6 steps to get your bike ready — If your wheels are in ok shape, you can skip the pro tune-up

A bike repair expert on what you should do before you hit the road right now.

A bike repair expert on what you should do before you hit the road right now

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

It's around this time of year when I head into the depths of my condo's underground parking lot to see if my beat-up bicycle remains chained to the post where I left it in the fall. (One year it wasn't.) Every spring I look forward to cycling past crowded parks and sidewalks, the wind in my hair, a few bugs in my teeth, and the burning feeling of my lower body muscles shrieking in shock. But this new quieter, quarantine life had me wondering if I could ride out (pun intended) a few months of self-isolation before seeing a bike mechanic.

Some bike shops are open and offering limited services. Depending on where you live, you may find one offering curbside pick-up and drop-off of bikes needing repair or tune-ups. But the good news is, if your bike was in good shape when you stored it for the winter, and you feel a little handy, you might be able to get away with getting it in shape yourself to hit the road for a little fresh air and exercise all while being able to distance yourself from others. 

Oliver Jorgensen repairs bikes at MEC. He typically sees a lot of bikes needing some love at this time of year, and offers these tips for cyclists who aren't going to get a professional tune-up right away.

Bike prep checklist

  1. "The first thing to check is your bike's tire pressure," says Jorgensen.  Many bicycle pumps will have a tire gauge attached that allows you to see the pressure as you inflate the tire. Not sure how much air you need? Check the side of your tires for the recommended inflation level which varies depending on the size and thickness of your tires. 

  2. No one wants to be surprised by a flat tire, so be sure to check the wear and tear on your tires. Some tires have wear indicators: small tap holes that are labelled on the side as "TWI" (tire wear indictor). A good once-over to see how worn the treads are can give you an idea of whether they're still safe to ride; worn down treads, cracks or marks on the sidewall of the rubber indicate a tire that should be replaced. If you're not comfortable doing this on your own, book an appointment with a bike shop that is operating to have it done professionally. 

  3. Once there's air in your healthy tires, take your bike for a short spin and shift through the gears to see if they move smoothly. If the gears skip or you aren't able to shift into all the gears available, you might want to consult a pro to get this fixed up before you hit the road.

  4. Make sure to show your chain some love. "It will need to be cleaned, and then grease will need to be re-applied," advises Jorgensen. To clean the chain, simply wash the chain using bike wash cleaner and a brush, rag or chain cleaning tool.   

  5. "The next item on your list is your brake pads. Check the wear on them; there should be a few millimetres left but it depends on the type of pad," says Jorgensen. Some bikes will have a wear indicator: a line marked on the brake pad that lets you know to replace it when it's been worn down to that point. Also look for flat and even wear across the pad, because if your pads are worn unevenly, you may have some alignment issues.   

  6. One more step for the DIY bicycle checklist: check all the bolts to make sure they're not loose. "If you have a torque wrench, tighten them to the specified torque," instructs Jorgensen. "The specified torque is labelled on the part, if not, check the owner's manual or online. Be sure to check handlebars, stem, seat post and pedals." 

Safety first, especially right now

A reminder that when it comes to exercise, we all have to stay very close to home right now, and not bike (not even take a walk) if we're experiencing any COVID-19-like symptoms — also known as: stay home. Of course, social distancing measures apply to biking too. Plus, right not is not the time to overdo it when it comes to exercise, please be extra-cautious, avoid anything that might cause injury, and stay safe.

Not a seasoned cyclist? Constable Giancarlo Marrelli from Toronto Police Traffic Services offers advice for people who aren't used to riding on the street. "Plan your route and try to use streets that have dedicated bike lanes or cycle tracks. This will help you get comfortable with riding with motor vehicles." If bike lanes aren't available, ride one metre from the right curb. Familiarize yourself with the proper hand signals so you can communicate your intentions to other road users. 

And keep in mind that contrary to what many cyclists believe, we don't always have the right of way. "I have seen cyclists approach a vehicle attempting a right-hand turn, and squeeze between the vehicle and the curb. If you are coming up to a vehicle turning right, if safe to do so, pass to the left, if not wait behind the vehicle until it has completed its turn," advises Marrelli. A bicycle is a vehicle, and you have the same responsibility and duties as a driver on the road.

Pay Chen is a food and lifestyle expert on television, an occasional actress, and an avid eater who also writes about food and travel for numerous publications. 

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