It's often the small mechanical issues that lead to rides being ruined. This 12 point check list will help make sure your ride runs to plan…
Tyre pressure guage
1. Check your brakes
Essential for your safety. If you manage only one of these checks, make sure it's the brakes which get done first. Pull the levers with your normal braking force. Push the bike hard forwards: the wheels should be stopped and effectively locked.
Both brakes should operate with the same hand force, come on at the same time and return quickly and cleanly to their off position when released.
2. Check your quick releases
It pays to check your quick release levers for tightness and that they're closed correctly. Make sure the levers are tight and folded in towards the bicycle frame, against the forks on the front and against the chainstay at the back.
3. Are your spokes tight?
Spoke tension isn't usually a critical issue, though keeping it monitored will save you from serious issues. Grip pairs of crossed spokes and give a gentle squeeze. Do this with each pair in turn, on each side of the wheel. You're looking for even tension in all the spokes. Spokes which are dramatically over or under the median tension need looking at.
4. Keep your tyres topped up
Low tyre pressure won't necessarily mean a bad or ruined ride, but if it's too low it can lead to punctures, tyre damage, tyre wear or rim damage. Best to keep a bit more air in them than a bit less. However, too much will make for a bone jarring ride. Follow the manufacturer's recommended pressure range (usually embossed on the sidewall of the tyre), as a starting point and adjust from there.
5. Make sure stem and bar bolts are tight
Ensure that your stem and handlebar bolts are tight, however more tension on stem and handlebar bolts isn't always better, especially with carbon components. In this instance use a torque wrench and tighten to the exact torque specified by the manufacturer.
7. Check for bottom bracket bearing play
Hold the tips of the two crank arms and gently rock them back and fore against each other (perpendicular to the direction of rotation). You're feeling for any sense of looseness or play in the bottom bracket bearing. As they're usually not user adjustable on modern bikes, a loose bottom bracket will need to be replaced.
8. Chain ring bolt and pedal check
Two of the most common and overlooked sources of annoying creaking and squeaking are chain ring bolts and pedals. Give the chainring bolts a tweak just to ensure they haven't backed off.
9. Look out for gear problems
From behind the bike, check that the derailleur hanger is straight and in line with the jockey wheels. Likewise that the jockey wheels are in line with the sprockets. If they're not it's usually a sign that the hanger (occasionally the derailleur arm) is bent. Derailleur hangers can be straightened or replaced, a bent derailleur will usually be replaced.
Run through the indexing: shifts should be clean and crisp. The chain should not be able to be shifted beyond the upper and lower limits of the cassette.
10. Check the frame
Just after a bike wash is a good time to do a check over as the frame is clean, making any cracks or unusual marks in the paint or frame finish easier to spot. Areas to check are under around the headtube, and where the chain stays meet the bottom bracket shell. Anything unusual in look or feel of the tube/joint surface or finish should be investigated.
11. Keep your cleats cosy
Shoe cleats are another hidden issue waiting to ruin a ride. They can work loose and wear out, leading to annoying squeaks and knee-knackering misalignment. Keep them tight, clean, in good repair and properly adjusted.
12. Make sure your phone's charged
Be prepared so you can call home to say I've double flatted, bonked, fallen off, or made it to the top of the biggest hill in the county!