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 and easy-to-remember way.
This guide applies equally to a road, hybrid or mountain bike, and both a new bike or one that may not have been ridden for some time.
What is the M check?
The M check is a basic safety check of all the main working parts of a bike, moving from the front hub backwards.
The check is named after the way you follow the shape of the letter M when checking the bike (clever, eh?).
It’s a useful pattern to follow and helps you quickly identify any problems with the bike. With practice, it should only take a couple of minutes to thoroughly check over any bike.
We’ve outlined each step in the M check below.
How to safety check an adult’s bike
How to safety check wheels, brakes and hubs on a bike.
Check that the wheels are securely attached to the bike.
These days, the wheels are most likely to be secured with a quick-release skewer or some form of bolt-thru axle.
If your bike uses quick-release levers, secure them by clamping the lever down and turning the nut on the other side until it’s tight against the fork (or frame).
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.
Doing this while the bike is sat on the ground can help ensure the wheel is seated correctly.
Bolt-thru axles will usually be threaded through the hub and screwed into the opposing fork leg or chainstay. Before riding, you need to make sure the closure system is secured as per manufacturer instructions.
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.
How to safety check bike tyres
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.
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.
If you are running a tubeless setup and haven’t ridden the bike in some time, pop the bead open and check the sealant has not dried out.
How to safety check your bike’s suspension components
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.
How to safety check your bike’s 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.
On bikes with flat handlebars, you should also check that the brake levers and shifters are securely fixed.
How to safety check a bike 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 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.
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.
If you are buying a secondhand carbon frame, check out our comprehensive guide on what to look out for.
How to safety check your 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 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.
How to safety check your 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 paste’. This paste is grease-like but contains small particles to increase friction between components.
When the seatpost is reinstalled, check the saddle is securely mounted in the clamp.
How to safety check 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 is most definitely a good idea.
The above video will show you how to make sure your child’s bike is in good working order.