Spring is here (although as I write this on April 16th, it is snowing in Boston!) and many of us cannot wait to get back in our bike saddles again. But like many of us New Englanders, our bikes have been sitting in our garages or basements for at least several months. So, we need to do some basic and quick maintenance to get our bikes ready for the cycling season. I'm surprised by how many people simply grab their bike in Spring, pump up the tires and just get right back on the road without checking to ensure that they are in good working order. Here are some of the steps I take to get ready each season and avoid any accidents that may otherwise be caused by my own negligence:
Clean Your Bike
I give my bike a good cleaning at the beginning of each season. Both my mountain bike and my road bike have been sitting in my garage since last October and have dirt and mud remnants that have been sitting on the bike all that time. Should I have cleaned the bikes before I put them away? Yes, but I often think I have one more ride in me late in the season and then the snow arrives, and I just don’t get around to it. So, I take my bike out and I give it a good wash using a garden hose. Nothing fancy - I just get it cleaned.
Adjust Your Seat
I always tighten and adjust my bike seat before using it at the beginning of the season. An inaugural ride can be uncomfortable enough without a loose seat driving you crazy 10 miles in, not to mention the safety hazard it can present. It always amazes me how my seat lowers over the winter. I like to kid myself that I'm getting taller, but no such luck.
Check Your Tires
All bike tires lose air pressure if they sit for several months in a garage, attic, or basement. On average, tires will lose 1-2 psi per day. So, for the 150-180 days that my bike sits in my garage, air is constantly escaping to the point that my tires are completely flat by late April. Always stick to the manufacturer's recommended pressure level when inflating tires and check for any leaks.
Check Your Spokes
Our spokes keep our bike wheels straight so every few months I check to make sure my spokes are tight. I use a spoke wrench to tighten them at the base. Do not over-tighten them and make sure you use the proper sized wrench. The spoke wrench in the photograph above is what I use.
Check Your Brakes
It goes without saying that our brakes are our most important safety device on the roads. Make sure your brake levers engage both sides of the brake pads on each wheel. If you pull on the lever and there isn’t enough tension you can unscrew the barrel adjuster a few turns to take up the slack. The brakes should not stick and should stop the wheel completely when depressed. A brake cable that is frayed or sticks should be replaced with a new cable immediately.
Check Your Brake Pads
It's important that the entire length of your brake pads press against your rim when you apply your brake. If the pads are loose or worn, they should be replaced or repaired immediately. Just like in a car, the last thing you want is to have your breaks not work when you really need them to.
Check Your Gear Shifters and Derailleurs
Tip your bike upside down or use a bike stand and run through your gears while spinning the pedals. Ensure that the gears shift smoothly and make any adjustments to the front and rear derailers to keep the change centered on each gear. The only tool you may need to accomplish this maintenance task is a Phillips screwdriver. You should assess the movement of the derailleur on each quarter-turn of the screwdriver.
Check Your Bike Chain
Chain tension should be examined before each riding season. You can check chain tension by pressing your fingers against the top chain and it should not move more than 1/4 to 1/2 an inch. If your chain is too loose you run the risk of having it come off while riding. Not a pleasant or safe thing to have happen. If your chain is too tight it can bind and damage your gears. If the chain is too loose you can correct this by loosening the rear wheel nut on each side and pull the rear wheel back to take the slack out of the chain. Believe it or not, chains can stretch over time so you may need to replace yours at some point should you continuously find slack.
Check Your Safety Lights and Reflectors
All lights and reflectors on your bike should be checked to make sure they are in working order. You should have a front and rear light as well. If you don't, get them! They should also be used both in daylight and after dark. They can save your life. Trust me.
At the beginning of each season, it is a good idea to apply some dry lubricant to your gears, chain, and all moving parts of the crankset. Do not use lubricants such as regular WD-40 (although they do make a dry bike version) or standard 3-in-1 oil as they act as magnets for dirt, which you do not want to accumulate on your moving parts.
Bike Riding With Children
If you have a child carrier connected to your bike this is the time to make sure that it's in perfect working order. Make sure there are no broken or loose parts and ensure the carrier firmly attaches to your bike frame or rack. If you no longer have the instructions for the child carrier, a quick Google search for the make and model will most likely produce PDF instructions that you can download.
Stay Safe on Your Bike!
Bicycle accidents occur all over the Greater Boston and Chelsea Areas. My law firm represents clients who have gotten injured or worse in bicycle accidents. Take it from me and stay safe in every way possible! The more we take care of our bikes, the less likely we are to cause our own bicycle accident cases!