Technique: Preventative measures

By Ernie Feargrieve, Team GB bike mechanic | Friday, December 5, 2008 1.00pm

Taking just a few minutes to check your bike before each ride could save you a painful fall, or irritating on ride mechanicals, in the long run. Read on to learn what, why and how.

1. Saddle, post, handlebars and headset

Don’t just waggle them, put an allen key into all the bolts and check that none are coming loose. Squeeze the brakes and rock the bike back and forth looking for play in the headset. Watch out for: loose bolts, cracks, creaks and play.

It’s also important to use a torque wrench to get the right tightness. Often the correct torque setting will be marked on the component by the bolt itself. This is really crucial on carbon components, where it’s possible to break something by overtightening.

2. Pedals, cleats and cranks

Again, put a spanner or allen key to everything, checking it’s at the right torque. Cleats need to be clean and grit-free to avoid pedal entry or exit problems – there’s nothing worse than shinning yourself on the pedal because the cleat has skidded off. Even worse is falling into the road at the lights because you can’t hold that track stand any more, and you can’t clip out of the pedal.

3. Gears and cables

Have you got the gears indexing smoothly up and down – through all available options – with as little noise as possible, and no rubbing on the front derailleur? Check the cables for fraying, corrosion, cracked outer casings and any signs of rust.

4. Wheels and tyres

Check the wheels are firmly in the drop-outs and that skewers are tight and fully closed. Skewer quick release levers should be on your left (as you sit). The rear should be closed between the seat and chainstays, where the frame allows, and the front should be behind the fork leg.

Unless you’ve got a spoke tensioner – which we don’t even have [in the GB workshop] – don’t bother with the spoke tensions. Check instead for trueness by spinning the wheel in the frame and seeing if the clearance between the wheel and the frame or fork remains consistent on both sides. Check the braking surfaces for excessive grooves or scoring.

Check the tyres for cuts, flints or glass and correct pressure. Don’t check by hand, it’s not good enough. You need a good track pump with an accurate gauge. It’s worth getting a good one, because some of the cheaper gauges can be out by up to two atmospheres. We had one made especially for our workshop.

5. Brakes

Make sure the pads are aligned to the rim. Be sure there is enough pad thickness for at least your planned ride and remember that pads wear quicker in the wet than the dry.

The lever action at which the brakes start grabbing is all down to your personal preference as a rider, so set them up however suits you.

I like to set them up so they don’t grab straight away, so I can feather them – lots of bunch riding pile-ups happen because riders in front overreact with their braking.

6. Chain

One of the most neglected but hardest working components – check for rust, stretching, noisy links. You won’t regret investing as little as a fiver in a chain checker. Wash and oil the chain after every ride.

7. Frame

When you’re cleaning your bike, look carefully for marks or scratches that might be the beginnings of cracks. Cracked paint is a sign of problems, too. Take a good look at all the stress areas of the frame – all the joints or welds, the bottle cage mounts and cable mounts as well.

8. Kit and contact points

Always ride with a basic repair kit. Two tubes, a patch kit, pump, minitool, levers. Contact points also need attention.  Regularly check all your kit for wear – cleats, saddles, bar tape and so on. When stuff gets worn, you get injuries.  

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