Spring is finally here, and if you’re anything like me, you’ve been waiting all winter to get back in the saddle and on to two wheels. But before you just pull your bike out of its hibernation in the basement and jump back on, it’s important to make sure all your gear is in order, and working properly. Otherwise, you just might find that your first ride back ends much sooner than anticipated, and with a long walk home – or even worse, an injury.
There’s a lot to consider when it comes to being fully prepared for a new riding season, but here we’ve put together a comprehensive break-down of all the things you’ll want to check out before your first ride — for mountain bikers, road riders, casual cruisers, and junior pedallers alike…
- You should be giving your bike frame a good, close inspection periodically, and there’s no better time than the start of the season! Check to make sure it hasn’t developed any small cracks that could compromise its integrity, and leave you stranded with a broken bike. While this is not common, it is certainly possible, and sometimes a tiny crack can go unnoticed — until it becomes a big problem. If you see anything resembling a crack in your frame, no matter how small, get your bike to a shop right away for further inspection. Never ride on a compromised frame, as it could be very dangerous!
- “Check your nuts and bolts!” Yes, we know… you’ve heard this a million times, applied to just about everything in life. But really, when it comes to your bike, you do need to frequently check to make sure everything is screwed on tight, and staying in place. Most bolts on a bike, like those on the headset or seat post, can be adjusted with a simple allen/hex key. But be careful not to over-tighten! Start with small quarter-turns to check tightness rather than cranking down on a bolt, or use a torque wrench to be safe. In some cases, like with certain cranksets or pivot joints, you may need special tools to make adjustments. If you don’t have what you need, or aren’t confident in making an assessment on your own, have a mechanic take a look.
Wheels and Tires
- You should always look over your wheels and tires before heading out on a ride, but it is especially important when your bike has been sitting idle. Examine the wheels closely for any problems — like a dinged rim, cracked hub, or a bent or loose spoke — that you may have missed last fall, or that could have occurred if something was pressed up against your bike in storage. Also inspect your tires carefully. Are they starting to crack at the sides or down the center? Do you see any pieces of road or trail debris embedded in the rubber? If you’re on a mountain bike or cross-terrain tire, is the tread wearing down? If the answer to any of these is “yes,” or if you rode on the same tires all last season, then it’s probably time to install some fresh rubber. And, of course, don’t forget to pump up those tires before you ride!
- For mountain bikers with tubeless tire setups: If your bike hasn’t been ridden all winter, be sure to check your tire sealant to see if it needs replenished. If the wheels are stagnant for an extended period, the sealant will likely dry up (and won’t be any help in preventing flats!).
- Last but not least, double check that your wheels are tightly secured to your bike. Whether your bike features a thru-axle or a quick release skewer, it’s possible that either could have loosened up while in storage – especially if your bike was moved around, or packed in tightly among other items. Riding with a loose wheel could be extremely dangerous, so be sure your wheels are tightly — and properly — attached before you head out.
- Being able to brake quickly and confidently is a crucial part of riding safety. If you’re riding on worn-out brake pads, your braking abilities will be compromised, putting you at risk. Brake pads should be checked frequently, and replaced if needed. If you never checked yours last year and you put in a lot of miles, you should likely be replacing them this spring. Take a look at the pads (both front and rear) to see if they are wearing down. If so, get them swapped out for a fresh pair before your first ride.
- Derailleur – Inspect your derailleur and hanger carefully before your first ride. If you had something heavy leaning against your bike in storage, or if it was squeezed into a tight space, the derailleur could have gotten pushed out of line, bent, or cracked. If you see this, you’ll need take your bike in for a replacement part.
- Chainrings/cassette – This is a great time to take a look at your bike’s front chain ring(s) and rear cassette. Are they super worn down? (Do the teeth look rounded and dull, rather than sharp and pointy?). If so, it’s probably time for replacements. Riding an already well-worn cassette for another season could lead to a whole host of other problems, and a lot of frustration out on the bike, as things simply won’t operate smoothly.
- Chain – Also be sure to check the chain itself before hopping back on your bike. To start, if you put your bike away dirty, or if it got wet in storage, your chain may be rusted. If that’s the case, you’ll want to replace it. Likewise, your chain may need to be replaced if it has a lot of extra slack. You can use a Chain Checker tool to measure the wear, or have a bike shop take a look at it. Lastly, make sure you start with a clean, lubed chain, and make a habit of doing so on every ride to spare yourself the hassle of getting stranded with a stuck or broken chain!
- Pedals/cranks – Don’t forget to check that both your pedals and crank arms are nice and secure. As mentioned earlier, depending on the specifics of your bike, you may need special tools to check and tighten these parts. If you need help, ask a mechanic at your local shop!
- Check your shifting! It is always a good idea to test out your shifting to make sure it’s running smooth before heading out on your first ride. If your drivetrain is noisy when shifting, if it is difficult to switch into certain gears, or if you’re having a hard time getting the pedals to turn, there may be a problem with one of your drivetrain parts that isn’t visible. Sometimes you can make minor adjustments to your shifting on your own, using the barrel adjusters on your handlebars, but if the issues seem significant, it is likely that something needs replaced, and you’ll want to have that assessed by an expert.
- Take a quick look at the cables on your bike. Are they fraying anywhere? Is the housing (the casing that surrounds the cables) starting to split or crack? If so, get them swapped out before you put them through another season of wear-and-tear.
- If you’re a mountain biker, you’ll definitely want to check your suspension before hitting the trails. Use a shock pump to check the pressure in both the front and rear shocks (if you’re riding a full suspension), and make any adjustments you might need. Finding the proper suspension settings for your riding style can be a process, and is very much about personal preference, so if you’re not sure where to start, it’s a good idea to consult with your local bike shop for help.
- Also, check to be sure neither shock is leaking oil. If you see excess oil, have it checked before you ride, as the shock may need to be re-built or replaced.
- Helmet – Arguably the single most important step to take before you ride is to inspect your helmet! If you see any sort of crack in it, do not ride, and get a replacement immediately. It is generally recommended to replace your helmet every few years, regardless of wear and tear, but if you had a bad crash last year where there was any sort of impact on your head, you should get a new helmet – even if it looks Also, make sure it still fits properly and doesn’t need any adjustments. As a general rule, the helmet should be snug enough that it doesn’t move around when you shake your head, and you should be able to feel the chinstrap when you drop your chin. Lastly, check to be sure your helmet’s technology meets the latest safety standards.
- Kids’ helmets – It is especially important to check the fit every season (or even every few months) for a kids’ helmet. If they’ve grown out of their old helmet, buy a new one! Helmets should sit comfortably all the way down. If your child’s helmet is pushed up on their forehead, it means it’s too small, and will not provide proper protection in a crash. Likewise, if it’s too loose and moves around, then it won’t be effective. Make sure the helmet is snug and comfortable!
- Bells, lights and mirrors – If you ride a cruiser, commuter or road bike, and are riding through busy urban areas or bike paths, you’ll want to make sure you have the excess safety equipment needed to ensure you are seen and to communicate with those around you – and be sure it’s working properly. Don’t forget to test out your bells, safety lights, and/or mirrors before you hit the road!
- Flat repair kit – The time to take inventory of your flat kit is NOW, before you hit the road or trails. Don’t get stuck doing a long hike-a-bike-of-shame back to the trailhead simply because you neglected to check your repair kit. Flat tires are common in all types of riding, and can be a very simple fix – as long as you’re prepared! Make sure you have a complete and current flat kit, with a fresh spare tube (don’t wait until you need to use it to make sure that it doesn’t have any holes!), a portable pump or CO2 inflator, and a tire lever. Other optional items to be even more prepared include plugs or patch kits. [But of course, none of this will do you any good if you don’t know how to use it! Practice changing flats in advance – especially if you’re riding alone.]
- Other important repair items to carry include a multi-tool or allen key set (in case you need to make other repairs on the fly), as well as some basic first aid items, like Band-Aids and gauze.
Fit Check (Especially for Kids!):
- For adults, it’s not likely you’ll need to worry about major bike fit changes each season, but it can be really helpful to make minor adjustments to your fit from time to time – or at least test them out. The beginning of the season is a perfect time to play around with your bike fit, and work through some minor adjustments to find the most comfortable and efficient fit possible. Most bike shops have “fit experts” who can work with you to find the ideal position for your personal riding style.
- For kids, you’ll want to do more frequent checks to make sure their bike is still the right size, especially after a full winter of being off the bike. Make sure they can extend their leg fully at the bottom of their pedal stroke (without having to rotate their hips on the seat), and that their reach from the seat to the handlebars is comfortable. Often times a simple adjustment like moving the seat height can make for a better fit, but in some cases your child may have simply outgrown (or not quite yet grown into!) their bike frame. Ensuring your child is on the right-sized bike will help them stay safe out there this year!
As always, if there’s something you don’t feel comfortable assessing on your own, or if you see any potential problems with your bike, bring it in to your local shop and have the experts help you out. By taking the extra steps now to make sure you’re prepared to ride, with properly functioning equipment and the right tools, you’ll save yourself a ton of potential hassle and frustration later, and set yourself up for a full season of good times on the bike. Now, go get yourself ready… and happy riding!