How to safety check your bike

Including video guides to make sure both adult and kids' bikes are safe to ride

It's a good idea to carry out a basic safety check on a bicycle before any long ride, or at least once a week. This guide helps you pick out potential problems in a methodical way.

How to safety check an adult's bike

How to safety check an adult's bike

Wheels, brakes and hub

Check the wheel mounting system is in place — these days it’ll usually be a quick-release or some form of bolt-through axle.

Bolt-through axles will usually be threaded through the hub and screwed into the opposing fork leg. Before riding, you need to make sure the closure system is secured as per manufacturer instructions.

If your bike uses quick-release levers, secure them by clamping the lever down and turning the nut until it’s tight. Then, open the lever and give the nut another full turn or so. You should now be able to tighten the quick-release firmly without forcing it, ensuring that the wheel is firmly and squarely seated in the dropouts.

Next, check the hub is in good condition by rocking the wheel side to side to check for play or sideways movement.

Give the wheel a spin, If you hear grinding, or if it sounds rough, it might be time for a bearing replacement or service.

While you’re spinning the wheel, check the disc or wheel rim is running cleanly through the brake caliper. If it’s rubbing then you’ll need to adjust the brakes or caliper.

Finally, give the brake levers a squeeze to check the brakes are working correctly. If you notice a slightly more spongy feeling with hydraulic brakes, they might require bleeding.

If your cable pull brakes don’t feel firm and decisive then you may need to adjust your cable tension, or replace your brake pads.

Tyres and suspension

Tyres need to be correctly seated in the rim. Examine the bead where the tyre contacts the wheel rim. Make sure the bead looks uniform all the way around, if not you may need to reinstall the tyre.

Examine the bead where the tyre contacts the rim
Examine the bead where the tyre contacts the rim

When you’re happy that the tyre is seated, check the sidewalls and tread for excess wear or damage. Worn or torn tyres can be dangerous, so replace before riding if you are in any doubt.

There are no regulations or markers on bike tyres so you have to use your own initiative — for road tyres, you’ll start to notice a flat spot and seeing carcass is a definite sign they need replacing. Mountain bikes suffer degradation to the knobs and when they’re gone, the tyre is pretty much useless and will need replacing.

Next, inspect your fork for hairline cracks or any other kind of damage. If you have a suspension fork then check the stanchions for scratches or for excessive suspension fluid near the bolts.

It’s worth noting that a small amount of oil on the stanchions — or a witness mark, as it’s known — is perfectly normal and expected on some forks.

With front and rear air suspension it’s also worth checking your sag is correctly set about once a month.

Cockpit

Moving up to the headset, rock the fork forwards and back with the front brake applied to see if there’s any obvious play. If you notice the bike knocking, try and isolate where it’s coming from by placing your fingers on the joints.  

Next, lift the wheel and turn the bars slowly. If you feel any grinding or resistance it might be a good idea to service or replace your headset.

Check the stem is secure by holding the front wheel straight with your knees and pushing on the bars. You should be able to apply a reasonable amount of force without the stem turning on the steerer tube.

Stand over the bike and rotate the bars forward and back — if you have drop handlebars, push on those too. There should be no movement of the bars or the grips. If the contact points are easily movable then it might be a good time to replace the grips or bar tape on your bike.

On bikes with flat handlebars, you should also check that the brake levers are securely fixed.

Accessories and frame

Moving down the frame, check any frame accessories such as a bottle and cage are attached properly and not rattling

You’ll also want to to visually inspect the entire frame, especially around the welds, if applicable.  If you find even a small hairline crack then you should get it checked out by a professional before riding.

Check the frame for hairline cracks - get it checked by a professional if you do
Check the frame for hairline cracks - get it checked by a professional if you do

If you have a suspension frame, check the shock mounting bolts are holding it firmly in place and that the shock is in good working order, as with the fork.

Cranks and pedals

Give the cranks a spin in the backwards direction so you don’t spin up the rear wheel. As long as the drivetrain is running smoothly, the bottom bracket should also be running smoothly.

Inspect the chainrings for damaged, missing or excessively worn teeth. Worn chainrings will wear in to a shark fin like profile.

Rock the cranks towards the frame to check for any grinding, resistance or play. If you feel any play it may mean you need to replace the bottom bracket.

Check your pedals by giving them a spin. A well serviced pedal won’t spin freely as the grease should stop it. Again, check for play by rocking the pedal body. If you find your pedal is not performing correctly, it’ll need to be replaced or serviced.

If you have clipless pedals check the metal or plastic cleat is not overly worn, is securely bolted and will clip in and out with your preferred resistance.

Saddle and seatpost

Remove the seatpost from the frame and give it a clean.

If you have aluminium, titanium or steel components, apply some grease before reinstalling. If you have either a carbon frame or seatpost, you’ll need to apply a specific ‘carbon grease’.

When the seatpost is reinstalled, check the saddle is securely mounted in the clamp and is in a horizontal position.

Rear wheel and drivetrain

Repeat the procedure performed on the front wheel at the back; checking the hub, tyres and brakes for play, effectiveness, rubbing and wear.

Pedal by hand and check that the chain runs cleanly, with no stiff links. Shift the front and rear derailleurs through their range of gears.

The chain should shift up or down one set of teeth for every click of the relevant shifter. If the chain doesn’t shift in this way, is hesitant, or drops off the teeth, then you may need to make some adjustments.

Regular pre and post-ride checks are important, but getting to know your bike can mean you identify problems as soon as, or even before, they arise.

Keep an eye out for irregular mechanical noises, frame creaks or unusual behaviour while riding, and check them out as soon as possible.

How to safety check a kid's bike

Kids' bikes often come in need of assembly. A safety check before they pedal away (and again on a fairly regular basis — many parents forget to do this!) is most definitely a good idea.

The below video will show you how to make sure your child's bike is in good working order:

How to safety check a kid's bike

Video: How to safety check a kid's bike. These videos are part of the Park Tool Maintenance Monday series. You can purchase the Park Tools used in the video at a number of dealers across the UK and internationally. For more maintenance videos, subscribe to the BikeRadar YouTube channel.

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