Before you rush out the door to ride your bike this spring, spend some time checking your equipment to ensure that first ride is amazing and drama free. Spring bike checks often reveal worn parts from last season’s adventures or even damage caused in storage or during indoor use.
If mechanical tasks make you want to go back into hibernation, your local bike shop can help, but it is helpful to know roughly what your bike needs and even complete some of the work yourself.
Inspect your bike, closely looking at the frame and components for signs of damage, looseness or wear. Go through each bolt on the bike and check that it is snug — note it may not move if it is tight and a torque wrench takes out some of the guesswork. Check that your wheel skewers or thru-axles are tight and not showing signs of wear or damage. Confirm that both brakes stop the wheel, that your wheels are straight and the brakes do not rub (a common issue with disc brakes in storage). Finally, shift through all of your gears, using all combinations.
Tires provide comfort and traction. Flat tires ruin rides, while great tires can make your ride enjoyable and safe. If you were riding your bike on a tire-based indoor trainer then there is a good chance the rear tire has worn from the resistance unit. Check for signs of threads showing and other signs of wear, cuts or rubbing. Tubeless tires should be cleaned and new sealant added to ensure your flat protection is maximized. Once you are sure your tires are ready to ride, you may as well top off the pressure and make sure the valves aren’t gummed up or broken.
Depending on how much you ride and the conditions, you may want to replace your chain if you didn’t do it in the fall. The general wisdom to maximize drivetrain life is to replace your chain early enough to avoid wearing out the entire drivetrain. Riding in rainy, gritty conditions with lots of acceleration or hard climbing wears out a chain faster. I often leave my chain after a training camp due to the high mileage and amount of climbing the chain sees. There are chain gauges that help show the stretch, or you can put your bike in the hardest gear and try to pull the chain straight off the big ring, if you can expose most of a tooth, the chain is getting worn. If you are not replacing the chain this spring give it a good cleaning and inspection for breaks or stiff links while carefully lubricating it one link at a time.
Many aches and pains come from loose or ‘jiggly’ cleats, which are relatively cheap and easy to repair. You will notice worn cleats during maximal efforts or high-cadence drills when it is harder to compensate for the ‘clicking.’ If you think your cleats are OK, it’s still worth checking that the bolts are tight and the cleats are clean and have not shifted out of alignment. Yearly is enough for many cyclists but if you ride a lot, or you dismount a lot (e.g., cyclocross) this is a critical check.
This can seem intimidating but many of the places grease is needed can be accessed by a new or intermediate mechanic. Skewers or thru-axles are a good spot to put some grease and pedals are good to install and reinstall making sure you have pedal washers if needed and applying grease to the pedal threads. More advanced, but still not that hard, is cleaning and regreasing your headset and bottom bracket, especially if you have been hosing your bike off or riding in wet conditions.
The only thing worse than a mechanical issue, is a mechanical issue you could have fixed. Make sure each of your bikes has a saddle bag with a spare tube (or two), inflators and/or a pump, speed patches and a multi-tool with chain breaker. If you are not familiar with changing flats this is a great time of year to try it out and get help if needed!
THE BOTTOM LINE
Save yourself time, money, frustration and potential injury or dangerous situations due to breakdowns far from home by checking your bike for wear, damage and proper setup before heading out on the road this spring.