Daily Commuter Tip
From James Wilson, American Bicycle League Certified Instructor
Before you hop on your bike and speed away to work, it’s important to do a pre-ride check. I liken it to a pre-flight check every pilot does before they take off. Our version that we teach during our Bike Easy safety classes is the ABC Quick Check that has been developed by the League of American Bicyclists.
A is for Air.
Check your tire pressure. Bike tires lose pressure slowly. If you ride a lot, I suggest picking a day of the week to check your tire pressure . I check mine every Monday morning. The tire pressure is noted on the sidewall of the tire. (see picture) Sometimes it’s a range, sometimes it’s a maximum. Changing tire pressure is the single easiest thing to do to affect the way your bike rides. You want the tire to absorb some of the road vibration. When air filled tires were developed back at the turn of the last century it revolutionized the bicycle and made it extremely more comfortable. Before that you were riding on a solid wheel. Think how that felt!
If you don’t have a tire gauge with a pressure gauge on it, I suggest getting one. The best ones have a dial near the TOP of the pump so it’s easier to read.
Check for damage to the sidewalls and tire treads by picking up the bike and spinning the wheels. If you can see the tire fabric showing it’s time to replace that tire.
The easiest way to check for air is to squeeze the tire or pick the bike up an inch or so and drop it. If there’s air in the tires the bike will bounce a little. Once you get a knack ffor how the tires should feel when you squeeze them, it’s easy to tell if they need air.
B is for Brakes.
Check your brakes for wear and adjustment. The brake pads should be making contact with the wheel rim and NOT the tire. Pads should have at least ⅛ inch of brake pad material showing.
Give the brakes a squeeze to make sure they are moving freely within the cable and housing. When you squeeze the brakes there should be a thumb’s width distance left. (picture) You don’t want to squeeze the brakes and find out that the handle got in the way of engaging the brakes fully.
I check my brakes as I roll the bike down my house steps in the morning by giving them a good squeeze (No, I am NOT riding the bike down the steps). The bike will lock up and stop rolling forward. Brakes should work smoothly and powerfully.
C is for Cranks, Chain and Cassette.
I’ll be the first to admit I don’t check my cranks every ride, but I do spin my my crank backwards to make sure the chain is moving freely and without obstruction. I know a few cyclists who have had their crank fall off during a ride, so you should probably check your cranks! To check your cranks grasp both cranks near the pedal and attempt to wiggle them from side to side (toward and away from the bike frame). If they are loose or you hear a clicking in just the crank where force is being applied, the crank bolt is loose. If both cranks move, the bottom bracket may be loose or bearings worn or damaged.
Q is for Quick Releases.
Your bike may have quick releases. Quick releases have a nut on one side and a lever on the other side. This makes it easy to get your wheel off without the hassle of carrying around wrench. If you can open the lever with one finger, it’s probably too loose. To tighten, just turn the nut a little. You’ll probably have to use your palm of your hand to close it, but that’s a good thing.
Check is for the final checkout ride.
Mount your bike and ride it a little, checking the brakes and making sure your gears are working. In other words don’t just go rushing out into traffic before doing a little test ride. I have found a few problems I didn’t notice when doing the ABC during this final phase – most notably a flat tire (yeah, I know), so don’t skip!
See you on the road!