cycle performance: do a bicycle safety check each day
Before you take off on your daily ride this thorough inspection will unearth any major mechanical problems with any bicycle. While not all steps of the inspection is needed before every ride, but it is a good check to perform periodically throughout the riding season, or if the bicycle has been stored for a period of time. It can also be a good inspection to give to a used bicycle prior to purchasing it. You never know what the day might bring on a long ride, especially if you are heading up to the mountains or doing rides in Italy.
Tires and Tubes
- Inflate tires to the recommended pressure marked on the sidewall of the tire.
- Visually inspect the tires. Look for cuts or cracks in the tread of the tire, excessive wear where the casing of the tire may be showing through, and irregular bulges.
- Inspect the side walls of the tire for cuts, broken threads, cracks, or wear marks from rubbing by a brake pad.
Any of these problems indicates the need for replacement.
Wheels and rims
- Spin the wheels. The wheels should track straight and true: sight the rim next to a brake shoe to give a point of reference, a minor 1 or 2 mm wobble or hop is acceptable.
- Grab the spokes in adjacent pairs and squeeze, working your way around the wheel. The spokes should be nearly uniform in tension as you work around the wheel. Differences in tension from one side of the wheel to another are normal, so long as the wheel tracks straight. If you note any broken spokes have them replaced by a qualified bicycle mechanic.
- Gently hold the rim at the top and attempt to move it side to side. There should be no play or loose feeling. Any play indicates a loose hub or bad bearing that should be addressed by a qualified bicycle mechanic.
- Release and reengage the quick release skewers. When tightening the skewer it should be just tight enough so that it moves without straining your hand, and the quick release lever leaves a minor imprint on your palm.
- Apply firm pressure downward, upward, rearwards, and forward to the handlebar. The bar should remain in the same position.
- Check the headset adjustment by rotating the handlebars parallel to the top tube with the front wheel on the ground and rocking back and forth. Turn the handlebars the other way and repeat. If there is play your headset is too loose, if there is a lot of drag or binding your headset is too tight.
- Straddle the bicycle frame and grip the front wheel between your calves. Attempt to turn the handlebars. The bars should not move independent of the front wheel.
Suspension Fork (if so equipped)
- Suspension forks vary widely in construction, design and performance. Visually inspect the fork for visual damage, cracks near the drop outs, and wear marks on the fork stanchions. Check for excessive play between the crown, stanchions and fork sliders. Look for leaking oil or fluid. Any problems in these areas can be an indication it is time for a fork rebuild or replacement.
- Apply the front brake and push forward on the handlebar, the brake lever should operate smoothly with a predictable feel. The brake pads should engage the rim at about ¼ to ½ of the lever pull, and the lever should not bottom out against the bar no matter how hard you squeeze it. As you push forward on the bar the rear wheel should lift off the ground. Continue to squeeze the brake lever, slowly releasing the pressure, at some point the wheel should begin to roll, smoothly without grabbing or chatter. Release the front brake and check that the lever quickly returns without drag. This test can indicate a bad or dirty cable.
- Apply the rear brake and push forward on the handlebar, the brake lever should operate smoothly with a predictable feel. The brake pads should engage the rim at about ¼ to ½ of the lever pull, and the lever should not bottom out against the bar no matter how hard you squeeze it. As you push forward on the handlebar the rear wheel should skid gently on the ground. Pull back on the handlebar and the front wheel should lift off the ground. Continue to squeeze the brake lever, slowly releasing the pressure, at some point the wheel should begin to roll, smoothly without grabbing or chatter. Release the front brake and check that the lever quickly returns without drag. This test can indicate a bad or dirty cable.
Rim Brake Inspection (if so equipped)
- Lift and spin each wheel in turn. Sight along the brake pad in reference to the rim. The pad should not rub the rim.
- Visually inspect the brake pad surface. Look for glazing (shiny spots), embedded rocks or particles of metal, or excessive and uneven wear. Glazing can be removed with a wire brush or file. Embedded particles can be picked out with an awl or tweezers. Uneven pads or worn pads should be replaced.
- Activate and release the brake lever, the rim should be centered horizontally between the pads and the pads should be centered vertically on the rim.
- Inspect the rims for deep gouges or grooves. If your rims are equipped with a wear indicator check it now. Inspect the rims for glazing (dark shiny varnish looking finish)
Disc Brake Inspection (if so equipped)
- Check the rotors for warping by lifting and spinning each wheel in turn, sight along the rotor next to the pads. The rotor should wobble less than +- 1mm
- Remove the pads from the caliper and check for excessive or uneven wear, refer to manufacturers specifications for minimum allowable thicknesses.
- Visually inspect the heads of the rotor bolts for damage, stripping or corrosion, if you have a torque wrench it is a good idea to periodically check the rotor bolt torque.
- Visually inspect for leaking fluid (hydraulic systems), kinked or fraying cables (mechanical), and improperly routed cables.
- Ensure brake quick release levers are installed on the opposite side of the brake rotor.
Crank/Bottom Bracket Assembly
- Align the cranks so they are straight up and down. Weight the down pedal by stepping on it and putting a fair amount of body weight on it, (it can be handy to activate the brakes) listen for creaks or pops. Rotate the pedals 180 degrees and repeat, weighting the other pedal, listen for creaks or pops. Any noise during this procedure can indicate the following: loose bottom bracket cups, dry bottom bracket threads (aluminum frames), dry pedal threads, loose crank arms on spindle, worn out bottom bracket bearings, or on full suspension frames a loose or worn out suspension pivot.
- Grasp the right pedal body in one hand and the right crank arm in the other, check for play. Repeat for the left side. Excessive play indicates worn or miss-adjusted pedal bearings.
Saddle and Seatpost
- Grasp the saddle in your hands and attempt to twist it back and forth, the saddle should not move.
- Weight the nose of the saddle, the saddle should not move.
Frame and Fork
- Visually inspect the frame, look for cracks in the paint that may indicate problems underneath. Problem areas to look at closely are all structural welds, bonds, or brazing (lugged bikes), pay extra attention at the seat tube/bottom bracket junction, and along the non drive chain stay. Look for any wrinkling or flaring on the top tube and down tube about 3 inches from the head tube. Any indications of these problems need to be addressed by the dealer or a qualified frame builder.
- Sight along the fork from the top down, the fork blades should be even and symmetrical. On carbon forks run your fingers across the clear coat, feeling carefully for any breaks in the clear coating or epoxy. Any indications should be inspected by a qualified bicycle mechanic.
- Stand about 2 feet behind the bicycle and check that the rear derailleur hanger is perpendicular to the bottom bracket. If the hanger is bent or damaged see your bicycle dealer for an alignment (steel frames) or replacement (all others).
- Inspect the chain for signs of rust or corrosion.
- Measure the chain wear. Place a 12 inch ruler along the bottom chain run, align the 0 mark with the center of a chain rivet. Note where the 12 inch mark aligns on a rivet. If the center of the rivet is at 12 inches the chain is new or nearly new. Off by less than 1/16" and the chain is showing some wear but is still serviceable. If it misses the 12 inch mark by more than 1/16" the chain needs replacement and the cogs should be inspected for wear. If it is past by 1/8" or more both the chain and cogs need replacement and the chain-rings should be inspected for wear.
- Visually inspect the cogs and chain-rings for broken teeth or excessive wear. Take note that with modern drive-trains it is common to have 1 or 2 highly machined teeth on each cog and chain-ring these may look worn, damaged or broken. These teeth are normal.
- Check derailleur function by shifting to every ring/cog combination.
Enjoy your bike riding while in Italy and remember to check your bike before each ride.