Bicycle Safety Check

by Justyna Frank
bicycle safety check

Even if you are not terribly mechanically inclined, you can perform a basic bicycle safety check to identify any potential mechanical or safety issues.

Here is a simple, step-by-step safety inspection procedure to help you assess the condition of your bike, and spot any problems before they can cause real harm.

How to do a Bicycle Safety Check

Step 1 Wheels & Tires

The first step of the bicycle safety check will help you determine if the bike will roll safely, efficiently, and without any obvious risk of flats.

  1. Spin each wheel & make sure it turns freely, and that the rim isn’t rubbing against the brake pads (or the rotor, in case of disk brakes). Also make sure the tire isn’t rubbing any part of the frame, the brake pads or fender struts.
    If so, the wheel could be mis-seated in the dropouts. Check to see if the wheel appears to be centered inside of the front fork, or the rear part of the bike frame. If not, loosen the quick release or axle nuts, reposition the wheel, tighten & spin again.
    If it is still rubbing, it may need an adjustment by a pro.
  2. As each wheel spins slowly, check that it is free of bends, dinks or wobbles. Check also for loose & broken spokes. These problems require the attention of a bike mechanic.
  3. Make sure the quick release skewers or axle nuts are firmly and securely fastened (more on quick releases here).
  4. Check to see if the tires are inflated to correct pressure (embossed on the sidewall of the tire).
  5. Brush off or pry out any debris embedded in the tire (you may be surprised to find good sized chunks of glass).
  6. Examine each tire for holes, splits or dry-rot along the sidewalls. Replace tires if holes or splits are present.

Step 2: Brakes

In the second step of the bicycle safety check, you will make sure that the bike can stop safely and dependably.

  1. Squeeze the brake levers, and make sure the brake pads grip rims firmly before your brake levers “bottom out” against the handlebars. Lean on the bike and try to roll it forward as you engage the brakes.
    If the bike rolls with the brakes engaged, you should have them professionally adjusted.
  2. Examine the brake pads to make sure they are securely attached, aligned with the rims, and not rubbing the rim or the tire. (If they are rubbing a tire, get it fixed immediately, or you may get a blow out).
  3. In the case of rim brakes, check for uneven or excessive wear on the braking surface of the pads. If the pads appear to have a “lip”, or if they are worn down to the metal, have them replaced right away.
    Disk brake pads are difficult to inspect visually. If your bike is equipped with disk brakes, have them seasonally inspected at your local bike shop.

Step 3: General

The purpose of this final step of the bicycle safety check is to identify anything that is loose, frayed or worn to avert a potential problem down the line.

  1. Let your bike drop from a height of about 6 inches and investigate any abnormal rattling noises. Typical culprits are loose hardware on accessories such as racks, kickstands, fenders and water bottle cages. You can attend to most of these with a simple allen wrench multi tool or screwdriver.
    However, loose brake mechanism, or a badly cracked or warped fender are potential safety issues that may require the assistance of a bike mechanic.
  2. Check for frayed, rusty or frozen brake or shifter cables. Cables that are frayed can snap and cause you to instantly lose the ability to shift gears or to stop the bike.
  3. Check for loose bearings:
    • Check the hub adjustments (the bearings in the center of each wheel). Grasp each wheel firmly and try to shake it side to side. There should be no “play”.
    • Check the bottom bracket adjustment (the bearings between the cranks of your bike). Grasp one of the crank arms and try to shake it side to side. Again, there should be no “play”.
    • Check the headset adjustment (the bearings that allow your handlebars to turn). Holding the front wheel between your knees, squeeze the brake levers and shake the handlebar back and forth. You guessed it, there should be no “play”.
    • If you discover any looseness in any of these systems, bring your bike to the shop for an inspection at your next opportunity, since these can easily grown into larger problems over time.

If your inspection reveals anything that makes you uneasy, stop by Cosmic Bikes (or your preferred local bike shop) for an evaluation by a mechanic. If you do the bicycle safety check regularly, you’re likely to discover only minor problems, which can be addressed with simple and inexpensive adjustments. If this is your first time doing a safety inspection, you may uncover a whole bunch of issues, in which case it may be time for a full bike tune-up.

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