Maintain That Bicycle

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Thursday June 27, 2013

When I teach bicycle safety, I tell people to start off each ride with the “ABC-Quick Check.” This reminds us of the major bike systems that need to be working well in order to have a trouble-free ride.

A is for Air. Check your tires for inflation. You can do this by squeezing the sides of the tires. 

The air pressure specification will be on the sidewall of the tire. Fill the tire to that pressure and flick your finger on the rubber to hear the ping. After some experience you will recognize the sound of a properly inflated tire. Look over the tire for wear and cuts. This will assure you that the air won’t leak out.

B is for Brakes. It is important that your bike be able to stop safely. 

Squeeze the brake levers to be sure that the pads engage with the rim of the wheel and can stop the bike. There should be enough room between the lever and the handle so that you can put a couple of fingers in there without getting squeezed. That will insure that the lever won’t ‘bottom out’ before the brakes work.

Adjust the brake pads so that they “toe-in”. This means that the forward ends of the pads are closer to the rim than the rears. The brakes will squeal if the pads are not aligned correctly. The pads should contact the rim fully. Check the brake cables for fraying. You don’t want to discover a defective brake cable when you are braking hard. 

C is for Crankset and Chain. The drivetrain of the bike consists of the front chain ring(s), the chain, and the cogs or cluster on the rear wheel. The one with lots of little gears is called the freewheel or cassette. The crank arms hold the pedals so that when you push on the pedals they turn the crank. Be sure that there is no play by pushing the pedals left and right.

Lubricate the chain regularly. I like to use a wax-based lube because it sheds water. Be sure to wipe the chain a lot after you lubricate it. Spin the chain and wipe until the rag comes up fairly clean -- spend about six times as much time wiping as applying the lube. You should wipe down the chain briefly after each ride and especially if it gets wet.The front derailleur, switches the chain from one chain ring to the other; the rear derailleur, moves the chain from one cog gear to the other. Check the cables that control the derailleurs, to be sure they are not frayed or stuck. If you hook the bike seat over a low tree limb, you can spin the cranks to move the chain, gears and wheels to check the drivetrain.
You can also see if the wheels are true -- does the spinning rim hit the brake pads when they are free? Is there pronounced wobble in the wheels? You can correct this with a spoke wrench by screwing the spoke nipples into the spokes to tighten the spokes, or toward the rim to loosen the spokes.

Q: QUICK Check involves the Quick Releases on the hubs. Be sure that the levers are tight so that the wheel doesn’t fall off if you leave the ground. Check the rest of the bike for loose nuts and bolts. Bounce the bike to listen for loose parts and tighten them if necessary. Be sure the seat is tight and that it is at the right height for you.

Resources: Local bike shops offer classes to help you learn how to better care for your bike.

David Jacobowitz is a member of the South Burlington Recreation Path Committee. He has lived on Andrews Ave since 1986. A retired researcher in psychological statistics, he volunteers with bicycle advocates at Local Motion and he is a League Certified Instructor in bicycle safety with the League of American Bicyclists.

SOURCE: David Jacobowitz, Contributor