How to get your bike ready after winter break?
The time has come to get back out on the road and experience the thrill of wind through your hair. Your beloved bike may have been left idle for the winter months, but show it just a little attention, and it will soon be back to the mile-munching explorer it was before winter. You should do a few things to ensure that your bike is road (or track-ready) before heading straight out.
To help out, I am going to break down the bike into various parts. So, while your bike has been stored for the last few months, the pressure in your tires will have gone down, rust may have started to develop on your chain, and dust could be just waiting to reak havoc with your groupset and brakes.
Assuming that you stored your bike in a relatively good state, there are only really three areas you need to focus on to get her back on the road.
- Tires and wheels
- Groupset – Chain, Gears etc
Before we dive into the details, I just want to reassure you that you do not have to be a bike mechanic to show your bike the love and TLC it needs to get back on the road. These tips are super simple to follow, and anything that is remotely ‘technical’ can be quickly cleared up with a quick search on the internet. You got this. The time has come to get back in the saddle.
The tried and tested pinch test is the single best way to check your tire pressure quickly. If there is more than 1mm of movement on a road bike, you need to pump up the tire. It is well worth investing in a floor pump for your home that has a built-in pressure gauge. This ensures that you are pumping your tire precisely to the right PSI for your set up. It also means that you can get your tire to the same pressure that you find comfortable every time.
You need to get this part done first. Strangely you can develop slow punctures that slowly drain all the air out… so pump up the tires and retry the pinch test before setting off.
Also, carry out a visual check of the tires themselves. If they are relatively new, you should be fine. However, if the tire has been left semi deflated, it can develop some nasty puncture inducing cracks in the tire’s rubber. If you spot any cracks or severe wear, then invest in a new set of tires before getting your bike out for the spring. Just like on your car, it is recommended to replace all the tires at the same time.
2. Groupset – chain, gears etc.
Basically, the parts that turn your leg power into rotations of the rear wheel. If you have an internal gear hub and or belt drive, you can skip this part altogether.
If you have the tools and the know-how, you can take your groupset apart and clean each part. However, if, like me, you want a quick and easy fix, just focus on getting your chain back to its previous shiny glory.
Your chain has been left to accumulate dust for a few months now (you also may not have dried and cleaned it properly before storage). Cleaning and ‘lubing’ your chain can be super rewarding as you instantly notice a difference in aesthetics, sound and feel. You can buy fancy chain cleaning kits that take all the elbow grease out of it. However, warm soapy water and a sponge or cloth will do the job just fine. You are trying to get rid of the muck before applying extra lube (if you skip the cleaning step, you risk the dust and grit working its way into the chain resulting in it breaking down a lot quicker). Once clean, dry it as well as you can with a 2nd clothe.
Next up, you need to replace the oil that helps your chain run smoothly. Buy specific chain lube (rather than WD40 or any similar aerosol lubricant). Apply liberally and work the chain through the whole range of gears.
Your brakes are a part of your bike that you need to know work before it is too late. Fortunately, as long as you have not left your bike outside to fend for itself throughout the winter, your brakes should still be in perfect working order. The easiest way is to simply hop on your bike, build up a very gentle speed and test each brake one at a time.
If there is any resistance when you pull on the brakes, it is often due to a rusty or frayed brake cable. Unfortunately, this can happen without any rhyme or reason. They are super inexpensive to replace and relatively easy to install. However, this is something that you are best checking out some video tutorials online (you may need to check this out to even look at the cable as the majority of it is hidden away.
You can tighten your brakes several ways if they feel a bit lose when you pull the lever. Depending on the system you have, you could adjust it on the levers or the brakes themselves. Again, if they feel a little loose and you have not done it before, just check out the wonderful world of online bike mechanics for some guidance.
As a minimum, you want to check that your brakes still have the stopping power to bring you to a controlled stop should you need to.
It is literally as easy as 1, 2, 3. Bicycles are beautiful machines that will help you explore and experience nature like no other mode of transport. However, you do have a responsibility to do some necessary safety checks before jumping on your trusted steed, especially if you have left it a little unloved over the winter months.
Keeping your bike running smoothly will help save you money and time in the long run. By taking the time each week and month to give your trusted stead the love and attention it deserves, it will repay you in many a happy mile explored together.
- Lube your chain and clean the chainring and cassette
- Check the tyre pressure is not too low (reinflate)
- Make sure your wheels are true (simply lifting the bike and spinning the wheels is a good test if you can hear the brakes rubbing at specific points you need to tighten some spokes)
- Test your brakes and do a visual check to make sure the pads are not too worn (the visual inspection is more difficult with hydraulic brakes)
Wanting to upgrade your bike maintenance even further, then do a more thorough once over each month. Treat it as a learning experience. You do not need an engineering degree to be able to fix and maintain your bike. A dash of patience, a dollop of research and few tools is all it takes. You will find that it is gratifying fixing and properly maintaining your own ride.
- Completely clean the bike. If you have a pressure washer, you are in luck. If not, a sponge and some hot soapy water will do the job (just make sure you dry your bike afterwards).
- Check the chain and cogs for wear. Measure the chain to see if it has stretched and replace it if necessary. By replacing your chain in good time, you will save hundreds by not having to replace your shredded cassette and chainrings.
- Check your tyres to make sure that they are not too worn. You do not want to be seeing the patchwork under the rubber. If you can, then you need to replace your tire NOW.
- Inspect and lubricate brake and gear cables and levers
- Do a once over of all nuts and bolts to ensure that they are all tight enough (but not too tight) and not loose.
“The cyclist is a man – or woman – half made of flesh and half of steel that only our century of science and iron could have spawned.”Louis Baudry de Saunier
Alright, so bicycles may have come a long way since the 20th century, but most of them are still just as simple. By maintaining your bike, you can solve all creaks and clicks at the roadside and prevent any emergency SOS calls when something goes wrong and you a little too far from home.