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Is It Tune-Up Time?

There is no more loved or misunderstood piece of sporting goods equipment than the bicycle. The bonding comes at an early age when it’s our first useful possession offering us a healthy measure of fun and freedom.

Then we grow up and on to cars but the bike is always on our minds.  As adults we buy one that gets ridden less than we’d like because time constraints and making a living take center stage.  Still, we love the time spent on an occasional spin after which this loved one is put away most often with little thought to its condition. 

For many it’s a blue moon before the realization comes that it’s time for a tune-up.  The wake up call is often when the tires are flat because the bike hasn’t been ridden in recent memory.

Actually, the bikes brought in for tune-ups fall into 2 categories, those in decent condition and those that are borderline to hopeless.  That hasn’t changed in the 30 plus years I’ve been around bike shops.  Age and miles ridden is not at all a factor compared to the level of care it’s received and how it’s been stored.

For those in decent condition, about half of what any bike shop sees, a tune up works wonders in bringing them back to prime operating potential. At under $100 it’s a bargain to have a skilled mechanic lubricate moving parts and adjust the gears while checking for signs of wear that could interrupt a ride.

The others have been ridden hard and put away wet or worse.  Too many have been left to rot outdoors or in a moldy crawl space.  None of that matters to those who profess to love their bike and just want it made well enough to ride.

All bikes shops comply and do the best they can faced with the economic reality that it’s impossible to replace any but the most worn out parts before the total equals the price of  something new and spiffy.

Some of these bikes are in desperate shape and not worth putting a nickel into but that’s like telling a stranger their beloved, albeit poorly treated spouse, has a lousy personality and should be euthanized. 

When I write service and harsh words means they go someplace else I lightheartedly ask if they expect to ride downhill and use the brakes.  Meanwhile business is business and bike shops can and do fix almost anything on two wheels. Very few bikes are turned away.

Unlike other performance equipment there are no written safety standards for bikes and there should be.  It’s impossible to know how reliable worn or rusted parts are.  In pure science, catastrophic is defined as sudden, and this recreation is played in traffic where sudden failure can have far more devastating consequences than walking a few miles.

If there is a saving grace it’s these are people who don’t ride much and even rusted, worn parts hold up to light use.  So the newly tuned bike is taken out once or twice and rides better but hardly enough to encourage more use.

For many reasons, but most notably the bicycle’s frugal persona, it is the poster child for longevity in a recreational world that demands the latest and greatest equipment in tennis, golf, skis, etc.

All of that stuff is eagerly replaced as soon as something new comes to market. Indeed, ski bindings past a certain age can’t legally be installed by a shop even if they’re new and out of a box.

Not incidentally, new bikes are a sporting goods bargain. It’s hard to equate the value of a $500 golf club or a $300 tennis racquet frame compared with a professionally assembled $289 entry-level 21speed hybrid, that has a few hundred or so parts that work in synch right from go.

If not put away wet or left out to weather and lubricated often enough they actually do last for decades or until you get good enough to want something better.

My bottom line advice is to take a good hard look at your beloved old bicycle and if it’s suffered the ravages of tough love try a little tenderness with something new. The ride will be so much better that you may find the motivation to begin a healthy regimen and maybe save a few bucks on gas.
submitted by Dave Balkin on 05/19/08
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