Bike Maintenance: What to Check Before Riding

Be sure to double check your tires, brake pads, chain and handlebars while performing bike maintenance.

October 2014

By Dave Glowacz

 Urban Bikers Tricks and Tips Cover


Whether you are buying your first bicycle, your twentieth bicycle, or you’re getting your old bike out of storage, Dave Glowacz provides the tips for riders of all ages and levels of experience in Urban Bikers’ Tricks and Tips (Wordspace Press, 2010). This excerpt, which explains the ways to get rid of riding soreness and choosing a better, more comfortable seat, is from Chapter 2, “Maintenance Basics.”

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Urban Bikers’ Tricks and Tips.

Maintenance Quick Check

If you haven’t used your bike in a while, you should check a few things before riding. And even if you use your bike every day, it can get out of whack pretty quickly. This information tells you how to catch the obvious problems before you ride.


Urban Biker Inflation 

Tires lose a little air every day. Use a pressure gauge to make sure the tire’s pressure isn’t more than five pounds under the needed pressure (printed on the side of the tire).

What to do:
• Add air.

No gauge?
Push each tire hard against a curb. If you can flatten it, add air.

Wheel Spin

Urban Biker Wheel Spin 

Lift each wheel up and give it a slow spin. (Spin the back wheel forward so the pedals don’t move.) Check that it doesn’t rub against the brake pads, frame, or anything else.

What to do:
If the wheel rubs against the frame or the brake pads, loosen the axle nuts or quick-release lever, push the tire so it doesn’t rub, and tighten the axle.

2. If the wheel rubs against a brake pad and step 1 doesn’t work, move the pads farther away from the wheel. You can usually do this by turning an adjuster barrel located at one end of the brake cable. If it still rubs, have a mechanic true the wheel.

Urban Biker Wheel Rubs Frame Tire Rubs Brake Pad

3. If the wheel doesn’t spin freely but it’s not rubbing, have a mechanic check the axle and/or replace the bearings.


Use your hand to pedal the chain backward.

What to do:
If it squeaks or hangs up, lubricate it. If it’s badly rusted, have it replaced or have the rust removed.

Fixing Chain


 Check Your Tires

Turn each wheel slowly. Look for glass or debris embedded in the tire, and for big cuts.

What to do:
Remove glass or other debris. (A small screwdriver helps.) If you spot any big cuts, bulges, bubbles or places you can see the inner casing, replace the tire.

Valve Stem

If the valve stem doesn't point straight at the middle of the wheel, the rim might cut it.

What to do:
Let the air out and straighten the valve.

Urban Biker Valve Stem Wrong

Urban Biker Valve Stem Right


Urban Biker Handlebars 

Hold the front tire between your legs and try to turn the handlebars with moderate pressure.

What to do:
If the handlebars are loose, tighten the stem bolt slightly.


At the start of your ride, try all the gears, shifting each gear lever from high to low. You have a problem if the lever sticks, you can’t shift to all gears, the chain rubs the derailleur, or the chain jumps off the gears.

Chain Rubs Derailleur

Chain Jumps Off Gears

Chain rubs the derailleur

Chain jumps off the gears

What to do:
Have a mechanic clean and adjust the derailleur, or replace the derailleur cable and/or housing.


Check for any of these problems on each wheel:

Urban Biker Brake Pads Squeeze Brake Lever Tire Brakes on Pavement

When you apply the brake, one or both brake pads don’t touch the rim.

You can squeeze your brake lever all the way to the handlebars.

The brake can’t stop the tire from moving on dry, clean pavement.

What to do:
1. Try moving the brake pads closer to the wheel. You can usually do this by turning an adjuster barrel, located at one end of the brake cable.

2. If adjustment doesn’t work, have a mechanic check the brakes, replacing the brake cables or pads if needed.

Want to learn more cycling tips? Check out these articles:

Making Your Current Bike Fit You: Adjusting the Bike Seat
Making Your Current Bike Fit You: How to Adjust Bike Handlebars to Fit
Finding a Comfortable Bike Seat

This excerpt has been reprinted with Permission from Urban Bikers’ Tricks and Tips by Dave Glowacz and published by Wordspace Press, 2010. Buy this book from our store: Urban Bikers’ Tricks and Tips.

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