12 Routine Safety Checks for Your Bicycle

Use these easy, routine checks to keep your bike safe and road-worthy.

By Mel Allwood
June 2018

Photo courtesy of Carlton Books

Bike Pocket Maintenance by Mel Allwood (Carlton Books, 2017) is an essential step-by-step guide for all essential bicycle maintenance and repairs. Allwood is a bicycle enthusiast with experience working for Brixton Cycles Co-op in south London, UK, and who prefers the simplicity and independence of a bike over a car. He notes that his knowledge and passion for cycling is rooted in the necessity of navigating the busy streets of London. The following excerpt is a maintenance routine that can prevent accidents and blowouts before hitting the street.

Checking your bike each time you ride it can seem like a lot of effort and a little bit boring. It needn’t take more than a few moments, however, and occasionally you’ll appreciate the time it takes because you’ll pick up a problem waiting to happen, which is far easier to fix before you set off. Looking carefully at your bike regularly also makes it easier to spot when something is wrong.

Photo by Getty Images/Vesnaandjic

It’s worth having a routine for checking your bike. Doing it in the same order every time means you’re less likely to miss something. It’s worth going through a mental checklist at the same time to ensure you have everything else you need for a ride. Your needs will depend how far you intend to leave civilization behind, but normal items include plenty of water, emergency food, appropriate clothing, sunblock, map, tools and pump, as well as checking that somebody knows where you’re going and when you are expected back. If you can rely on coverage, a mobile phone can be invaluable in an emergency. It’s not a substitute for careful preparation though.

  1. Quick-release skewer: Check both wheels are securely attached. Quick-release levers must be firmly folded to line up with the fork blade or rear stay; otherwise they can snag on things and open accidentally. Most levers have “open” and “closed” printed on opposite sides. Fold the lever so the “closed” side is visible.
  2. Tyres: Check tyres for bald patches, tears and sharp things. The glass and thorns, etc., which cause punctures often take time to work through the tyre casing. Inspect your tyres frequently and pick out foreign objects. It’s tedious but quicker than fixing the punctures they cause!
  3. Spokes: Check for broken spokes. Gently brush a hand over both sides of both wheels, with the ends of your fingers brushing the spokes. Even one broken spoke weakens a wheel considerably.  A permanent repair is also much easier if the wheel hasn’t been ridden on.
  4. Front wheel: Lift front end of the bike off the ground and spin the front wheel. Check it runs freely and doesn’t wobble between the forks.
  5. Rim brakes: Check the brake blocks don’t touch the tyre or rim as the wheel turns. Rubbing blocks wear quickly and slow you down. Check position of the brake blocks. Each block should be parallel to the rim, low enough to avoid hitting the tyre but not so low that any part of the brake block hangs below the rim.
  6. Disc brake caliper: Check disc pads. You should have at least 0.5mm (1/50 in.) of pad thickness on either side of both brakes.
  7. Brake lever: Carry out a simple brake check every time you ride. Stand beside the bike, push it gently forwards, then pull on the front brake. The front wheel should lock on and the back one lift off the ground. If not, don’t ride!
  8. Brake lever: Use a similar test for the back brake. Push the bike forwards, then pull on the back brake. The back wheel should lock and slide along the ground. If not, do not ride.
  9. Chain: Check the drivetrain. The chain should be clean and should run smoothly through the gears without falling off either side of the sprocket or the chainset. Turn pedals backwards and watch the chain run through the derailleur. Stiff links flick the derailleur forward as they pass over the lower jockey wheel. It’s worth sorting them out since they can cause your gears to slip under pressure.
  10. Cables and hoses: Check all cables (brake and gear) for kinks in the outer casing or frays in the cable. Check hydraulic hoses for links or leaks.
  11. Stem: Check that stem and bars are tight. Stand over the front wheel, gripping it between your knees. Try turning the bars.
  12. Pedals: Check the cleats in the pedals. Make sure you can clip into and out of both sides of both pedals easily.

Photo courtesy of Carlton Books

Tools for three comfort zones

  • 6mm (1/4 in.) Allen key to adjust saddle position
  • 4 or 5mm (5/32 in. – 3/16 in.) Allen key to adjust saddle height (or quick release)
  • 5 or 6mm (3/16 in. – 1/4 in.) Allen key to adjust bar and stem position
  • 4mm (5/32 in.) Allen key to adjust cleat position

Tools for cleaning routine

  • Muc-Off or bike wash
  • Degreaser
  • Stiff brush
  • Sponge frame
  • Chain oil to re-lubricate
  • Plenty of warm water

More from Bike Pocket Maintenance:

Reprinted with permission from Bike Pocket Maintenance: The Step-by-Step Guide to Bicycle Repairs by Mel Allwood and published by Carlton Books, 2017.

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