Making sure you're bike is not going to give you a nasty surprise en route to school, work (or play) doesn't mean you have to give it a full service every month. It would be nice if this was the case, but in real life just a few timely checks and TLC is often all that is needed.
Here's a breakdown (no pun intended) you might want to adopt.
1. Keep your bike clean.
It's easy to keep dirt and muck at bay on your bike. Dirt hides all kinds of problems, from worn or missing parts to cracked components and frame issues. If in doubt, mild soap and water is fine for the frame. Rinse with fresh water. Don't use heavy-duty jet washers as they tend to damage bearing seals which can lead to corrosion. Very greasy chains can be cleaned with a degreaser, or at the very least, just thoroughly wipe it and other drivetrain
components with a dry cloth. This will help you tune and adjust your bike more easily.
2. Use the M-Check
M-Check is a simple, effective method of checking your bike's function and safety. (The 'M' helps you to trace an imaginary path of checkpoints around a bike). There's a lot of different interpretations out there but here's one to start with.
Tyres - check for damage such as tears in the tyre wall, embedded thorns, flint in the tread. Remove if possible. If the tread is severely worn think about replacement soon.
Tyre pressure. If you have a pump, restore the pressures. Set them slightly softer if it's icy or wet etc. as this gives a surer footing when cornering and stopping.
Spokes - Check if your spokes are firm by grabbing pairs at a time and squeezing them with one hand. Any loose or broken ones, attend to asap.
Hubs - Give your wheel a firm wiggle from side to side. Any movement will mean some hub attention is needed.
True - Your wheel should spin freely. It won't if it's buckled or the hub (centre) is knackered. (see above)
Pull both brake levers - there should be contact with the pads on the rims (or with the pads on the disc) the levers should not touch the handlebars. Rim brake-pads should make contact with the rim centre.
Brake callipers of any sort should be securely fixed on the frame.
Cables should be clean and undamaged, and slide freely in the cable housings.
BIKE CENTRE - At the minimum, these parts are handy to check before your journey
Chainset -this should rotate freely with no sideways play. Pedals rotate but have no play or rattle
Chain - check for stiff links (which can make a click on each complete chain revolution) and while there you could clean with a cloth and re-lube if confident.
Saddle - Make sure it's secured at the right height and there's no movement (give it a reasonable wiggle)
HANDLEBARS - Importantly these should have some movement in one respect and no movement in another! Here's a simple method:
Stand next to the bike, squeeze the front lever and rock the bike back and forth. There should be no play in the headset, if there is, make a note to get it serviced.
Hold the top tube, lift up the front and move the handlebars side to side. They should move freely and not be stiff.
Finally check the handgrips are not loose. Nothing worse than honking your bike up a hill and one grip decides to slip off. That's definitely not a good look.
After a while this should become a natural process, and you'll be able to work these checks around regular services with your local bike shop too.
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