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Mechanic's Corner: 5 Tips to Keep your Bike in Tip Top Shape
By:  Andre Marchand   (2015/09/07)


Bicycles are one of the least expensive modes of transportation available today, and are a common site here in Ottawa with all of the plentiful bike paths and relatively short commuting distances. With more and more roads being repaved to include a bike lane, and new bicycle safety laws coming into effect, more and more people are choosing cycling as a viable option for commuting. Personally I think this is great! Commuting via bicycle is a great form of exercise, as well as a great way to start and end your day; significantly better than being stuck in traffic! 

Having a good solid bike and nice safe roads to ride on is definitely at the foundation of safe cycling, but like any vehicle your bicycle requires regular inspection and maintenance if you want it to best serve you. It is a great habit to inspect your bicycle before each ride and do what you can to keep it functioning safely. The reality is that accidents happen, but you have it within your power to control the functionality of your bike. For example, making sure your brakes are working before getting into a situation where you need your brakes to work. 

As a working bicycle mechanic here are 5 easy tips to keep your bike performing well that you can do in under 5 minutes.

1- Air Pressure in Tires

Check your tire pressure every ride! Bicycle tires can lose as much as 10psi per day, so it is a good idea to inflate your tires every ride. Inflate your tires 5-10psi lower than the “Maximum PSI” indicated on the side of your tire. This “Maximum PSI” is the burst pressure of the tire, so you don’t need to go that high.

Typically, larger volume tires are at a lower riding pressure, so you won’t feel much difference riding them day to day without re-inflating them. However; the lower the pressure, the higher your risk is of bottoming out the rim and causing a flat.

Check your tire pressure by placing your thumb on top of the tire, and pressing your thumb into the tire with your other hand. If your thumb can almost bottom out the tire, then you need more pressure!


2- Wheels (Quick Releases)

Once you have inflated your tires, check that your wheels are attached to the bike! 

If your wheels are bolted on, then you will typically need a 15mm wrench to check that they are on tight.

A more common mechanism is called the “Quick-Release”, and does not require a tool. 

A quick check is to see if you can easily open the quick-release lever, if you can pry it open very easily, it is NOT tight enough!

To tighten the wheels onto your bike, ensure the wheel is centred in the bike's fork, tighten the adjusting nut, and close the clamping lever of the quick-release. It should be clamped quite tightly.


(I do not own or claim to own the rights to these two photos above, just useful illustrations of a quick release)

3- Brakes

Squeeze your brakes to see if they work. 

You’ll know pretty quickly if the brakes aren’t attached, and you can also take note of how tight they are, if one is looser than the other, and if they work! 

Ideally your brakes feel strong, and the brake pads are centred on each side of the wheel's braking surface, and the brake pads are aligned with the braking surface.

By law you must be able to lock the rear wheel of your bike when braking. In practice, the majority of your stopping power is coming from your front brake, while the rear brake only helps you slow down.

4- Steering (Stem & Headset Adjust)

Check that your handlebar is aligned with the front wheel, and firmly in control of the steering. 

You can check this by holding the front wheel between your legs, and attempting to turn the handlebars without turning the wheel. If the handlebars turn, then they need to be adjusted, if not then you know the steering is safely attached.

Here is a pretty short YouTube video of how to adjust a stem, headset, and steering.


5- Chain Lubrication

Put chain lube on your chain! This makes it easier for you to shift gears, and greatly increases the lifespan of your chain and gears. 

Take an old rag, apply a chain lubrication product to your chain (DO NOT USE WD-40!!!), wait one minute, and then wipe off the excess oil from your chain. Your chain is supposed to be silver/metallic, not black. 

Aim for the centre of the chain, that way your chain will pick up less dirt. I’m a big fan of "Finish Line One-Step” (blue bottle) chain lube, it is part chain cleaner and part lubrication.

(I do not own or claim to own the rights to these above 2 photos)

While your there, you can use your rag to wipe off any other dirt from your bike if you want, this might exceed that 5min inspection deadline, but it is good to try and keep your gears and chain clean as well as the braking surfaces of your wheels.

And that’s it! :)

It looks like a lot when you put it into words, but taking this 5 minutes to safety check your bike could save you from having an accident, and will definitely keep your bike running better. Furthermore, it will allow you to keep tabs on how your bike is doing, if it needs a tune-up from our friends at Fresh Air Experience, and if some parts might need replacing. 

It is always good to listen to and feel how your bike is working when it is new, or has recently been tuned up, that way when you hear a new noise, or something doesn’t feel right, you might be able to identify the problem during your routine 5 minute check. 

Now that your bike is safe, some other things to help you enjoy your ride…

- Wear a Helmet! Obviously Rudy Project is best, but any helmet is better than none at all. Furthermore, if your helmet is over 5 years old, the protective material has deteriorated and is much more brittle than it was, so you should replace your helmet minimum every 5 years. Now that you have head protection eye protection is also highly recommended, and with all the dust and bugs flying around Rudy Project has you covered with great sunglasses, as well as an unparalleled scratch replacement lens program!

- Drink lots during your ride! If your commuting it is nice to not arrive at your destination overheated and dehydrated, so a simple bottle of water can make the whole experience more enjoyable. If your doing a longer ride, consider adding some E-Load sports drink to your bottle and some Cliff Bar food to your stomach, it will help your muscles function better during exercise, and more importantly reduce your recovery time after the workout!

- Bike shorts are an amazing thing! No they don’t look that great to walk around the grocery store in, but a good pair of bike shorts can really help you enjoy your bike a lot more!

Hope to see you out on the road :)

Andre M.

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