We’ve asked expert Chris White, Head Mechanic at The Bike in Lausanne, Switzerland, to share his Top 5 Tips for inspecting and preparing your bike. Chris was kind enough to share some great info, so many thanks to him! Please enjoy the read and your time on the bike.
1. Are your tires worn out? If they are road tires, does the rounded profile on the rear tire now have a far more squarer shape to it, with the top flattened? If they are mountain bike tires, are the nobblies rounded off, and not very square? If there are any small cuts in the rubber, then if the tire is not deformed/bulging around the cut then the supportive casing inside is not damaged and only the rubber is damaged, so the tire is still OK, but if there is any bulging then the tire should be changed. You’ll probably need to change your rear tire from wear a long time before your front. It’s fine to only change one tire (even if the new one is not exactly the same as the current one), and instead of putting the new tire on the rear, always put the brand new tire on the front (which is the more important tyre for safety reasons when braking and turning), and take the lightly-used front tire and put it on the rear (which is mostly needed for traction when transferring your pedaling power, so is nowhere near as much of a safety concern). Changing a tyre is no harder than replacing an inner tube, which is a skill that every cyclist should have, so even if you’re not sure how to do it, then this is the time to practice (there are lots of YouTube videos to show you the details).
2. How are your brake pads? On rim brakes, the pads normally have a little wear-indicator line, if you’re close to that then it’s probably a good idea to change the pads; if you can’t see the wear line then you may be getting close to the metal pad holders, which is quite dangerous – metal on metal doesn’t brake very well. For disc brakes, you’ll probably have to remove the wheel to get a good look at the pads – if the pad surface is less than 0.5 mm thick or if any part of the pad release spring is touching the rotor (which will probably cause some screeching noises) then the pads should be changed. How easy it is to change pads depends on the type of brake – those on road bikes are the easiest, some disc brakes are quite tricky.
3. Is your chain worn out? You can assess this using a 12-inch ruler (yes, chains are still manufactured using imperial dimensions, for instructions using this method, see here, but an easier way is to use a special tool, I like the Park Tool CC-3.2 Chain Checker. If you keep riding with a worn-out chain, then you’ll soon not only need to change your chain, but probably also your cassette (which is far more expensive) and maybe your chainrings (even more expensive again if you have to replace three of them). If you measure your chain wear regularly then you can put a new chain on before it wears out too much and destroys the rest of your components. You may want to pay you local shop to install the chain for you, it’s only a 10-minute job for them to remove the old one, install the new one, and make sure your transmission is working well with the new one, and they can also tell you which chain is compatible with your current setup.
4. How are your cables and housing looking? If they are looking rusty, the housings are cracking, or the end caps are bent, etc., then it’s a good idea to change them to improve your braking and shifting performance. If your cables are particularly old then they can brake whilst you’re riding the bike. Breakages normally happen at the ‘head’ of the cable, which is inside the lever where repeated bending occurs; this is hard to spot without pulling the old cables out, so some people just routinely change their cables every couple of years. You might want to have your local bike shop change your cables, because you’ll need to get the length of housing and tension in the cable just right to make the new cables work properly, but you’ll also learn a lot by doing it yourself.
5. How is your handlebar tape or bar grips looking? Handlebar tape can lose it’s squishiness quite quickly, and you’ll be amazed by how nice a new wrapping feels. I really like the feel and comfort of the Lizard Skins DSP bar tape, and it is a bit easier to put on well than is many other brands (although it is a bit more expensive). You should definitely be able to do that yourself, and there are many YouTube videos that can help you – keeping constant tension on the tape is the most important thing. On a mountain bike, your comfort might be greatly improved by adding some ergonomically-shaped grips like the ones by the brand Ergon, but there are now several other brands making similar things that are cheaper.
6. (Bonus Tip!) How are the cleats in your shoes looking? Cleats for road pedals can get worn out very quickly if you walk around on them a lot (if this is the case, maybe you should consider buying some mountain bike pedals and shoes, which work just as well but are far easier to walk on). Even the recessed cleats for mountain bike pedals can get worn down after a lot of use; you won’t notice how worn they are until you put new ones on and realize how much more positive the pedal entry and exit becomes with the new cleats.
Thanks for sharing, Chris! Any final tips you’d like to offer us for those times when we need to bring our bikes into a shop? I always thought it was good karma to bring the mechanics beer or chocolate. Your thoughts on that??
Jeff’s correct, your bike will get extra-special care and attention if it is delivered with beer. Croissants from the bakery in the morning can also be quite nice. I’m sure chocolate would also work, but beer is certainly #1.
Check out Chris’ recent interview for the Hillseeker® community for some great insights on pursuing what you love. With a Ph.D. in Psychology, he worked as a Post-Doc Researcher & Lecturer and is now enjoying a great life as a bike mechanic. And here’s a quick recommendation for where to find good deals for bike accesories & parts online.