• Don't let your bike end up like this over the summer. (AAP)Source: AAP
Just hauled your bike out of the shed, or is it looking a little sad after a hard winter's riding? Here are a few essential checks you should make to set it up for summer.
Kevin Eddy

7 Oct 2015 - 10:12 AM  UPDATED 7 Oct 2015 - 10:26 AM

Unlike the pros, we can't all look forward to a new road bike every year, nor can we expect a freshly serviced steed to be presented to us every morning.

Instead, most of us generally have a nagging suspicion that our bike is probably due to be serviced... at some point... but only get round to it when something goes wrong. We're then confronted by a workshop bill for hundreds of dollars which we pay with gritted teeth.

However, carrying out a few simple home checks will help you extend the life of your equipment and save you money in the long run.

1. Cables
For those of us not yet part of the electronic revolution, cable maintenance is the single biggest task that can improve the performance of your bike. Every time you shift or brake, the inner cable rubs against the outer sheath, creating friction and hindering performance. Rust and dirt from riding in bad weather only accelerates this process.

Left alone, it will degrade to the point where shifting is impossible and braking requires significant finger force . Eventually cables will snap, ususlly in the shifter - which could mean that these expensive components need to be replaced.

Lubricating your cables extends their lifespan, but there's no substitute for replacing cables on a regular (at least annual) basis. Think of it as an oil change for your bike.  If you're not comfortable changing cables and adjusting derailleurs, your local shop should be able to do this as part of a standard service. 

Pro tip: Change both inner and outer cables together: it's a false economy to just change the inner cable.

2. Chains
The other part of your bike that needs regular attention is your chain. A quality chain will last anywhere from 2,000km to 8,000km. Once it's worn beyond the point that it should be replaced, it will start wearing away at the rest of your drivetrain. This could end up with you needing to replace cassettes and chainrings prematurely.

Keeping your drivetrain clean and well lubricated will help extend its life. You should also check chain wear on a regular basis. A chain checker tool (pictured below) is the easiest way to measure this; however, you can do this with a regular tape measure. Simply measure the length of 10 complete links: if it is longer than 25.5cm, it's time to replace your chain.

3. Tyres
Tyres take a lot of punishment, especially over the winter months. At the very least, you should examine your tyres closely for cuts or exposed casing under the rubber: Considering replacing the tyres if there are deep cuts, a large number of cuts or the casing is exposed at any point.

4. Brake pads and wheel rims

An often forgotten part of the bike, the braking system is one of the most important as a failure can be catastrophic.

Modern brake pads are generally pretty hardy, and it's easy to see when pads are so worn that they should be replaced. However, a less obvious aspect of wear is what ends up in your pads, especially after a wet ride.

Often, small pieces of metal will become embedded in the brake pads, and this can rapidly wear down the braking surface, especially with rim brakes. If the rim wears down too much, it can collapse while you're riding, with potentially catastrophic consequences - like this:

Therefore, take your wheels out of the bike and take a look at your brake pads. If there are visible pieces of metal, either replace the brake pads or get ready to spend some time with a pair of tweezers to pick them out.

Run your hands over the rim braking surface too: if it is concaved (curving inwards) at all, head down to your local bike shop as you may need to get the wheel rebuilt or replaced.

Disc brakes wear in a similar fashion, so check both the pads (you may need to pull these out of the brake caliper to check them properly) and the rotors for wear. if you have any concerns, get down to your local bike shop.

5. Bottom brackets and headsets
Last but not least, the delicate bearings in the bottom bracket and headset can suffer in inclement weather as dirt and grime get forced into these parts of the bike. To check your bottom bracket, unmount the chain from the front chainrings and spin the cranks. If they only spin a couple of revolutions or feel like a pepper grinder, then your bearings need cleaning or replacing. 

The same basic process applies with the headset bearings in the steerer tube: lift the front of your bike off the ground and turn the handlebars from side to side. It there is resistance or a grinding sensation, your headset bearings need attention.

A little love goes a long way...

None of these checks are difficult, nor are the remedies. However, it's the fine adjustments - gear adjustments following cable replacement, getting chain length right, setting correct torque on a headset - that flummox most novice home mechanics.

If you're in any doubt about your ability to resolve these issues, take your bike down to your local bike shop for a service. Even better, ask them if they can show you how to carry out simple tasks.

Most bike mechanics worth their salt will be happy to share their expertise - and you'll become better able to ensure your bike performs as well as it should all year round as a result.