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Bike Tuning

By Robert Pope

Proper Bike TuningAs a race mechanic with the Trek/Volkswagen bike team, I learned how to remedy almost any illness a mountain bike might come down with before, during or after an event. There's no doubt that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so here are my tips for keeping your machine healthy between races.

The cardinal rule is to check everything that moves before and after a hard ride or race. Start by cleaning the entire rig so you can see what's going on, and always fix what's broken right away -- "I'll do it later" leads to racecourse disasters. Also, never change the fit of a bike just before an event. I once slightly tweaked a pro rider's brake levers the night before a race. Turned out she had very small hands, and, as I found out, a wickedly sharp tongue.

1) GET THE RIGHT TOOLS. Mandatory mechanic's gear includes full sets of Allen and open-end wrenches, cable cutters, a chain-cleaning tool, cone wrenches, a pedal wrench, a floor pump, a shock pump, needle-nose and regular pliers, a spoke wrench, tire levers and a work stand. Beyond these essentials, a bottom bracket puller, a crank puller, a wheel-truing stand and a chainwhip tool are worthy additions.

2) CLEAN MACHINE. This procedure is essential for good performance, and it also allows you to spot damaged parts. First, degrease the drivetrain with Pedro's Bike Degreaser, Simple Green, or an equivalent product. Then hose down the entire bike (but don't directly spray the bottom bracket, headset or hubs). Brush the drivetrain, shocks and wheel rims with separate, clean brushes, then hose again. Wipe the bike dry with a clean cloth, and run your chain through a chain-cleaning device. Pedro's manufactures a good cleaning kit called the Super Pit kit.

3) LUBE IT OR LOSE IT. Your bike will run better and last longer if you buy good quality lubes and apply them often. In most conditions, use a semi-dry lube like Boeshield T-9 or Progold Prolink (specialty lubes may be useful for especially wet or dry conditions). Always give the lube time to set up -- I like to finish applying it the night before a race. Degrease your chain before you change lubes, if you don't the lube will not adhere to the metal properly.

4) RUBBER LOVER. Check tires thoroughly (while they're clean) for nicks and cuts, especially in the sidewalls. Before a race, it's worth pulling the rubber completely off the wheels and doing a thorough inspection of the rims: Look for loose spoke ends or anything else that could cause a flat. For bikes with disc brakes, this is a good time to clean the rotors: Use a clean cloth and rubbing alcohol to remove any trace of grime.

5) GET WHACKED. Grasp the frame and bang your inflated tires against the ground. If anything rattles, hunt it down and fix it immediately.

6) STAY IN TUNE. Now you are ready to get the shifting dialed, tweak the brakes and do an overall inspection. Check the shocks and fine-tune the shock rebound to the racecourse. Look very closely at the rear derailleur hanger to make sure it's not bent. Then take the bike out for a quick spin, including a few bunny hops or jumps, so you know it's running perfectly.

7) PACK A SURVIVAL KIT. Finally, make sure your on-course survival kit is well stocked. Pump, patches, levers, extra tubes -- all the stuff you know you need to carry to keep moving had better be in there -- if it's not, you might find yourself out of the race for no reason other than laziness.

Robert Pope is the head mechanic for University Bicycles, located downtown in Boulder, Colorado.

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