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Commuting 101: Weekend Check-up

by Noah

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.

 
Burley nomad 229

9 Responses to “Commuting 101: Weekend Check-up”

  1. Franky says:

    In addition to your tips I also clean and lubricate the chain every other week. Just take a cotton rug (old t-shirt works great), hold it around the chain and push the pedal with your other hand. After a while put some chain lubricant (NO WD 40!!!) on it while spinning the pedal and then wipe the excess lubricant off again. This takes about 10 minutes, extends the life of the chain, cassette and derailleur and makes the bike ride more smooth.

  2. Dan says:

    I like the idea about checking the spokes. That’s one thing I neglect to check regularily.

    I would also suggest flipping the bike upside down and checking the trueness of your wheels. Use the brake pads as your guide and correct any spots that are wobbling with a spoke wrench.

  3. matthew booth says:

    Dan,
    Is it easy to damage a rim/wheel if you try to adjust spokes yourself? I have noticed both of my wheels have a little bit of wobble but dont have the money to pay a bike shop.

    Noah,
    Thanks for the article. My commute just increased around 7 miles a day (around 25 miles round trip). I definitely need to increase my knowledge about how my bike works. So you recommend purchasing a book on how bike components work? Sometime this year I would like to disassemble my bike and do a total tune-up. I’m good at working with mechanical stuff, but dont yet understand how my bike works.

  4. Noah says:

    Matthew: it’s easy to permanently trash a wheel if you don’t know what you’re doing and/or don’t have all the right tools. You can use your brakes as a makeshift truing stand, but a real truing stand and some real knowledge of wheel building helps a lot.

    For bike repair, I just found this place yesterday:
    http://bicycletutor.com/

    There’s always Sheldon Brown’s archives. He will be missed dearly:
    http://sheldonbrown.com/

    Finally, there’s Park Tool’s repair site:
    http://parktool.com/repair/

    If you can’t find it in these places, it’s not likely going to be covered in any printed book, either.

  5. Dan says:

    Thanks for posting that caveat on bike truing, Noah. It is easy to makes things worse if you don’t have the proper tools or training. This is one part of the bike that you don’t want to mess around with if you don’t know what you’re doing.

  6. Siouxgeonz says:

    Why are these “if you don’t cover a lot of miles on your bike?”

    I’d think if you rode a lot, it would be even more important.

    I would *not* trust my skills to truing my wheel.

  7. Noah says:

    I just meant “If you don’t cover a lot of miles, the thumb press and squeezing the brake should be fine for a weekly check”

    This run-down is more for people like you or I, Ms. Geonz. :P

  8. tadster says:

    Good tips, Noah! My tires lose about 10 pounds of air a week, which makes weekend fill-ups a necessity.

    As for wheel truing, I found Ken Kifer’s essay very helpful.

    http://www.kenkifer.com/bikepages/skills/spokes.htm

    It’s not that bad. You can do it! Just make changes very slowly, and follow Ken’s tip… mark the spokes you adjust!

  9. Quinn says:

    I was thinking about this article this morning and I don’t know about anyone else but I need to do the “weekend check up” on the bike I use the least.
    Due to riding 2 of my bikes most often, I notice the wear and tear more, and have no need for the weekend check up.

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