Bicycle Check: Do it Yourself

The first spring bike ride holds its own special charm. To ensure that both fun and safety don’t fall by the wayside, it’s worth checking the most important components before heading out. This requires a few tools and an hour of time. DEKRA expert Jochen Hof gives us the most important tips for cycling in spring.

Photo: Shutterstock - oliveromg

Getting your bike fit for spring ensures safety. Photo: Shutterstock – oliveromg

For many cyclists, giving the bike a spring cleaning is about as popular as the annual dental checkup at the dentist. But while many people recognize the necessity for going to the dentist, the same isn’t always true for the bike check.

Yet there are good reasons for caring. After all, who likes to ride their bike when there’s not enough air in the tires, the chain is constantly slipping off the sprockets, and the rim brake’s carrier plate audibly grinds on the flanks when braking? “Spring cleaning the bike is first and foremost a safety check, which is recommended not only for high-maintenance riding machines but also for everyday bikes,” knows DEKRA bike expert Jochen Hof, head of the Düsseldorf branch. But what’s the best way to get the job done? And what tools do you need?

Bike care isn’t witchcraft – even beginners can do it themselves

Chain whip, sprocket puller, and headset extractor can be left in the toolbox. The small tool set for bike care, with screwdriver, Allen key, and Co., is sufficient. However, if you don’t have the right tools or knack for it, replacing a defective light may be too daunting for you. In this case, DEKRA expert Jochen Hof recommends an expert hand from a specialist workshop for adjustment work and repairs. Nevertheless, there’s still ample opportunity for DIY. Using a brush and sponge to clean isn’t witchcraft, for example. The frame, wheels, and chain can then be checked for defects. By the way, it also makes sense to check the function of the bicycle lock. Otherwise, the first spring ride of the year with the freshly cleaned bike could also be your last.

Handlebar: Check whether the ergonomics are still correct. If necessary, readjust the brake lever for optimum grip. Photo: Thomas KüppersBrake rim: With rim brakes, grooves on the brake pads show whether there is still enough rubber. Photo: Thomas KüppersFrame: Stability and durability require a secure fit of handlebar stem, handlebars, and saddle. Photo: Thomas KüppersTools: A multi-tool with various mini tools similar to a Swiss army knife is a practical aid. Photo: ETMPay attention to the battery’s charge level. If the battery is heavily discharged, take it to a dry and warm place and charge it only three quarters full. Photo: Hans-Dieter SeufertDisc brakes should not show any discoloration and the brake pads should still have sufficient material. Photo: Küppers

The tools

An Allen key with four, five, and six millimeters, a screwdriver for slotted screws and Phillips screws, and a spanner with a 15 spanner gap for the wheel nuts should be part of every basic equipment. A Torx key helps to handle the T25 screws often used on mountain bikes.

Tip: A multi-tool with various mini tools similar to a Swiss army knife is a practical aid.

A stationary air pump with pressure gauge as well as bicycle oil (dropper bottle or spray can) for the care of mechanical components are helpful. Cleaning bucket, brush, an old toothbrush, sponge, and rag complete the equipment.

The cleaning

Simply spray bicycle cleaner onto the frame and attachments and allow it to soak, or alternatively add a dash of dish soap to a bucket of warm water. Remove dirt with a sponge and brush. Tight spots can be reached with a brush or toothbrush. Allow the bike to dry, polish water spots with a cloth.

Tip: High-pressure cleaners and garden hoses with sharp jets are off-limits – they remove lubricants from important places and can damage bearings. The cleaning provides an opportunity to check the bike’s general condition and to find deficiencies and defects.

Frame, saddle, and handlebars

Stability and durability require a secure fit of handlebar stem, handlebars, and saddle. Check all screw connections for a tight hold and tighten if necessary.

Tip: Are brake and gearshift levers, bell, and bicycle lamp still tight? Move the handlebar back and forth while applying the brake – if it jerks, there could be too much bearing clearance on the headset.

For children’s bikes: Check whether the ergonomics are still correct. If necessary, readjust the brake lever for optimum grip.

For e-bikes: Pay attention to the battery’s charge level. If the battery is heavily discharged, take it to a dry and warm place and charge it only three quarters full. Check the e-bike’s inspection dates to maintain your warranty claim. Often, software updates for the on-board computer are also installed during inspections.

Clean the suspension fork’s stanchions and sealing rings with a cloth and apply universal oil. Adjust the saddle height and angle to suit your height and intended use. For city and trekking bikes, an adjustment to hip height usually works.

Wheels, rims, and tires

Are the wheels screwed on tight? Check the secure fit of quick-releases and floating axles. Does the wheel spin evenly? If a rim wobbles with lateral or radial run-out, fixing it is usually a job for the shop.

Tip: People who ride with bicycle trailers should pay attention to the secure fit of the rear wheel and the trailer hitch often attached there.

Carefully check the rim flanks. On bikes with rim brakes, the flank has a similar function to the brake disc. Heavy scoring decreases braking performance.

Bicycle tires can also age because the softening agents they contain evaporate over time. If small cracks have formed on the tire sidewall or next to the tread blocks, it’s time for a replacement.

Tip: Even though there are no relevant regulations – when checking the tread depth, make sure the tread is still appropriate for the wheel’s intended use.

Check air pressure and inflate tires according to the specifications on the sidewalls. Typical tire pressures for racing bikes are six to eight bar, for mountain bikes between two to four bar, and for trekking or city bikes 3.5 to 2.5 bar.

Tip: Don’t check the air pressure with your thumb – this method isn’t reliable if the finger presses only on the puncture protection insert that is often installed. On e-bikes, air pressure also affects battery range. With less air, the tire has to do more flexing work, which drains electrical energy from the battery.

The brakes

On rim brakes, grooves on the brake pads show whether there’s still enough rubber. If the brake pad approaches the backing plate, it’s due for a replacement.

Use bicycle oil or penetrating grease to make stiff brake cables flexible again. Frayed ends or cracks in the cables indicate that they should be replaced.

Disc brakes are used when stronger braking performance is required, which tends to increase wear-and-tear. The discs shouldn’t show any discoloration and the brake pads should still contain sufficient material.

Tip: With disc brakes, the wheel may have to be removed for a visual inspection of the brake pads. If in doubt, have them checked at a workshop. Hydraulic brakes work with hygroscopic brake fluid, which absorbs moisture over time and thus changes the brake’s pressure point. The fluid should be changed about every two years, otherwise there’s a risk of complete failure during long downhill runs.

Chains, gears, lighting

Chains

Scrub the chain with warm water and dry it. Lift the rear wheel and run the chain through a cloth soaked in a little oil.

Tip: When using spray oil, be precise in distributing the liquid. If the spray jet is too scattered, the oil can easily end up on brake pads and discs, which then decreases the braking effect and can ruin the brake pads. Derailleur gears can become misaligned if left standing for a long time. This can cause chains to rattle or unwanted gear changes. A case for the shop.

Test ride the bike. For bikes with derailleur, shift through all the sprockets and chain rings one after the other to ensure the gears are well lubricated. If the gears are sticky or don’t engage properly, it’s up to the expert once again.

Check the headlight and tail light function. If nothing lights up, check the cable connections. In case of battery or accumulator lighting, check the respective energy source first.

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