Checking your bike over can prevent future headaches.
Mechanicals can ruin your ride. You can end up stranded with a broken bike, miles from home. Sometimes, they can cause a crashes or catastrophic damage to your bike.
However, if you do regular checks of your equipment, you improve the odds of catching and fixing issues. Here are the things you should look out for on your bike, and how often you should be performing periodic maintenance.
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Our Basic Pre-Ride Bike Checklist
Our mechanics test ride every Certified Pre-Owned bike to make sure it's safe and in good working order. This pre-ride checklist is based on some of the key issues they look for on every bike.
Let’s be honest, most of us probably just hop on our bikes, head out the door, and assume everything is fine. Usually, it is. But if you want to make sure your bike is always working properly and safe to ride, here are seven important questions you should ask yourself before you pedal away:
- Are your tires inflated?
- Is your chain lubricated?
- Do your brakes work?
- Are all your bolts tight?
- Do your tubeless tires (if applicable) still have sealant in them?
- Does your drivetrain shift?
- Does your suspension (if applicable) work?
You don't need to run through and check all these components before every single ride. That would be super annoying and even I don’t do that.
BUT, you should always be aware of the last time you checked each of these components so you have a good sense of when you should check them again. If you can’t remember when you last checked, then it’s probably a good idea to give it a look before your next ride.
How Often Should You Check and Maintain the Components On Your Bike?
Based on the seven pre-ride bike check questions above, here’s how often I check the key components on my own bike at home:
Tires - Every ride
I use a pump with a tire pressure gauge and make sure my tires are inflated to the correct tire pressure before every ride. Your tire pressure has a massive effect on your bike’s performance and I’m super picky about riding at my preferred pressures.
You don’t have to get as nerdy as me. At the very least, you should press on your tires with your thumb before you set off on any ride to make sure they have enough air. Riding an under inflated tire can lead to a puncture, which will ruin your ride. In a worst-case scenario, you could damage your rim or even crash. Pumping your tires up regularly also makes it easy to key an eye on your tire wear. So keep your tires pumped up!
[button]Beginner’s Tire Pressure Guide[/button]
Chain - Every few rides
The chain is one of the most important parts of your bike to maintain. A clean and well-lubricated chain ensures your bike pedals smoothly and quietly, shifts properly, and prevents excess wear so your drivetrain lasts longer, saving you money.
How often you clean and lube your chain will depend on how often you ride, how far you ride, your local riding conditions, and what lube you use. For avid riders, I recommend lubing your chain every few rides (e.g., every 150-300 miles), and just cleaning it whenever it looks excessively grimy. You can definitely do it more often if you want.
[button]How To Clean and Lube Your Chain[/button]
Brakes - Every ride / whenever you notice it / every month
Before you set off on your bike, give the brake levers a quick squeeze to make sure your brakes are working. This is habitual for me and I do it right when I get on the bike without thinking. It’s just a bit of extra insurance since working brakes are essential for your safety.
If your brakes squeal excessively, lack stopping power, or the lever feels spongy, then it’s time to give your brakes a check. Your pads may be worn out or contaminated. If you have mechanical brakes, you may need to replace the cables and housing. If you have hydraulic disc brakes they may need a bleed to remove old fluid and air.
Otherwise, I try to check my brake pads every month or so. At TPC, replace pads once they are around 50% worn to maintain optimum braking performance. DON'T be one of those riders who wears their pads all the way down to the backing plate. Not only is this dangerous, but it will destroy your brake rotors too.
[button]How To Replace Disc Brake Pads[/button]
Bolts - Every few months
We recommend doing a general bolt check every few months. Bolts can work themselves loose over time and a loose bolt can cause major problems. The most important bolts to check are your stem bolts, which hold your cockpit together. Other bolts worth checking are your brake caliper bolts, seatpost clamp, saddle rail clamps, and any suspension linkage bolts. Also make sure the thru-axles or quick-release skewers for your wheels are adequately tightened.
It’s always a good idea to use a torque wrench when checking and tightening any bolts on your bike. This prevents you from over or under-tightening. Most cockpit bolts need to be torqued to 5Nm. To handle this, a basic torque key with a few different-sized bits (4mm and 5mm hex head will cover most bolts) should be adequate. For suspension leakage bolts and other various bolts around your bike with different torque specs, you may need a fancier adjustable torque wrench.
Tubeless Tire Sealant - Every few months
If you’re running tubeless tires, then you will need to periodically replenish your tire sealant. How often will depend on your climate. If you live somewhere hot and dry, then you may need to replenish your sealant more often than someone living in a cooler climate. Generally, sealant needs to be replenished every 3-6 months, either by injecting it through the valve core or popping the tire bead and pouring in a couple of ounces.
There are a few ways to check how much sealant is left in your tires. The easiest way is to simply spin or shake the tire and listen for any sealant sloshing around. If you don’t hear any, then it’s probably time to add some more. If you want to be more exact, pop the tire bead and look inside or remove the valve core and use some form of “dipstick” to see how much sealant is sitting in the bottom of the tire.
Suspension - Once a year
Mountain bikes (and some gravel bikes) with suspension will need their forks and/or shocks serviced regularly. Suspension manufacturers have recommended service intervals (often 50, 100, or 200 hours) but it’s pretty hard for most riders to keep track. To keep things easy, we generally recommend you fully service your suspension at least once a year. Most riders will do it in the winter when they’re riding less, so their suspension is fresh and ready for the upcoming season.
Most home mechanics are capable of doing a basic seal service at home, but a full 200-hour damper service and some other suspension jobs will require specialized tools and fluids. In this case, most riders will just take their bikes to a bike shop or suspension service center (TPC offers suspension services at our Louisville retail store).
Of course, if you notice your suspension feels sticky or makes a lot of noise, or certain functions like lock-outs and damper adjusters have stopped working, then you should get your suspension serviced sooner rather than later. Regularly servicing your suspension improves its performance and helps it last longer. Since suspension forks and shocks are some of the most expensive parts of a bike, it’s worth staying on top of it.
Shifting - Whenever you notice it
If your drivetrain has been properly set up by the manufacturer, a local bike shop, or TPC, and you keep your drivetrain clean and lubricated, then it should shift crisply for a long time. You’ll only need to touch it if you begin to notice slow or missed shifts. If you have a mechanical drivetrain, you’ll usually just have to adjust your indexing. With Shimano Di2 or SRAM AXS, they can be adjusted using each brand’s specific tuning procedure or smartphone app.
If you’ve recently crashed or knocked your derailleur against something, there’s a good chance that you’ll need to straighten your derailleur hanger and check your high and low limit screws. Always check your shifting after a crash to prevent any damage that could result from a misaligned derailleur.
[button]How To Adjust and Index Your Shifting[/button]
Bikes aren’t super complicated, and good bikes are generally pretty reliable. If you stay on top of the seven points outlined above, then you’ll be able to ride worry-free for a very long time. If you’d like to know more about what to expect as your bike ages, check out our 10 Most Common Used Bike Repairs. If you’re interested in building out your tool kit to do your own repairs at home, then take a look at our 10 Essential Tools for Home Mechanics.[button]Shop Bike Tools[/button]