Spring has sprung, and the surge in people out riding their bikes in the sunshine is brilliant to see. Many riders will be waking their best bike from hibernation or prizing one from their indoor trainer, but there are a few important things to check before you go out for a sunny spin.
Let’s first talk about those of you with just one bike. You’ve ridden it right through winter, and you see no need to switch to another bike for the spring and summer. That long winter has been harsh not only on you, but also your frame and components too. Checking your bike over for wear is a very important thing to do, not just for ensuring that your bike is running smoothly, but also to allow you to spot any issues before you have a dangerous mechanical failure.
Starting with a deep clean will allow you to see the components properly, and is a good first step for checking over any bike. It makes working on your bike far easier, so grab some degreaser and a brush and work it right into the chain, cassette, chainrings, pulley wheels and derailleurs. You’re aiming to remove all of the crud that has built up over the winter as this will only accelerate component wear. A quick clean of the frame, wheels, tyres and brakes with hot soapy water and you’re ready to rinse.
Now you can inspect the bike for wear. Start by checking the chain, which is the thing that will have worn first and once it goes beyond a certain point, it will start causing excessive wear to the more expensive cassette and chainrings. It's better to replace the inexpensive chain than ruin those parts.
Next, make sure that the teeth on the cassette and chainrings don't look like shark fins. If they do you could find that your shifting is sloppy, and you could even experience chain slip.
While disc brakes are becoming more common, rim brake bikes are still massively popular. If you’ve been riding one through the winter, or even if you simply put it away at the end of last summer, this is a great time to check the brake tracks for wear.
As the brake pads bite the rim’s brake surface, wear will occur. Over time, the brake surface will become concave and at a point, the rim will become dangerous to ride. Chances are that your wheels are fine, but if you do find that the rim is heavily worn, then it’s time to seek some help from a bike shop who can advise you on the wheel’s safety. They might suggest a wheel rebuild with a new rim. There’s no point throwing away a perfectly functioning hub and spokes; but often with cheaper wheels, the cost of a rebuild can be greater than simply buying a new one.
So, you’ve spent all winter in the shed, smashing out the indoor miles. That’s quite a sweaty business and no matter how many towels you used, chances are that your upper headset bearing got a taste of your sweat. Lovely!
For an integrated headset that you'll find on most modern road bikes, it’s simply a case of whipping the stem off, dropping the fork out and taking the upper bearing out of the frame. After wiping off the dirty grease, pinch the bearing cartridge’s inner and outer surface between your thumb and forefinger, then roll it to check that the bearings inside are still turning smoothly. This is also a good time to check for play before you regrease and put the bearing cartridge back in.
For those of you that have ridden outside a lot over the winter, it's the lower headset bearing that will have taken a battering, this time from the equally corrosive surface water on the roads. Clean, inspect and regrease just as you did for the upper headset bearing.
Once you’ve taken the bike off the trainer and put your rear wheel back in, don’t forget to check the gear indexing as it could need adjusting.
Another job for all of you keen indoor trainers is to check that your bar tape hasn’t become a biohazard. Give it a little scratch and then a sniff. Made you heave? Time to replace that tape!
The amount of sweat that bar tape soaks up isn’t worth thinking about, and beyond the gross smell that it gives off there is a more important reason to change your tape. The sweat that the tape is holding contains corrosive salts which love to eat away at aluminium handlebars. Eventually, this will lead to the bar breaking; which is not only more expensive than a roll of bar tape, it is also rather dangerous as you won’t see the damage until it's too late.
Tyres can take a battering through the winter. The tyre’s compound will square off on the central contact patch as they wear. Look for a wear indication dimple. If this has disappeared, it’s time for new tyres. Similarly, if you can see lots of cracks in the rubber, it’s time to replace.
Rubber is, after all, a natural substance and is prone to degrading. If you’re pulling an old bike out of the shed for the first time in years, don’t be surprised to find that the tyres are cracked. Replace them, it isn’t worth the risk.
Beyond the simple act of cleaning and checking for wear, spring can be the perfect time to remove your mudguards (if you ride mostly alone) and even swap in a lighter set of wheels. It is amazing what losing bit of weight from your bike can do. It will feel like a new machine under you and seeing as you cleaned it properly (you did, didn’t you?) it will fly along.
If you’re going to buy your bike an upgrade, be that a new set of wheels, a new handlebar or even something like a switch to tubeless tyres, spring is the time to do it. You’ll have all summer to ride your bike with the changes that you’ve made.
Upgrades aren’t limited to chasing faster average speeds or Strava times. Comfort is a great place to make an upgrade when riding further and for longer is your goal.
Son of a Marathon runner, Nephew of a National 24hr Champion, the racing genetics have completely passed him by. After joining the road.cc staff in 2016 as a reviewer, Liam quickly started writing feature articles and news pieces. After a little time living in Canada, where he spent most of his time eating poutine, Liam returned with the launch of DealClincher, taking over the Editor role at the start of 2018. At the weekend, Liam can be found racing on the road both in the UK and abroad, though he prefers the muddy fields of cyclocross. To date, his biggest race win is to the front of the cafe queue.