle so your bike could fit in storage, it’s worth taking some time to ensure it’s raised—or lowered—to the proper level. “The general rule of thumb for a city-style bike is when you’re sitting on the saddle, your two tiptoes are just touching the ground,” he says.

      A quick question to a bike-store employee should point you in the right direction, though if you’re experiencing discomfort, an alternate saddle may help. “Lots of people don’t know that they can get a more comfortable saddle than what they’re riding,” Dragan explains. “They make them for men and women and there are all kinds of different densities.”

      Come clean

      Dust and dirt may seem harmless, but buildup of grime can actually affect your bicycle’s performance in the long run. “A cleaner bike is a happier bike,” Dragan says. “Your parts last longer and the mechanical performance of the bike is improved: it shifts better; it brakes better; it just works better overall.”

      To get your two-wheeler squeaky clean, wash it with soap and water. Dry off as much water as you can and then, he says, it’s on to the dual-step stage: apply WD-40, a water-displacement spray, on the chain and derailleur to chase away water. Then wipe off the excess. A light layer of lubricant may then be applied.

      Reevaluate accessories

      To ensure your commute is as comfortable as possible, Dragan recommends replacing accessories such as bicycle grips. A good set leans more toward oval than round, he notes, and helps bear your body weight. “Getting support there is like having on a great pair of shoes, because that’s where your body weight tends to rest.”

      Dragan also recommends lightly padded gloves for rides of 20 minutes or more. These relieve stress on your hands during longer distances while preventing injuries during falls. Make sure your helmet fits snugly—and correctly—too. “We see lots of people with their chin straps hanging down or their helmet on backwards, on halfway,” Dragan says.