Getting your bike ready to start riding again does not take a lot of time or effort as long as your bike is not in need of major repair. The inspection items below are all easy to do yourself and will ensure your bike is both safe and ready to ride.

If you find your bike needs major repairs or adjustments, you have several options:

  • You can do them yourself. There are lots of online resources to help you. Here is one that offers videos: http://bicycletutor.com/. Another one that has just about everything is http://sheldonbrown.com/.
  • 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 your bike in for service at your local bike shop.

So let’s get started with the items you should check. You’ll learn a little more about your bike and make it even more fun to ride.

Make Sure It Fits

Before you spend a lot of time checking and fixing a bike, you should make sure that it actually fits your body. Here are a couple of things you can check to make sure that your bike is the right size and set up properly for you.

  • When you stand over your bike, there should be at least 1 to 2 inches of clearance between you and the highest point on the top tube. The last thing you want is to have to jump down off the seat only to land on the top bar of your bike. You also don’t want a bike that is too small for you.
  • Now that you have checked the size of the bike, its time to set things up to get the most out of your pedaling. When you are seated on your bike with one leg extended to bottom of the peddle stroke and your foot flat, there should be only a slight bend in your knee. This will ensure that you get the most benefit with each peddle stroke.
  • When you are seated and your feet are in the 3/9 o’clock position (pedals parallel to the floor), when you look straight down from the front of your forward knee, you should not be out over the front of your toes. It should be approximately over the centre of your pedals or slightly behind.
  • Handle bars can be set at any height that feels comfortable, however generally they are approximately level with the seat.

Remember that if a bike is too big or too small it can be hard to control properly and therefore may not be safe for you to ride.

Make Sure It Is Safe

There are several things that you should check before you ride. Lets start with the most important, your brakes.

Brakes

The brakes are the most important safety item on your bike and need to provide the best possible stopping power.

  • Start by pulling the brake levers tightly towards the handle bars. If you cannot place at least one finger width between the lever and the handle bars you need to adjust the brakes. The lever should never pull all the way back to the handle bars.
  • Now check the brake pads. The pads have grooves in them that indicate wear just like the treads on your car tires. If they are just about gone or not there at all, you need to replace the pads.
  • Now squeeze the brake levers again and check to see that the brake pads contact the rim evenly and squarely. If they are either contacting the tire (which could cause a blow out) or fall below the rim slightly, they need to be adjusted.
  • Try squeezing the brake levers several times while looking to see if the brakes are springing back on both sides and away from the wheel rims when the brake lever is released. If they don’t then they will rub on the rim and cause you to work harder as you pedal down the road.
  • If the brakes do not spring back or release very slowly when the lever is released, it is likely that they need some servicing. This could be a simple adjustment or it might involve or replacement of the brake cables. You may want to get some help or at least some advise before tackling the adjustment.

Now take the bike for short ride and try the brakes. Are they providing enough braking power? If not the brake pads might simply be the age of the brake pads. As they age the rubber gets harder and eventually they need to be replaced even if they are not worn out.

Headset

The headset of your bike are the components between your handle bars and your forks that allow you to steer your bike. If they are loose or worn they can make it more difficult to steer your bike safely around obstacles.

Lift the front wheel off the ground and turn the handlebars. Does the headset turn smoothly and easily? Now, while fully engaging the front brake, rock the bike back and forth. Is the headset tight or do you feel some movement. If you are not sure place your finger against the headset just where it meets the forks and try rocking it again. You should now be able to tell if there is any play on the bearing of your steering. A lose headset is unsafe and will also cause unnecessary wear that will eventually be very expensive to repair.

Make Sure It Rides Smoothly

There are a number of things that either contribute or detract from how smoothly your bike rides. Primarily we are talking about the wheels/tires and the drive train (chain, gears, etc.)

Tire Pressure

If your bike has been sitting for a while, the tires will be softer than when you left it last. You can check them by pressing down on the top if the tire with your thumb, but if you have a tire gauge or pump with a gauge, so much the better.

  • Check along the side wall of your tire and find the recommended pressure for your specific tires. If you are riding primarily on paved streets, you should take advantage of decreased rolling resistance and pump your tires up the maximum allowable pressure. Generally for mountain bikes the pressure will be 40 to 60 psi while for road bikes it can be as high as 120 to 150 psi, so check to make sure.
  • While you are looking for the recommended pressure you can also check you tires for wear, cracks in the sidewalls, embedded glass etc. If you tire have seen better days, you might as well start off the year with new ones.
  • Give each wheel a spin to make sure that they roll straight and true. If the rim is out of alignment it will rub on the brakes and again make it more work for you to ride. If it is not straight, you can first check the spokes to make sure they are all tight and that none of them are broken. If the wheel is out of true or has broken spokes, it is best to get some help with fixing it.

Drive Train

The drive train of a bike is all those components that “drive” it forward. These components are often the most overlooked and misunderstood part of a bike. A poorly maintained drive train can significantly increase wear on some rather expensive components.

The Chain

Your chain is where the lack of simple maintenance begins. It really should be kept clean and lubricated. This is not just an item for the spring clean up, but needs to be done regularly throughout the riding season, especially after a rain.

There are lots of chain cleaning products and tools out there, but at the very least you should employ the use of a rag to remove some of the dirt and debris from your chain. Remember that solvents are not good cleaning products for your chain or any other drive component of your bike.

Once you have cleaned your chain (and let it dry if your used a cleaning product), you need to lubricate it with an appropriate product. WD-40 does provide some lubrication, but it is also a solvent/cleaner and so not appropriate for our chain. It can work its way into the bushings and dry out the lubrication that exists inside of these pivot points. Motor oil from your car will only attract more dirt and debris, so get a lubricant that is made for the task. For recommendations on the right lubricant for your type of riding, talk to your bike shop. There are a variety of types but mainly you are looking at 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. This too will only attract more dirt and turn your chain (and you pant leg too) into a greasy mess. The only area that needs lubrication is the bushings or points along the chain where it pivots. 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.

If you ride your bike a lot, you may want to as well check the chain for elongation. A stretched chain will cause unnecessary wear to the teeth of both the rear cogs and front chain rings which in turn can cause a costly repair bill. You can get your local bike shop to check this for you or you can simply measure 12 full links of the chain using a ruler. The 12 full links should measure exactly 12” when the chain is new and if you measure more than 12 1/8”, you need to replace the chain.

Chain Rings and Cogs

If you are cleaning the chain, you might as well clean up the chain rings and rear cogs as well. You’ll likely need a stiff brush and some cleaning solution to undertake this task. Bike shops sell specific tools for this job, however a thin stiff brush will do just as good a job and cost a lot less. (check your dollar store)You can also use an old toothbrush to get those hard to reach spots. It is best to remove the rear wheel when cleaning the cogs. You can brush these components clean and then using a hose spray the excess cleaning solution off them. Be careful not to spray the water directly at the side of the wheel hub as you may drive water into the hub where you really don’t want it.

Derailleurs

Cleaning your derailleurs will help to ensure that your bike keeps shifting gears smoothly. A little cleaning solution and a tooth brush is all that is needed to get them sparking clean.

If you want you rear derailleur to run really smooth, you may want to remove and  clean the jockey wheels (the little wheels on the rear derailleur). Dirty jockey are often the cause an annoying squealing sound as you ride along the road. These two small wheels are easy to remove and clean. Unless you have a really expensive bike, there are no small bearing to contend with, just a couple of side dust covers and a metal or ceramic bushing. Simply remove them, clean them thoroughly, and reinstall them. No more squealing!

Shifting

Now that the drive train is clean you can check the shifting of the gears. If your gears are not shifting smoothly (or in some cases not at all) you will want to make some adjustments. Shifting problems can be caused by loose shifting cables, damaged, sticky shifting cables, poor derailleur alignment, and the list goes on. If you are not familiar with derailleurs you may want to get some help, however here is a video that might help you make adjustments.

Just about ready to go

The bike is ready and so are you, but before you jump on your bike for that first ride, make sure that you have all the things that you need. If you carry a spare tube, pump it up and check to make sure it is still OK. Check your patching kit to make sure that it has all the needed its and that the glue has not dried out. Lastly make sure you have those tire levers and any other tools that you usually carry with you.

Now you’re ready to ride! Here are tips for those early spring rides.

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