5 Questions You Must Ask Before Getting a Bicycle Tune-Up

Most conversations about bicycle tune-up start with: “How much does it cost”? While this seems like a valid question, it’s actually completely meaningless until you’ve established what is included in the cost. And that’s difficult to do, because there’s no standardization whatsoever in tune-up offerings among different bicycle repair shops.

This may be a good place to emphasize that, though some still consider a bicycle to be essentially a “toy”, it is in fact a vehicle capable of carrying you with considerable speed. Therefore, it is crucial for your safety that all of its systems are working properly, can hold up to the forces they will be subjected to, and that the whole thing can stop securely, dependably and safely.

A $150 tune-up turns a beloved old bike into a dependable vehicle.

A $150 tune-up turns a beloved old bike into a dependable vehicle.

A $300 overhaul breathes new life into a commuter bike.

A $300 overhaul breathes new life into a commuter bike.

A $700 service before a 5000 mile trek through SE Asia.

A $700 service before a 5000 mile trek through SE Asia.

A $1600 restoration of a prized vintage Schwinn.

A $1600 restoration of a prized vintage Schwinn.

So before you consider the price tag of the bicycle tune-up, here are some questions you should be asking:

  1. What is included in the bicycle tune-up?
    It can be shocking to hear that a bike tune-up costs upwards of $150, especially if someone down the street is offering it for $29.99. But what one shop may call an “$29.99 Tune-Up” to get you in the door, another shop may literally offer for free as a complimentary “Air & Oil Service”. Shops may offer different tiers of tune-ups, so when you’re comparison-shopping, make sure you’re comparing services that are really comparable. At Cosmic Bikes, our tune-up prices range from $80 to $220 (here’s a link to the full menu). The specific tune-up we recommend is not based on personal preference (ours or yours), but rather dictated by the condition of the bike when it is brought to us for service. For instance, our Basic Tune-Up may not adequately address the needs of a bike that’s been ridden extensively, left outdoors, or neglected for several seasons, and offering anything other than the top-level service will not result in a safely operating vehicle, or your satisfaction.

  2. Will I know the complete cost of the repair in advance?
    Tune-up prices usually reflect only the cost of the labor. More often than not, doing a tune-up requires replacing worn or damaged parts, and these can easily add up to as much, or even more, than the tune-up labor itself. A professional bicycle repair shop should be able to provide you with a complete itemized quote based on a physical inspection of your bike before you authorize any repairs.
    If the quote exceeds your budget or expectations, it may be possible to scale back from the optimal level or service. However, keep in mind that bicycle parts work together in concert, and holding off on replacing certain parts may affect the performance of others. For example, replacing a worn chain without replacing the gear cluster may result in gears skipping; adjusting rim brakes is impossible without truing the wheels, etc.
    Of course, there are always unforeseen circumstances, or problems that emerge only after the mechanic has gotten into a project. In such cases, you should expect to be notified of any additional charges needed to complete the repair.

  3. What can I expect after the tune-up is completed?
    If you agreed to a level of service appropriate to the condition of your bicycle, you should expect it to function like new, or better. You should also expect to need some additional adjustments after a comprehensive tune-up, especially if many parts have been replaced. Any full-service tune-up should include a guarantee period during which such corrections or adjustments related to the original service can be performed free of charge.

  4. Can the repair be tailored to my specific needs?
    A tune-up can be a terrific opportunity to upgrade components on your bike, or to modify its fit or functionality to your current needs. For example, at Cosmic Bikes, our tune-ups include the labor on installation of a broad range of accessories (eg. racks, fenders, cycle computers, etc) or components to improve your comfort on a bike (eg. saddles, handlebars and grips). A mechanic should ask whether the bike is serving your current needs and comfort requirements. Attending to these modifications during a tune-up can save you very significant labor dollars.

  5. What is the level of experience of the person who’ll be repairing my bike?
    At Cosmic Bikes, we do not hire home mechanics without extensive training first in bicycle assembly, and then less complex repairs, before graduating them to complete tune-ups. While anyone can grasp the basics of bicycle repair, true expertise in this field, as in any highly specialized trade, comes only through years of work and hands-on experience. An experienced professional bicycle technician should be able to hear your concerns, recommend the most complete solution based on the consultation with you, and the physical inspection of the bike, and then perform the work with expertise and attention to detail. Whether the person performing the service is an experienced veteran or a properly trained younger mechanic, the completed repair should be double checked by a second mechanic, and signed off by a senior mechanic who oversees the service department.