Basic Bike Check
New bicycle for Christmas? Here is a simple check that will help keep it road worthy.
A – air
B – brakes
C – chain
D – direction
E – everything else
Pump tyres to the correct pressure – it is written on the side of the tyre the pressure to which they should be pumped. Floor/track pumps are recommended – it’s very difficult to pump a tyre to full pressure with a hand pump.
Riding on tyres below pressure can result in damage to the wheel rim and tyres, and increasingly likely punctures. Soggy tyres absorb your energy – you’ll find it far easier to ride at full pressure.
A common problem when riding on under-inflated tyres is that the tube moves independently to the tyre, slowly being pulled round as the wheel turns, so will become very bunched up at one point and very stretched at another. An indicator that this has happened is the valve protruding from the rim at an angle. Rather than try and shove the pump head on regardless, it’s best to remove the tyre and make sure the tube is correctly laid out inside.
Check brake pads for wear (there are grooves on the inside of the pad, so once these have disappeared, it’s time to replace) and correct placement. The whole of the pad should make contact with the rim, without hanging off the bottom or touching the tyre, and without the front or rear of the pad engaging first.
The brakes should engage instantly. If the brakes feel loose, either use the bolt on the brake callipers or the barrel adjuster on the brake lever. Tightening at the bolt is best, though it’s a bit more fiddly. Brake levers are sprung, so hold them in position while you undo the bolt to prevent them from springing open. Pull the cable through (a tiny adjustment is often all that’s needed) then re-tighten the bolt. The barrel adjuster is more of a temporary fix – it’s only a set length, so can’t be adjusted indefinitely. Unscrew the barrel adjuster to tighten the cable.
Brake levers come in a standard size, and can be adjusted for small hands. Somewhere on the lever housing there is a screw that can be tightened to move the levers closer to the handlebars. (This will also tighten the brakes so make sure you adjust them too.)
Healthy chains are free from dirt and rust, and are sufficiently lubricated. Use an old cloth and a lubricating spray (TF2 or GT85) to clean and remove surface rust. Oil sparingly using a dedicated chain lube. Excess oil will increase the likelihood of the chain picking up more dirt from the road and therefore wear it out more quickly. Wet lube is good for rainy conditions, as it doesn’t wash off, but being thick, it can pick up more dirt. Dry lube is lighter but will need to be reapplied if it rains.
If you buy your bicycle from a reputable dealer, this should never be a problem. If you’ve assembled the bicycle yourself, or it’s from Toys R Us or Halfords, definitely check this before riding.
Gripping the front wheel firmly between your knees and feet, try and twist the handlebars independently of the wheel. Try really hard – it needs to be completely firm. If the handlebars move, the bolt needs tightening. There are two common set-ups: a threaded headset, where there is a single bolt at the very top of the stem and a large nut around the base of the stem, and a threadless headset where there is a bolt holding on a cap at the very top and two pinch bolts on the side. Be careful not to tighten the wrong bolt. With a threaded headset, it is the bolt at the top that needs tightening – typically with a 6mm Allen key. With a threadless headset, tighten the two pinch bolts at the side, typically with a 5mm Allen key. Tighten them both incrementally and evenly rather than fully tightening one then the other. Tightening the bolt at the top will tighten the headset itself, rather than the handlebars, and will restrict the movement of the front wheel.
Give the wheels a spin to make sure they are running true.
Check all bolts are tight, especially those holding the wheels in place
Check the pedals are on the correct side – they will be marked with an L for left and R for right. It’s important to get this right – the left pedal is reverse-threaded to prevent it from unscrewing as you pedal. If they are on the wrong side, they will eventually undo themselves and fall off.
Saddle and handlebar stem should not be raised above the ‘minimum insertion’ mark.
Racks, mudguards and water bottle holders should be firmly fixed.