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Bike Maintenance 101: How to Safety Check Your Bike

Had a bike in storage for a long time that you want to ride again? Or do you have a bike that you ride hundreds of miles every week?

In either case, knowing how to give it a proper safety check is essential for your bike maintenance. Long-term storage of a bike, or very regular use, can easily lead to degradation or damage of the components and frame.

The most straightforward and comprehensive way to check the bike is to follow the ‘M-Check’, which is where you work your way around the bike, starting from the front wheel, in the shape of an ‘M’.

Imagining yourself moving around the bike in this pattern ensures that you don’t miss anything. Clever huh?!

Here’s how to perform an essential of bike maintenance: the M-Check!

Front Wheel

QUCK RELEASE / THROUGH AXLE:

  • If you have quick releases, ensure the lever of the quick release is fully engaged, and the locking nut at the other end is fully screwed on. These don’t need to be super-tight as you need to be able to release them! Pushing the QR skewer so it just leaves a small imprint on your palm is sufficient.
  • If you have a through axle, ensure that the securing nuts are adequately threaded and screwed in.

HUB CONDITION

  • Grab the front wheel with one hand and the fork with the other. Rock the wheel from side to side.
  • If there’s any sideways play, and you’ve already checked that the through-axle / quick release is secure, you may want to check the condition of the hub.
  • You should also test for hub condition by spinning the wheel. If it feels rough as it spins, or you hear any grinding, you definitely need to service it. It may be that it just needs greasing, or there may be more work to be done.

BRAKE ALIGNMENT

  • When spinning the wheel, check that there is no contact between the rim and the brake, or for disc brakes, between the disc and the calliper.
  • Adjusting a rim brake to allow clean alignment can be easily performed by loosening the calliper with an allan key at the mounting point and repositioning it.
    If the disc isn’t running true through the calliper and is bent, a disc truing tool can be used to rectify it.
  • If it’s simply a case of alignment, loosen the calliper with a hex key, and ensure the disc is centered, then re-tighten it.
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BRAKE ENGAGEMENT

  • Pull the brake lever and assess the engagement. It should be fast to react and give a positive feel.
  • If your disc brakes feel spongey, you may need to bleed them.
  • If your rim brakes are spongey, you may have worn cables, which will require replacement.

Tire / Suspension

SEATING OF TIRE

  • It is sometimes possible for the bead of a clincher tire to pop over the rim. Inspect all around the tire / rim interface to ensure it is seated correctly. If it isn’t, it’s best to fully remove the tire, check it for condition, then – if it’s in good condition – reinstall it.

CONDITION OF TIRE

  • Check all around the main surface of the tire for any large gashes or bald spots. If there are any major defects, you’re best off replacing them to prevent any future punctures.

SAG

  • The sag in the suspension of a frequently-used MTB can change from where you initially set it to be through heavy use.
  • Perform the test regards setting your sag, and if needs be, adjust it. Our guide below, will help!

DAMAGE TO STANCHIONS

  • As with all areas of the bike when performing this check, inspect the stanchions closely for any cracks or blemishes. Moving parts such as these are particularly liable to wear and damage so it’s worth giving them a careful look.

Front End

HEADSET PLAY

  • Put the front brakes on and hold the handlebars, and push them back and forward.
  • There should be no play in the headset – i.e., it shouldn’t move or knock at all.
  • If there is movement, it suggests that the headset isn’t correctly assembled – i.e., all the cups and bearings where the forks and headtube meet are not flush. We suggest that you take the headset apart, inspect the components within it for damage, then carefully reassemble and torque it up to the recommended setting.

HEADSET BEARINGS

  • With the headset assembled, turn the handlebars either direction. They should move smoothly and cleanly, with no feeling of grittiness or resistance.
  • If the movement does not feel clean, your headset bearings will require servicing or replacing.

Frame, seat post and saddle:

FRAME AND SEATPOST

  • Your frame can crack more easily than you think, especially if it is used and transported frequently.
  • Even a hairline crack can be dangerous as it can rapidly develop into a bigger issue, so take time over checking absolutely all areas of the frame and fork, and make sure you don’t miss any areas.
  • This job is the most time-consuming, but perhaps the most important, so get a coffee and take your time!

SADDLE

  • Push your weight through the saddle with your hands and make sure there’s no creaks or excessive flex. It is possible for the main seat area of the saddle to crack or weaken over time. If there is give in the saddle, replace it.

Cranks, Pedals, Bottom Bracket

BOTTOM BRACKET CONDITION: TWO THINGS TO CHECK HERE.

  • First, spin the pedals backwards. They should spin smoothly and freely, and the chain should pass through the drivetrain cleanly.
  • If the chain ‘sucks’, i.e., does pass cleanly but seems impeded somehow, you should check the chain for any damaged links, and check the condition of the bottom bracket bearings – they may need a service or replacement.
  • Second, grab the cranks and push them towards and away from the frame. There should no play in them. If there is, it suggests the bottom bracket is worn and may need replacement.

CHAIN RINGS

  • Inspect these for condition. They should have squared ends, rather than sharp, ‘shark-tooth’ ends. If you regularly replace your chain and cassette they should be ok, but it is possible to wear these out. You’ll need to replace them if so.

PEDALS

  • Spin the pedals. They should spin free and without resistance. If the pedals are ‘sticky’ or grinding, the axle may need servicing or replacing.

CLEATS

  • OK, they’re not exactly on the bike, but you know what we mean….
  • Grab your cycling shoes and look at the cleats. The plastic should not be excessively worn. Pay particular attention to the area at the front and back of the cleat, where it engages with the pedal – these are the areas that wear first.
  • Also check that the cleat bolts are securely tightened. It is possible for these to loosen given how much wear and force they are subjected to.

Rear Wheel - same as front

Drivetrain

GEARS

  • Put the bike in a stand if you have one. Pedal forwards with your hands and click through all the gears on the rear cassette, going through the full range.
  • The gears should run smoothly, with one click equating to one move on the cassette. If not, you’ll need to either index your rear mech again or replace your gear cables. Check out our blog on indexing your gears to help you out!

CASSETTE CONDITION

  • Inspect the cassette for the shape of the teeth. Like the chain rings, the teeth should have squared ends, rather than ‘shark tooth’ ends. If they look worn, you’ll need to replace the cassette.
  • When replacing the cassette, your advised to replace the chain at the same time.

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