How to Perform a Bicycle Safety Check: Assessing if Your Bike is Safe to Ride
A bicycle safety check is a quick once over of the bike, looking for anything that might make the bike unsafe to ride, or that might be in need of maintenance. It prevents not only accidents but also mechanical failures that can ruin your ride and be costly to repair. Here are the parts of your bike to look at, and what to look for:
To check a wheel, grab the wheel and shake it side to side. Does the wheel move, or does it stay in place? If it moves, it means that your wheel hub is loose and needs to be adjusted.
Now pick up the bike and give the wheel a good spin. Look at where the wheel passes between the brake pads. Does it appear to sway from side to side? Can you hear it audibly rubbing against one of the brake pads? If you answered yes to either of these questions, your wheel is out of true, meaning it does not spin straight or is out-of-round.
An out of true wheel prevents brakes from working properly by creating a non-uniform braking surface, and if out of true severely enough can also compromise the integrity of the wheel, leading to wheel failure.
Next, pinch a couple of spokes between your fingers. This checks that the spokes are properly tensioned and that there are no loose or broken spokes. If the wheel is severely out of true, this can be a good indication that there may be loose or broken spokes. Loose or broken spokes compromise the integrity of the wheel and should be tightened or replaced before being ridden.
If the hubs are tight and do not need adjustment, the wheel spins straight and true and does not have any loose or broken spokes, it is safe to ride. Check the second wheel in the same way you checked the first.
Before riding, it is important to make sure your tires are fully inflated. This is important not only for the safety and handling performance of the bike, but is also one of the best ways to help prevent flats, which can be inconvenient, but also potentially dangerous and could lead to a crash. While inflating your tires, look them over. If the sidewalls are cracked or frayed in any way, or if you notice any gashes or holes in the tire, it is time to consider replacing it. Cracks in the sidewall, gashes or other weaknesses or openings in the tire can let in street hazards like glass, rocks, and even sand, puncturing inner tubes and causing flats.
To check your brakes, look at the pads and be sure there is plenty of meat left on them. Grab the brake levers and give them a pull. Do they grip tight? How tight do you have to pull the lever until the brakes grab? If there is little pad left on the brakes, replace them. If it takes a lot of force on the levers for the brakes to even begin to grab, but there is plenty of pad left, the brakes need adjusting. Being able to stop your bicycle is as important as being able to make your bike move, and should not be undervalued.
After checking wheels, tires, and brakes, give the bike one last quick once over before riding. If anything on your bicycle is loose or appears damaged, repair or replace it before riding.
When it comes to making repairs and adjustments, you can either make the repairs yourself or take it to your favorite local bike shop. If you are inexperienced, or if it has been a while since your bike has had any kind of service, it might be in your best interest to bring your bike to a shop for a full tune-up. A tune-up by a professional mechanic goes over the whole bike checking to be sure that everything is in working order and properly adjusted.