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I've got a cheapy cruiser (6 speed?) from Walmart that's been sitting on a bike rack in Minnesota for well over a year. There's rust all over the place and the most maintenance I've ever done on a bike was replacing a tube on my middle-school bike's tire.

I want to try and get it fixed up and safe for my girlfriend to ride (frame's too big for me) and have zero idea where to start, so any advice helps.

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    First find out roughly how much it was worth new. You likely need spare parts and you probably don't want to sink money in a wreck. Secondly, photos would help. Rusty and being outside might mean something from needs just a quick wash and some lubrication to a solid lump of iron oxide. – gschenk Feb 15 '17 at 13:27
  • Why do guys to this to the Girl Friends? – mattnz Feb 15 '17 at 19:02
  • I'd start by asking her if she wants a bike or not. There is no point wasting time on a siezed and rusty dumper bike if noone wants to use it. A year ago it would have been in better condition and someone still dumped it, because it sounds like a BSO. Check, before wasting your time. – Criggie Feb 16 '17 at 5:07
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    She'd rather I fix something than buy another, stubborn about spending money on something new if we've already got one, ESPECIALLY if it's for her. – BlackJackal Feb 16 '17 at 17:45
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A little tricky. It is hard to guess how bad the bike is -- I've seen some left out that long (in Minnesota) with only a scattering of cosmetic rust, others that were pretty well trashed.

First thing to do is to clean it off. Get a nylon scrub brush or a non-abrasive "scrubbie" and a bucket of soapy water and work it over pretty well. Rinse well with a hose, but DO NOT SPRAY HIGH-PRESSURE WATER AT THE HUBS OR OTHER BEARINGS!

Next, get an old toothbrush and some WD-40 (yes, people will scream that's a no-no, but ignore them) and clean the chain and derailers (if it has derailers). Take care to keep the solvent off the tires when you do this. (I like to lay a section of newspaper against the wheel, tucked behind the derailer.) Then oil the chain and derailers well, wipe with a cloth and oil again. And wipe again. (It's best to use some chain oil from a bike shop, but regular 3-in-1 or some such will do for starters.)

Now check the bearings. Spin the wheels and see if they seem to spin freely and smoothly. Turn the crank with your hand and feel for any roughness as it turns. Sit astride the bike and turn the handlebars, feeling for any roughness in the "headset" that the fork pivots on.

If the bearings seem to check out, give it a test ride. (If not they will need to be disassembled and rebuilt.) Check the brakes, and shifters, if it's a multi-speed. To test the brakes, one should do several stops at various speeds and in various conditions, including a few panic stops.

Here you're very likely to discover that the shift and brake cables have rusted up -- the most likely problem. There are a few ways to deal with this, the most obvious being simply replacing the problematic cables. Short of that you can try to work the cables free, then work some sort of lubricant into them. A trick I like to use is to somehow dribble "oxalic acid" (available from paint stores as a cleaner) into the cables. This actually dissolves rust. (Oxalic acid is also useful for removing cosmetic rust on handlebars, et al.)

After this, you could consider repacking the bearings, but that depends on how much you really like this girlfriend. ;)

  • Assuming @BlackJackal likes her/his girlfriend quite a bit, perhaps you could add a bit on: Checking if breaks work reliably, making sure the frame is still stable at the dropouts, and how to check the head set. (I've a good idea how to do it but am not experienced enough to give reliable advise with safety critical stuff). – gschenk Feb 15 '17 at 19:29
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    @gschenk -- The test ride should test the brakes (and shifters). One should do several stops at various speeds and in various conditions, including a few panic stops. On a bike with front brakes, one check for the headset is to sit on the bike, lock the front brake, and then push the bike back and forth to see if there is any "play" in the headset bearings. – Daniel R Hicks Feb 15 '17 at 19:50
  • I'd be doing the bearings as a matter of course, so no point not blasting them with the hose. – Criggie Feb 16 '17 at 5:06
  • @Criggie - But you know how to do that. And odds are the bearings are is reasonably good shape and don't require rebuilding (until you blast them with the hose). – Daniel R Hicks Feb 16 '17 at 12:17

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