Dr David’s pre-ride checklist

Pre-ride – a quick safety check.

  • Brakes – pads – check wear and central on rim/rotor, adjust cable if required
  • Wheels – check for trueness, bearings not worn or loose, quick release is tight
  • Tyres – check for damage, objects in tyre and pump to correct pressure
  • Chain – check wear, damage and clean it then lubricate
  • Cables – check wear, fraying and function

Less often – identify issues early before expensive repairs!

  • Headset – smoothness, play
  • Pedals – tightness, clean, adjust
  • Cleats – wear, tightness
  • Wheels – check spoke tension
  • Bolts – steerer, handlebars, seat post, saddle, brakes, bottle cages, mud guards, gear mechs , jockey wheels, chain rings
  • Gears- check indexing, cassette and chain ring wear, hangar for alignment. Jockey wheel wear
  • Lube – brake pivots and adjusters, quick release, gear mechs, gear cable adjusters
  • Saddle bag – check contents are not absent, damaged or rusty!

Tools required

  • Hex /Torx keys
  • Chain wear tool
  • Rags – especially old socks!
  • Lubricants
  • WD40 or GT85 to clean with

Dr David’s how to’s

Check brake pad wear – pads usually have grooves moulded into them. When they have worn away to a flat surface it is time to replace, especially if less that 2mm of pad left. Visually check the whole length of the pad on both upper and lower surfaces. Remove the wheel to get a better look if required.

Check Rim brake pad alignment – Look from the side and ensure all of the pad contacts the rim braking surface when the brake is applied. Adjust by slightly loosening fixing bolt and twisting to correct angle. Warning – brake pad overlapping the rim can rub the tyre and cause a blow out!

Periodically remove the pads and check for metal and grit embedded into the brake pad. Remove fragments with something pointed like a penknife tip. 

Use the cable adjuster to ensure you can apply full pressure to the brake lever without it touching the handlebars. Before you reach the limit of the threaded adjuster use the cable clamp to pull through some cable.

Check Disc brake pad wear – Remove the wheel and inspect the pads using a torch. There should be 1mm of pad viewed from all angles.  DO NOT USE THE BRAKE LEVER WITH THE WHEEL OUT!  Check  pad wear against manufacturers guidelines. (Shimano“…if the brake pads are worn down to a thickness of 0.5 mm, or if the brake pad presser springs are interfering with the disc brake rotor, replace the pads”.  SRAM – “Inspect your brake pads regularly to ensure that the overall thickness of the individual brake pads measures at least 2.5mm thick including the pad’s backing plate. When a rotor measures less than 1.55mm thick it needs to be replaced.)

Check disc brake lever travel and feel – As disc brake pads wear, cable operated brakes need adjustment. Hydraulic brakes are self-adjusting.  I you need to pull the leaver all the way to the handlebars to stop, you will either need to adjust the cable or for hydraulic brakes they need bleeding (and fluid change).  The feel should be firm not spongy!

Check wheels for true by simply spinning and looking for any side to side movement. Easiest seen between rim and brake pads. If there is a more than a few millimetres of sideways deflection the rim may rub on the brake pads. For disc brake wheels hold a plastic tyre lever against the forks 1-2mm away from the wheel rim and check.  If the rim is bent it will need truing at a LBS (Local Bike Shop).

The wheel should spin freely without any roughness or grinding noises. This could indicate bearings in need of service.  Also lift bike and try to move wheel in a side to side movement to check for play in the bearings. Most wheel bearings are easy to adjust with the correct tools. Or visit LBS.

Ensure the wheel quick release is tight and also not seized.  Typically you finger tighten the quick release screw side while the handle is in line with the axle. You should then be able to push the lever through 90 degrees to clamp closed. Lubricate the QR with winter chain oil and apply a smear of grease to the axle and threads and springs. Periodically remove through axles and lubricate according to the manufacturer’s guidance.

Check tyres for damage and wear. Damage may be obvious like cuts and woven carcase showing or may be a subtle deformity that is only obvious by spinning the wheel. Visually check the tyre. Remove any stones or glass from the tread. This is best done when both inflated and deflated – when you can pinch the tyre to expose the flint/glass. Deep cuts will require a new tyre. Check for wear. If you see any tyre carcase change the tyre!

Tyre pressure.  Most people have their preferred pressure.  Tyres are marked with a min and max pressure. Stay within the manufacturers recommended range. Typical 25mm tyre pressures would be around 85lbs/psi (5.8Bar) to 100lbs/psi (6.8Bar) depending on rider weight. See this Schwable chart.

tyre pressure chart
Schwable tyre pressure chart

Chain wear creeps up on us! Invest in a chain wear tool (less than £5) and use it. By changing your chain at 0.75% wear it is possible to get 2-3 chains per cassette. Let your chain wear get beyond 1% and you will automatically be changing both chain and cassette at the same time (expensive!).

By regularly cleaning your chain (using an old sock and toothbrush) it will last longer as will the front chain rings and cassette. While cleaning, check for any broken or stiff chain links.

Lubricate with proper chain oil with wet lube in winter and dry lube in summer. The part of a chain link that needs the oil is between the rollers. Apply oil to the edge of each roller so that capillary action pulls it where it is required. See Dr David’s chain faq.

Jockey wheels – these should rotate freely and not wobble about. They tend to get a build-up of caked-on oil and dirt. Clean them!  If they are stiff they can be taken apart, cleaned and lubricated. Wobbly bearings need replacing!

rear mech
Rear Mech

Cables wear over time. Visually inspect. Check for smooth function. Replace if worn/frayed. Keep them clean especially around rear dérailleur. A light coating of oil or grease helps prevent rust. Damaged cable outers let in water.

David’s BIG TIP!  For bikes with external cabling it is easy to clean and lubricate the rear gear cable.… Change into largest rear sprocket.  With rear wheel stationary push gear lever as if changing to small sprocket. This will slacken off the gear cable. Now release the cable from the guide on the chain stay. Clean the gear cable all the way up towards the cranks. Now slide the cable outer up the cable and clean the exposed cable. Slide the outer up and down a few times and keep cleaning. Lubricate with DRY chain lube. Replace the cable in the guide and finally turn the pedals. Smooth gear changes restored!

Headset play may manifest as juddering when the front brake is applied or a rattle over rough road surface. On modern bikes the steerer tube is held in place by bearings top and bottom that are held under mild compression. As you can imagine the bottom bearing gets a hammering over rough roads and spray. The top bearing gets wet from sweat and rain! Check for smoothness when turning the handlebars, any grinding or uneven rotation suggests worn bearings. Check for play by applying the front brake and gently rocking the bike forwards and back while looking and feeling for any movement or clicking. Adjustment or bearing replacement entails using a torque wrench. Ask a friend or visit LBS.

Pedals do actually wear out! The bearings may wear or become stiff, the spring-loaded mechanism wears, so does the platform and also under the hoop at the front. If your new cleats are wobbly it’s probably time for new pedals!  Routinely check the tightness of the pedal axles (remember that pedal threads are different from left side and right side. The right side pedal (as you look at it from the outside) has a right-hand thread (removes ant-clockwise, installs clockwise). The left side pedal has a left-hand thread (removes clockwise, installs anti-clockwise). Clean and lubricate your pedals.

Cleats. A not uncommon sight on our roads is cleat bolts and washers! Check the cleat bolts for tightness. Check your cleats for wear. Some brands do have wear indicators. If the cleat feels sloppy in the pedal or looks visibly tatty then replace it.

Wheels – check spoke tension especially if the wheel creaks or twangs while cycling. Also, if the wheel is not true (see above). Pluck every spoke to check they all make a similar note. Loose spokes will rattle or play a lower note. If you have a spoke key, try tightened by ear while making sure the wheel is not buckling. If in doubt see your LBS.

Bolts – steerer, handlebars, seat post, saddle rails, bottle cages, brakes, brake pads, chain rings, mud guards and dérailleurs. Steerer and stem bolts usually have the correct torque setting engraved on the stem. Similarly, the seat post bolt. It is worth investing in a low range torque wrench. You can buy reasonably priced tools pre-set at 5Nm/6Nm. Work your way along the bike checking tightness of all bolts. See pic.

Torque wrench

Gears– If your gears are working well and the cable is not damaged or worn then leave the gears alone!  Visually check the cassette teeth and chain ring for wear. Symptoms of wear are chain jumping and problems changing gear. Visible signs of wear are elongation of the valley between the teeth (B) and, typically on chainrings, sharpening of the teeth (A). By this stage you will require new chainrings and chain and probably cassette – Ouch! See images (X= relatively normal tooth – note relatively long flat top).

cassette teeth
chainset tooth profile

Poor gear changing may indicate a bent rear dérailleur hanger. To correct this, you need an alignment tool or see me!

Lubricate check-list. Brake pivots and adjusters, quick release mechanism, front and gear mechs (parallelogram and cage pivots see diagram), gear cable barrel adjusters, clean and lubricate cable guide under the bottom bracket.

Saddle bag – check contents are not absent, damaged or rusty! Friction between contents can wear holes in inner tubes (from my own experience!). Inner tubes perish. Tools get rusty. Pop some nitrile gloves in there and have clean hands after the next “mechanical”!!

Prevent seized components – every 6 months or so.

Seat post and clamp. Take out your seat post (having wrapped some tape just above the clamp to mark the position) and lubricate with carbon paste for carbon post or frame, grease for aluminium. Don’t forget to lubricate the clamp and bolt.

Handlebar and steerer bolts. These are subject to sweat and rain so remove one at a time, clean, lubricate and replace to correct torque.

Don’t ignore cable adjusters (inline and down-tube), skewers, bottle cage bolts.