Tuning Tips From Captain Ahab 11/13/2015.
I have been thinking of making a How-To DIY series video for TeamBOR’s YouTube Channel for some time now, but never have got around to it, and since I am more of a writer than an actor I figured I would just write down some instructions for you all. Now here is the warning; this is how I tune a bike, I am not a paid professional bike mechanic, but I have built and tuned many bikes and probably will tune a bike better than you will get it done in most local bike shops (I have seen many local bike shops turn out some horrifying work, but to be nice I won’t name names.) I feel like tuning a bicycle is very artistic and mechanical at the same time and is why I enjoy it so much. I love to have a couple drinks and un-wind while tuning a bike. I only wish my hearing was good enough to play loud music and hear the tune of the bike, but since I am partially deaf I have to play the music low to hear the bike. If you get good at tuning, or drink more, hearing the bike becomes less of an issue; although your results may vary. I do have a mechanical background and have had many many hours wrenching (and building) on just about anything; including cars, Jeeps, bikes, boats, houses, and airplanes. Word to the wise; make sure you use your bike stand and if you don’t have one I suggest buying one, but in a pinch you can use a hanging bike rack off the back of your car. A bike stand will make your life easier and is worth the money. If you are on the trail, then get a buddy to hold the rear tire off the ground. Now here is the second warning, if you are not good with tools, have little patience, or are not sure about your ability, then turn back now and head to your bike shop. If you think you have what it takes, then keep reading. This instruction will be based from a 3x10 mountain bike (normal rise derailleurs, trigger shifter, Shimano), but once you get it down, you will be able to tune any bike. This is not suitable for children as I speak of drinking and perhaps self-inflicted pain from here on out, so if you are looking for G rated instructions, then please stop reading (I did edit out some profanity…kind of).
Step 1. Take a Phillips Screw driver and stick it into either of the two screws on either of the derailleurs. It doesn’t matter which one. Now turn it ¼ turn clockwise and with your other hand smack the living sh!+ out of the hand that is holding the screw driver and repeat to yourself that you will never do that again. Repeat this process until it sinks in your brain that these screws are end stop screw adjustments and are not “tuning” adjustments. If you feel the urge, go ahead and punch yourself in the face. Let it sink in.
Step 2. Let’s look at that front derailleur. Get the correct Allen wrench and disconnect the cable. That’s lefty-loosy idiot. Well now your sh!+ out of luck and committed. Get a beer and have a drink and breathe deep. Prayer and Yoga will help you maintain your balance through the next few steps. Put the rear derailleur in the small outboard ring. Push that front derailleur out with your fingers while pedaling the crank with your hand…not your foot dumb@$$. Let the chain go into the big outer ring. Now look at the alignment of the derailleur with the chain and chain ring. Is it straight? Look at the gap between the bottom of the derailleur and the top of the chain ring. Does it have about 2-3mm of gap? If not, you are going to have to unclamp that b!+ch and re-position it so it does line up with the chain ring and have the correct gap. Good luck and God be with you. Now that the derailleur is clamped correctly, push that thing out as far as possible and make sure the chain doesn’t come off (outside of) the big ring. This is where the screws come in. Select the H or High screw and turn it until you get the chain in the big chain ring without it falling outside or making a sh!+ ton of noise. It needs to be pretty much centered on the chain and the chain shouldn’t be rubbing on the derailleur. Now let go of the derailleur. Did it pinch your finger? Good. Have another drink and breathe. Now the chain when cranked should be in the inboard little ring or “granny” or low. Put the rear derailleur in the inboard or big ring. Adjust the L screw until the chain doesn’t fall inside the frame side, nor shifts to middle, nor make a sh!+ ton of noise while cranking. Now crank and push it out to the big ring, now let it go and go to the little, repeat as necessary while making micro adjustments to the screws until it is right. This may take you hundreds of times. Get it right! Use your vision, hearing, hell smell the thing if it helps you, but get it right. You have just adjusted the stop screws that keep your chain on. Now take your screw driver and put it away or we will be slapping your hand again. Turn the barrel adjuster on the shifter all the way in and then back it out one full 360 degree turn. Grab the cable and pull with one hand and while shifting to release all the tension on your shifter with your other hand. The cable should be pulling out and getting longer. Make sure you crank until the chain falls into the little front gear. Attach the cable. Put the rear derailleur in the middle ring. Now crank and shift to middle or 2nd. Did it shift? I bet it did. If not, turn the barrel adjuster out until it does, or runs true on the middle ring. Now crank and shift to the outer ring or 3rd. You may have to adjust the barrel again. Repeat until you can shift into all three gears with ease. If you are having trouble, then you did something wrong and will have to start over.
Step 3: Now let’s move on to the rear derailleur. Do we have to talk about smacking your hand again? Disconnect the cable. Crank and the derailleur should drop with no spring tension to the little outboard gear or top or high normal (not Shimano Rapid Rise or low normal). I have had a few Rapid Rise derailleurs, and although the concept sounds solid, I found the delivery of shifting unacceptable while riding, so stick with traditional derailleurs. (A note about SRAM derailleurs, they suck, and sometimes the screws are backwards.) Now adjust the high screw so that the chain is centered on the smallest ring and doesn’t fall off into the frame, nor upshifts to the 2nd smallest while being cranked. With your hand push the derailleur up to the big inboard ring. Adjust the other screw “L” so that the chain doesn’t fall off into the spokes, nor doesn’t stop in the second biggest ring. (Note: if you do this correctly invest in a chain whip and take your cassette off to get rid of that stupid plastic spoke protector, because it’s lame.) Make the chain run centerline on the big inboard ring. Let go of the derailleur and crank it back down to the little outboard ring. Turn the shifter barrel adjustment all the way in and then one full turn out. Hold the cable and gently pull while shifting, pulling the cable out. If your rear derailleur has a barrel adjuster, then turn it in and then 1-1/2 turns out. If your derailleur has a screw that pushes into the derailleur hanger, then adjust this until about 1 chain link drops between the bottom of the cassette and the top of the top derailleur jockey wheel. Connect the cable. Put the front chain ring in the big ring, the rear is in the little ring. Crank. Shift one gear up. Adjust the barrel on the rear D first (if you have one) to make it shift up one gear smoothly. Shift it all the way up to the big rear ring. Shift the front to the inner little ring. Adjust the rear barrel until it shifts smoothly to this ring. Go back and forth a couple times to make sure it shifts inboard and outboard smoothly. Now put the front inboard and the rear outboard and crank. Does it make noise? Well it cross chained and you shouldn’t ride like that anyway. That’s the fasted way to break your chain. Your chain should always be as straight as possible when riding, but this configuration does not have any cable tension on it and is best for storage. Now put the front in the middle ring and shift the rear up and down or in and out, which ever saying suits you best. It should be shifting relatively well. If it doesn’t you screwed up and need to start over. If it’s skipping a little or hanging up some on one gear use the barrel on the shifter to correct. You may need to use the shifter barrel to correct some while riding also, but when you get good at tuning this will not be needed. You now can tune a bike, so go ride it.
NOTE: Buying a good repair manual is a good idea. Mountain Bike Maintenance by Mel Allwood is a good tool to have in your box. – Captain Ahab.