If you're a racer or frequently travel with your steed, there's little denying the importance of ensuring your bicycle is in tip-top condition. Days of competition and frequent airport transfers can be rough on your bike and its delicate components, so it pays to have a pre-event schedule to make sure your bike is performing at its efficient best.
One man very well versed in pre-race routine is Craig Geater, professional bike mechanic for WorldTour team Mitchelton-Scott. We caught up with him during the Tour Down Under to get his advice on some of the most important pre-race checks for your bike and why you should incorporate them into your pre-ride routine
1. Check Your Gearing
The first thing the team mechanics do is check the gears are indexing, and if relevant, check the battery is charged and working.
- How to Check: Secure your bike in the workstand or if you don’t have one, find a spot where you can ride around and shift the gears one at a time to make sure they are locating properly and not slipping or skipping. If you had your bike recently serviced by a bike shop, you should be confident your chain and cassette are not worn out, otherwise they will have advised to change them. If they are indeed worn, ensure you get some fresh metal on your bike before racing! See our guide to replacing a cassette and changing your chain if you are doing the home-workshop fix. If skipping is occurring even after tuning your gears, you may need to check your hanger is straight.
2. Inspect your Gearing Alignment
Gears not behaving? Derailleur hangers are designed to bend so in the case of an impact, that bit of alloy will bend and in doing so, spare your derailleur from breaking. Geater says it's always a good idea is to bring a spare hanger with you to all races, so you can replace it if the other was damaged in transit. If the hanger is bent, no amount of gear tuning will fix the problem. Do your best to protect the hanger during travel with some extra padding. It is important to know that there is no 'standard' derailleur hanger and that each brand has a unique shape, so you will need to know the exact brand, model and year of your bike when looking to buy a spare.
- How to check if the hanger is straight: There exists a special tool for checking how exact the hanger is, however, if the damage is detrimental you should be able to see with the naked eye. Hold your bike steady and crouch behind it and look to see if the hanger is aligned or if it appears bent inwards towards the cog. Even the smallest amount of bend will impact your shifting. If the hanger is only very mildly bent, you can ask a bike shop to straighten it, but if it is very obviously out of shape, it is time for a new one.
3. Inspect Your Tires
As your first point of contact with the road, it is crucial your tires are in good condition. This means they are free of significant cuts and wear and ensuring they are pumped up to the recommended or desired PSI. If your tires have been let down for travel, ensure the bead is seated properly all around the rim when you pump them back up.
- How to inspect: Slowly spin the wheel and look closely on top of the tire, as well as the sidewalls. If the tires are showing little cracks, cuts or appear ‘squared off’ or flat on the top rather than round, some new rubber will do you well! Also check there are no bulges or inconsistencies around the bead. Most road tires are best pumped-up between 80-110 PSI.
4. Check Bolt Torque
Bikes are held together by many bolts, and with use and movement, these bolts can eventually loosen. Go into your race confident that everything is done up to the recommended torque, which is often written on the component. "If you leave the bikes day after day after day, after lot's of hard racing, things start to change on them, loosen up, and that is when you run into problems," says Geater. Use a torque wrench for best accuracy. If you over-tighten a bolt, you risk stripping or snapping the bolt, which leads to further problems where the whole part might need replacing. Easily prevented with an easy check!
- How to check: Points include seatpost bolts, handlebars, stem bolts and even bottle cage bolts. If you over-tighten a bolt, you risk stripping or snapping the bolt, or worse, cracking a component. The torque wrench will indicate when it has reached the correct torque and that’s when you know the bolt is secure. If you only have hex keys, nip up the bolt so it is firm, no need to wrench on it too hard.
5. Check your Wheels
Taking your wheels in your hand, or mounting them to the bike and giving them a spin is a simple way to ensure your wheels are true, the hubs are smooth as well as looking out for any loose spokes.
- How to check: Pick up the front of your bike using the stem or the headtube and lightly spin the front wheel. Don’t apply to much force, the idea is to look out for small discrepancies and inconsistencies, for example, if the rim is dragging on brakes or wobbling from side to side. To check the rear wheel, simply lift up your bike using the seat to perform the same check. Also check for hub bearing play by rocking the wheel side to side from the rim, any knocking is a sign that things need to be tightened. This is crucial if you have unpacked your bike from a box or bag post-travel.
6. Keep your Bike-Fit Measurements Handy
If you are rebuilding your bike after travel, mark your seatpost and handlebar position with white marker or tape. Pro mechanics keep all the riders measurements (seat height, reach etc) on hand at all times so they can make sure it is spot on. They will do a last minute check of these measurements before each big race. Ensuring your position is consistent means you remove one more degree of unpredictability for the race day. If you think something has changed or not sure, you can always take it to a bike shop and hand over your measurements for them to set-up.
- How to check: Use a tape measure to understand your base measurements. Common measurements typically include from the top of the saddle to the center of the crank bolt, and from the nose of the saddle to the center of your handlebars (into the stem clamp gap). Another way to measure saddle height is from the center of the crank bolt to the base of the saddle rail – this provides a more consistent reference point. On the assumption you're not changing any components, these measurements will provide a consistent baseline for replicating your saddle height and saddle setback.
7. Clean your Bike
Showing up to a race with a dirty bike is asking for trouble! Not only will your parts operate sub-par, but it also looks bad if you have put in the effort to everything else and neglected the bike that could be piloted to victory! Geater says they will clean the race bikes after each stage to ensure the bikes are in the best condition they can be in the lead up to the next stage or race.
- How to clean: Make sure you have bike specific cleaning products such as degreaser and bike wash. Apply the cleaning products to your drivetrain and use a scrubbing tool to remove the grime. Rinse off with a hose, but be wary of pressure cleaners as too much high-pressure directed at bearings can force water where it doesn’t need to be! If you are on the road and don’t have a tap handy, you can still perform a thorough clean without water.
8. Lubricate Moving Parts
The next logical step to follow a bike clean is to apply lubricant to your bike drivetrain. Geater says during a tour he will apply chain lubricant daily post bike wash. To keep everything extra smooth, he'll also apply a Teflon spray in jockey wheels and touch up the bearings with a little bit of grease around the bottom bracket and headset every couple of days.
Equally as important as keeping your bike properly lubricated is ensuring the lubrication doesn't venture onto area's it shouldn't, such as braking surfaces. Especially important for those running disc brakes, for more tips check out our guide to buying a disc brake road bike.
- How to lube your chain: Shift your gears so the chain is sitting on the smallest chainring and a middle cog on your rear wheel. Drip the chain lube onto the middle of the chain just below the jockey wheels while turning the cranks backwards to allow the lubricant to run over the entire chain two or three times. Let it sit and settle in for a few minutes (some wax lubricants should sit overnight) and then use a rag to wipe off the excess at least one time over. Don’t be concerned if you end up with a dirty rag, you don’t need to aim for a completely clean chain, otherwise, you will remove all the lubricant you just applied.
9. Affix Race Numbers and Transponders
With all the pre-race excitement, it can be a last minute rush to fit the numbers and transponders to make your result count. Usually, well-fastened zip-ties will do the job, or if you race regularly enough, you can purchase race-number holders. Ensure you read the race manual to know the correct position for the transponder, including what part of the bike (or your body) it needs to be placed and what side. Again, zip-ties are a reliable fixer, but some electrical tape for extra-security doesn't go astray. Make this the final step in your checklist as a marker of your bike being race-ready.
10. Go for a Test Ride
Team mechanics don’t always get a chance to test ride the bikes after every check, but you should ensure you do. A simple pedal around the block or on a safe road, shifting through gears and ensuring everything is performing as it should is a simple way to ensure your ride is comfortable and safe.
We’d like to thank Mitchelton Wines for arranging access to Craig Geater of the Mitchelton-Scott team. Find out more about Mitchelton wines over at www.mitchelton.com.au