Everything You Ever Needed to Know About: Checking Your Bike

It’s definitely important to check out a few key parts of your bike before you hit the streets for a ride. If you check the following, you should be in pretty good shape.

Tires

Checking your tires before you ride is a basic and easy thing to do to make sure you get to your destination injury free and on time. Bicycle tires need to be inflated to the proper level of pressure before they are ridden on. You can find out what that pressure is by simply looking at the side of your tire. It should give pressure like 110 psi (pounds/square inch). Most bicycle pumps have a gauge on them that will let you know when you’ve reached the appropriate level of pressure.

I can’t stress the importance of checking your tires enough. If you don’t have enough air in your tires, you run the risk of getting something called a “pinch flat” which happens when the rubber in the tube gets stuck in the rim of your wheel because it isn’t inflated enough to keep from getting pinched in the rim. You’ll end up walking to your destination if that happens.

You should also check your tires for any foreign material. Perhaps you rode over a broken glass bottle on your last ride, but the glass didn’t make it through the tire into the tube to give you a flat. If you ride on it again, it might, so check and make sure your tires are clean before you head out the door.

Getting a flat puts you in a dangerous position. If it’s a sudden flat, with a large puncture, your tire will go flat quickly, leaving you riding on the rim of your wheel, and will probably cause you to be a bit unstable for a while. This is dangerous if you’re riding in traffic. You also don’t want to have to climb off your bike while on the street either. Checking your tires for the proper air pressure and to be sure they’re free of debris is the best way to avoid getting a flat.

Brakes

This is an obvious one. You don’t want to be rolling along down a big hill only to find out that your brakes aren’t working! Checking them is easy—just pull your brake levers and be sure that the brake pads make good solid contact with the rim of your wheel when you do. Your brakes aren’t too likely to get loose or out of alignment, but if they do, you can tighten the brake cable, or adjust them to make sure they line up correctly. Most people don’t know how to do either of those things, and it will vary depending on what type of brakes you have. The best thing to do if you’re not sure is to take the bike to your local bike shop and have them take a look at it.

Headset

The headset is a part that holds the fork of the bike (the part that holds your front wheel) to the frame of the bike. How tight or loose it is will affect your ability to steer the bike well, and if you can’t steer easily, you don’t have control of your bike, and your risk of being injured increases. A tight, but not too tight headset adds steering precision and protects the rider from destroying the fork if the front wheels get stuck. It also eliminates the likelihood that dirt gets in, which can also hinder your steering ability. Loose headsets can be very unsafe as well. If your headset is too loose, you will turn the handlebar, but not the front wheel, almost certainly causing yourself to be in an accident.

To check your headset, hold both brake levers down (so that your brakes are engaged). Rock the bike back and forth, as if you were going to roll it towards you and away from you, but you can’t because the brakes are on. While you do this, try to feel if there’s any play in the handlebar. Does it feel like it’s moving even if the bike isn’t? Then your headset is too loose. Then let go of the brakes and turn the handlebar from side to side. If it doesn’t move freely or feels rough or like something inside is grinding, then your headset is too tight.

This isn’t a problem the average cyclist will fix at home, as it requires special tools. If your headset is too loose or too tight, take your bike to a shop to get it fixed.

Chain

The chain is a crucial part of what keeps you rolling, and it takes a lot of abuse, so you want to be sure to take good care of it. To check your chain, turn the pedals forwards and backwards, and watch to make sure your chain doesn’t kink. If the chain is rusty, you can put some degreaser on it and let it sit for a while. Then roll the chain backwards to get the degreaser to work into all the parts of the chain. After that, wipe off the chain, and clean it with gentle soap (dish soap works great). Then lube the chain (chain lube is available at your local bike shop), go for a ride or roll the chain backwards again to distribute the lube. Wipe off any excess lube, and you’ll have a clean chain.

After a couple thousand miles, chains will get stretched out and need to be replaced. If you’re not an avid rider, you may not have to worry too much about this. There’s no good way to check for a stretched chain, because if it’s stretched to the point where you have problems riding or can see that it’s stretched with the naked eye, it’s been stretched too much and definitely needs replacement! The only way to check is to take the bike to a shop, where they’ll have a tool to check your chain. Having a chain that’s too stretched out can result in it catching while you’re pedaling, which can cause you to not be 100% in control of your bicycle, which makes an accident more likely.