Yesterday, Better Life fan Dave Lloyd did an awesome job showing us how he cleaned his bike using What-EVER and Dish It Out. Seeing as he in an A Number-1 bike nerd, I asked to put together a little checklist to help the eager but unexperienced of us get our bicycles ready for the weekend trips to the farmer's markets or the lovely commute to work, now that the Spring weather has finally arrived.
This is Dave's back and his minivanbike:
With gas prices approaching $4.00/gallon, lots of folks are breaking out their bikes for transportation and cheap fun. If digging your bike out resembled the journey into the Temple of Doom (note: that probably wasn't a brown recluse), here are a few things you might want to check up on. It's about as simple as A,B,C.
Check your tires:
Look for any cracking or fraying of the case. Do your tires look just to the left of terrain typically found in the Mongolian desert? You may want to replace both the tires and tubes. Your friendly local bike shop should have replacement tires at a variety of price points.
Check your tire pressure:
You can usually check your tire pressure by squeezing the tire between your thumb and forefinger. If it's firm, you're good. Squishy, top it up. Tires have an inflation range printed on the side. For riding on the street, aim towards the higher end. For riding off road and on softer surfaces, go lower. Don't exceed the maximum recommended pressure unless you want to look like Yosemite Sam with an exploding cigar.
Spin the front wheel, then apply the front brake. The wheel should stop easily and without excessive pressure. While the front wheel is spinning, check to make sure that the brake isn't dragging. Do the same for the rear wheel. If your brakes are dragging or out of alignment and you feel reasonably mechanically competent, Check out the Bicycle Tutor's guide to adjusting brakes. Otherwise, your local bike shop will be able to adjust your brakes for a small fee.
Check the chain. Does it move freely? Can you shift through all your gears (if you have gears) without skipping? Is there binding? If so, you may need to lubricate or replace your chain. For lubricant, I've found that a standard Teflon based dry lubricant available at most hardware stores works just fine. Don't go overboard, a little is just fine. Make sure to wipe off the excess after about 15 minutes or so. If you need your chain replace, drop your local bike shop.
Check the crank (the spinny thing the pedals screw into). Does it spin freely? Any knocking when you move it side to side or back and forth while holding onto one of the frame tubes? If so, take your bike into the shop. A loose crank can cause a pretty serious fall.
Finally, if you haven't ridden in a while, make sure the bolts and fasteners on your bike are tight, especially the bolts that hold the handlebar onto the stem and the bolt (if there is one) for the seatpost. Also, give the front and back wheel a wiggle side to side while holding onto one of the frame tubes. Any knocking indicates that wheel bearings need to be adjusted or replaced, which is a job best performed by a bike shop. If you have any questions or doubt, best to drop by your local bike shop. The mechanics, while sporting more PBR paraphernalia and ink than the crowd at a Tool show, are generally friendly people. Most shops also have a "spring tuneup" special which generally combines a lot of tune up services and checks.
If it's been a while since you've ridden on the street or you're starting to ride to work, remember that you must obey all traffic laws. Yes, that means stopping at stop signs and no blowing through red lights. Signal your intentions, make eye contact with drivers and pretend you're driving a car. If you drive your bicycle like a car, your actions become predictable and your fellow road users will know how to react and when to give you more room. Remember, when you're running with a herd of buffalo, best to act like a buffalo. Commute Orlando has some great tips for riding on the street and avoiding common danger situations.
If you have more questions, contact your local bike advocacy group. Trust me, they'll be more than happy and enthusiastic to help. Both The Alliance for Biking and Walking and The League of American Bicyclists will be able to point you in the right direction.