One of the easiest ways to be put off getting out on your bike is finding out just before you’re leaving that there is a basic problem, and deciding that it’s just not worth the hassle to sort there and then. It really pays to set aside an hour or two to go through a few simple checks, and make sure that you will actually get out the door when you planned to.
Pretty fundamental this. While a lot of other niggles can be put up with I doubt anyone would be particularly keen on riding along on the rims of their wheels. Often tyres will be flat by sight, if they look inflated try pressing your thumb in. There shouldn’t be too much movement when you do so.
Your tyres should have a recommended inflation pressure stamped on the side – mountain bike tyres are usually around 40-65psi, road tyres a fair bit higher. A proper track or stirrup pump can help here, tyres are easier to inflate, and they generally come with pressure gauges. If you don’t have a pressure gauge then simply inflate until the tyre is hard, but not solid. Once pumped leave the tyres for an hour or so. Tyres will naturally lose pressure if not used for a long time so just because they’re flat doesn’t necessarily mean you have a puncture.
More important than the ability to go is the ability to stop, without leaving a dent in either yourself or the surrounding scenery. Brake pads should be sitting a few millimetres from the rim of the wheel. This space may need to be increased if your wheel has a slight buckle (which in my mind counts as one of those small niggles you can live with) to stop the pad rubbing. You should be able to pull your brake lever so that it doesn’t immediately lock a wheel up (unless you enjoy being catapulted over the handlebars…) but it shouldn’t be possible to pull the lever all the way back to touch the handlebars, this simply won’t stop you when necessary.
The easiest way to adjust the brakes is often by means of a barrel adjuster where the cable goes into the levers – it should be pretty obvious. But I often slacken or tighten the wire where it attaches to the brake itself (the wire is usually clamped to the brake by means of a nut & bolt or allen key screw).
An utter pain in the proverbial, it’s one of the reasons one of my bikes has no gears at all. I’ve got better at setting my gears up recently, but a rear derailleur generally has four ways to be adjusted (maximum movement in and out, tightness of the cable, and a barrel adjuster at the lever), so they’re not the most user-friendly of items. And when it comes to hub gears I really haven’t a clue.
If you can get a good range of gears that you feel comfortable with I’d go with that, and I’ve been on rides along flat cyclepaths where I haven’t changed gear for ten miles. So, while people will often boast of the number of gears they have, in reality everyone will use a fairly narrow band that they are happy with.
This recommendation comes from painful personal experience. Commuting to work one morning my chain decided it had had enough of running round the treadmill and cast itself free from the shackles of my bike. Having just set off from a set of lights I was putting a fair amount of effort in at the time and was pitched forward straight over the bars and onto the welcoming tarmac.
If your chain has a hint of orange, and a grinding sound when you back pedal, liberal application of oil will often loosen things off and prolong life. However, if your chain looks like it is being held together by the rust, replace it. Any bike shop will be able to provide a suitable chain on hearing what type of bike you have, and how many gears it runs.
Make sure all the various nuts and bolts are tight, that your seat is at a good height (general rule of thumb I use is sitting in the saddle your feet should rest on the ground by the balls of the feet, not flatfooted), that your handlebars are straight, and that you know where you’re going.
If worried at all about any bits, a few select tools in a backpack, together with a small pump and puncture repair kit, are invaluable. You may even find the process of getting your bike ready to be something of a stress-reliever, and if, like me you’re a constant tinkerer, as time goes by you will find yourself wanting, and able, to do far more with the bike than you ever imagined possible.
As the year progresses I hope to bring you some practical, illustrated, maintenance articles, starting next time with fixing that dreaded puncture.