Many bikes get little if any maintenance and often are not really safe to ride due to problems that could be detected with this simple and quick check. The ABC Quick Check can identify potential issues that are often easy to fix and can make sure that you bike is safe and running smoothly. Some issues that may arise from this inspection may require more than simple adjustments. If you are not familiar or comfortable making the needed repairs, we have added some options for getting the repairs done in the “I need repairs” section at the end of the blog.
Here are the ABC’s you should check:
A is for air: It’s more than just checking that there is air in your tires, it is checking to make sure that the wheels are rolling smoothly.
- Check that your tires are firmly inflated. You can do this by simply pressing firmly down on the tire with your thumb, but a tire gauge of pump with a built in gauge is certainly more accurate. In most cases it is best to inflate your tires to the recommended maximum which you will find on the side wall of the tire. While you are looking for the tire pressure check the sidewalls of your tires to make sure that they are not beginning to crack and breakdown. Might be time to new tires! If your tires are low you will have to work much harder and you also risk getting a flat should you hit one of the ever present potholes or bumps in our Winnipeg roads.
- Check the tread area of your tires and make sure there is no glass or other sharp objects protruding from the tread. You may just find and remove something that was destined to become an inconvenient flat.
- Check to see that your wheels are straight and true. Pick up your bicycle and spin each wheel. The wheel should spin straight and not rub the brakes. If it is rubbing on the brakes you are again working harder and at the same time sacrificing your ability to brake quickly. If the wheel is not straight you may need to some help.
- Lastly check that the wheel bearings are tight. Grab the wheel and try to move it from side to side. If there is movement the cones that hold the bearing in your wheel in place may be lose. Lose cones can result in wear not only of the bearing but of the wheels hub, potentially resulting in the need to replace the whole wheel. You need the appropriate tools to tighten the cones properly so get some help.
B is for Brakes and Bars: Your brakes are the most important safety item on your bike and you want to make sure that they are at their best.
- Start by pulling the brake levers tightly towards the bars. You should be at least a finger width of space between the lever and handle grip. If the lever pulls all the way back and touches your handlebars it cannot possibly be providing and maximum braking force and needs to be adjusted. In some cases you will be able to simply adjust the barrel adjusters which are most often located on the brake handle. (sometime located on the brakes) Turning these counter clockwise will shorten the brake cable length and improve the situation. If there is not enough adjustment available on the barrel adjuster, you will need to make adjustments to the brake cable.
- Squeeze the brake handle and look at the brake pads and make sure that they making full contact with the rims of your wheels. As pads wear they will not always contact the rim as they were originally intended. If they are aligning above or below the rim you may have to loosen the brake pad mounting bolt and adjust them.
- Let’s also check the brake pads for wear. Worn or old pads can reduce your braking power and in some cases damage the rim of your wheel. Brakes pads have wear indicators just like the tread on car tires. When these are almost worn away or are not visible it may be time to replace the brake pads.
- You should also check the bars to make sure that steering of your bike is not compromised by a loose headset or pinch bolt that holds your handle bars in place. First start by pulling the front brake fully and try rocking your bike back and forth. There should no movement in the headset. Here is short video to explain (checking the headset).
- While you have your hands on the bars and the front brake engaged, try pushing down on the bars and make sure that they do not move or rotate. If they do you will need to tighten the pinch bolt that holds them in place.
- Now stand in front of your bicycle with the front wheel held tightly between your legs. Try and twist the handle bars from side to side. If the bars twist you will need to tighten the stem bolt or the pinch bolts depending on what kind of headset you have. Here is another short video to explain. Checking the handle bars
C is for Chain and Crank: This is not as much a safety issue as it is a maintenance issue. The chain and crank are integral parts of the drive train of your bicycle and as such need to be maintained to ensure that you can keep pedaling smoothly.
- Check to make sure your chain is clean, lubricated and running smoothly. A dirty chain will cause increased wear on the more expensive components of your drive train and make for costly repairs.
- Cleaning your chain:
- Option 1: If the chain is not that dirty you can simply clean it with a rag. Adjust the gears to the middle of the rear cogs and the middle of the front chain rings. (If you have only 2 chain rings use the smaller) Now just grab loosely around the lower part of the chain with a rag and simply turn the pedals backward. Here is a video to help you. Cleaning your chain
- If the chain is very greasy and dirty there are chain cleaners tools that you can purchase but simply using a course brush and some chain cleaner (try the environmentally friendly brand and remember that solvent is not a good cleaner for your chain) to clean your chain.
- Once the chain is dry, you can lubricate it. To start with, remember to use a lubricant designed for bicycles and WD-40 is not a lubricant. Motor oil is also not suitable as it will only attract more dirt and debris. There are lots of different bike lubes out there but generally there are wet lubes and dry lubes. If you are going to be riding in rain, a wet lube is a better choice. When you lubricate, don’t just pore it all over the chain. Too much lube will attract more dirt and turn your chain (and you pant leg too) into a greasy mess. The only area that needs lubrication is the pins or points along the chain where it can pivot. Simply place a single drop on each bushing or pivot points, let it sit for 5 minutes and then wipe any excess away with a rag.
- To check the crank, grab the pedal arm and try to wiggle it back and forth. There should not be any play in the bearings of the bottom bracket. If there is your bike definitely needs attention and a few special tools are likely required.
Quick – is for quick releases (or your wheel bolts): If your bike has quick
releases on the wheels and/or seat, you need to make sure they are tight and not easily opened. Even if you have bolt on wheels it is a good idea to check them to ensure that they are not loose. Learn how your quick release works and how to ensure it is tight by watching this video.
Final “Check”: As a final check, pick your bicycle up 10 cm (three to four inches) off the ground and drop it. If there are any rattles or something falls off, your bike requires attention.
Here is a link to a video of the ABC Quick Check. It is not as detailed as the description above so there are a few other items to check, but it should help in the basic understanding of the process.
Seem like a lot to check every time you ride?
Its a lot to read but not a lot of time once you are familiar with the various checks. That said, you really don’t need to do the full ABC Quick Check every time you ride your bike so here is a shortened version that you can use much more often:
- A is for air: Check that your tires are firmly inflated. Give then a spin and make sure there is no glass or other sharp objects protruding from the tread that could be your next flat tire.
- B is for Brakes and Bars: Pull the brake levers back tightly towards the bars and make sure that there is at least a fingers width of space between the lever and handle grip. Squeeze the front brake and rock your bike back and forth to make sure the headset is tight. Grab the front wheel between your legs and try to twist the handle bars from side to side.
- C is for Chain and Crank: Inspect your chain to make sure that it is lubricated and running smoothly. Spin the crank backwards and make sure that it is running smoothly.
- Quick: Check your quick releases to make sure they are tight. Check out the items below and learn a little more about your bike and make it even more fun to ride.
- Final “Check”: Pick your bicycle up 10 cm (three to four inches) off the ground and drop it to make sure there is nothing loose.
I need repairs!
If you have avoided any maintenance for years and find that your bike in need of more than some simple maintenance, you have a few option:
- Do it yourself. There are lots of on-line resources that can help you do most repairs provided you have the tools and a bit of a can do attitude.
- A better option is to connect with one of the many community bike shops around Winnipeg. They won’t fix your bike for you, but volunteers that have a background in bicycle repair will help you to do the repairs. In some cases they will also be able to provide used parts when needed. You get to learn more about your bike and at the same time get your bike repaired at minimal cost (you may need to buy some parts and donations are always welcome) if not free. For more information on the community bike shops in Winnipeg visit the WRENCH.
- You can take you bike in for service at your local bike shop.