Thursday, March 2, 2017

PSA: Always Check Before You Ride!

I did an easy-ish ride this morning to take advantage of the beautiful spring weather before the forecast afternoon thunderstorms hit. On the second half of my ride, I started to feel extra tired. I chalked it up to being hungry for lunch, but then I heard a rubbing sound and realized that my front brake had gone off-center. I re-adjusted it and kept riding. It happened again a little bit later, and again a little bit after that. For the last 20-30 minutes of my ride, I was thinking hard about what could cause my brake to keep pulling to the same side, especially since it was pulling clockwise--away from the direction that the cables pull.

When I got home, I dismounted and gave the brake one last wiggle to see if I could feel any play. The brake felt fine, but the wheel moved.

Let me repeat: the wheel moved.

The quick release on my front wheel was loose. I don't know if it came loose at some point during the ride (unlikely), or if it's been like that since I put the front wheel back on after Sunday's ride. But that is a very dangerous problem to have. If my front wheel had come off at high speed, I probably would have been visiting the hospital right now instead of writing this blog post.

Consider this your public service announcement to check your bike before every ride! Here's a list of quick things to check before you head out:

1. Quick release skewers. Be sure they're secure and tight and lined up properly. Check for any side to side play in the front or rear.

2. Wheels and brakes. Give the wheels a quick spin to check for wheel true and brake rubbing. While you do that, eyeball the tires to make sure there's nothing stuck in the rubber. While you're at it, check the tire pressure and inflate your wheels to your preferred pressure.

3. Check the brakes by grabbing the front and rear brake and pushing forward and backward. With the front brake on, the front wheel should stop and the bike frame rotate forward. With the rear brake on, the rear wheel should stop and (if anything) the whole bike should scoot back. Neither wheel should slip against the brake pads, though.

4. Make sure the chain is lubed. Some people lube their chain before a ride, but I usually clean and lube my bike after every ride. Doesn't matter, so long as the chain isn't dry.

You should also wash and check your bike regularly. Ideally, you'd wipe the bike down and de-grease the drivetrain after every ride, but I know sometimes that's not possible. Definitely do it after every wet, rainy ride, though, and try to get it done at least once a week. While you're at it, check the chain for wear (you need a chain wear tester for that job, but they're not expensive). Clean the brake pads and check them for wear. Check your wheels and tires for true and for any little sharp bits that have lodged themselves in your tires. And check the brake track on your wheels for wear.

It doesn't take much time or effort to check your bike, but you do need a little bit of knowledge. I recommend SickBiker and Global Cycling Network, both of which have detailed and informative maintenance guides on their YouTube channels. You shouldn't need to take your bike to the shop for every little thing. And you need to be able to do enough to keep yourself safe on your rides.

Stay safe out there!

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