Pre-Ride Checklist


 I was preparing for a ride the other day when it occurred to me: there’s a lot of things that I just “do” before a ride without thinking about – however they can be rather crucial to the success and enjoyment of the endeavor. A lot of this ritual are things picked up along my journey as a cyclist from others and some of it is because of experiences I have had and developed a way to prevent disaster on subsequent rides. There’s nothing magical about it; but it is actually a little bit of a ritual. That’s good though as it keeps me from missing a step or forgetting to do something before I head out the door.

All told; while it might seem like a lot of steps – it really only takes probably 10 minutes total ( not sure really – I’m not analytic enough to time myself…). The trick to this or any checklist you might develop for yourself is to make it a routine and you’ll soon find yourself accomplishing everything rather quickly and smoothly. So; here’s the details with some description following so you know why I might do what I do – or when I do it.

You might also note that I allude to some post-ride rituals too…I’ll post some on that that soon; but it’s just as important and can be very quick and easy.

PLAN MY ROUTE: I do this for safety’s sake: so I can tell my wife where I’m going since I ride by myself most of the time.
Sometimes I’m more detailed than others – but even if I just have a general direction in mind; that will let the search party zero in on me faster… 🙂 A quick phone call or text to “file my flight plan” also gives her a good idea of when I’ve left and how long I should be gone. If you’re not letting someone know when you ride by yourself – find someone who cares and start. If something happens to you while riding; this could make a big difference.

GET DRESSED: Sometimes the previous step and this one are intermingled…but that’s beside the point. And, this is a worthwhile step to mention because it’s truly part of the preparation. This is where you consider the conditions you’re riding in and what layers are appropriate and how you’ll address a change: i.e. what you’ll do if it starts raining/snowing or if the temperature changes. Are you taking a jacket and will your jersey accommodate it if you need to take it off? Arm warmers instead of long-sleeved jersey? Do you need reflective clothing in case it gets dark? All worth considering.

Also think about how intense your ride will be: for a mellow or recovery ride you’ll want to dress warmer than you would for the more difficult effort of a training ride since your body temperature will be higher with harder efforts.

Finally: out of respect for my wife and her floors…I leave the shoes off until I step into the garage so I don’t mar things up with my cleats.

Last thing I do before I head for the bike – that way I’m carrying my bottles to put on my bike as soon as I get to the garage. What you prepare is less important than actually doing it. Water is only enough on shorter rides. After that you need to consider something with some caloric value. I wrote more detail on that in another post.

Since I’m already filling bottles here and usually mixing up a drink for the ride; just one more short and easy step gets my recovery drink ready so I’m able to put it in the fridge (if I am riding from home) as I prefer it cold and I don’t have to mix it up after I get home when I’m feeling all toasted from the ride. I keep all my drink mixes, gels, and bars together so it’s fast to just grab what I need and head to the garage for my bike.

CHECK YOUR FLAT/TOOL KIT: Invariably the time you accidentally leave a tool at home is the time you’ll need it. I once rode off without a spare tube and flatted just a couple miles down the road – far enough that the walk back wasted the rest of the time I had for a ride…game over.

A quick check to be sure everything is there can make or break a ride. I’m planning a post to detail what I carry with me when I ride – but the important thing here is that you have what you need to fix a few flat tires and make some minor road or trail side repairs or adjustments.  This also means that you check to be sure that your spare tubes are indeed still good (and not the old flat one that you stuffed back into your bag after your last puncture). If you use CO2 cartridges like I do; you also want to make sure the cartridges in your bag are full and have not been used.

Quick bonus tip: I always put my CO2 cartridges in my pack so that the threaded ends are pointing toward the opening of the bag. This way I can count my cartridges and see that they are full in one quick step.

Tire levers, hex (allen) wrenches, patches, emergency cash; just a few of the important things that need to be there. Have a kit for each bike if you have more than one to also eliminate the possibility of heading out for a ride without your kit (something else I have done – but only once).

Or at least check the pressure. Yeah, I’m one of those who pumps up my tires every time I ride. That’s because I’m either a) riding the road bike and those tires just lose pressure faster or b) it’s been so long since I’ve ridden my mountain bike that the tires are flat… Either way, properly inflated tires are the best way to prevent the most common cause of flatting: pinch flats.  As for how much pressure to use: I have a whole post dedicated to that…of course.

WIGGLE YOUR WHEELS: This checks your hubs to be sure they have not loosened up. A loose hub needs maintenance but can also contribute to unpredictable handling or braking. I do this one wheel at a time by lifting the front wheel of the bike off the ground – usually by the stem or handlebar. Then I’ll grab the tire between my index finger and thumb; almost like I’m about to pinch it, and giving it a little wiggle. Repeat with the rear wheel by lifting it off the ground via the seat. You lift it off the ground because sometimes just the weight of the bike is enough to hide a hub that’s out of adjustment.

If you feel nothing that’s probably good. Any klunking or “play” of any kind indicates a loose hub that needs to be adjusted before riding. If you’re not accustomed to servicing adjustable bearings this is best left to an experienced mechanic as it is a finesse adjustment with consequences on either side of “correct”. If your wheels use the increasingly common non-adjustable cartridge style bearings you will definitely want to get them in to a mechanic as the bearings will need to be replaced and that often requires specific tools for removal and installation.

GIVE THE WHEELS A QUICK SPIN: I actually combine this with the previous step as I’m lifting the wheel off the ground already. This is to check for true (straightness) and that one of the rims isn’t rubbing a brake pad. If your rim is rubbing a pad it can indicate a few different things; most common among them are 1) your wheel is out of true or 2) your axle and hub are not seated in your frame properly.

If the rim is rubbing the pad only occasionally, then it is likely out of true and really ought to be serviced soon – this condition only gets worse. If it’s consistently rubbing throughout the entire rotation then your axle isn’t seated properly and that’s usually very simple to fix. The way I like to do it is to set the bike on the ground and either loosen the quick release lever or the axle nut – whichever method of securing the wheels to the frame your bike uses – and there you should feel the axle seat into the frame with a little clunk as the weight of the bike rights the situation. If your bike does not have vertical dropouts, you may have to loosen the quick release or axle nuts and manually adjust the wheel to center it, but that is also very easy.

If you aren’t confident using your wheel quick releases or axle nuts; ask your local bike shop to walk you through proper operation of these devices – these are integral to safety on your bike and not something to be taken lightly.

If either of these do not apply; you probably have a more serious situation and ought to have a mechanic look at the bike. Also, any hesitation or premature slowing of the wheels’ rotation indicates a tight hub bearing – in contrast to the previous step and you ought to have the hub serviced.

CHECK THE BRAKES:Last but not least, right? Giving the brake levers a quick squeeze lets you be certain that everything feels good and the brakes will perform as you expect them to.  I like to give both levers a couple quick squeezes first just to be sure that they feel right. Something feeling different can be an indicator that a brake quick release is in the open position, that a brake pad is mal-aligned, or that a cable has stretched or is kinked.

Some of this is easy to fix; like closing an open brake quick release. A brake pad that is no longer aligned with the rim or a stretched brake cable may or may not be beyond your mechanical abilities so be wise. If you discover a brake pad that is mal-aligned make sure it’s also not contacting the side of the tire anywhere as it may soon wear through the tire and cause a blowout.

“But wait, Matt – you said that checking the brakes was last.” Well, it is and it isn’t. It’s the last thing I do before I start riding because you don’t get a really good sense for the precision of your shifting until you have the bike on the road and you are shifting under real loads. So I will give the bike a few shifts before I get to far from home/the car/my tools so I can quickly address anything that might feel wrong before I really get rolling.  Many of the issues you’ll uncover here can be solved with some quick adjustments to cable tension if you have been careful to properly maintain your bike. Any serious issues should have been uncovered during the last tune-up or overhaul or a post-ride check over.

Check in soon for the Post-Ride List…

Anything you do differently? Extra steps? Something I missed (or something I added that you think is dumb?) 🙂 Leave a comment – let’s talk!

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