You’re all ready to ride, but before you head out there are a few things to check to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Your bike needs regular care and maintenance, and performing your own safety checks is a good way to catch small problems before they become larger ones. It also ensures that your bike always handles the same way, and will help to prevent pesky roadside repairs.
Before Each Ride
Lift your front wheel off of the ground, give it a spin, and pull your brake down HARD. Do the same with the rear wheel. Does your brake lever travel all the way to handlebar, or do you have a good amount of space left?
If your brake lever is hitting the drops of your bar when you brake, you need a brake adjustment (or new pads) right away. Your pads generally have wear lines (and sometimes even have ‘wear line’ printed on them) so take a peek at the brake pad itself to see that there’s enough rubber left on them.
If you’ve got any issue with braking, swing by the shop to get this fixed before your next ride. You need all of the stopping power you can get when you’re on the road: if your brake levers can hit the handlebars, you won’t have enough pull to stop quickly, if at all.
At the same time, watch your wheel as it spins—does it ‘wobble’ and contact with the brake at some points? If so, you should have your wheel trued or otherwise looked at by a mechanic prior to riding. Hops in your wheel will only get worse as you ride on them, so it’s best to take care of this early.
Your tires are very important and should be checked frequently with a reliable gauge. They need to ride hard—really. Most road tires run at 100 PSI, or near to it. You’ll find a minimum and maximum (or optimal pressure) printed on the sidewall of your tire. Take a close look, and follow these numbers when you ride. Riding with your pressure too low will give you a higher risk of getting a flat, and will slow you down. Riding too hard will reduce traction and cause you to feel every bump in the road.
While you inflate your tires, take a look at the tread of your tire and make sure that there aren’t any pieces of glass/metal in the tread or threads coming out of the tire. Use a small screwdriver to pick out anything that you see, and keep in mind how soon you’ll need to replace your tires.
Your quick release attaches your wheel to your bike. It’s a small part that does a big job. To make sure it’s on tight, undo your quick release lever and tighten it back down. You should be able to push your quick release all the way down until it stops on it’s own, alongside (but not on top of) the frame (without it going into the spokes of your wheels). If it’s too tight, it will stop too far out (away from the frame) and it could snag on something, and if it’s in too loose, you won’t be to lock it in place.
CHAIN AND GEARS:
Make sure your chain is well lubricated, but not too much! A squeaky (dry) chain is going to haunt you the entire ride, but too much lube is going to get really dirty really quickly, and that’s going to end up on your legs.
As you set out, do a quick shift through your gears to make sure everything is functioning smoothly. If you already know how, a quick barrel adjuster twist may correct some skipping, but it may also be a sign that it’s time for a new chain.
On A Regular Basis
These areas require less regular adjustments/repairs and are a little more difficult to notice, but it’s smart to check on them every other week or so. Damage to these pieces can lead to much larger repairs, so in this case an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Hold your front brake down and rock your handlebars back and forth—if you hear a knocking this means your headset is loose, and should be adjusted by a mechanic immediately.
Lift your wheel off the ground and, gripping the rim, try to rock it side to side (not back and forth, as the wheel spins). If the wheel knocks in one direction or the other, you need a hub adjustment or larger repair. Repeat with the other wheel!
Gripping your crank arm or pedal, try to rock the crank side to side (not back and forth as it spins). If this piece moves, you may have a problem with your crank or bottom bracket, and should see a mechanic immediately.
With practice, this bike check will take you only a minute or two, but it can save you a lot of time and trouble and make you a happy, self-sufficient cyclist.
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Enjoy your ride!