Next time you head out for a ride, take a moment to do a quick inspection of your bike. It’ll only take a few minutes and you just might prevent a bigger problem from happening. Trust us: You don’t want to be discovering that you have an issue with your brakes as you’re going full-speed down a hill.
In the following sections, we cover all the things you should check before each and every ride.
The quick-release levers on the wheels should be securely positioned in the closed position. Open and close the levers once to confirm that they’re tight. If you find that they’re loose, open the lever, turn the nut opposite the lever a quarter-turn and re-close the lever. When you’re sure that the levers are secure, move the wheel side to side check for looseness. Next, lift the wheel off the ground and give it a spin to see that it doesn’t wobble and that the rim doesn’t contact the brake pads at any point.
Check the air pressure of your tires with a pressure gauge and compare it with the recommended pressure listed on the sidewall. Under-inflated tires will drastically increase the rolling resistance, thereby increasing the amount of energy needed to pedal the bicycle. Properly inflated tires also better absorb any impact and protect the wheel from damage.
While you’re checking the pressure, visually inspect the tires, looking for any cracks, cuts, or tears.
Give the brake levers a strong squeeze to ensure that the brakes firmly grip the wheels — you shouldn’t have to pull the levers more than halfway to the handlebars. Next, examine the brake pads and make sure they have sufficient rubber. Also pay attention to their position relative to the rim — they shouldn’t be too high (because they’ll rub a hole in the tire) or too low (because they could slip down into the spokes). There should be 1mm to 2mm of space between the pads and the rim.
Straddle the front wheel pinching it between your thighs. Grip the handlebars and try to twist them side to side. Try the same procedure, but this time straddle the frame, squeeze the brakes, and try to rock the bicycle back and forth. If there’s play in the handlebars or stem, it could mean either that the clamp bolts need to be tightened or you have a loose headset, which could be dangerous at high speeds.
Pedals and cranks
Just as you checked for looseness with the handlebars (see the preceding section), you’ll want to do the same with the pedals and cranks. First, grab a crank in each hand and try to shake them. If there is looseness, fixing it may be as simple as tightening the crank bolts, or you may have issues with the bottom bracket. Confirm that the pedals spin freely but that you can’t pull them away from the cranks.