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How to give your bike a quick once over before you head out on the road

Giving your bike a quick check over before you head out onto the road will help you stay safe and get the most from your riding. Here’s what you need to do.

If you’re riding most days, maybe twice a day if you're commuting by bike, it’s unrealistic to think that you’re going to check every part of the bike in detail before each ride. That might be the ideal but it just isn’t going to happen, is it?

Here’s what we think is sensible before every ride – it’s not a comprehensive list of everything you should ever check, and we've not included any accessories like lights that you might have fitted, or spares that you carry.

It might look a lot but you’ll get through it quickly once you get into a routine and it’s time well spent. We've included links where you can find out how to put right any issues you uncover.

And to mollify the commenters, maybe you're not going to check every one of these before every ride, but if you're aware that these are things that can go wrong you'll spot them before a minor adjustment turns into an expensive mechanical disaster.

Brakes

Don’t take chances when it comes to braking. Spin the wheels to make sure the pads aren’t rubbing, then squeeze each brake lever in turn to check the pads hit the braking surface correctly (not rubbing the tyre) and at the same time. If not, you’ll need to re-centre your brake calliper.

Just right.JPG

Make sure that you can apply enough braking pressure to stop in an emergency without the levers coming into contact with the handlebar, and if necessary make adjustments – it might be a two-second job via the barrel adjuster to dial the brake pads in, you might need to take more cable through the calliper, or you might need to bleed hydraulic brakes.

Here’s how to bleed SRAM hydraulic road disc brakes. 

Check that the cables aren’t sticking (assuming you have cables rather than hydraulics) and that the calliper arms are returning fully after braking, and make sure that the brake pads aren’t worn out.

Shimano brake pads.jpg

Shimano brake pads.jpg

Here’s our guide to fitting calliper brake pads. 

Find out how to fit disc brake pads. 

Here’s how to stop your brakes squealing. 

Chain 

Check that your chain is clean and lubed (you should also do this at the end of a wet ride to avoid rust).

Bianchi Oltre XR3 - chain stay.jpg

Bianchi Oltre XR3 - chain stay.jpg

While you’re about it, run your eye over the chain to check there’s no damage to the side plates and all the pins are seated correctly. Turn the cranks backwards and make sure there are no stiff links. 

Here’s how to clean and lube your chain. 

Find out when you should replace your chain. 

Wheels

Give the wheels a spin and make sure that they’re running true – a constant distance from the brake pads, assuming you have rim brakes. If not, find out why: it could be a loose or broken spoke.

Find out how to replace a spoke here. 

Vitus Razor - rear quick release.jpg

Vitus Razor - rear quick release.jpg

Give the rims a quick once over to make sure they’re not damaged and check the skewers are done up tight. They don’t often come loose but give ’em a quick inspection anyway.

Tyres

If you’re out on the bike most days you’re not likely to pump up your tyres before every single ride but at least give them a squeeze to check the pressure is there or thereabouts.

Specialized Tarmac Expert - tyre.jpg

Specialized Tarmac Expert - tyre.jpg

Take a quick look at the tyre tread to make sure that it’s not worn out, there are no cuts, and nothing is stuck in there that could lead to a puncture. You can often hook out pieces of flint and other sharp stones before they work their way through.

Specialized Sequoia Expert - Sawtooth 700x42 Tyre Sidewall.jpg

Specialized Sequoia Expert - Sawtooth 700x42 Tyre Sidewall.jpg

Inspect the sidewalls for any cuts that could eventually lead to the inner tube bulging out.

Here’s how to fit clincher tyres. 

Headset

Check that the headset is tight by applying the front brake and pushing the handlebar forward and back. You’re looking for any non-rotational movement between the frame and the fork.  

Headsets - 3.jpg

Headsets - 3.jpg

Find out how to adjust a threadless headset.

Bottom bracket

Position your chainset vertically and try to rock the lower crank towards the centreline of the bike and out again. You’re looking for play in the bottom bracket bearing. Most modern bottom brackets aren’t serviceable (although some are) so if there is looseness here you might need to shell out for a new one.

Bianchi Oltre XR3 - bottom bracket.jpg

Bianchi Oltre XR3 - bottom bracket.jpg

Check that the bolts fixing your chainset in place are tight.

Bolts

At least check that the bolts fixing your handlebar to the stem are tight – you really don’t want any issues there – and make sure that your seatpost can’t move. Component manufacturers suggest a specific tightness for each bolt and a torque wrench will allow you to get everything set accurately.

Ritchey WCS Evo Max Handlebar 1.jpg

Ritchey WCS Evo Max Handlebar 1.jpg

What’s a torque wrench? 

Gears

Quickly run through your gears to make sure that the shifting is smooth. If the chain is struggling to change sprockets, it might just be a case of twisting the barrel adjuster on the rear derailleur to get things right. 

Trek Domane 2.3 - rear derailleur

Trek Domane 2.3 - rear derailleur

Here’s how to adjust and tune indexed rear derailleurs. 

Storck Fascenario.3 - chainset.jpg

Storck Fascenario.3 - chainset.jpg

Check that the chain doesn’t come off the chainrings when you shift between them. 

Find out how to index front gears here. 

If you have an electronic shift system, check that it’s sufficiently charged.  

Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.

13 comments

Avatar
Bob Wheeler CX [104 posts] 1 year ago
4 likes

Step 1 - Check it's a Bianchi

Avatar
Carton [396 posts] 1 year ago
4 likes

"before every bike ride"? 

Come on. I'm not about to get a torque wrench out and check the bolts every time I leave the house. 

Tyres, Wheels, Brakes & Headset. One squeze on brakes as you push on the headset, then a  squeeze on the tyres as you spin the wheels. Everything else once a week (once a month, if you're lazy) or the day before a major ride.

Avatar
Grahamd [960 posts] 9 months ago
2 likes

Are we not going to add lights?

Avatar
bsknight [52 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes
Grahamd wrote:

Are we not going to add lights?

For me, that would depend on whether I'll be cycling at a time when they are needed.

But your basic point is sound, they should have mentioned it.

Avatar
alg [182 posts] 9 months ago
1 like

“you might need to shell out...”   For a new press-fit B.B. bearing.  Very good!

Avatar
BarryBianchi [419 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes
Bob Wheeler CX wrote:

Step 1 - Check it's a Bianchi

Now this is wisdom.

Avatar
BarryBianchi [419 posts] 9 months ago
2 likes
Carton wrote:

"before every bike ride"? 

Come on. I'm not about to get a torque wrench out and check the bolts every time I leave the house. 

Tyres, Wheels, Brakes & Headset. One squeze on brakes as you push on the headset, then a  squeeze on the tyres as you spin the wheels. Everything else once a week (once a month, if you're lazy) or the day before a major ride.

Christ - what sort of slap-dash  "bring your own drugs" laissez-faire cycling collective kibbutz are you living in?

There's not even a mention of taking a torque wrench to spoke nipples, swapping tyres front to back and inside out, measureing saddle suspension elasticity decay, and giving the crevices in your end plugs a decent shake-n-vac and the tubes a Fabreeze before doing a test ride of the whole ride before you do the ride.

 

Avatar
bsknight [52 posts] 9 months ago
4 likes
Carton wrote:

and giving the crevices in your end plugs a decent shake

 

Need I say more Matron?

Avatar
SteppenHerring [378 posts] 9 months ago
4 likes

Under "gears" it forgot to mention "remove your dork disc in case you get mocked by other riders".

 

Because you'll never be mocked for shifting into your spokes

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Look555 [31 posts] 9 months ago
1 like

I can't believe that they didn't mention quick-release's. For the love of god please go back and put this as No. 1. 

I have had a couple of rides recently where I've found my quick release has un-done itself towards the end of the ride. Most likely down to my own mistake not tightening it as much as I should. On one occasion flipped open by my heel and another by someone catching it on a cafe stop. Seriously scary stuff.

Avatar
antigee [475 posts] 9 months ago
1 like
Look555 wrote:

I can't believe that they didn't mention quick-release's. ..........and another by someone catching it on a cafe stop. Seriously scary stuff.

or some cyclist hater walking past the cafe and flipping a few qr's - I always check mine after cafe stops 

Avatar
BehindTheBikesheds [2136 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes

Sorry but this is complete hogwash!

You will notice pretty much everything you mention on the last ride you did and should do what's needed at the end of that ride not do it just before a ride, that's bad planning and also means you can forget something.

You'll know if the wheels aren't spinning up okay or rubbing, tyres are a bit low (You do regularly inflate right?)Waiting until you next ride is just ridiculous way to go about things.

if you don't notice your brakes are catching, your headset is loose or your chain is a bit nasty looking, or bolts are loose or your gears not working properly from the ride before then you've got bigger problems.

 

Avatar
DaveE128 [998 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes

Was this written to provoke debate? (Surely not!!)

Why on earth would you check your BB before evry ride? It is not safety critical at all and will have no detrimental effect riding it even if it's knackered. Loose cranks and loose pedals are far worse. And the the method shown for checking tyre pressure is bad. Much more effective to squeeze side to side. The constructiom of modern tyres makes this a much easier way to feel any loss of pressure.

Another vote for checking QRs first.Even just checking that they don't come open easily would be better than nothing.

Very few people will use a torque wrench on their stem bolts every ride. I suspect this advice could lead to cracked steerers from people tightening up a pinch bolt a bit each ride. If you've left the bike somewhere people might mess with it, there is a good reason to check, but if it's been in your garage, I think it's a little pointless.