Louisville Bicycle Club
May-June 2008 Newsletter

Safety Tip for May 2008

by Tom Armstrong


“Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect.” — Captain A.G. Lamplugh, British Aviation Insurance Group, London.

As many of you know, pilots do a preflight inspection of the aircraft before every flight. Safety-conscious pilots follow this policy without fail, as they know that a preflight inspection can keep them from getting into a bad situation aloft.

Bicycling is a bit more forgiving of our mistakes than aviation, but it still behooves us to do a pre-ride inspection every time we get ready to join our friends on a bike trip. The ABC Quick Check is a great way to do this.

We humans seem to remember things in threes, hence the ABC part of the name. The rest of the name, “quick check,” serves as a mnemonic, too, as will be discussed shortly. Each letter denotes a part (or parts) of the bicycle to inspect.

The letter “A” in this case stands for air. It is a reminder to inspect our tires for proper inflation and condition. Look at the tire tread and sidewalls, checking for wear, cuts, debris and loose rubber. Spin the wheel and check the trueness of the rim. Make sure the tire is properly seated on the rim. While spinning the wheels, ensure that the bearings are not too tight or too loose. THEN check the air pressure in the tires. There is no good reason for most riders to inflate tires to pressures over 110psi (760kpa - kiloPascals - for the euro or metrically inclined) — it only yields a harsher ride and doesn’t improve rolling resistance appreciably. Conversely, too low tire pressure often leads to pinch flats and sluggish handling.

B is for brakes. A friend used to opine that brakes are overrated… they just slow you down. Still, there are times when controlled slowing is pretty important, so inspect your brakes before each ride. Make sure the brake lever doesn’t pull all the way back to the grip — a finger-thickness or two, depending on how thick your fingers are, should fit between the lever and the grip (or handlebar) when the brake is held tight. Look at how the pads contact the rims, too. Make sure the pads are not loose on the brake arms, too high or too low on the rims, and that the rims and pads are clean. Make sure your cables move freely within the casings, and that the brake assemblies open as they should when the levers are released. I see it less nowadays, but there was some notion that “pros ride with the quick releases open” at one time. Some pros may have done so, but I cannot fathom why one would want to have the brake either adjusted so loose or lose ability to move an inflated tire in or out of the bicycle without having to readjust the brakes.

C denotes cranks, or chain, or cassette or all three. Make sure your cranks are firmly attached to the bottom bracket spindle. If one is loose at the start of your ride, it may fall off during your ride, and would do so at a most inopportune moment. Spin the cranks, making sure the bearings are properly adjusted. With modern cartridge bearings, a loose crankset bearing means it’s time to visit your bike parts supplier of choice rather than go for that bike ride. While turning the cranks, watch the chain, making sure it goes through the drive train components smoothly. Check the cassette (or freewheel for you retrogrouches) for smooth operation and to be sure no gunk will make your chain skip around. Of course, fixie fetishists need not concern themselves with this last bit…

Quick in the name reminds us to look at our quick releases. I discussed this in detail in the last newsletter, so I won’t bore you with more about it. In short, be sure your levers are directed correctly, not touching the bicycle’s frame or fork, and properly tight — not too tight, not loose.

Check is in the name to clue us to the importance of a check ride in the parking lot. Be sure your shifters are working well, that your brakes stop you and do a “rattle check.” Hold your bike an inch or so off the ground and drop it on its tires, listening for noises that should not be there. If something is rattling that wasn’t rattling during your last ride, find out what it is. This is a very good way to find loose headset bearings, loose rack hardware, and loose change in your seatpack. Grab your front brake and rock the bike forward and backward gently, feeling for loose headset bearings, wheel bearings, or brake mounting bolts.

If anything is not as it should be, fix it before you ride. The time to deal with a brake failure is while the bike is still, in the parking lot — not in the middle of a pace line at twenty miles an hour.

--concepts drawn from League of American Bicyclists literature


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