It’s summer, and the best time to go out bike riding. You’ll most likely be commuting a lot more, which puts more wear and tear on your bicycle. That’s why it’s a great idea to do a bike check before each ride.
Here’s how to do a midsummer bike check
Before each ride, give your bike a thorough bike check. Do the drop test to see if anything rattles.
Then do the following:
- Check your tire pressure.
- Make sure your wheel quick releases are secure.
- Check your brakes.
- Inspect your wheels.
- Check your crank arms and pedals.
- Check stem and headset.
- Closely inspect your chain.
After carefully doing a bike check, and making sure everything is safe, don’t forget to wear a helmet. Gloves are optional but extremely useful.
1. Check your tire pressure
Regardless of what type of bike you’re riding, the tires will always have a specific range on the side of them for you to reference. First find this range before using a gauge or inflating.
Once you know the psi range, use your tire gauge by placing it on the valve and pressing down, causing the needle on the gauge to move and display the pressure. Alternate between the air pump and gauge until you reach desired pressure.
To make things easier, get a pump with a built in gauge.
Checking tires without a gauge
While you may not be able to get a precise readout of tire pressure without a gauge, there are still some ways you can improvise.
If you are on a road bike, you can simply squeeze the tire on each side. If there is a lot of give, inflate until you can barely squeeze it.
Mountain bike tire pressure
For a mountain bike, get on the bike and look down. If you see the tires protruding out on each side more than a millimeter or two, you’ll need to add air. If they feel rock hard and offer no give, you need to relieve some of the air out.
HELPFUL THINGS TO KNOW
Different types of bike tires require different pressures. As a general rule of thumb, road tires usually need 80 to 130 psi, mountain bike tires require about 25 to 35 psi, and hybrid tires, 50 to 70 psi.
Weather can play a factor in your tire pressure as well. For instance, each 10-degree-Fahrenheit drop in outside temperature correlates to a 2 percent drop in tire pressure. An example of this would be the outside temperature dropping from 90 degrees to 60 degrees, which means your road tire pressure would drop from 100 psi to 94 psi.
Also, the surface you’re riding on plays a factor too. If you’re on a road bike, and you are riding on a very smooth road, you can keep the psi up to a maximum level. Rougher roads will require a slight drop in pressure to offer a smoother ride.
If you’re on a mountain bike and you are going to be tackling some adventurous singletrack that has uneven surfaces and plenty of sand and dirt, dropping your psi a bit can give the bike better traction and grip.
Body weight is another factor. Let’s say that a 165-pound rider uses 100 psi on his road bike. With that point of reference, a 200-pound rider inflates to around 120 psi, while a 130-pound rider could probably ride as low as 80 psi.
NOTE: Never go above or below the manufacturer’s recommended tire pressures.
Inspect the outer surface of the tires. Look for excessive wear in the tread, cuts or cracks on the tread or sidewall, exposed threads or wires, or bulges. If you see any of these, replace the tire.
2. Make sure your wheel quick releases are secure while doing your bike check
During your bike check, make sure your quick releases are secure. Bicycle wheel quick releases make it easy to remove wheels without tools.
They’re a great bike feature when you’re removing wheels to put a bicycle in a vehicle and if you need to repair a flat tire.
You want to understand and use your wheel quick releases properly, because incorrect use is dangerous since they hold the wheels in place.
The most common mistake is simply turning the lever like a nut until the wheel seems tight.
Used this way the lever and wheel can loosen as you ride leading to catastrophe. The wheel can actually come loose and even fall off in a worst case.
Inspecting your quick release
There are three ways to tell if the quick-release lever is doing its job to securely hold your wheel in place on your bike.
1) Most levers have the words “Open” and “Closed” stamped right on them, so look for that. If The quick release reads “Open,” that means the wheel is not properly fastened and it may come off–even if the wheel and lever feel tight!
2) Levers are usually curved. When the bend of the lever’s curve protrudes outward like a bump, the lever is closed. When the bend is cupped, the lever is open. Closing and opening the lever requires flipping it 180 degrees, not spinning it.
3) If a quick-release lever sticks out from the frame (isn’t flush with it), that also means it is not fully closed. It may seem to be holding the wheel(s), however, a protruding lever is not locked shut and it’s possible for it to come loose or get knocked loose if you bump it into something. Be sure to close the quick release fully if you see this to ensure your safety.
Please note, that even if the lever reads “Closed” and looks right, it’s a good idea to test how tight it is by trying to open it by pulling on it with a little effort. If it resists, it’s tight and safe. If it opens with only a little effort, it’s not tight enough.
NOTE: If your wheels are held in place with quick-release levers, check to make sure that the levers are closed with the proper tension. If you’re not familiar with the proper use of wheel quick-release levers, ask for help from a qualified bicycle mechanic.
Adjusting and closing your quick release
It’s good to know how the quick release is closed to tighten the wheel in the fork/frame. Make sure that it is flipped over on itself 180 degrees. If you do this and the quick release doesn’t feel tight, or if the wheel is still loose, you need to adjust the quick release’s tension.
To do this, open the quick-release lever. Now, hold both ends (one on each side) and turn one clockwise until, when you close the lever 180 degrees, you feel some resistance. At this point, try to close the lever fully.
The quick-release tensioning adjustment is correct when you can fully close the lever only with some effort. A good way to do it is by pressing it closed with your palm. This lets you put your fingers behind the frame to help squeeze the lever to close it (the lever should be tight enough to leave its impression in the palm of your hand). If you can only close the lever part way, open it, unscrew the adjustment slightly and try again.
Once you have the quick-release tensioning adjustment right, make sure the wheel is fully inserted and centered in the fork (or frame) and fully close the quick release and you’re ready to ride. The quick release tension adjustment won’t change on its own.
Removing and installing your wheel
Most forks have wheel-retention tabs on them, which are small protrusions that keep a loose wheel from falling out of the dropouts to keep you safe in the event your wheel loosens. In order to remove and install the wheel, the quick release must be open and adjusted by unscrewing the end(s) to clear these tabs.
To do this, hold both ends of the quick release and turn one counterclockwise to unscrew it until there’s enough clearance for the wheel to drop out of or fit into the fork (note that this adjustment is unnecessary on most rear wheels because rear retention tabs aren’t used).
Quick-release use tips
- The quick-release levers should be on the left side of the bike.
- Quick releases must be fully closed to ensure safety.
- If you close the lever in such a way that it aligns with the fork and stays, you’ll have something to grip with your fingers while squeezing the lever with your palm. It’ll also keep the lever tucked away where it can’t snag anything, which might happen while leaning your bike next to another in a bike rack, for example.
- If you ever unscrew the quick release until it comes apart fully, don’t panic! Just try not to lose the little springs. They’re not crucial and the quick release will work without them. They’re only there to provide spring pressure to maintain some clearance between the ends of the quick release and the axle locknuts to make it easier to slide the wheel into the frame. To reinstall the springs, make sure that the narrow ends point in.
Basic quick-release care
- About once a month, lube your quick-release levers because dry levers won’t work well and can feel like they’re closed and holding the wheel tight when they’re not.
- Aluminum quick-release levers usually press against bushings as you close the lever. Lightly lube where the lever contacts the bushing, to keep the quick release operating properly.
- Steel levers usually pivot inside the cap. Apply lube to trickle it inside the lever’s pivot point.
- If there’s a nut or screw holding the lever (look at the bottom of the cap), snug it with a wrench or screwdriver to make sure it’s tight.
If you have any questions about quick release use, visit your local bike shop.
3. Check your brakes
There are two main classes of brakes: rim brakes and disc brakes. Rim brakes – which can be v-brakes or cantilevers – are often found on road or hybrid bikes and the pads clamp onto the rim to bring you to a stop.
Disc brakes are commonly found on mountain bikes, some hybrids, and more recently on road and cyclocross bikes. These have brake pads which clamp onto a disc in the centre of the wheel to stop you.
In both cases, the pads wear down over time and will need replacing, probably a couple of times a year but this will be dependent upon use.
So – how do you know when you need to replace yours?
For rim brake pads (v-brake, cantilever, road), the time to replace them is when the teeth, or grooves, in the rubber, are gone. New brake pads generally have teeth, grooves, or some sort of pattern in the pad.
If your rim brakes have become a little unresponsive, take a look at the rubber on the pads – if you can’t see any indents at all in the pads, it means the top layer of rubber has worn away and you need to replace them.
If you have disc brakes, you will need to remove the wheel and pull the brake pad out of the calliper to be able to see how worn they are. Disc brake pads start out with about 3-4mm of compound (on the pad). They need to be replaced when there’s about 1mm left.
Disc brakes generally stop working so well around this time (when you’ve got down to 1mm).
As a general rule, when your brakes stop working so well – for example when you’re pulling the lever almost against the handlebar to stop – check them and see if they need to be changed. If they still have a thick layer of compound, then all you need to do is tighten your brake cable.
A basic brake test you can do during a bike check
Grasp the left-hand (front) brake lever firmly, and rock the bike forward and backward. The brakes should hold firmly without slipping or squealing.
Repeat using the right-hand (rear) brake lever. If either brake does not hold firmly, do not ride the bike, and have the brakes checked by a qualified bicycle mechanic.
4. Check your wheels
No bike check is complete without checking the condition of your wheels. With the bike resting on the ground, hold the handlebars with one hand, and grab the top of the front wheel with the other hand. Try to rock the wheel side-to-side; there should NOT be any “play” or movement in this direction.
Lift the front end of the bike and spin the front wheel. As the wheel spins, it should feel and sound smooth. If it makes a crunchy or grinding noise, or if the wheel wobbles from side to side as it spins, have it serviced by a qualified bicycle mechanic.
Repeat the above process for the rear wheel.
5. Check your crank arms and pedals
With the bike resting on the ground, stand on the right side of it. The crank is the arm that the pedal is connected to; rotate the cranks so that the arm is pointed up. Grasp the crank arm with one hand, and tug on it firmly, pulling it towards you and then towards the bike. You should not feel any play or movement.
Repeat on the left side of the bike.
If you feel play in the crank arms on both sides, it is likely that the bottom bracket (the set of ball bearings that allow the crank arms to turn) need to be serviced or replaced. If you feel play on only one side, the crank arm itself is probably loose.
You may be able to tighten it back down using the bolt in the center, but if it has worked itself loose, it probably needs to be replaced.
6. Check stem and headset
The stem is the component that holds the handlebar in place. During a bike check it’s important to carefully inspect it. Stand over the bike with the front wheel between your legs.
Grasp the handlebar firmly and try to turn the handlebar without turning the wheel. If the handlebar turns, DO NOT ride the bike and have it checked by a qualified bicycle mechanic.
The headset is the group of ball bearings inside the front part of the bike (the head tube) that enable the steering to operate. To check that they are adjusted properly, grab the left-hand (front) brake lever and rock the bike forward and backward while you hold onto the outside of the bearing areas (at the top and bottom of the frame’s head tube).
If you feel any play in the bearings, they need to be adjusted by a qualified bicycle mechanic.
7. Check your chain
Closely inspect the chain while doing your bike check. If there’s a little surface rust, then you can probably get away with cleaning and re-lubricating it. If it’s completely covered solid with rust, then it needs to be replaced.
Spin the cranks backwards and observe if the chain moves freely over the cogs without any kinking, skipping, or binding. It should turn relatively quietly without squealing or grinding. If if does any of these, it needs to be cleaned and lubricated.
If the chain is covered with hunks of grease or grime, either partially or completely, then clean and lubricate it.
Use a chain wear indicator tool to check the condition of the chain. If the tool indicates that the chain is worn, the chain needs to be replaced.
Thank you for joining us and watching my video, “A Midsummer Bike Check: Hot To Guide.” If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please leave them in the comments section below.
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