Everyone makes stupid mistakes. It’s part of life! In fact, I had a cycling *facepalm* moment a couple days ago that left me both half upset and half relieved, in addition to ultimately serving as the inspiration behind today's post.
This past weekend some friends and I took part in a charity bike ride event called Cycle for Survival- a national movement to raise awareness for rare cancers. I hadn’t cycled in about a month, so I was very excited to get out there. The first 6-ish miles were fairly easy-going, mostly us just getting used to moving through the freezing 40-degree morning weather. After stopping to receive and don our Cycle for Survival shirts, my buds, Jeremy and Jason, proceeded to settle into our average cycling pace- around 18-19mph. Jason was in front, followed by Jeremy, then me. It wasn’t long until I noticed that I was getting unusually tired just keeping pace with them. Drafting wasn’t working and I was getting really, really tired. No matter how hard I cycled, I couldn’t keep up as I normally would. After struggling through about 3 more miles, I drifted farther and farther away until they were out of sight.
This was really taking a toll on me from a mental perspective. If you know Flatwoods Park, it’s a 7-mile paved loop through the woods, which can get pretty lonely if you’re all by yourself. Many questions rushed through my head: Am I sick? Are my knees failing me? Am I this out of shape? I wanted to blame my bike: I need to lube my chain, I need to change my tires, I need to buy new bike...but none of this really made sense. Other cyclists would zip right by me and I’d think, “I used to be able to do that...” Nevertheless, I powered on at about a 12-13mph pace for a solid 11 more miles. I would try speeding up but the faster I went, the more tired I’d get. It’s as if my bike was working against me.
I got to my car feeling a bit dejected, but before I loaded the bike I had one last thought….CHECK THE WHEELS. I lifted the front half of the bike and spun the front wheel. All good here. I then lifted the back half of the bike and spun the back wheel. It wouldn’t spin! AHA! The brake caliper had somehow greatly shifted (possibly as I was previously loading the bike into the car), causing the brake pad to be in a permanent bear-hug with the side of the wheel. That was it. I was basically cycling with an immense friction party happening on my back wheel for 23 miles.
A simple bike check before riding would have prevented this roller coaster of an experience. For the record though, I always check my entire bike the night before and morning of triathlon races...and before most training rides. I just forgot to do it this one time.
Don’t make the same mistake that I did. Whether you’re going for a casual joy ride, commuting to school or work, or participating in a big race...here are some of the most basic checks to perform prior to your first pedal stroke.
Basic Bike Ride Checklist
Always make sure your tires are pumped to either the recommended tire pressure (measured in PSI) or a little below it. The recommended PSI is usually on the side of your tires. It's very helpful to use a pump with a tire pressure indicator. If your pump doesn't give PSI, there are also cheap tire pressure gauges that can measure the PSI for you.
Check your brakes by engaging them one-at-a-time and seeing the corresponding wheel getting stopped by the brake pads. Lift the bike, one half at a time, and spin the wheel. The wheel should spin freely without touching anything. If the wheel has a hard time spinning or cannot maintain spinning by itself, it's likely that the brake caliper/pads need to be adjusted. This can be done by simply shifting the caliper (with your hand) such that there's an even space between each brake pad and the wheel. Here's a brake caliper in motion.
Flat Tire Prep
You can usually fix a flat tire in two ways:
Patch kits: most consist of some super glue/paste with a sticker that can be applied to seal the area in which the tire was pinched.
Spare tube: spare tubes can eliminate the thought of your patched-wheel solution going awry. You'll need some C02 cartridges or a mini-pump to inflate the new tube.
All these items (except maybe the mini pump) can be kept in a saddle bag, beneath your bike seat.
It's always good to shift through your bike gears before you take off. Gears can get really out of whack on old bikes and bikes that haven't been maintained regularly. If you don't have the immediate time to fix some troublesome gears, try to find one or two good gear combos and stick with those for your ride. Then when you have more time, go fix 'em.
Safety first! Wearing a helmet is never a bad idea, especially if you go at fast speeds and/or through busy streets. Make sure the helmet fits correctly; it should neither be too tight that it constricts your throat nor too loose that it wobbles around your head.
- Water bottle
Machine Powered By...
A little bit of pre-bike ride prep can go a long way as it can prevent any hindrances that you may experience during your ride. If something seems wrong, feel free to stop and inspect your bike for any issues (something I obviously didn't do last weekend). Lastly, have a great time! Wherever you're cycling, always stay attentive but don't forget to enjoy all your surroundings. It's amazing to feel like you're flying through the air, on a machine powered by you.
Banner Image: Shot on the Pinellas Trail, taken with my Sony Action Cam HDRAS30. Pictured: Jason in red, Jeremy in gray
Did I miss any basic bike checks? Let me know in the comments below!