Commuting 101: Weekend Check-up

If you don’t cover a lot of miles on your bike, I’d recommend at least doing the “thumb press” test on your tires each weekend, and squeezing both brakes to make sure they are adequately tight.   I’m not usually a slacker, though.   With nice weather, I ditch the bus and go to bike-only commuting mode which entails many miles per month on blighted roadways. I have to be diligent about bike maintenance but I don’t get terribly obsessive.   Every weekend, I give the bike a once-over.   It’s a good idea, but my routine is certainly more meticulous than others’ might be.

Here’s my weekend check-up:

  • Check The Spokes

For each (almost) parallel pair of spokes, give them a firm squeeze all the way around the wheel. I’ve had spokes break that didn’t manifest themselves until I did this.   Riding with one broken spoke is a good way to cause several more.

  • Check The Tires

Pressing the tire in with your thumb is an okay way to see if the tire has lost quite a bit of air.   On narrow, high-pressure tires, however, most people would be hard pressed (pun intended) to tell the difference between 80 and 110 PSI without having something to compare it to.   If both tires lose air at the same rate, you might be running lower pressure than you think.   Most car-specific gauges only go to 50PSI or so, but bike-specific gauges exist for Schrader and Presta.   Alternatively, you could use a floor pump with a gauge.

  • Check The Brakes

Give your brake levers a good, solid emergency-stopping squeeze.   The levers shouldn’t touch the handlebar, and they should pull smoothly and release on their own.   Visually inspect your brake pads to make sure they are positioned properly on the rim or disk.

  • Check The Quick Release

To check, I just open them, make sure the wheel is bottomed-out in the dropouts, then close the QR.   The Quick Release lever should start needing pressure applied to it when it’s about 9° (perpendicular) to the bike’s frame.   It should close firmly and without the lever itself touching the frame or fork. I see a lot of bikes with improperly-tightened QR skewers, for example where the skewer is left open and the “acorn” nut on the opposite side was tightened by hand.

Additionally, I make sure everything is functional and accounted for in my flat kit and charge the batteries in my rear blinkies on the weekend.   That’s getting a little bit obsessive.

I think part of this stems from being taught at an early age to always check the tire pressure and oil level while filling my car with gasoline. Making sure your bike’s vital signs are in order once a week is a quick way to see if any minor mechanical issues are taken care of before they cause big problems.

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