Do These Five Essential Road Bike Checks Before Your Next Ride
One of the most unique and endearing features of a bicycle is that it’s a relatively simple machine amidst a modern sea of complex technology. Yes, frames can be made from space-age carbon fiber, and there are electric motors and batteries in many contemporary drivetrains. But a bicycle is still a human-powered machine with simple hand controls used to operate its gears. Still, your bike requires regular maintenance just like any other machine. Hopefully you’ve become best friends with the folks at your local bike shop—after all, they’re the expects for helping you maintain your bike and your gateway to your local cycling community. But in between routine services, you should be taking the initiative to make sure your bike is safe to pedal and performing at its optimal level. Here are five essential checks you should perform before each and every ride.
When inspecting your tires, pay close attention to any imperfections, and remove any small bits of debris. This will help prevent flats down the road.
INSPECT YOUR TIRES
Checking your tires before a ride is a two-part process. The first part is one that you can do during your bike’s regular cleaning process (see last point below): Closely inspect both your front and rear tires for small bits of debris, such as pebbles or bits of glass, that have become embedded in the tread. Over time, these small bits of debris can work themselves through the tire casing and cause a flat. You definitely don’t want to take that risk before you set off on an all-day epic journey. So, again, closely inspect your tires, and if you find any bits of debris, carefully remove them with a flat-head screwdriver, awl, or other appropriate tool. If you discover a large gash or other problem area that could result in a flat, go ahead and replace the tire. The second step in pre-ride tire preparation is a bit more obvious: Use a pump to inflate your tires to your preferred pressure. We’ve all experienced it: feeling overzealous and eager to jump on the bike and ride away, only to discover that our tires feel a bit too mushy—this could, at worst, potentially reduce your bike’s handling abilities or, at least, still leave you battling a mental hurdle to overcome knowing that your tires aren’t optimized for the day’s route.
CHECK YOUR BOLTS
This is incredibly important, and it’s something that your local bike shop or mechanic should be checking whenever they service your bike. But it’s also a good idea to take it upon yourself on a regular basis to ensure that all of the bolts on your bike are tightened to the appropriate torque settings as prescribed by each component’s manufacturer. Get yourself a torque wrench that has settings for all of the components on your bike (usually with a range of at least 4 Nm to 10 Nm, but this can vary from bike to bike) or a set of multiple fixed-Nm wrenches, and educate yourself on how to use the tool(s). Most components such as the stem and seatpost will have the proper torque settings written near the bolts. If not, check the owner’s manual or contact the component manufacturer. Go over your bike and check each bolt, one by one, ensuring that they’re all tightened to the specific recommended torque setting—no more and no less. Doing so will not only give you peace of mind, it could also potentially save you from a mechanical problem out on the road.
Your bike's drivetrain is its heart—so be sure to take care of it by routinely adjusting the shifting as needed, and replacing worn-out parts when necessary.
ADJUST YOUR SHIFTING
Going over your bike’s shifting should be one of your local bike shop’s or mechanic’s top priorities anytime you take it to them for service. Ideally, you’d have them give your bike a full tune-up once a month. But if you’re not able to utilize someone else’s service, then this is something you should check yourself. Test out your bike’s shifting and pay close attention to the smoothness of the gear changes. If your bike isn’t shifting well, make some adjustments to the derailleurs per the component manufacturer’s recommended process. If things still don’t feel quite right, it may be time to replace the shifter cables (if you have a mechanical drivetrain) or inspect the wiring (if you have an electronic drivetrain). For replacing parts such as those, we recommend taking your bike to your local shop or mechanic. Shifting gears is such a vital part of riding your bike that you do not want to skip this step and find yourself struggling to get into the proper gear while you’re out on the road. This will not only make for a less than stellar day of pedaling, it could potentially damage your bike’s parts.
Whether your bike has rim brakes or disc brakes, you'll need to regularly inspect them, and adjust them if necessary. You certainly don't want to find out your brakes aren't functioning properly while on a fast descent.
INSPECT YOUR BRAKES
It should go without saying that your bike’s brakes are fundamentally important to any ride. After all, without properly functioning brakes, your ride won't last very long at all. As with some of the other essential checks outlined above, brake maintenance should be something that your local bike shop or mechanic is checking every time you take your bike in for service. And because it’s so critical to both you’re bike’s safety and performance, it’s also something with which you should be familiar and comfortable inspecting and evaluating yourself, if not fully servicing. Before you head out for your full ride, do a small lap of your street or neighborhood at a light spin and pay close attention to how your brakes are performing. If everything feels good and you’re able to stop safely and comfortably, as well as modulate your brakes appropriately while descending and cornering, then you should be good to go. If anything feels off or different from normal, inspect your brakes. First, make sure your wheels are properly oriented and secured in your bike’s dropouts or thru-axles and give them a spin by hand—make sure they’re rotating freely and smoothly. If you have rim brakes, check to make sure that your wheel’s brake track is not contacting the brake pads while it is spinning. If you have disc brakes, listen to make sure your rotor is not contacting the brake pads inside the calipers—if it is, chances are you’ll hear a ting ting sound. If you experience any sort of rubbing, adjust the brakes per the manufacturer's recommended process. Also, for whatever type of brakes you have, check the pads. Make sure they don’t show any signs of excessive wear per the brake pad manufacturer’s recommendations. If anything seems amiss, or your pads show too much wear, replace them immediately. If you find that your brakes aren’t functioning properly, then the only thing they’ll be bringing to a screeching halt will be your day of riding.
A clean bike is a happy bike, and it makes for a happy rider, too.
WASH YOUR BIKE
Finally, this isn’t so much a “check” as it is something that you should be taking care of on a regular basis. Your bike is your priciest and, let’s be honest, your most fun piece of cycling gear. So be sure to treat it right and show it some love on a regular basis. You should be taking it to your local bike shop or a qualified mechanic to have it routinely serviced so that it’s always performing at its optimal level. Beyond that, it’s also a great idea to routinely wash your bike. In a perfect world, you’d be giving your bike a quick, five-minute wash after every ride or two, along with a thorough cleaning at least once a month. However, we don’t live in a perfect world, and we’re all guilty of occasionally tossing our dirty bike in the garage immediately following a ride. Once a month, set at least 30 to 60 minutes aside to give your bike a proper wash. Use cleaners and soaps specifically formulated for bicycle frames and components, and prepare to give the process some “elbow grease” to make sure all of your bike’s parts and pieces are shiny and free of dirt and debris. Don’t forget to degrease the chain and drivetrain components and add some fresh chain lube. Not only will a clean bike perform better, it will also give you a mental boost while riding knowing that you’re riding one of the sharpest-looking bikes on the road. To that effect, feel free to quickly wipe down your bike before you head out to meet your mates.