As summer approaches, Columbia’s numerous bike trails are beckoning. However, your winter-worn bike is going to need some maintenance before it’s back in shape. Don't wait until the day of your biking excursion to pump air into your tires and check your chains. Whether you have a million-dollar bicycle like Frank Ocean or just a Craigslist bargain that does the job, every bike will need a little TLC.
Vox enlisted the help of Sarah and Mark Ashman, the manager and assistant manager of Walt’s Bike Shop, to teach you what to look for after taking your bike from storage during the winter months.
1. Check your tires.
Sarah says the most important thing for cyclists to know is how to change a flat tire.
“The first thing we do is focus on tires and tubes,” Mark says. Check to see if your tires and tubes can hold air and are still in good, working condition. Keep an eye out for tires that are cracked or dry rotted. A tire with dry rot will often have a sort of faded, gray color instead of the usual black. But, Marks says, there is a common misconception people have after taking their bike out of storage.
“If your bike sat from November through March, your tires are going to be flat. It doesn’t mean your tubes are punctured or have a problem; it just means they lost air,” Mark says. According to Mark, normal inner tubes can lose up to a couple of pounds of pressure every week because it’s made of a porous material. So keep in mind, a noticeably flat tire doesn’t mean these tubes need to be replaced.
2. Examine your brakes
The last thing any rider wants is to feel the rush of flying downhill on a bike, only to clutch the hand brake and suddenly surmise there’s no way of stopping and a crash is inevitable. The next thing you know, you’re tumbling downhill for an eternity like Rod Kimble in Hot Rod. Bicycling lists three signs that are indications your brakes are worn: hearing a gritty, grating sound, lack of grooves in the brake pad and feeling the brakes stick when used.
Mark says general cleaning and lubrication are two essential components in bike upkeep, especially in relation to the bike chain and gear shifting system. If your bike chain is squeaking while you’re riding, that’s a sign it needs lubricating oil. Bicycling has a handy guide if you want to lubricate your bike chain yourself, but you'll need a bike work stand first.
3. Inspect your bearings
"Depending on the age of the bike and how its used, we need to then inspect the bearings surfaces," Mark says. These include the headset, wheel and crank bearings. To inspect headset bearings, Bicycling recommends squeezing the front brake while swaying your bike forward and backward; for wheel bearings, Bicycling advises tugging the wheel from side to side. You want your bearings to be firm and tight, so any leeway is a sign that you should adjust the tension of your bike's top cap.
With these three items knocked off your checklist, your bike should be in good shape to take on Columbia’s trails. But if you’re eager to learn more about bike maintenance, take in Walt’s Bike Maintenance Workshop on Thursday during the 18th annual Bike, Walk & Wheel Week.