Giving your bike a quick check over before you head out onto the road will help you stay safe and get the most from your riding. Here’s what you need to do.
If you’re riding most days, maybe twice a day if you're commuting by bike, it’s unrealistic to think that you’re going to check every part of the bike in detail before each ride. That might be the ideal but it just isn’t going to happen, is it?
Here’s what we think is sensible before every ride – it’s not a comprehensive list of everything you should ever check, and we've not included any accessories like lights that you might have fitted, or spares that you carry.
It might look a lot but you’ll get through it quickly once you get into a routine and it’s time well spent. We've included links where you can find out how to put right any issues you uncover.
And to mollify the commenters, maybe you're not going to check every one of these before every ride, but if you're aware that these are things that can go wrong you'll spot them before a minor adjustment turns into an expensive mechanical disaster.
Don’t take chances when it comes to braking. Spin the wheels to make sure the pads aren’t rubbing, then squeeze each brake lever in turn to check the pads hit the braking surface correctly (not rubbing the tyre) and at the same time. If not, you’ll need to re-centre your brake calliper.
Make sure that you can apply enough braking pressure to stop in an emergency without the levers coming into contact with the handlebar, and if necessary make adjustments – it might be a two-second job via the barrel adjuster to dial the brake pads in, you might need to take more cable through the calliper, or you might need to bleed hydraulic brakes.
Check that the cables aren’t sticking (assuming you have cables rather than hydraulics) and that the calliper arms are returning fully after braking, and make sure that the brake pads aren’t worn out.
Check that your chain is clean and lubed (you should also do this at the end of a wet ride to avoid rust).
While you’re about it, run your eye over the chain to check there’s no damage to the side plates and all the pins are seated correctly. Turn the cranks backwards and make sure there are no stiff links.
Give the wheels a spin and make sure that they’re running true – a constant distance from the brake pads, assuming you have rim brakes. If not, find out why: it could be a loose or broken spoke.
Give the rims a quick once over to make sure they’re not damaged and check the skewers are done up tight. They don’t often come loose but give ’em a quick inspection anyway.
If you’re out on the bike most days you’re not likely to pump up your tyres before every single ride but at least give them a squeeze to check the pressure is there or thereabouts.
Take a quick look at the tyre tread to make sure that it’s not worn out, there are no cuts, and nothing is stuck in there that could lead to a puncture. You can often hook out pieces of flint and other sharp stones before they work their way through.
Inspect the sidewalls for any cuts that could eventually lead to the inner tube bulging out.
Check that the headset is tight by applying the front brake and pushing the handlebar forward and back. You’re looking for any non-rotational movement between the frame and the fork.
Position your chainset vertically and try to rock the lower crank towards the centreline of the bike and out again. You’re looking for play in the bottom bracket bearing. Most modern bottom brackets aren’t serviceable (although some are) so if there is looseness here you might need to shell out for a new one.
Check that the bolts fixing your chainset in place are tight.
At least check that the bolts fixing your handlebar to the stem are tight – you really don’t want any issues there – and make sure that your seatpost can’t move. Component manufacturers suggest a specific tightness for each bolt and a torque wrench will allow you to get everything set accurately.
Quickly run through your gears to make sure that the shifting is smooth. If the chain is struggling to change sprockets, it might just be a case of twisting the barrel adjuster on the rear derailleur to get things right.
Check that the chain doesn’t come off the chainrings when you shift between them.
If you have an electronic shift system, check that it’s sufficiently charged.
Mat has in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now pushing 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.