How to Perform a Daily Bike Safety and Maintenance Check
You should start every ride with this six-point inspection - you'll be safer, and your bike will last longer. If the inspection turns up a problem, you can fix it yourself or take it to a shop.
- Check the tire pressure. Why? Riding on under-inflated tires can cause flats and damage your wheels. And pumping up tires is a lot easier than fixing bent wheels. How? It's hard to tell with your thumb if a tire is under-inflated, especially on narrower, higher pressure tires. Instead, use a pressure gauge or a floor pump with one built-in.What if there's a problem? It's good to know how to change a tube yourself. If you're not sure, have a mechanic at your local shop give you a quick lesson. Rear wheels can be a little tricky to remove and install because of the chain & derailleurs. Mechanic's Tip: Don't just throw a new tube into the tire without finding out what caused the flat - if the sharp object is still stuck in your tire, it will just result in yet another flat tube. Safety Pointer: Under-inflated or over-inflated tires can both cause accidents, though it's more common with under-inflation.
- Check your chain lube. Why? Riding with a dry chain wears the chain's moving parts out faster. This, in turn, wears out everything else on your drive train faster: cassette, chain rings, even the little pulleys on your derailleurHow? Before throwing a leg over the bike, back-pedal a half-revolution and listen for squeaking from your chain. If it's squeaky, looks dry, or even if it's just been a while since you lubed it last, take a second to apply some fresh oil to the chain. What if there's a problem? Steady a drip bottle of chain lube so that it's just above the chain, then backpedal through three or four revolutions while gently squeezing the lube out onto the top, not the sides, of the chain. If you don't want to get messy, a local shop will usually do it for a dollar or two. They can also tell you what oil to use in your locale. Mechanic's Tip: Every climate has its own best chain lube. Those living near the sea might want something not too far removed from motor oil, while those living in a drier climate might favor fairly thin lubricants that don't attract too much dust. But WD-40, Liquid Wrench and similar "penetrants" are never a good idea. Safety Pointer: Don't use aerosols, as the overspray can get on the rim and interfere with your rear brake.
- Check your brakes. Why? Because people with bad brakes have accidents. How? Before you start rolling, squeeze each brake a couple times to make sure they're working. Squeeze them again lightly as you start rolling to feel for uneven braking due to wheel damage, or the change in braking vibration that can mean your brakes are rubbing the tire rather than the metallic braking surface of the rim. Mechanic's Tip: This is especially important if you frequently take the wheels off for transportation or storage -- it's common to forget to hook up the brakes again. What if there's a problem? It may be as simple as taking up a little slack in the brake cable with a barrel adjuster or as complicated as a loose or broken part. Safety Pointer: These are your brakes we're talking about, so if you don't know what you're doing, take it to a bike mechanic.
- Check your clipless pedals, if you have them. Why? If you find something that interferes with disengaging your pedals, you might just save yourself from keeling over at the next stop sign. It's hard to look cool when you're on the ground with your feet stuck in your pedals. How? As you engage the cleat and pedal, take a minute to clip out and back in again once or twice. What if there's a problem? If it feels rough or stuck, it might be a pebble stuck in your cleat. That's easy to fix. But if it feels sloppy and loose, or feels uneven but doesn't improve with a little light oil on the retention mechanism, you might have a broken cleat or pedal. That's more likely to require a trip to the bike shop. Mechanic's Tip: If you're riding in muddy, sandy, rocky or snowy conditions, a couple moderate sideways whacks of shoe against pedal can help you clear the interfering grit and gunk without dismounting. Safety Pointer: More than one rider has been injured by falling over in clipless pedals they couldn't get out of. Don't monkey with the cleat tension unless you understand what you're doing, and give yourself a chance to get used to any changes in a safe test-ride environment.
- Feel for loose parts. Why? Some loose parts will cause things to wear out faster, while others can cause crashes. Either reason is good enough for to check for loose parts.< How? As you mount and push off, feel for anything unusual. The force of your weight on the bike and the first couple pedal strokes will usually make serious problems like loose wheels, saddles, handlebars or accessories apparent with a clunking sensation. What if there's a problem? Depends on what it is. If you can find it and fix it, great; if not, you shouldn't ride until you know what's causing any big clunk. Mechanic's Tip: Again, people who frequently remove wheels for transportation or storage are most likely to encounter forgotten quick release levers. Safety Pointer: Novice cyclists are often mystified by quick-release levers (if you're not certain that you're doing it right, ask someone who knows). But any significant clunking sensation means something is about to fall off or fall apart, and that's never safe.
- Listen for unusual noises. Why? Since bikes are so quiet, you can detect problems early with a good ear. Early detection means less expensive repairs and safer riding. How? As you start out on your ride, listen for unusual sounds of scraping, rattling, rubbing, or creaking. What if there's a problem? Stop and see if you can figure it out. If you can't, it might not always be necessary to scrap the ride. Little noises can be really hard to track down, and if there aren't any other symptoms, it might not require immediate attention. Mechanic's Tip: Pay attention to rhythm. Noises that start & stop with your pedaling are usually symptoms of something in the drive train or parts of the bike that bear your weight. Wheel & brake noises will get faster as the bike accelerates, and continue whether or not you're pedaling. Safety Pointer: Noises relating to wheel rotation are always worth finding before you ride anywhere, since they often indicate unsafe conditions in your brakes, tires or wheels. On the other hand, creaking sounds that seem to occur when you shift your weight around on the bike can be as benign as a stem or seat post that needs lubrication, or as serious as a small crack developing somewhere important. Take it to a mechanic if the creaking gets louder or fails to go away.
- There are two steps to fixing your bike: diagnosis, and repair. Learning to recognize when something is wrong is the first step; learning to figure out what exactly it is is the second. Neither of these require tools.
- If you want to learn more about taking care of your bike yourself, one good way to do it is to pay a shop to work on your bike in the winter, when the mechanics will have a little more time to answer questions and show you how to do some things yourself.
- Bikes are pretty simple machines, but if you really don't know what you're doing, you can create unsafe conditions on yours without realizing it. Get a good book, learn from a shop or a friend, or leave it to the professionals if you have reason to doubt your mechanical abilities.
- Know your limitations. While there's a lot on a bike that just about anyone can fix, other things are surprisingly complicated or confusing. "Truing" or straightening wheels, in particular, is something that nearly all novice mechanics will do badly unless they have help or instruction.
- After you've worked on your bike, your first ride should be a cautious test ride in a safe place. If you forgot to do something important, you don't want to find out about it in traffic.
Things You'll Need
- For diagnosis, you only need an alert mind and your senses.
- To keep your bike running smoothly from day to day, you'll need a decent pump with a gauge, and some chain lube
- It's nice to have a pump, spare tube, tire levers and a patch kit with you if you get a flat. Otherwise you're walking or depending on the kindness of strangers.
- Once you start to actually work on your bike, you'll need: appropriate box/open wrenches - adjustables and pliers will ruin your bike's nuts & bolts
- "Allen wrenches" or hex wrenches. These are male hexagonal tools, usually L-shaped, that fit the female hexagonal sockets on many bike parts.
- All manner of special and expensive tools, as your repairs get more involved. You can get a kit, but you're usually better off getting them a la carte as you need them.
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