Bike Tune Ups: How Much Does It Cost and What Do You Get?


Whether you use your bike to cycle to work every day or you just use it for weekend rides at some point you will need to tune it up. 

Riding a bike is fun, but it is even more fun when the bike has just been tightened up: the brakes and shifters work like a Swiss watch and all the different components are in perfect harmony and it almost feels like the bike rides itself. 

How much does a bike tune-up cost and what does it consist of? A basic bike tune-up costs $80 and should be done every 2000 miles or annually. A bike tune-up consists of checking for signs of wear or damage and the setting up the following:

  • groupsets: shifters, derailleurs, brakes, cables, drivetrain
  • headset
  • bottom bracket
  • hubs and wheels

What does a bike tune up consist of?

Generally the below listed works are included in a basic bike tune up. 

  1. Headset adjustment
  2. Bottom Bracket adjustment
  3. Checking and adjusting the parts of groupset
    1. Front and Rear Derailleurs + Shifters and Shift Cables
    2. Adjust Brake pads + brake levers and cables
    3. Inspect Chain Wear Status + lube Chain
    4. change chain and check cassette and chainring
  4. Adjust Hubs + true Wheels
  5. Minor Frame Clean

Headset adjustment

The headset is like the brain to the body. It is the part in charge of moving the bike in the right direction. Smooth and precise steering is essential for cycling. If you use your bike on a daily basis it is important for your personal safety too. 

Wet, grit or dirt from the road can penetrate the headset and the bearings in it. Grit and dirt in the bearings can ruin them and even the frame if it is not cleaned regularly. Not to mention that it can ruin your commute.

There are two bearings in the headset, an upper bearing, and a lower bearing. These two enable the fork to turn smoothly which ultimately is key to precise steering. 

Cleaning the headset entails taking off the stem and the handlebar and pulling out the fork from the frame. All the gunk and dirty grease of the bearings and the inner part of the frame should be thoroughly wiped off and greased again.

It is recommended to clean the headset and the bearings at least once or twice a year, depending on how much the bike is used.

How do I know it is time to clean the headset?

Stand next to your bike and pull the front brake while rocking it back and forth. If you feel knocking or that the headset is loose it is time to clean it, tune it up. Rough grinding when turning the handlebar can be another sign that it’s time to clean it.

Bottom bracket adjustment

If the headset is the brain then the bottom bracket is the soul of the bike. This is the pedals’ point of contact with the bike frame, through which all the force is transmitted to the wheels. The bottom bracket should be in perfect condition so that you don’t waste your energy.

Whenever the bike is in motion the bottom bracket is in use, therefore it needs regular maintenance so that it doesn’t wear out completely.

In a bike tune up the bottom bracket will be checked and adjusted if needed. There are certain types of bottom brackets (treaded ones) that can be tightened or loosened others are fixed. During a tune up the bottom bracket is usually not replaced only greased and checked. 

How do I know it’s time to check the bottom bracket?

If you hear a clicking or grinding noise coming from the pedal, it’s quite likely it’s the bottom bracket, so you should have it serviced.

Another way to tell if the bottom bracket is in good condition is by spinning the crankset (pedals) with the chain off. They should be spinning smoothly without any resistance. If you feel rumbling or grinding on the frame the bottom bracket  should be checked. 

Front and Rear Derailleurs

If you’ve been riding bikes for some time, you have probably had the luck of riding a bike with poorly set derailleurs. Especially on a hilly terrain it can be a pain in the neck. You need to change gears constantly and whenever you shift gears the chain falls off or it does not shift gears.

If the derailleurs are properly set, riding on both hilly and flat terrain can be a joyride.

The derailleurs loosen or just simply wear out and need to be tightened or changed with use and time; old cables become stiff. If they are neglected this can seriously damage parts of the bike or even the frame. 

A basic bike tune up includes checking and adjusting the shifters, cables, the front and rear derailleurs. Adjusting these parts will result in precise shifting, quiet and noiseless derailleurs.  

How do I know if there is a problem with derailleurs?

There are a few telling signs that your derailleurs need attention.

If your chain constantly falls off, it can be a sign that it is not properly set. On the derailleurs there are two limit screws that adjust how far the derailleur can go outward and inward preventing the chain from falling off the sprockets.

If you cannot shift in the highest gears on the smallest sprockets.There is a spring in the rear derailleur that pushes it inwards while the cable pulls it outward. If the cables are too old they cannot exert enough force and pull the derailleur completely outwards. In this case the cables should be replaced.

If you hear excessive clicking noise coming from the derailleurs it is worth adjusting the derailleurs and indexing the gears. Indexing is essentially fine-tuning the gears, setting them up precisely so that the chain in each gear is perfectly in line with the sprockets.

After changing wheels, the sprockets on the rear cassette may end up in a slightly different position than the derailleur. The derailleur should be indexed. 

Looking at the derailleur the mech hanger is bent. If you know that the rear derailleur recently took a big hit or it was pressed and it makes noise the mech hanger might be bent and should be realigned. The mech hanger connects the derailleur and the frame and it is made of a somewhat softer material to avoid damaging the derailleur and the frame when taking a hit. 

Adjusting Brake pads + brake levers and cables

How soon you want the brakes to engage when you pull on the lever is a question of personal preference. Some prefer immediate braking action while others prefer pulling it almost all the way to the handlebar. What’s important is that your brake is set up properly and will stop the bike when it’s needed.

The cables should not be slack. This is especially important with regards the rear brake as there are quite a few spots where the cables can get stuck. It should be tight all the way, from the lever to the calipers or discs depending on which one you have.

It is also important that both brake pads are in good conditions and touch the middle of the braking surface on the rim at the same time. For better braking the front part of the pads should touch the rims first, this also helps to avoid squeaking noise coming from the brake.

If you have hydraulic brakes, there needs to be sufficient oil in the system, and occasionally it needs bleeding, which is the technical term for emptying and topping up the system.

How do I know it’s time to check the brakes?

If you feel that the the brake losses its efficiency and is not able to stop the bike as it used to. 

If you hear squeaking noise coming from the brakes.

If you see that the pads are worn out and they don’t touch the rim simultaneously, or that the cables are slack you should get it adjusted and maybe even change some parts of it. 

Replace chain and check cassette and chainring

Among the chain, cassette and chainring, the chain is the cheapest component that wears out the fastest. It is good to keep an eye on it as it can ruin the cassette and the chain ring which are more costly. 

The chain ring and the cassette can bear more than the chain. However that also depends on how well you take care of those three components.. 

If you are a year round commuter riding more than 2000 miles a year probably your chain should be replaced at least once a year.

A lubing of the cassette, chainring and the chain is also included in a basic tune up.

How do I know it is time to check them them?

If you can pull the chain away from the chain ring toward the front wheel in such a way that you see the cog underneath the chain, that indicates the chain is worn out. There is also a special tool you can get for a couple of bucks to check the status of the chain. 

If the chain was just replaced, the derailleurs were just indexed and the chain is skipping, that is a clear sign of the cassette being worn out. The cassette can be checked on a stand by pulling the rear brake. If there is excessive chain movement relating the sprockets the cassette should be replaced.

With time the cogs on the chain ring and the sprockets wear out. If they become flattened and lose their sharpness then it’s time to change them.

Adjusting Hubs + true Wheels

If the hubs are in bad condition, they can totally destroy the riding experience, and even the hub itself. 

Another wheel related job taken care of during a tune up is truing the wheels. The spokes fulfill more than an aesthetic function: they hold the weight of the rider. When they are set at the right tension, they keep the wheel perfectly straight. Some spokes may come loose or the wheel can come out of true when you hit pot holes, curbs, or force is applied to the wheel from an angle. 

How do you know if hubs or wheels need servicing?

You know that the wheels need attention if you hear and feel them knocking or clicking. If you experience looseness in the hub then you should stop riding the bike immediately to avoid further damaging or completely destroying it. It is a sure sign that your hub needs attention.

It is also worth checking your wheel after a fall or if it got a big hit from an angle. The wheel can come out of true, and it describes a motion similar to the number 8. This can be corrected by tightening or loosening the spokes with a special key.

How much does a bike tune up cost?

Depending on where you live, a bike tune up can range from 30 to 100 dollars if no parts need replacing. 

If you ride 2000 miles or more per year, you will need a new chain each year, which will cost an additional 20 to 30 dollars.

If hubs, brake pads, discs, cables, derailleurs or other parts need replacing, the cost may add up to several hundred dollars. 

If some parts need to be changed for new ones, you can ask you bike shop to call you to let you know of any additional costs.

Why is regular bike tune up important?

All the different components of the bike serve one end: to transmit all the force you apply to the pedals to the tires as smoothly and efficiently as possible to get you to work and home. With a recently tuned up bike you can achieve this easily and the ride will be fun.

It is especially important to tune up your bike if you use it regularly. The more you use it the quicker its parts wear out. Mud, grit and gunk penetrate between the parts of the bike where only oil and grease should be. 

If you are a year-round commuter  your bike is probably dear to you. The tune up is important not only because of the fun factor, but also because of the maintenance of the bike. If the bike is not tuned up in due time it can damage the components and in extreme cases even destroy the frame too.

Conclusion

If you are only starting out, you will learn a lot about your bike and its maintenance within the first few months. You may even learn how to do some of the above jobs at home on your own bike. However there are certain adjustments and fixes that require some skill and some special tools without which a full tune-up can become very difficult. At the beginning it is worth checking the local bike shops nearby and pick the one that seems to offer the best value for money and which owner is the one that you can trust the most.

There are quite a few adjustments and jobs to be done for a proper bike tune up. If all of those are taken care of properly and regularly, commuting becomes more fun and can be indeed the highlight of the day.

Happy riding!

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