Road Safety: Inspect before you Ride

Roman Beck

Keeping your bicycle in top mechanical condition is a priority for all cyclists. In addition to the ABC quick-check, which assesses the air pressure, brakes, and crankset, a cyclist should check specific components before each ride. Because a failure at the front end is generally more catastrophic than a corresponding failure at the rear, this inspection will focus on the front end.

First, examine the front tire for cuts, wear, and foreign objects on the tread and sidewall. Then check the front rim for excessive wear from brake pads; a rim should be replaced when the surface is concave. Next, check the tension of the front spokes; Park Tools makes a tension meter for about $50. If you have a finely tuned ear, John S. Allen provides a lesson on his website,, for determining slack spokes by the sound they produce when strummed. Tighten any obviously slack spokes, while making sure that the rim remains true and dished. Now check the hub for cracks at the spoke holes, and for sufficient lubrication inside the hub assembly.

The fork requires special attention. The dropouts should be checked for cracks. On carbon forks, the crown should be occasionally checked for cracks, because this is a common location for damage occurring during frontal collisions. Next examine the brake assembly and pads, especially for excessive wear on the pads, and proper alignment with the rim walls. Hold the frame rigid and move the handlebars side to side and pull them up and down, to check for excessive play in the headset and stem. Make sure that these components are properly tightened. Finally, check the brake levers for adequate braking pressure and clearance from the handlebars. When completely engaged, the brake lever should be at least one inch from the handlebars. If the lever has less clearance or touches the handlebars, the brakes need adjusting at either the brake calipers or at the barrels on the brake levers.

Your safety is worth a few extra minutes to ensure that the front end is in top mechanical condition, especially before you descend Nautilus Street at 45 mph.

From Chain Guard Volume 21, Number 5, Page 6, October-November 2007