Spring has been hitting hard lately, and if you’re anything like the rest of Portland, you want to get out there and ride your bike. But maybe your bike has been languishing in a dark basement or the back of a spider infested shed since last September. So, you drag it out but your tires are flat and your chain makes a funny noise. What should you do? Well, bring it to us of course, but in the meantime you have a barbecue to get to, and you want to ride your bike. Well, follow a few simple steps to get rolling with the quickness.
What you need:
A pump (preferably a floor pump)
Bicycle lube (NOT WD-40)
A rag or old t-shirt
A multi tool or allen wrenches
For Bonus Points:
A hose and a bucket of soapy water.
First things first. Find a good workspace. Outside next to a wall or fence works great. The bright natural light will help you see any damage or other issues. You can also get splashy with your hose without fear. A garage or basement works ok too. Before you do anything else, use your pump to inflate the tires. They will be low, or maybe completely flat. Bike tires lose pressure much more quickly than car tires, and it’s normal for them to be too low to ride after sitting for a long time. Don’t worry too much about what pressure, we just want to see if they hold air.
For Presta valves, make sure you unscrew the valve nut completely and give it a tap to make sure it’s not sticking. Pump them up to 40 Psi if they’re MTB size, or 60 Psi for road and hybrid size. If your pump doesn’t have a gauge, inflate them until they feel firm to the touch. If you pump and there’s just a hissing noise, check to make sure your pump is attached correctly to the valve. If it is, you need a new tube.
Now that your tires are holding air, for all you extra credit types, get your hose and spray the whole bike down, wash it with your soapy water (paying extra attention to the rims) and rinse it clean. Then towel it dry, or give it a few good bounces on the tires to shake some of the water off. Check to see if the tires are still holding air. If they’ve lost significant pressure, it’s time for a new tube(s).
Don’t have time to clean the whole bike? That’s ok. At least wipe off the cobwebs and dust the frame and rims with your rag.
Now that it’s clean, take a minute to inspect. Does anything look damaged? Check the tires for cuts or bulges. Are the sidewalls dry and cracked? How do your brake pads look? They should have plenty of meat on them. Run your finger along the rims (unless you have disc brakes) they should feel flat. If they feel concave, it might be time for a new wheel. Lean the bike up against a wall with the cranks facing outward. Grab it by the seatpost and lift the back wheel off the ground and pedal the cranks a few rotations. This will make sure the drivetrain isn’t shifted between gears. Eyeball the back tire while it’s turning. Does it spin straight? If not, look for broken spokes. It’s helpful to squeeze the spokes in pairs to check the tension. If one is broken, you’ll be able to feel it immediately.
Pick up the front end of the bike and spin the front wheel. Check for damage. Squeeze your brakes. Make sure they don’t touch your tire.
If everything looks good, it’s time to move on to the chain. With your bike leaning against the wall, pedal backwards. Does the chain squeak? Are the rollers shiny silver? If so, it definitely needs lube. Get your lube bottle and turn the cranks backward with your right hand while you drip lube on the chain with your left. Go easy. Too much lube is almost as bad as not enough. Your chain might not need lube at all. If the rollers aren’t shiny, and it doesn’t squeak when you pedal, you’re fine.
The goal is to get a single drop on each link, but you don’t need to be too uptight. Once you’ve lubed every link, keep pedaling backward for a minute to help it penetrate, then take your rag and hold it loosely around the chain between the rear derailer and the cranks, on the lower run of chain. Pedal backwards slowly and apply pressure to keep the rag in contact with the metal. This will help remove excess lube and dirt. Keep turning the cranks until you’re satisfied with how the chain looks. Check your tires again. Still holding air? Great! You’re almost done! Check the sidewall of your tires for a pressure recommendation. Now that they’re clean, it should be easier to see. There are a lot of numbers printed there, but you’re looking for the ones with the letters “Psi” after them. Something like “40-60Psi” or “100 psi Max” Get your pump back out and (assuming you have a gauge) inflate them to somewhere in the appropriate range. More pressure will be a faster but less forgiving ride, and less will be a slower but cushier ride. No gauge? You’ll have to guesstimate. Pump them up until they feel hard and sit on the bike. Hold yourself up with one hand on the wall. Look down at your back wheel. The tire shouldn’t be bulging out too much. If it is, add more pressure until it’s not. You’re welcome to use our pump anytime.
Time to check your fasteners. Get your tools and check your accessory bolts to make sure they’re tight. We’re only concerned with rack and fenders and other items attached to the bike, not the components themselves. Bolts tend to rattle loose over time, but don’t try and make them tighter unless they seem excessively loose. Don’t mess with your stem or handlebars, seek professional help.
Okay! Time for a test ride.
Head out to a quiet street or parking lot and saddle up. Before you get going too fast, try your brakes. Go easy at first. Squeaking? Squeaky brakes are annoying, but probably not dangerous. Grinding or making a metal on metal noise? Bad news. Don’t ride anymore. Walk or drive your bike to the shop. If your brake pads are worn down to metal, you could ruin a rim very quickly. If your brakes seem okay, shift though the gears. You should be able to shift into every gear without excessive effort. If your shifter doesn’t seem to function, or when you shift the chain seems to ‘jump’ back and forth between gears, seek professional help. Does everything seem smooth? No weird noises? Congratulations! You did it! It’s time to head to that barbecue. Don’t forget to bring something to grill.
This is only intended to get you rolling, and is not a substitute for regular bike maintenance. You should plan on making a visit to your favorite bike shop for an assessment. Here at Metropolis, we always offer free estimates, so don’t hesitate to stop in. We can usually give your bike an inspection and offer an estimate in about ten minutes.