8 essential bike maintenance checks to do before a race

Follow Ollie Bridgewood's easy tips to avoid common bike mechanicals during your next big event

Clock19:56, Monday 13th May 2024

If you’ve entered a big cycling event, a bike race or just have a big ride planned it's likely you've already put a whole load of preparation into it. You’ve followed a training plan, adjusted your diet, worked out all the logistics of how you’re going to get there and what your strategy might be.

So you don't want to jeopardise all that with a bike that lets you down when it actually comes to riding the event. This can be easily avoided by carrying out some essential maintenance checks to ensure your bike is in the best possible working condition. That way, you can perform to your maximum ability without having to deal with unnecessary mechanicals.

With all these checks it's a good idea to perform them a few days ahead of your ride. The last thing you want is to be discovering a significant issue the night before. Or creating something more complicated that needs solving when you should be getting your rest ahead of the big day.

So with that in mind here are Ollie’s eight must-do maintenance checks ahead of your next big event.

1. Check the condition of your chain

One of the first things to do is check to see how worn your chain is by using a chain checker tool. You don’t really want to be running a heavily worn chain during a race as it will end up destroying your cassette, cause your gears to skip and generally hamper overall performance and your confidence on the bike.

As a guide, if your chain is over 0.5% worn and is 11 or 12 speed it will need replacing. For 10 speed drivetrains and less you need to replace it at 0.75% wear.

Read more: How to replace a bike chain

2. Clean your bike for better performance

Once you've carried out your chain checks you should thoroughly clean your bike. Ollie is quick to remind us that 'a clean bike, is a fast bike'. It makes sense that if all areas are clean they'll work more efficiently, plus you're reducing any extra weight and improving aerodynamics by removing any excess debris that might be attached to the bike. If you're short on time then a quick 5-minute wash is still better than nothing. Once clean you should pay attention to your chain once again. Ideally by waxing it or applying a fresh coat of lube.

3. Make sure all batteries are fully charged and work

There can be a surprising number of battery driven items on modern bikes and often we don’t give them a second thought, as they tend to last quite a long time. However, there is a time where they will stop working and you don’t want this to be mid event. So it’s worth charging them up where possible or changing them for new ones if in doubt. It’s not just the obvious things like electronic gears and power meters - don’t forget items like head units and heart rate monitors need charging. Consider taking a power bank in your bag in case of emergencies plus the necessary cable to deliver the charge.

4. Examine the level of wear on your brake pads

Having a set of brakes that work effectively is a big confidence booster in an event, so it’s worth double checking the level of wear on your pads. Remove them from your bike and check how much material they have left on them. There should be at least 50% of the material visible in order for them to work well. If not, replace them.

You can check for wear on your disc brakes by using Vernier calipers, which essentially measure the thickness of the rotor. If you don’t own a pair then your local bike shop should be able to measure this for you for free and advise accordingly.

Also check how the brakes feel. If the lever travels along way before the brakes engage then they’ll probably need som fine tuning. If you’re running disc brakes this is probably due to air or water in the the system, so they could need a bleed to remove that and get them running efficiently again.

On rim brakes system you may find this is down to the cable having become stretched, which would mean it needs tightening. It could be that the cable has worn or become frayed so a new one will be required.

5. Closely examine your tyres

Start with a thorough visual inspection. You're looking for cuts or damage to the tyre or areas where there’s significant debris embedded. Basically you're checking that the tyres are in decent overall condition. If you have some clearly visible damage or the carcass just looks badly worn in places then you should change them before the event.

If you’re running tubeless tyres, check your levels of sealant and that everything is in order. If it’s been in there more then three months there’s a chance it could have dried out and needs replenishing.

An easy way to check your sealant levels is to position your valve core at the bottom of the wheel, remove the cap and dip an old spoke or zip tie in, effectively using it as a dipstick to gauge the level of sealant in the tube.

Don’t forget to pay attention to your tyre pressure too. A budget tyre with optimum pressure will perform better than a premium tyre run at the wrong pressure. There are some great online tools like Silca's for calculating the right pressure for your event.

Read more: What tyre pressure should I be using and why

6. Check the condition of your spares

It may have been a while since you had a road side mechanical and the need to use your tools and spares. So it's worth checking your saddle bag, if that’s where you store them. This position is the perfect place for spray and debris to hit and that can seep into the bag and cause parts to corrode or perish. So it's worth opening up and looking at the supplies so you can replace them with fresh, quality items in case the worse happens.

Ollie is a big fan of carrying TPU inner tubes, partly because of their weight saving properties (he's always looking for even the slightest aero gains) but also because they fold up nice and compactly.

7. Tighten any loose bolts on your bike

There are a few key areas on the bike where the bolts should be checked as these can work their way loose over time. Otherwise they’ll vibrate, cause irritating noises or in a worst case scenario, come away completely which could leave you in a spot of bother. So check things like crankset, bottle cage bolts, chainring, etc. Use a torque wrench to ensure you're not over tightening the bolts and damaging the bike.

8. Check your headset for any signs of 'play'

As the final part of this process, check the headset, especially if you’ve travelled with the bike and had to adjust it to fit in a bike bag or similar.

You can check the headset by placing the bike on the ground and holding the handlebars. Grab the front brake lever so the wheel is locked and try to push the bike forward and backwards. You're looking for any play or movement around the headset. If you discover it's looser than it should be then try adjusting it.

These are pretty simple and quick checks which will hopefully help prevent any issues from happening during any event you take part in future. Good luck for whatever you have entered!

For loads more maintenance videos, articles and advice check out our dedicated section on the GCN website

GCN's Essential Road Bike Maintenance
GCN's Essential Road Bike Maintenance

For road, gravel, commuter and hybrid bikes, Essential Road Bike Maintenance is intended to be a proper bible to all those essential bike maintenance, repairs, and set-up tasks that we all need to know. Everything from basic bike set-up, how to get your wheels on and off, through setting up gears, bleeding brakes, and beyond to things like installing electronic gears, converting to a 1x transmission and more. In a nutshell, pretty much everything you would want to tackle on your bike (or bikes, plural) yourself. And then some. Like bike set up tips for taller and shorter riders; bottom bracket standards explained; common bike maintenance mistakes and how to avoid them; essential roadside fixes to keep you riding; how to make your bike more comfortable; how to puncture-proof your ride and much, much more. “A huge amount of knowledge, hacks, and know-how to help improve both your workshop skills and your ride” – Ollie Bridgewood, GCN Presenter Each chapter is structured with the tasks you’ll most likely need more of the time at the start (like how to adjust your gears, replacing brake pads, or changing a tyre), before running through to those that you’ll do much more infrequently (such as changing disc brake hoses, servicing a freehub or pedals, and so on). This also means that many of the tasks naturally ratchet up in difficulty as you go through each chapter which should also mirror your natural progression as you become more mechanically capable and confident. In short, 260 pages packed with all the essential knowledge you’ll need to confidently take on and complete pretty much any bike maintenance task. Get Some ‘Show-How’ With Your ‘Know-How’ Each walkthrough is linked to a companion video which you can watch for free from your computer, tablet or smartphone. To watch, either type in the walkthrough’s short-link URL – e.g. https://gcn.eu/GetPerfectShifting – into your browser, or scan the QR code with your smartphone or tablet so you can get the best of both worlds: know-how and show-how. Simple. All you need to know to fix your bike. Product Details: Pages: 260 (120sm) Size: 280mm (h) x 216mm (w) (portrait) Cover: Paperback Cover Finish: 300gsm, silk stock with anti-scuff matte laminate and spot UV gloss finish Please note: There may be some additional shipping charges for orders consisting of 2 or more books. However, our customer service team will contact you after you have placed the order to advise on delivery options. Click here to explore all GCN best selling books

Related Content

Link to Thin vs wide: which tyre is right for you?
Which tyre width is best?

Thin vs wide: which tyre is right for you?

Tyre width is an important factor, but it can be hard to know what you actually need.

Link to How to clean your bike effectively in 5 minutes
YouTube video pv9KMTaEgS8

How to clean your bike effectively in 5 minutes

Ollie Bridgewood shows you how to quickly and easily clean your bike in just 5 minutes. Start the clock…

Link to How to clean a filthy bike chain
YouTube video 3UXdn0QQ1A8

How to clean a filthy bike chain

Using this method you can bring even the dirtiest chain back to life

Link to Five essential tools and spares for cyclists
Five essential tools every cyclist needs

Five essential tools and spares for cyclists

Mechanicals can happen at any time, so it’s important to always be prepared with the must-have cycling tools

Subscribe to the GCN Newsletter

Get the latest, most entertaining and best informed news, reviews, challenges, insights, analysis, competitions and offers - straight to your inbox