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Best of Boston 2009

Ready to roll

How to give your bike a proper spring cleaning
By CLEA SIMON  |  May 6, 2009


Whether you've been slogging through the streets on two wheels all winter, or are only now retrieving your bicycle, dusty and cobwebbed, from the basement, the extra light, the warm air, and the promise of snow-free roads are calling. But along with all this fun potential, spring is also a time for maintenance. And while spring cleaning for your trusty wheels may not require much, now is the time to do the necessary, to ensure that your bike can carry you through the all-too-short warm months ahead.

Spring tune-ups are standard at any good bike shop, with basic rates running around $50 and up. (Ski Market, on Comm Ave, charges $50; International Bicycle Center, on Brighton Avenue, charges $60; Back Bay Bicycles, at Comm and Mass Aves, charges $65; and Community Bicycle, in the South End, charges $60.) Of course, those tune-ups are usually just that — professional adjustments to the existing hardware. If the diagnostics reveal the need for new parts — say, brake pads, which can run $30 for the pair — then the cost rises. Ask for an estimate before you commit, so you're not caught unawares.

Or, if you're the handy type, consider doing the work yourself. Both the Broadway Bicycle School and Bikes Not Bombs offer classes and also have options for do-it-yourselfers to use their bike stands (which hold the bikes off the ground) and tools. Broadway (, a Cambridge-based cooperative established in 1972, has a variety of classes four nights a week, including a five-week basic repair class ($120) that covers fixing flats, adjusting gears, a women's-only class (when requested), and the like. The advanced repair class ($105) teaches you how to do a complete overhaul, taking your rig apart, cleaning it — oh, and putting it back together. For those who already have the know-how, or think they do, Broadway also offers stand rentals. While some folks use this service "just to get their bike off the ground," says owner/worker David Wilcox, others come in to be taught by the helpful and extremely knowledgeable staff. (Stand rentals range from $15 per hour without instruction to $36 per hour with hands-on help.)

Bikes Not Bombs (, a nonprofit with Boston headquarters and a Jamaica Plain shop, offers a full range of services at its JP location, with all proceeds going to support its outreach programs around the globe. For those who'd rather get their hands dirty, classes start at about $120 for a basic mechanics course and extend to a huge variety of options, consistent with the organization's mission of community empowerment. BNB, which has been around for 25 years, also has a members' work night twice a month. On these nights, members (those who contribute $35 per year) and volunteers (who accrue credits for hours worked) can bring their bikes in to the Boston "hub" and work on them with BNB's tools.

Tune-up checklist
What will need your tools and attention this spring? Odds are, if you haven't ridden in a few months, you'll find your tires softer than you remembered. "Most of the time, if you haven't touched your bike in a while, those tires will be flat," says Mike Wissell, sales manager at Back Bay Bicycles ( His 16-year-old bike shop's Web site offers handy maintenance charts. "That doesn't mean that the tires are bad. Air just leaks out over time."

Depending on where you stored your bike, however, you should also check for dry rot. Heat can be your tires' enemy. "If your bike was stored near a heater or by the furnace, that may have caused the rubber to disintegrate," says Bikes Not Bombs sales manager Darrah Bowden.

Sometimes, tires just go because of wear. "Overtime, the rubber tends to dry out and tires start to crack," says Broadway's Wilcox. "Nicer quality tires might last three years, but if you store the bike indoors they could last a lot longer."

Tire maintenance can be even more important if you did ride through the winter. Grit and salt — not to mention the unexpected thuds and bumps of a thousand city potholes — are hell on wheels. "If you've been riding every day in the winter, that's pretty abusive to your bike," says Wissell. Grit, sand, and salt, he notes, can also eat away at the metal parts of your bike.

Spring maintenance, therefore, should also include checking your bike's gears and chain. If you rode over the winter, or even through some early spring puddles, and put your bike away wet, you may well have some rust. "If it's just a sheen of rust, you can lube it away," says Wissell. "Sometimes you get a stiff link and it skips around. We suggest bringing someone in and having someone assess it. Any shop shouldn't charge you for a look."

Regular lubrication should be a part of any spring tune-up. "Lubing your chain is a good thing to do, if you haven't been keeping up with it," says Bowden. "Just putting some oil on any parts of the bike that moves is good." Just be careful not to oil your brakes, she says.

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Related: Empowerment on Two Wheels, Rare treats, Fallout 3: Operation Anchorage, More more >
  Topics: Lifestyle Features , bicycles, Bicycling, bike2009,  More more >
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