If you’re like me, when you’re ready to ride, all you want to do is go. Just jump on and start pedaling. But for your own safely and to keep your bike in top working order, it’s really important that you get into the habit of performing five simple maintenance checks whenever you ride.
The good news is that these inspections are quick and easy, taking no more than 30 seconds total. And, by checking your bike for the most common mechanical failures that can lead to a crash, you’ll be taking some very effective steps to ensure your own safety each time you go out.
1. Tires and Wheels
Before you get on your bike, check your tires to make sure they are properly inflated. Take a quick look all the way around for places where the rubber might be cracked, gouged or worn.
Also, check the nuts or quick release mechanisms that hold your wheels in place. Verify that your wheels are securely fastened so they don’t come out while riding. You don’t really want to play stuntman, and fly over the handlebars, right?
Squeeze your brake levers to make sure that they apply enough pressure to stop your bike and that you don’t have any problems with fraying or stretched cables.
Also eyeball the brake pads in the front and back to be sure they are hitting only the rims and not the tires. If your brake pads are squeezing the tires when applied, not only can it wear or damage your sidewalls, but can also result in you being bucked over the handlebars, offering yet another way to play Evel Knievel, because rubber hitting rubber grips very well. You only want the brake pads on the rims, because that allows a gentler, more consistent stop.
3. Seat Post and Handle Bar Stem
Next, check to make sure that your handle bar stem is fastened tightly and that your seat is set at the correct height. You want to be sure that both are secure, as there are fewer things more exciting than realizing that you can’t control your bike as you go zipping down the street because the handlebars are loose in your hands.
As you get ready to put on your helmet, look it over once to make sure there are no cracks on the outer shell or inner surface. Check too, that the straps are adjusted so that the helmet fits snugly, and sits down on your forehead, hitting somewhere above your eyebrows. A common mistake is to wear a helmet that rides up too high, which won’t protect your forehead in the event of a wipeout.
5. Chain and Gears
The last thing to check is that your chain turns cleanly through your front and rear sprockets and doesn't rub against the derailleurs. You can do this as you pedal when you first set off. At the same time, quickly run your bike through its range of gears to make sure there are no problems with rough shifting, chain slippage etc., and that the drive train is free from excessive grime and doesn’t need lubrication.
The problem I experienced with chain slippage happened once when I was stopped at an intersection going uphill. The light changed and I stood up slightly to pedal hard and get moving. But instead of beginning to move forward, the chain slipped, my pedals twirled wildly and I lost my balance, coming down hard on the bar and veering over into the traffic lane.
I was able to recover and continue riding, but was it painful? Yes. Embarassing? Yes. And if cars been moving next to me when I swerved into the lane, this episode might have ended differently.
Quick, Easy, and Very, Very Important
All told, these checks should take you less than 30 seconds, and really just require a visual inspection of your bike’s main components. This is smart and easy way to make sure you stay as safe as possible when you’re out on your bike.