Our resident bicycle expert, Gary Coleman from Crazy Horse Bike Workshop, takes you through what you need to do to check your bike’s in full working order. Follow these tips for a smooth and safe journey… it could just save your life. Watch the video and/or read through the tips below...
Check your bike
It’s always a good idea to just give your bike a quick check before you start riding, especially if you’ve not ridden for a while or if you’ve left it parked in a public place.
Always carry a multi tool of some type to just tighten up those nuts and bolts that may have worked loose. Checking them while you’re stationary is infinitely better than finding they’re loose while you’re in traffic!
I always like to start at the front end and try both brakes a few times. A quick few pulls on both levers will quickly highlight if they are working effectively or if there is a problem.
Grabbing the front brake and rocking the bike, along with some downward pressure on the bars, will also give you an indication if the handle bars are loose. If in doubt, whip out that multi tool and tighten those allen bolts.
With the front brake held on, spin the handle bars 90° and rock the bike forward and back. You are looking to feel any play in and around the headset that may cause you a drama out on the road. A tiny amount of movement is fine, but if it’s noticeable then get that headset adjusted asap.
Looking at the brake callipers, grab a few handfuls of brake and make sure that those callipers are moving freely. You want to ensure that they are moving nice and smoothly, that the brake cables are not sticky, rusted or fraying, pads are contacting the brake surface nice and square, and of course that they are not worn out. If in doubt about this or any other part of this safety critical piece of kit, get them checked out. We want nice fresh pads, free of foreign objects that could damage your rim surface!
Check that the front wheel is nice and secure, especially those quick release fixings.
A quick inspection of the braking surface should identify if the surface is clean and relatively square. Run your finger along the surface to see if it’s square or if you can feel a distinct hollow. If you feel the surface is concave or ridged, that means that the braking surface is at the end of service and you will need to replace the wheel soon. If you can see a crack of any sort in the surface, then don’t ride it. Similarly, if you notice a spoke is loose or there is any cracking to the rim itself, then get it checked! Cleaning the brake surface is always a good idea and a rag with some Isopropyl Alcohol should clean it up nicely.
Next, pick up the front end, so that the wheel is off the ground, and give it a spin. Take a close look at the wheel where the brake pads are closest to the rim to see if there is some lateral movement. If it is moving from side to side more than 1-2mm, then you will need to get the wheel looked at and trued or have the hubs inspected and serviced. A pro will true the wheel to within 0.2mm!
Give the tyre your attention. Check the rolling surface for any cuts and abrasions that might be a problem – anything that is visibly opening can spell disaster. Similarly, check the side walls for cracking, especially if you have let the tyres deflate. Last up, check that the tyre is up to pressure. There will be some guidance on the side wall of the tyre for minimum and maximum pressures. Inflate the tyres to pressure and make sure the tyre is seated properly into the rim. Check both sides of the tyre are secure – remember that a properly inflated tyre saves you energy. You would be surprised how much!
Bottom bracket and chain set
Moving backwards, we find ourselves at the bottom bracket and chain set. Here, we’re looking for lateral movement again. Check this by applying force to either pedal in turn to see if there is some movement. A tell tale sign that the bottom bracket is at the end of its service life is a creaking sound as you pedal or apply pressure. Any movement that is not circular is not a good thing. If it’s moving, then get it looked at.
While you’re there, check out your pedals. Make sure they are nice and tight, as stripping out your cranks can be expensive.
A quick look at the front derailleur to check that it is nice and straight, that it is secure on the frame and that the cable is not rusted or fraying should see you right. Unless you are comfortable adjusting your gears, it’s probably best to leave any indexing work to someone who knows how. Just be sure that the derailleur is not bent and that the chain is passing through the cage cleanly.
The chain needs to be well lubricated, so a drop of oil on each of the rollers once a month (more often if necessary) will help with the shifting, keep it quiet, and prolong the life of the equipment. A drop of oil on the derailleur pivots and the jockey wheels will also help.
Rear wheel and rear brake
The process we carried out for the front wheel and the brakes is the same for the back. Be methodical, run through the checks one by one and don’t let things such as worn brakes or frayed or rusty cables be the reason that you have an accident out in the traffic. Change them!
The rear derailleur and cassette
The key here is to ensure that the rear derailleur is not going to crash into the spokes when you shift. Make sure that the derailleur is secure and again that the cable is secure and not rusted or fraying before the pinch bolt. Look at the bike from behind and see if the derailleur is hanging straight. If it is at an angle other than straight down, then that spells trouble. If you have the bike in the biggest cog on the rear wheel, you want to be sure the derailleur is not in contact with the spokes. Spin the wheel – if it’s touching the derailleur, move out of that gear into a gear that is not causing a problem and get it looked at. If in doubt about setting up your derailleur, then have an expert look at it and ensure that the gears are set up and shifting properly.
Saddle and other accessories
Check that saddle is secure, and if you have mudguards, pannier racks or any other accessory then check the bolts!
Once you are satisfied that the bike is safe, take it for a short test ride. First test those brakes whilst riding, making sure they are working as you expect. Then run through the gears nice and slowly. Remember to unweight the pedals as you change gear to avoid crashing gears or, worse still, smashing your derailleurs. If that Rear Derailleur was not straight when you looked at it, then get it fixed before you smash something expensive. The quickest way to break your gears is to go full power through your chain while you are changing gear. Once you are satisfied your bike is safe then you are good to go.
Keeping your bike clean and well lubricated is essential. The cleaner you keep that chain and drive train, the longer it will last. Keeping the brake pads fresh will help with braking and will lengthen the lifespan of the wheels. Keeping the tyres well inflated will save you energy while you ride and will limit any damage to the tyre. It your bike lives outside, then keep it covered or the rain will wash through your bearings and leave you with a hefty bill come service time.
If in doubt about any aspect of bike safety then pop into a workshop and have a trusted mechanic look it over for you.
For a glossary of bicycle component terms, see this Wikipedia article.
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