Inspecting your bike to find problems early can save on repairs.Right now, bikes do not have a "Check Engine" light. (If you ride with a heart rate monitor, you might think otherwise, but that is a topic for our Fitness Corner on the Bicycle Garage Indy Blogs.)  You may be on your "new" bike – which you realize you have been riding since 2007 (or longer) and everything feels great.  Many bikes are just ridden until they don’t work, then taken in for repair.  Checking your bike, and having maintenance done early can reduce total repair costs, avoid costly replacements, and prevent a break down on your next ride or workout.  
While Bicycle Garage Indy strongly recommends an ABC Quick Check (Air, Brakes & Chain) before every ride, here are three simple guides you can use to determine if your bike needs service: The Calendar, Sound and Inspection.
The Calendar:  After about 3 years, or 3 riding seasons, a few things on bike may be ready for replacement, even with low mileage. Brake pad materials will harden, making your brakes less effective, and if they have picked-up grit, will actually begin to damage your rims.  Bike tires will breakdown with age, especially with exposure to sunlight, even with plenty of tread and tire life left.  This is especially true if you commute a short distance, and leave a bike outside at work. And of course, any exposure to rain without cleaning and lubing can result in rust that may cause problems.

Sound Check:  Was the shifting noisy or unreliable on your last ride?  This can indicate stretched cables, or worn, damaged housing that is grabbing and delaying your shifts.  When you apply your brakes, are you hearing a "sandy" or "gritty" sound? This is again a sign that your brake pads may be damaging your rims.   Did you have any new, recurring ticks, creaks, or rubbing sounds? A loose headset or bottom bracket, out-of-true wheels, or an out-of-adjustment front derailleur can result in these noises.  Well maintained bikes are typically quiet, so a noise or new noise can be indication of something out of adjustment that you want to have checked.
Inspect Your Bike: One good reason to get into a regular inspection routine is if you ride a lot.  It is when you are riding frequently, that you forget about that little noise, or well-worn tire, until it ends a ride.  So take few minutes every few weeks to keep your bike ready to roll.

Start at the handlebars, since that is where your shifting and braking are controlled.  First, follow each cable and housing back from the lever to the brake or derailleur it controls.  Look for cracks or bends in the housing, rust along the exposed cable, slack in the cable, or frayed cable ends.  Any of these can lead to a future problem with shifting or braking. 

Is your handle bar tape loose, frayed, or rolling off?  Loose tape or grips can interfere with control.  New tape or grips, will have more padding, or you can add padding like Fizik Bar Gels.
Flat Protection Strip, showing trough tread, on Serfas tire after 4,000+ miles.Finally inspect your wheels and tires.  First, you want to give each wheel a spin and watch to see that the wheel is rolling smooth and straight between the brake pads or frame.  Side-to-side movement of the wheel, what is called "out-of-true", while an easy to resolve to issue if caught early, may result in more costly repairs if ignored.  After checking the true of the wheel, take a longer look at each tire.  On smooth road tires, you may find chips of stone or glass embedded in the tire, which can be removed, or might explain that slow leak.  You may also find a cuts in the tread.  Simple surface cuts are not a problem, however, if you find cuts that expose the fabric cord of the tire, ti should be replaced, as should tires that show irregular bulges. Many smooth road tires have simple grooves or "sipping", and thise also indicate wear. Since less tread means less flat protection, you may want to replace older, worn tires before your next big event or trip.

There are also wear indicators on brake pads and modern rims, chain wear tools for checking chain life, and other tools and techniques you would need for suspension systems on mountain bikes.  Checking these these basics can help keep your riding trouble free.

Have a question about something on your bike? We have full service departments ready to help you at either Bicycle Garage Indy: Indianapolis, in the Clearwater area on 82nd St. and in Greenwood, just west of I-65 on County Line Rd.  And our Winter Service Special make this the best time to have your bike serviced and ready for spring.  (And we now offer bicycle service at BGI Downtown – in the Indy Bike Hub YMCA@City Market.)