(Don’t wanna be a) Monkey Wrench: Get your bike ready to ride

Learning the 'M-check', how to wrap bar tape and more

Time to ‘fess up – not all of us on BikeRadar are expert bike mechanics. While some staffers have spent years wrenching in shops, others are less… handy. So when the opportunity came to spend the day one-on-one with Rob Weekes, workshop development manager at UK mega-retailer Halfords and formerly a technical centre manager for SRAM, I grabbed it in the hope I might learn something.


Hours later, dirt grimed under the fingernails of my dainty office worker hands, I can safely say that I did. Being a big believer in learning through doing, Rob kicked off with the ‘M-check’. Not a pre-concert rehearsal for everyone’s favourite white rapper, this is the basic safety check of all the main working parts of a bike, from the front hub backwards. 

We then moved through replacing gear cables, wrapping bar tape and even truing wheels. Given that new tennis racket grips have previously defeated me, I didn’t have high expectations for any of this, particularly the bar tape – but, incredibly, my bike ended the day fully fettled and bedecked with new cables and tape. This was a testament to Rob’s patience (I’ve a nagging suspicion he may have fixed a few mistakes when my back was turned).

Related: How to wrap bar tape

Aha home straight now:
‘Is that right?’

Rising standards

So is bike servicing an important earner for Halfords? You betcha, and it’s growing too: the firm has more than 400 trained mechanics at stores around the UK, and around 300 higher-level technicians; this number will continue to grow as Rob and his team put more employees through the dedicated training scheme.

“Over the last 18 months to two years we’ve put a lot of effort in and our standards have risen dramatically since then,” says Rob. “We’ve seen a massive mindset turnaround, and we’re getting a lot more repeat custom than we used to, and that pays for itself. People won’t come back if you do a crappy job, and people are coming back in droves.”

An Aussie veteran who’s wrenched for pro teams in the past, Rob says one innovation Halfords has introduced recently is a servicing and repair assessment form, agreed with the customer when they bring the bike in. This means that any obvious jobs like replacing cables or chains are discussed with the customer from the outset, and they walk away at the end of the job with a detailed breakdown of what happened where, similar to your car’s MOT report. It’s a sterling idea that we’d like to see more widespread.

Related: Home Wrench: Dave Rome’s workshop ramblings

Halfords is training up technicians and mechanics to service more of the nation’s bikes:
A session at Halfords’ training centre in Leicester

Another interesting point is Halfords’ pricing: a silver-level service (including checking wheels run true, tightening cranks and inspecting suspension) is completed within 48hrs – unless parts need to be ordered – and costs a fairly standard £50 (about $72 / AU$103 at time of writing). But a gold service sees your bike completely stripped, cleaned and rebuilt for just £80 – which seems like a bargain to us.

OK, let’s crack on with a sample of what we learned…

The M-check

As mentioned above, this is a key check of the bike’s working parts, from the front wheel up to the handlebars, down to the cranks, up to the saddle and down to the rear wheel. With practice it should only take a couple of minutes, and helps you quickly identify any accidents waiting to happen.

1. Front wheel

Checking the quick release on the front wheel is job number one of the m check:
  • Is the quick release tight? 
  • Does the rear wheel spin free and straight?
  • Is the tyre inflated correctly?

2. Handlebars

Checking the handlebars is step two of the m check:
  • Do the brakes work correctly, front and back?
  • Does the steering operate freely, with no excessive play at the headset, or obstruction by cables?

3. Crankset

Next, check your cranks and pedals:
  • Do the front gears change properly?
  • Are the pedals fitted correctly and tightly?

4. Saddle

  • Is the saddle fitted and at the correct angle?
  • Is the seat clamp tight?
  • Is the frame free from rust, damage or cracks?

5. Rear wheel

Final task is to check the rear wheel, quick release and gears:
  • Do the rear gears work correctly and change smoothly?
  • Do the cranks spin freely with no ‘side-to-side’ play?
  • Is the tyre inflated correctly?
  • Is the quick release tight? 
  • Does the rear wheel spin free and straight?

… and that’s it, you’re ready to ride! Don’t forget to check out our YouTube channel for lots of maintenance advice and explainers on the common pitfalls.