When you’ve finally made it to the trailhead, all you’re thinking about is hopping on your bike and hitting the dirt. But before you do you’ll want to go through a quick pre-ride checklist. Going through these items will make sure your bike is set-up properly and all systems are a go. It also gets it ready to handle the inevitable beating it is about to receive while you rip around.
Before Every Ride
We recommend going through these first few items every time you plan on riding. They’ll make sure you not only have a safe ride, but the bike you’re riding feels the same every time.
1. Adjust Tire Pressure
Giving the tire a squeeze to make sure it has air isn’t going to cut it. Your tire is the only thing connecting you and your bike to the trail beneath you. Having air in your tires is important to make sure that small contact patch is consistent and gives you the grip you need.
Too low of pressure causes squirming in the corners and can lead to pinch flats or burped tires. Too much air leaves you with a bike that wants to bounce off of everything you ride over and a harsh ride. It’ll take some time to find your perfect tire pressure, but once you’ve found it, air your tires up before each ride.
For an easy way to check your pressure, and adjust on the fly, we really love the Topeak Smartgauge D2. This bad boy easily fits in a pocket or pouch and uses a digital display. It also allows you to adjust pressure while the gauge is on the valve.
2. Check Your Skewers
While tire pressure is important to maintaining traction, checking your wheel skewers means your wheels will stay on the bike in the first place. With vibrations, taking wheels off, and general wear and tear, sometimes the skewers can come loose. In fact, we’ve even experienced a threaded thru-axle come loose and didn’t notice it until the ride was over. Oops. We also ripped one off by hitting a rock hidden in the bushes, but that’s another story.
So check your skewers! If it is a threaded axle, you can even put a small bit of loctite on the threads to keep it in place.
3. Give Your Brakes a Squeeze
Eventually you’ll want to stop or slow down, so give your brake levers a few squeezes to check for consistent lever feel and a strong bite on the rotors. If you can roll your bike by hand while squeezing the levers, something needs fixing. Additionally, if your levers feel different every time you pull them (too soft or too stiff), there’s probably air in the lines and they’ll need a bleed.
At a certain point extreme brake issues mean you should probably pack it in and head home for some maintenance, so trailside you mainly want to check for rubbing rotors. These can easily be adjusted by re-aligning the caliper with an allen tool, or giving the rotor a push to bend it back where the bend is located.
4. Wipe Your Chain
It doesn’t matter if you’re riding in the dirt or on the road, crud builds up on your chain. Use an old rag and give it a wipe down before each ride. You’ll take all that harmful grit off the chain so it’s nice and quiet and it will make it harder for more dirt to stick.
It’ll also keep it looking shiny and pro.
Every Few Rides
These next few items are less prone to changes ride to ride, so you’re ok to check them every once in awhile. How often is once in awhile? That’s up to you, but we do these around once a week or so since we already have the bike in a stand giving it a clean and once over.
1. Tighten All Bolts
Grab your handy allen tools or 3-way and make your rounds on the bike. Just as is the case with skewers and other threaded parts, they can come loose. Start with your stem and handlebars and work your way top to bottom on the bike, checking each bolt to make sure it is still secure.
For this check you don’t need to get out the torque wrench, but make sure everything is snug. If you can turn the bolt, it’s too loose. If you give it some pressure and it won’t tighten, you’re good to go!
P.S. Also check your pedals. With reverse threading they shouldn’t come loose off the crankarm, but you’ll also want to check them for play. If there is any, most pedals have a bolt on the axle you can tighten.
2. Check Suspension Air Pressure
Your suspension is far less prone to air leaks than your tires, but it’s still worth checking every so often to make sure you’re getting a consistent feel from your suspension. A few psi may be the difference between diving more in the corners or even bottoming out on the rough stuff.
If your suspension still has the o-rings on the stanchions and piston, check it’s location. If you aren’t using full travel, consider lowering your air pressure or removing tokens (air suspension only) to reduce your suspension’s progression at the end of it’s stroke.
If you notice the opposite, with the o-ring at the end of the travel, you’ll want to beef up your support. Add 5 psi at a time to get a feel for the changes. If you start to lose small bump sensitivity, add some tokens to increase your suspension's progressivity and adjust pressure again.
3. Lube Your Chain
When to lube your chain comes down to personal preference, but you don’t want to be the rider in your group with the squeaky chain. Your bike takes you on all sorts of adventures, so treat it right with regular lubrication.
Depending on where you ride and how often, you’ll find that different lubricants work better than others. ProGold ProLink or WD40 Bike Dry lubes are perfect for dry and dusty conditions where the lube isn’t going to be washed off.
WD40 Bike Wet or Finish Line Wet lubes are better if you know water is going to be involved. These water specific chain lubes are thicker and more resistant to getting washed off. Avoid using them in the dry though! The thicker viscosity means dirt sticks like glue.
Ready to Ride
Once you’ve gone through the list (which should take less than 5 minutes each ride), you’re ready to go! Put on your helmet, pick a trail, and go shred!
Oh - one last thing - make sure your car keys are in your pocket and not laying on the dashboard of your now locked car.