Before you head out for your next ride, take a few minutes to do a quick bike inspection. Giving your bike the once-over can increase the safety, comfort, and enjoyment of your next ride. Follow these steps as part of your pre-ride preparation:
Open and close the quick-release levers on your wheels to confirm that they’re tight.
Move each wheel side to side to check for looseness.
Give each wheel a spin to see that it doesn’t wobble and that the rim doesn’t contact the brake pads at any point.
Check the air pressure of your tires with a pressure gauge and compare it with the recommended pressure listed on the sidewall. Under-inflated tires will drastically increase the rolling resistance, increasing the amount of energy needed to pedal the bicycle. If you’ve inflated them properly, they’ll do a better job of absorbing any impact and protecting the wheel from damage.
Visually inspect the tires, looking for any cracks, cuts, or tears.
Give the brake levers a strong squeeze to ensure that the brakes firmly grip the wheels. You shouldn’t have to pull the levers more than halfway to the handlebars.
Confirm that the brakes grip the rim and that they have sufficient rubber.
Straddle the front wheel, pinching it between your thighs, grip the handlebars, and try to twist them side to side. Try the same procedure but, this time, straddling the frame and squeezing the brakes; try to rock the bicycle back and forth.
Grab a crank arm in each hand and try to shake them for looseness. If there is some play in the bottom bracket, it should be overhauled. If it’s very loose, it could be dangerous to ride.
Confirm that the pedals spin freely but that you can’t pull them away from the cranks.
Set your saddle to a height where you can just barely place your toes and the balls of your feet on the ground when you sit on the saddle. Another indication of proper position is if your leg is bent at a slight angle when your foot is on the pedal at its lowest position. If you can lock out your knee, the seat is too high. If your saddle is set too high or too low, you’ll lose efficiency as you pedal and may even cause strain or injury to your body.
Set your stem and handlebars so that they leave your back at a 45-degree angle. Even though you’ll be a little less aerodynamic, the fact that the weight of your upper body will be distributed between your torso and your arms will make you ride much more comfortable. Note: Some traditional riders take the old-school approach of positioning the handlebars by having the ends run parallel to the top tube in the frame, but this isn’t a comfortable position for any period of time.
Improve your visibility. There’s nothing more important than being safe while you ride and improving your visibility can go a long way toward that goal. Wear brightly colored clothing. Make sure that your wheels and pedals have reflectors, and wear reflective arm and leg bands. Keep a bright white front light and a flashing LED rear light for when you’re caught out at dusk or for night riding.
Stock emergency gear. You should always be prepared for the worst — whether it’s an accident, getting lost, a storm, or fatigue. If you keep some essentials stowed away in your jacket, in a pannier bag, or elsewhere, you’ll be ready for when the worst strikes. Take a cellphone, identification (like a driver’s license), money, energy bars, a rain jacket, and sunglasses.