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6 Quick Bike Checks the Pros Do Every Ride

By Molly Hurford | March 22, 2019 | Rally Health

When you head out the door on a ride, you don’t want to have to turn around and roll back five minutes later because you forgot something, or because your bike is creaking and rattling like it’s going to fall apart any second. Taking just two minutes before you depart to check a few things can guarantee a much smoother, more pleasant experience — and whether you’re a new cyclist or one of the pro racers on the Rally UHC Cycling team, the same bike checks for optimal safety and performance apply. Take a cue from these experts, who have getting out the door fast down to a science.

Wipe and lube your chain

Kyle Murphy has trained and raced in conditions that ranged from hot, dry, and sweaty to stormy, frigid, and muddy, so when he preps his bike for a ride, one of the first things he does is wipes off his chain. “Before and after every ride, I give my chain a quick wipe down with a towel,” he says. “It only takes 20 seconds and it makes such a difference." (Don’t use a clean towel, because it will end up covered in grease.) Doing this every ride prevents gunk from building up. Even on sunny days, that few seconds of wiping down your chain will remove dust and extra grease and help extend the life of your chain. Once a week or so — and more often if it’s been rainy — Murphy recommends oiling your chain, using a lubricant designed for bikes. A little goes a long way — it doesn’t take much to keep a chain rust- and squeak-free.

Make sure you’ve packed the essentials

Your saddlebag should always contain the bare essentials: a spare tube, multitool, patch kit (in case you use the spare and get another flat), a minipump, and emergency food. “I always check to make sure I have everything I might need, just in case,” says Sarah Poidevin, who finished 14th at the UCI Road World Championships in the elite women’s road race. Before each ride, perform a quick scan — did you use your spare tube on your last ride? Replace it. Need to grab some emergency gel because you ran out of snacks? Don’t forget it.

Spin your wheels and test your brakes

There’s nothing worse than feeling slow because your brakes are rubbing against your wheels — except, gulp, realizing your brakes aren’t working when you’re flying down a hill! Before every ride, Murphy recommends giving each of your wheels a spin, squeezing the brakes to make sure they’re not rubbing the tires when they aren’t engaged. Doing this will also help you confirm that your wheels are properly seated within your bike frame. You also want to be certain that when you hit the brake lever, the brakes start to slow you down. “Again, it just takes a few seconds to check, but it can prevent a lot of problems,” Murphy says.

Eyeball (and thumb test) your tires

Even if a tire looks like it has air in it, it may still need to be pumped. Road tires can appear inflated with only 20 PSI in them, but should be filled to around 90 PSI — they should feel firm to the touch when you press into them with your thumb, not squishy. A tire that’s low on air is going to make you feel a lot slower and put you at risk of suffering a flat — or worse, wiping out. “The first thing I check all the time, especially in the winter when tires can deflate more because of the cold, is tire pressure,” says Heidi Franz, Rally UHC Cycling’s climbing specialist. “When it’s wet, having good traction and grip from having the right tire pressure is even more important, so I check before I ride.” The recommended pressure for each tire should be on the side of the tire wall, so make sure you’re inflating to that specific number. While you’re pumping, take an extra few seconds to quickly assess the condition of your tire, making sure there are no pieces of glass or metal stuck in it. It’s always better to catch a problem with a tire at home rather than on the side of the road.

Check your batteries

Cycling used to be so simple: Nothing needed recharging. Now, many riders have electronic shifting on their bikes, plus lights that charge via USB, heart rate monitors, or cycling computers with GPS, plus batteries in heart rate straps and power meters. Franz recommends checking all of these after every ride so you can recharge. While it’s not a big deal if your heart rate monitor dies midride, it is a problem if you’re on a new route and your GPS is drained, or your electronic shifting conks out while you’re climbing a hill.

Tighten your bolts

Remember, your bike isn’t a slow cooker. You can’t “set it and forget it.” Tightening your screws once, when your bike is new, doesn’t mean you’re good to go forever. “Check screws and tighten each bolt up before you head out on those first few rides,” says BC-based Rally UHC pro Gillian Ellsay. New bolts tend to loosen up easily when you’re just starting to use a new bike, especially on pieces of equipment like water bottle cages that are constantly getting jiggled around. Take 30 seconds to use your multitool to tighten bolts. You won’t regret it: Ellsay remembers trying to unsuccessfully hand-tighten a bottle cage bolt midride once, which made for a shaky ride home with a water bottle about to fall off the bike on every bump. Don’t neglect a bike that’s seen more wear and tear, either. Like newer ones, older bolts can sometimes loosen, too. No matter how much action your bike has seen, every few rides, whip out your multitool to make sure your headset bolt, located where your handlebars attach to your stem, and your seat clamp are tight and secure.

Molly Hurford
Rally Health

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