In addition to having the necessary skills and certainty to be a safe and efficient rider…you must also have a safe bicycle to ride! Having a machine that is sound and dependable is a crucial component to a riders well-being and confidence.
With the Spring season comes the beginning of an increased amount of riding for most (usually). The last thing you want happening is a mechanical issue or a failure as you’re getting into the riding groove or about to go on that big group ride.
There are two very important, no actually critical aspects of your bike that should always be serviced/maintained. Brakes and Tires. Now is the time to inspect and or replace those items that stop the bike and keep your butt upright! Pads, rotors and tires are the very foundation of stability and traction.
There are two main types of bike brakes; rim and discs. Within those two main types there are various differences. (see illustration below) But the idea and properties behind each one are relatively the same. In order to work properly, the brake pads and calipers must operate properly and efficiently. This means inspecting the appropriate parts to ensure all is in good working order.
Rather than go over each individual step, I’ll refer you to some videos for that. But I will suggest a few tips and tricks. Even if you’re not comfortable replacing parts, the least you can do is inspect and clean the brakes frequently. There are too many variables to say specifically when to do this, because it is dependent on ride frequency, riding style and climate conditions. Perhaps at the very least, every other ride inspect pads/rims/rotors, calipers and clean the braking tracks on the wheel of rim style brakes. Using either brake cleaner or isopropyl alcohol.
With rim types, check the pads for debris or small metallic slivers stuck in the pads. Inspect the braking tracks on the rim itself as well. If there any burs on the rim, lightly sand them down after having cleaned them. Also check for any deep grooves and cracks in the surface or on the edges, making sure the surface is relatively in tact.
For disc types, wipe or blow off with air pressure any (dried) muck or mud on and inside the calipers/discs. Inspect the disc for cracks or any unusual surface irregularities. Then clean the disc rotor using a solvent mentioned above. Being careful NOT to touch the disc with your bare hands/fingers. If there is still burnishing or a glaze on the rotor, you can use a very light grit sand paper or even a scotchbrite type pad on the disc to ‘de-glaze’ the rotor if necessary. You can do the same with the pads as long as there is sufficient ‘life’ left in them, usually 2mm-1.5mm of pad thickness. Less than that and it’s time for new pads!
There are several good videos on how to inspect, clean and replace braking parts. I recommend the Park Tool videos and instruction for (both disc and rim type) brakes. While it may seem a bit daunting to some, it’s really not too difficult as a step-by-step process, with only a few tools needed. Allen wrenches, needle nose pliers/pad spreader (for discs), sand paper and a solvent cleaner. (Isopropyl alcohol works fine if you don’t have brake cleaner. If a disc spreader is not in your tool box, a good plastic tire lever works just as well!
Almost as important as the brakes are to the stopping ability of your bike, so too are the tires. The very same frictional contact patch that allows you to peel off into a corner is also the same contact patch that creates the friction necessary to aid in halting the bike. Of course it goes without saying that your tires are the first line of defense or offense [ depending on how you ride! 😀 ] in having a good performing and safe bicycle!
Inspecting your tires should be a regular and almost religious practice before and after every single ride. Yes, every single ride. Bicycle tires are very susceptible to cuts and tears that may not first appear from a distance or if they do, seem highly important. And a small nick may not be that bad after all. But, getting up close and personal with your tires is very important. -Sweet talk them…. gently rub your palms and fingers over their shapely surface, telling them how much you appreciate their hard, tireless work! Give them a keen longing look… Uh hum, okay let’s not get carried away now! 😀
While you are checking for any irregularities you are also checking for wear. How do know when it’s time to change them? Well if you have cords coming through…it’s way past that time sunshine. If your tires have a ‘tread’ it will be obvious, as the tread wears down, the tire will appear more and more like a slick tire. Some tires have ‘wear indicators’ built in. So, once the indicator becomes nearly even with the surface of the tire, it’s time folks. For slick tires, check for the center of tire becoming less rounded, meaning the profile is flattening out. This will most likely occur on the rear tire first.
Next, check the sidewalls of the tires. Look for cracks and tears or anything that would affect the integrity of the tire. Also, checking the tire bead as you go along. Having tires that are in good condition are paramount to performance AND safety.
Setting aside a short time to inspect, clean and/or replace brakes and tires will yield dividends in your riding season. Not too mention keep you safe as well! If none of this appeals to you or seems too daunting, then by all means take your ride to the local LBS… either way, be mindful as to the importance of good brakes and tires.
Brakes and tires…tires and brakes, it’s a wise rider who has the time to make!