Bike Maintenance: What to Check Before Riding

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

article image
by Unsplash/Igor Peftiev

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.”

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.


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.

illustration of a bike with its front tire against a curb

Wheel Spin

illustration of a person spinning a bike wheel

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:

1. 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.

illustration of a bike wheel rubbing against the frame

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.

illustration of a brake pad pressed against a bike wheel

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.

illustration of a person holding the pedal of a bike and turning a chain

What to do:

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


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

illustration of a screwdriver pressed in to a bubble in a bike tire

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.

illustration of a tire valve tilted to the side

illustration of a bike valve standing upright

What to do:

Let the air out and straighten the valve.


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.

illustration of a person standing in front of a bicycle holding the handle bars and the front wheel


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 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:

illustration of a brake pad pressed against a bike wheel

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

illustration of a person squeezing the brake lever of a bicycle

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

illustration of a bike tire kicking up dust on pavement

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

book cover with an illustration of two people standing next to a bike

This excerpt has been reprinted with Permission from Urban Bikers’ Tricks and Tips by Dave Glowacz and published by Wordspace Press, 2010.