The Well-Tempered Cyclist: Get Ready to Ride

By Steve Chambers

Making your bike road-worthy.

by Steve Chambers We’ve passed the first day of spring, and though first day of spring and the first spring day are not always the same, the sun is up more than it’s down. It’s time to think seriously about commuting by bicycle in 2009.

Before that first commute, you need to make sure your bicycle is road-worthy. Here are a few tips to make sure your maiden voyage goes off without a hitch.

Tires. Check the tread and sidewalls of your tires for cracks or splits. Pry any stones out of the tread. If you can see the lining of the tire anywhere, replace the tire. Inflate the tires to the recommended pressure (found on the sidewall, just like on a car). Use a tire pressure gauge. A tire invariably needs more air than you think by squeezing it. The simplest method is a floor pump with a built-in gauge. Let the tires sit overnight to make sure the tubes will hold their pressure. Check pressure at least weekly. When you inflate the tire, take care when removing the pump from the valve stem; it’s easy to tear or crack the stem against the wheel rim. I like to inflate my tires the night before so that if I tear the stem, the tire is flat the next morning before my ride, not 20 minutes into the ride.

Brakes. Squeeze both brake levers. Properly adjusted brakes should be fully tightened when the levers are pulled about halfway to the handlebars. Check the brake cables. Make sure the cables move smoothly. Check cables for cracks or rust, and check the cable housings as well. Once again squeeze the brake levers and note how the pads touch the wheel rims. They should contact the rim squarely, and shouldn’t touch the tire. While you’re looking at the brake pads, check them for wear. The small cutouts on each pad are wear indicators. When you can no longer see the cutouts, replace the pads. Flip the bike upside down and spin both wheels to see if the rims clear the brake pads.

Wheels. With the bike on its back, spin each wheel and check for wobbles. Wobbling wheels could be a sign of loose or broken spokes.

Even if the wheel runs true, there might be a spoke or two that needs tightening. Gently squeeze each pair of spokes. There should be the same amount of play in each one. If not, one or the other is too loose or too tight. Unless you’ve had a class in basic bicycle maintenance or read a manual or two, tightening spokes is better left to a mechanic. It’s easy to overtighten and snap a spoke.

Pedals. Grasp the pedal ends of both cranks and try to move them sideways. If they move an equal amount right and left, that’s a sign the bottom bracket is loose.

Seat. Make sure the saddle (seat) clamp and seat post bolts are tight. Don’t overtighten.

Nuts and bolts. Pick up your bike and shake it. Feel and listen for anything loose, especially the front and rear wheel hubs. Tighten as necessary. Be sure to check racks, fenders and other accessories to make sure they are mounted securely and don’t obscure your lights or reflectors.

Chainring and derailleur. Inspect your bike’s drive system: chainring (front), chain and rear derailleur. If they are gunky, clean them with a bike degreaser and lubricate. Always wash and lube together. If you wash only, even with a careful drying there is a chance water will get in the bearings or other places rust can form. On the other hand, if you only lubricate, dirt can get in the lubricant and damage moving parts. So always treat washing and lubing as two parts of the same job.

Once you’ve done all this, which will take an hour or less, hop on the bike and take a spin around the block. Go through all the gears, brake, stop, start, turn – in short, do everything you would do on your commute. Listen for rattles and clunks, make sure the brakes and gears are smooth and the bike is still adjusted for you. Then get out there and ride.

If you do not have the tools or skills for this simple maintenance, the Salt Lake Bicycle Collective offers “open shop” hours as well as a women’s-only shop night. Visit If you lack time, as well, take your bike to a qualified bike shop with a maintenance dept. CATALYST frequents Wasatch Touring on 7th E. @1st S.


This article was originally published on March 30, 2009.