Bike Maintenance Tips: How to Tell When Your Bike Needs a Tune-Up

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Whether you’re dusting off your bike after a hiatus or you’ve been riding hard throughout the winter, it’s a good idea to bring it to your local bike shop for a spring tune-up (the experts at Recycle-A-Bicycle in Clinton Hill will be happy to help you out!). Think of these visits as preventative maintenance, just like your annual health check-ups! Regular tune-ups once or twice a year can help your bike and its components last longer and catch minor issues before they become more significant problems.

In addition to regular maintenance, here are some red flags that will let you know if your bike needs some TLC.


If your brakes feel sluggish, don’t have good stopping power, or you find yourself squeezing the levers down to the handlebars, it’s time to take your bike to the shop. Brake pads wear down, and brake cables stretch with use and can impact your ability to slow or stop your bicycle.


Rubber degrades over time even without use (especially in hot, wet, or sunny conditions), and the tread can get worn down as you put miles on your tires. Look for these signs of decay (AKA’ dry rot’) and wear: cracks in the tire, worn sidewalls with threads visible, faded tread pattern, and bald patches. A “squared-off” tire with a flat spot running down the middle also hints that time might be up. A fresh set of tires can prevent a potential blowout.


Evenly tensioned spokes are the hallmark of a healthy wheel. Check for loose spokes by squeezing two together at a time – you should feel resistance – and keep an ear out for rattling spokes when you give your wheel a spin. Wheels that look wobbly when you spin them might need to have their spokes re-tensioned by your mechanic in a process called “truing” the wheel.

Bike Maintenance Tips: How to Tell When Your Bike Needs a Tune-Up

If your bike has gears, it should shift smoothly up and down without hesitation or skipping gears. Note any issues while shifting to help your mechanic diagnose the problem. Are you having trouble with your front or rear gears? Does the problem occur when you shift to a hard or easy gear?


Chains should be cleaned and oiled regularly, especially in winter, and replaced periodically to keep your drive train happy. Bring your bike to the shop for an assessment if your chain is falling off (aka “dropping”) or slipping, or it’s been a very long time since you’ve replaced it.


Water degrades metal. Look for rust on cables and chains, which can impede the smooth operation of moving parts and affect your bike’s performance.

Unusual Noises

A quiet bike is a happy bike! Clicking, grinding, knocking, squeaking, rattling, or other unusual noises coming from your bike might signal that something needs adjusting, replacing, or servicing.

You bought a new bike

New cables stretch, so you might encounter changes to your shifting or braking after putting on some miles. Bring your new ride back to your bike shop for a tune-up.

In addition to your regularly scheduled maintenance, it pays off to pay attention to any changes in your bike: Does your steering or pedaling feel different? Do you hear new noises? Do you just have the feeling that something is off? Have your local bike shop give your bike a once-over. A tune-up will get you back to pedaling smoothly and safely.

Written by Bike New York’s Education Operations Manager, Chantal Hardy.