Has your bicycle been a little neglected over the past few months? Plenty of bikes have been hanging out in storage rooms and behind living room couches during the cold-weather months in the city.
Like people, bikes can get a little wonky if they’ve been sitting too long. For your safety and peace of mind, it’s a good idea to give key components the once-over before returning to the bike lanes. And, even if you’ve been riding all winter, it’s probably time for some mechanical TLC to counter the punishing effects of moisture and road salt on your bike.
Inspecting Your Bike: Here’s What to Look For
Common problems like under-inflated or flat tires are easy to spot and fix yourself. Others, such as worn brake pads, could be less evident without a closer inspection and (depending on your level of handiness) probably require the attention of a trained bicycle mechanic.
What are some potential trouble spots to look for? At a recent (free!) clinic, the great staff at Manhattan’s Bicycle Habitat in Soho offered this basic checklist for spring road-readiness. Use the diagram below to identify key parts.
- Check the sidewalls for cracking or dry rot.
- Run your fingers along the sidewall of the tire to make sure that the bike’s weight hasn’t caused the bead to pop out of the rim.
- Air gradually migrates out of tires through the tube and rubber tire, which are permeable. So, pump up your tires! You’ll find the recommended pressure imprinted on the sidewalls. For example, skinny racing tires require inflation to 100 PSI, while thicker mountain bike tires require 50 PSI.
- Front and rear brake pads often are marked with wear indicators. If your pads have worn down below these, they should be replaced.
- Also check for drying and for “glazing,” which occurs when normal use combined with road grime on the rim cause the surface of the pads to harden and become slick and ineffective.
- Cables should move freely through housings and guides to help assure smooth and reliable braking and shifting. Check for rust and corrosion, as well as fraying of the cables or housings.
- Inspect your chain for visible surface rust.
- Clean and lube your chain, then shift gears a few times to work the lube in. This video posted at BicycleTutor.com — a good source of how-tos on bike maintenance — will walk you through the steps.
Headset, Cranks and Hubs
- Make sure that the parts of your bike that contain bearings are operating smoothly. Check that your wheels spin freely, that there’s no clicking when you turn the cranks, and that you can steer your handlebars smoothly.
- Bolts — on the stem, handlebars, seat post, and so on — secure the parts of your bike to one another. They can loosen over time, so check to be sure that each is securely fastened.
As a reminder, review the above list periodically to help keep your bike in prime working order.
Top photo: James Gaither