Bicycle Basics

You don’t have to be a mechanic to commute by bike, but you should make sure your bicycle’s in  working order and safe to ride.


1) Air – Tires lose a little air every day. If your gauge says a tire is more than five pounds under the needed pressure (printed on the side of the tire), add air. No gauge? Push each tire hard against a curb. If you can flatten it, add air.

2) Chain – A dry chain can lock up or break suddenly. If your chain squeaks whenyou pedal or it hangs up when you pedal back-ward, lubricate the chain. Oil will do, but it attracts dirt; a greaseless chain lubricant is best.

3) Wheel Spin – Lift each wheel up and give it a slow spin. (Spin the back wheel forward so the pedals don’t move.) If the wheel won’t spin by itself or stops suddenly, see whether its rubbing against the brake pads, frame, or something else. If the wheel’s not rubbing, the problem might be the axle or hub.

4) Tires – Turn each wheel very slowly and look for big cuts, bulges, bubbles, or placesyou can see the inner casing. If you spot any, replace the tire. Remove glass or other debris. If the valve stem doesn’t point straight at the middle of the wheel, the rim might cut it; let the air out and straighten the valve.

5) Shifting – Try all of your gears, shifting each gear lever from high to low. You have aproblem if the lever sticks, you can’t shift to all gears, the chain rubs the derailleur, or thechain jumps off the gears. These are usually caused by worn or dirty cables, or a derailleur that needs cleaning or adjustment.

6) Handlebars – Hold the front tire between your legs and try to turn the handlebars. If they’re loose, tighten the stem bolt.

7) Brakes – You should adjust or rerplace the brake cable or pads if you have any of these problems: (a) when you apply the brake on each wheel, one or both brake pads dont touch the rim; (b) you can squeeze your brake lever all the way to the handlebars; (c) on each wheel, the brake can’t stop the tire from moving on dry, clean pavement.

8) Loose Parts Pick up the bike and shake it hard. Check and fix anything that rattles.

Excerpted from “Urban Bikers Tricks and Tips” by Dave Glowacz. Available at

keyword “Urban Bikers’ Tricks & Tips.”