So you just bought a new bike – now what do you check to make sure that everything is set-up correctly on the bike? Bicycles mainly come in boxes with ‘some assembly’ required (and metric tools). Usually handlebars, pedals, and saddle, seat posts all have to be assembled before the bike goes to the show-room floor or out the door.
Always have a qualified bicycle mechanic check over anything you are unsure of or have questions about!
Here are some Top Things that I would check when first bringing your bicycle home or before that next big ride:
1) Front Brake caliper! Stopping when you want to is important.
The Big reason to specifically check the front brake is that if it gets loose, unlike the rear brake, when the brake is applied it may come off the bike. Because of the placement of the front brake and the rotation of the wheels, if the brake nuts are too loose, when the front brake is applied it will come off, the rear brake would stay because the wheel would hold it too the frame. Both are bad situations, but the front is worst case.
Most road bicycles have a 5mm nut on the back-side of the fork. Simply twist the handle-bars to 1 side. Use the allen wrench to tighten the nut. Straighten up the handle-bars, then re-align the brakes so that neither side of the brake pads rub the wheel when it is turning.
2) The pedals… are they properly tightened?
This is a good thing to check occasionally. Because the pedals are built on an axle that allows rotation to happen with out the axle turning, you should occasionally check that A) the axle is tight on the crank. and B) that the pedals are rotating smoothly.
Some pedals require a 15mm pedal wrench, some pedals require an allen wrench on the inside of the crank arm where they attach to the brake. The pedals should be tighter than ‘snug’ but not so tight that you can never get them off.
3) The stem and handlebars: if they are loose, you will lose control!
I hold the front wheel with my legs and gently twist the handle-bars. If the wheel puts pressure on my legs and the handle-bars don’t twist to the side, then that is good. If it moves, I recommend having a mechanic at your local bike shop tighten it for you since this adjustment also is the headset adjustment and having that improperly adjusted will result in damage to your headset.
Next I grab the brake/shifter levers and gently apply down-ward pressure. If they stay in place or the rear wheel raises up, then that is good. If they move, then re-adjust to the proper cycling position and tighten the screws to torque of the stem-clamp.
4) Hubs (the very center of the wheel that allows the wheel to turn) are often over-looked in newly built bicycles.
What is amazing is that if your hubs are too tight or too worn out you can actually feel that in the frame close to the hubs. If your hubs are too tight, then you will pre-maturely wear out the hubs, basically trashing them. Having the hubs too tight is a big energy sapper. It would be like cycling with the brakes on. Have the mechanic at your local bike shop adjust them properly.
5) Saddle: The main contact point on a bicycle.
If the saddle is too loose, it could fall off. This could cause a crash or cut on the lower body.
Seatposts are made more differently now, so if you have any concern about adjustment or how to tighten check with you local bike shop.
6) Seat Post:
If the seat post is loose, then it could ‘drop’ or most likely sink during a ride.
If the saddle is too high, it will put extra pressure on the back of your legs because of the foot and knee extension required to reach the pedals.
If the saddle is too low it will put pressure on various places on the front your legs (quads).
7) Wheel Skewers: If your skewers are loose you could loose a wheel while riding, or have a wheel shift with in the frame causing it to rub either the frame or the brakes.The front and rear wheel are both held on by skewers or ‘quick releases’. On 1 side there is a nut, on the other side there is a handle. Pull the handle and the skewer will loosen, push the handle towards the wheel ‘closed’ and it will tighten. The big adjustment is with the nut, the minor adjustment is with the handle. While the handle is in a straight line from the skewer, I usually tighten the nut until I feel tension on the handle just as I start to close it, then just push the handle the rest of the way.
These skewers should be more than snug tight, but not so tight that you can not get the skewer loose when you want.
If the front or rear skewer are just loose, then your wheel may not fall out, but you will most likely rub your brakes as you ride. And turning may be affected, as you lean the bike it will suddenly shift to 1 side or the other because the axle isn’t snug in the frame of the bicycle.
The front quick release would have to be very loose in order to come off because of the ‘tabs’ that prevent a loose skewer from allowing the front wheel to fall out. Pro teams often file down these tabs so that they can change a front wheel flat during a race much faster – you probably won’t have that issue, so I recommend keeping the tabs. I can remember many instances that I have to re-tighten a front skewer that was loose. The tabs prevent the front wheel from dropping out of the front fork of the bike…. imagine cycling along, lifting the front wheel or hitting an unexpected bump and suddenly your front wheel isn’t there – It is a very bad accident.
Rear skewers are less likely to cause such a bad accident, but if your rear wheel comes out it will be very damaging to your bike.
Again, always have a qualified bicycle mechanic check over anything you are unsure of or have questions about!