Bike Safety Checklist: Make Sure Your Ride is Good to Go
Bike safety is incredibly important, and in this post, we'll present a detailed list of all the things you need to do to make sure your bike is in tip-top shape. After that, we'll include a second checklist that's not as long, and useful if you've just gotten your bike tuned by a professional, and you want to give it a quick review before you hit the road and start cycling.
The best part about this bicycle safety checklist below is that if you're new to bikes, reading the list below is a FANTASTIC way to learn the different parts of a bicycle. If you need a refresher on the parts of a bicycle, you'll find a handy map featured here.
The FULL Bike Safety Checklist
This is our A to Z, full safety checklist. We've consulted a number of OTHER checklists already online to make sure we haven't forgotten anything, and it should be a good overview of what you'll need to review to make sure your ride is up to snuff. But, nonetheless, we've got to put our "Legal Disclaimer" here: the list below is for informational purposes only, and you'll need to bring your bicycle to a professional bicycle mechanic to ensure that's it's fully safe to ride.
There are two notes we want to share before we get started:
1) As you read through the checklist items below, you can enter "OK" or "Needs Work" in the blanks next to the checklist. When you've completed the checklist, you can take a look at the checklist items where you've written "Needs Work" and fix them appropriately / take them to a local bike shop to be fixed.
2) If you're working at a bike shop and you found this online, make sure to bring it to your store owner / store manager and make sure it meets all of your shop's requirements. Some shops have specialized reviews that they do (for example—if you work at a bike shop near a beach, they may have you check for sand in the chainring, etc.), so check with the shop owner / store manager to see if there are any specialized safety reviews they want you to do.
Our first checklist item:
Check the Frame
We'll start with the structure that holds the entire bike together: the frame. Give it a good look from both sides, and ask the following:
____ Take a general look at all parts of the frame—that is, the top tube, the head tube, the down tube, the seat tube, the seat stays, and the chainstays. Are there any dents, dings, or cracks? Is there any damage of any kind? Is there any rust that may degrade the stability of the frame?
____ Look at the areas that have been welded; are there any structural weakness there, or do they look sturdy and strong?
____ Scan the areas of the frame that connect to other parts of the bike, like the seat tube that connects to the seat post, or the head tube where it meets the headset. Are there any wrinkles or flares or brittle material at these locations? If so, that's a problem, and it may signify a structural problem underneath the paint.
____ Are there any cracks in the paint that covers the frame? Sometimes, that's an indication that there are problems underneath the paint, and the frame is bent, broken, etc.
____ Are the nuts and bolts fastened tight enough? If you've added any features that connect to the frame, such as a bottle cage or a rear rack for transporting items, are they screwed in tightly?
____ Make sure your standover height is correct. The standover height is the amount of room between the top tube of the bike and the inseam of your pants. You should be able to stand up with your feet on the ground and have there be room between the top tube of the bike and the inseam of your pants. If the frame is too high and you can't stand with both feet on the ground with the bike between your legs, the bike is too big for you (or the rider for whom you're reviewing the bike).
The fork—the front part of the bike that houses the front wheel—isn't usually considered part of a bike frame, but you'll want to take a look nonetheless:
____ When you look at the fork from above, are the "blades" of the fork (that is, the tubes that connect to the front wheel) symmetrical?
____ Are there any dings or dents or cracks in the blades of the fork?
____ Is there any looseness where the fork connects to head tube?
____ Does the fork turn freely when you turn the handlebars to the right and left?
If there's anything wrong with the frame or fork, take the bike to your local bike shop. There are certain fixes that educated bike owners can mike, but fixing a damaged frame is outside the "ability zone" of most bike owners.
Review the Handlebars and Stem
These are oft-forgotten items on the bike safety checklist: handlebars and stems.
____ Take a seat on the bike, and look at the handlebars. Are they straight? Also get in front of the bike and look at the handlebars from the front—do they align with the front tire?
____ Move the handlebars left and right—does the front wheel follow the handlebars appropriately? Also, get off the bike, stand in front of it, and grip the front wheel with one hand and the handlebars with the other. If there's any give between the handlebars and the front wheel—that is, if you're able to move the handlebars an inch or two while the wheel stays still—that's bad.
____ Make sure the angle of the handlebars is correct. Sometimes the handlebars lean too far forward or too far back; that's a bad thing.
____ Are the handlebars tight and secure? If they're at all wobbly, that's not a good thing; if they're not tight enough, you may hit a bump when riding, and the angle of the handlebars may change mid-ride—that's dangerous, too.
____ Are the grips in good condition? Are they slippery? Have the slid towards the ends of the handlebars? This is a common problem, especially for bikes that use a "twist grip" to change gears—when bikers use the twist grip to change gears, they often move the grip ever so slightly, and after a long bike ride, that means the grips may have moved considerably.
Check the Tires
It's tempting to think that the only problem with tires is that they get flats, but that's not the case. Here's a full list of issues you'll want to look for:
____ Are the tires properly inflated? Every tire has a specific PSI—"pounds per square inch"—to which they should be inflated; you can usually find this number on the sidewall of the tire, between the tread and the rim. (Quick note: if you keep pumping air into a tire and it won't inflate, that's a flat tire, and you should bring it to your local bike shop for a fix).
____ Speaking of sidewalls, take a look at the material of the tire. Is the tread sharp? Is there any damage to the sidewall? Are there any holes or punctures in the rubber of the tire itself? Are any specific sections balding or worn?
____ Review the rims. Are there any dents or dings? Does the rim "flare out" at any section?
____ Are the wheels properly secured in the forks, and centered?
____ Spin the tires and take a look: are they spinning properly? Do they wobble at all? As they spin and you look at the rims or the rubber on the tire itself, is there any section of it that "jumps out" and looks asymmetrical?
____ Are the valve stems straight? Do they have protective coverings?
____ Take a look at the spokes. Are any missing? Are any damaged? Measure the tension of the spokes, by gripping adjacent spokes and giving them a gentle squeeze. All the spokes around a wheel should have the same feeling of tension. Loose or bendable spokes are a problem.
____ If your bike has quick release wheels, release and tighten them up again and make sure they're tight enough. And—as with all things on this list!—if you don't know what you're doing, have a professional bike mechanic do this and ask him/her to show you how it's done.
Pro-Tip: "Truing" is the process whereby bicycle tires are made symmetrical and stable, and "true" tires are centered, don't wobble, and don't hit the brake pads as they revolve.
Make Sure the Brakes Are Working
If your brakes aren't working, you're going to have a very, very
bad time when you're out cycling and want to slow down. Here are the things you'll need to look at, and remember, you'll want to look at both the front brake and the back brake:
____ Take a look at the brake pads. Are they touching the rim of the tire? That's bad. Look at the distance between the brake pad and the rim of the tire—is there the same amount of room between the brake pad and the rim on both sides of the tire? That's good.
____ Test the brake levers at the grip. Do they activate the brake? Do you have to pull the brake lever extensively, so that it's very close to the handlebar grip? If so, that's a bad thing—you want your brake lever to activate the brake quickly.
____ Are the nuts and bolts properly tightened at the brake lever and at the location of the brakes near the tires?
____ Are the cable and cable casings damaged? They shouldn't be loose—are they taught, and close to the frame?
____ Finally, test the stopping power of both the front brake and the rear brake. Get on the bike and pull the brake lever at the grip. Are you able to move the bike forward when you pull the lever for the front brake? For the back brake? You shouldn't be able to move forward.
____ If your bike has coaster brakes (coaster brakes are very common on kids' bikes—they're the type of brakes that are activated by pedaling backwards), grab on to the seat and lift up the back tire, turn the pedals so that the back wheel is turning, and then pedal backwards. Does the coaster brake activate and slow the back tire?
Check the Drivetrain
A bike drivetrain consists of all the parts that you use to get the bike moving: the pedals, the cranks that the pedals are attached to, the chainrings (check the diagram above to see where the chainrings are), the bicycle chain, the cog set, and the derailleur (the part that moves the chain from one gear to another). The drivetrain can get pretty complicated, but even a beginner can give it a good review to see if anything is obviously problematic. First off, you'll want to:
____ Give the chain itself a good look, and see if it has any rusting or corrosion. Is the chain properly lubricated? Chains tend to attract a LOT of dirt and grime—is it clean?
____ Does the chain fit snugly between the chainrings at the front and the cog set at the back? Does it sag? Is it tensioned correctly?
____ Take a look at the chainrings by the pedals and the cog set at the rear tire. Are there any teeth broken or missing? Do any of them feature extensive wear and tear?
____ Test the derailleurs (that is, the part of the bike that allow you to change gears by moving the chain from one chainring / cog to the next). Get on the bike and slowly ride around, or flip it over and so that the bike is balanced with the seat and handlebars on the ground, and turn the pedals so that the wheels are moving. Can you easily cycle through all the gears?
____ Look at the crank arms. Are they bent? Damaged in any way? Is there any "give" when you push forward before they move the bicycle chain?
____ Finally, look at the pedals. Are they securely attached to the cranks? Do they revolve easily and effortlessly when you pedal? Are there reflectors on them? If your pedals have toe clips, are they working properly?
Make Sure The Saddle Feels Right
Your bike can be in tip-top shape, but if your seat isn't adjusted properly, you're going to have an uncomfortable ride. Here are the important bike safety checklist questions to ask:
____ Is the saddle parallel to the ground below you? It should be.
____ Is it set at the proper height? Your legs should be slightly bent when you're in the lowest pedal position (that is, when your pedal is closest to the ground); if they're not very bent at the lowest pedal position, your seat is too low; if your legs are straight at the lowest pedal position or your hips are rocking up and down when you're pedaling, your seat is too high.
____ If you wrestle with it back and forth, does it move? It shouldn't.
Check Your Safety Gear
Believe it or not, it's not uncommon for someone to review all the moving parts of his or her bike, and then overlook the safety gear. Be sure to ask:
____ Do you have a white light at the front of the bike (preferably one that has a "flashing" feature) and a red light at the back of the back (also, preferably one that has a "flashing" feature)? Are they clean and visible?
____ Do your front and rear tires have reflectors on them? Are they clean and visible?
____ Do you have a bell or horn on your bike, that will allow you to alert others that you're in the area (and, perhaps more importantly, are you able to yell out at other bikes and pedestrians when you need to)?
____ Do you have reflective gear on your cycling garments and clothes?
____ Are you wearing a helmet, that has a red (flashing) light at the back and other reflective elements on it?
____ Is there anything attached the bike—a front basket, a rear rack, panniers, etc.—that you should inspect? If you've got them, are the fenders on your bike not touching the tires? If you've got equipment on the handlebars (ie, a bike computer, a speaker, etc.) are they securely fastened to the handlebars, so that they won't come undone mid-ride?
____ Is your bike registered, if local law requires it to be so?
Bring Your Personal Items and Gear
Most "bicycle safety checklists" don't include these, but they're an important part of any bike (especially longer ones), so we'll include them. Do you have:
____ Your water bottle, filled with whatever it is you want to drink, and an energy bar / snack?
____ A pump / multi-tool / spare inner tube / whatever else your adventure might require?
____ Cold weather gear / rain gear / hat, in case you run into some weather?
____ House keys, phone, money, credit cards, ID, etc.?
The Most Important Safety Precaution of All: You
This isn't technically a "checklist" item, it deserves mentioning: you can have the *perfectly* maintained bike, and it won't do you any good if you ride like a maniac. The best way to stay safe is to know your local traffic laws, follow safety rules, and bike carefully. That's always true, and it's ESPECIALLY true if you're a new biker: make sure your ride is tip-top, and bike safe.
Our "Boiled Down" Bike Checklist
That's a VERY detailed list that we just outlined, and if you were to do that before every bike ride, you'd spend most of your time eyeballing your bike. So here's a shorter checklist, to be used if you just got your bike back from the shop and a professional already gave it the OK:
____ Check the frame. Are there any cracks, chips, dings, etc.?
____ Check the handlebars. Does it line up with the front wheel? Are the forks symmetrical? Is there any "give" when you turn the handlebars left and right?
____ Are the grips in the right position? Have they slid towards the end of the handlebars?
____ Scan the tires. Are they inflated correctly? Is there any damage to the surface of the tires, either on the tread or the sidewalls or the rims?
____ Are the tires "true," or are they mis-aligned or asymmetrical? Are the spokes all there and all strong?
____ If you've got quick release wheels, are they set correctly and sturdily?
____ Do the brakes work properly? Are the brake pads worn down? Are they asymmetrical? Do they touch the rims at any point when cycling?
____ Is the drivetrain properly lubricated? Can you easily and reliably switch from one gear to the next? Are the pedals working correctly?
____ Is the seat set at the right height? Is it perpendicular to the ground? Is it stable?
____ Is your safety gear set up correctly? Do you have reflectors and lights on the front and back of your bike?
____ Are you wearing a helmet? Wear a helmet.
____ Do you have all the personal items (water bottles, food, energy gels, ID, money, etc.) that you'll need?
____ Do you have the tools (multi-tool, extra inner tube, pump, etc.) you may need?
____ Are you cycling safety and obeying local traffic rules?
The first list—the longer one—is obviously more safe, but in case you need a "pared down" list, there it is.
A Very Important Message About the Issues Mentioned Above
If you had any of the issues above, here's what to do: if you know how to fix them, fix them, but if you're not 100% certain how to fix them, bring your bike to your local bike shop and have a professional take a look. DON'T do it yourself—bikes seem like simple machines, but there's a LOT more to them than meets the eye, and riding around on an improperly tuned bike is SUPER dangerous. So don't go online and watch a couple of videos and try to figure it out yourself. Take it to a professional, ask questions, and learn. And maybe even take a bike maintenance class. As we said, riding around on a poorly-maintained bike is wildly dangerous, and you don't want to find that out the hard way.
One Last Tip our Bike Safety List
We'll end with this: very often, if there's something wrong with the bike, you'll FEEL it right away. That's not always true—sometimes things go wrong mid-route, and you get a flat, a chain falls off, or any number of things can happen—but often times, you'll know right away if your pedals won't turn, or your tire is flat, or your handlebars aren't lined up with your front wheel. So pay attention to the "feel" of your bike for the first minute of your ride, and you'll often be able to tell if something's amiss.
We hope this helps! Be safe, and enjoy your ride!