Routine pre-ride checks are an important part of your bicycle maintenance routine. They not only ensure that your ride goes smoothly and free from disastrous mechanical failure, but are also key in keeping you safe, particularly as your riding becomes more serious and adventurous. I prefer not to be motivated by the fear of consequences but by the willingness to embrace cycling and the responsibilities this entails.
Here are a few things you can check on your bike before riding. Some, like checking tire pressure, should be done before every ride, others weekly or periodically. Use this list and become a creature of habit regarding safety on your bike!
1. Tires, pressure and wheels
Obviously the first and foremost practise before EVERY ride is checking tire pressure. Many people are very particular on the science of how much air a tire needs, especially mountain bikers! I'm not here to argue a point about PSI but i will say proper inflation is an important part of responsible cycling.
Now is also a good time to have a quick look at your tires. This check is an important part of road cycling as these tires are susceptible to cuts and splits from debris on the road. A major road tire failure can be dangerous and also means you will be either calling for a lift or waving down a passing car!
2. Wheels and QR levers
Bicycle wheels are tough. Regardless of this a broken spoke or cracked rim can stop you in your tracks. When checking the tires have a quick scan of the rims, particularly if the wheels have done a few miles. Look for any cracks or irregularities along the walls and spoke bed. Go around the wheel grabbing a couple of spokes at a time as a basic check of tension. It will soon become obvious if a spoke is loose or broken.
Making certain the wheels are properly positioned in the dropout is important. Loosen the quick release lever and allow the bike to drop onto the skewer then tighten.
3. Equipment check (helmet, spares, tools and parts)
It may seem a stretch as a safety tip but riding with all necessary equipment is one way of looking after yourself. When your cycling advances you may find your rides end up many miles from home in quite isolated areas. Be prepared for any eventuality.
Always wear your helmet and check the structural integrity after any spills or drops. Once a helmet is damaged its effectiveness at protecting your noggin is severely diminished. Buy a new one.
4. Nuts and bolts
Fortunately a 4,5 and 6mm allen key is all that is required to check 99% of the nuts and bolts on your bike. Start from the front and work back nipping up any that are loose. A very handy tool for the home mechanic is a torque wrench which enables every bolt to be tightened to exact specifications.
Even without this tool checking bolts should be a regular practice. On a mountain bike it is a good idea to pay particular attention to the suspension pivots. Make sure these are all tightened to specification to prevent wear or damage while riding.
5. Chain check and lubrication
Check your chain for lubrication before every ride. It is not necessary to lubricate constantly as this can actually have a negative effect on the drivetrain long term, but a wipe over with a cloth is a simple way of removing any road grime. Pedalling the chain backwards through the derailleur you can also easily spot any 'hot' links or places where the chain may be damaged, twisted or tight.
Why is this important for safety? Snapping or jamming a chain while riding can be dangerous and lead to injuries of varying severity, not to mention being a right pain in the "ahem", so check your chain regularly.
6. Frame check
This is particular to carbon frames as they are more susceptible to cracks or damage than alloy, steel or titanium. I regularly run my eye and hand over the tubes for damage or knocks, especially on my carbon mountain bike. It not only checks for potential injury causing failures but also allows me to ride confidently.
On an aside I also check the carbon steerer on my road bike periodically. Perhaps I'm being pedantic, but concern regarding the possibility of a truly bad accident from a fork failure on a high-speed, rough as guts descent, got me into this routine.
Squeeze the levers to make sure the pads are engaging and everything feels right. On road and mountain bikes a periodic check of the brake pads is a good idea, replace if necessary. If you recently had the wheels off your road bike, make sure the calipers are closed before riding.
While speaking of cables, the pre-ride check is a good time to glance over the bits that make the brakes and gears go. The best place to start is where the cable is connected to the brake caliper and derailleurs. Check that the cable is intact and free from snapped or frayed strands.
It doesn't take a genius to picture the result of a snapped brake cable while humming down hill!
If you are unsure about any of these points then ask us below or alternatively look for your local bike shop and go have a chat. Safe riding!