joe commuter

Bringing you tips on bike commuting from one dedicated rider in Portland.

A Bike Commuter’s Checklist

The ride home from work began with a nice downhill stretch. I’ll not soon forget the time my brakes didn’t work when I hit the red light at the bottom. Then there was the time the cleat on one of my bike shoes got stuck in the pedal. And I can’t tell you how many carelessly attached lights I’ve lost in my years of bike commuting. The bicycle is a remarkably reliable machine, but it won’t remind you when something is amiss. So here’s a short list of things to check regularly before you hit the road:

Commuter1. Brakes: If you park your bike in a crowded rack, jostling can sometimes knock open the quick-release mechanism on caliper brakes. If that happens, they won’t be able to pinch firmly enough to stop your bike with the alacrity you expected. To avoid unwanted excitement at stop signals, always take a look to make sure quick-release levers are locked down on the front and rear brakes.

Commuter2. Wheels: Many bikes also have quick-release levers on the wheels that allow you to remove them by hand. Make sure these levers are flipped down firmly so that the quick-release mechanism is locking the wheel hub to the fork or frame, especially if you are riding for the first time after fixing a flat or having removed the front wheel to fit your bike into a car. You should also routinely give the wheels a spin to see that they rotate freely, for instance, without rubbing on a bent fender. Check the spokes once a week or so to make sure none are loose or broken.

Commuter3. Tires: Are they aired up? I’m not telling you to check the pressure with a tire gauge every time, but it’s worth giving the tire a squeeze with your hand to make sure it’s not on its way to going flat with a slow leak. Examine the treads for wear, and the sidewall for bulging spots so you know when it’s time to replace tires.

4. Pedals:  The “clipless” shoe-pedal system (so-called because it supplanted the old fashioned toe clip) clamps your feet to the pedals so that your leg muscles can power through the entire pedal stroke. If you use clipless pedals, periodically make sure the fasteners holding the cleats to your shoes are tight. If one of the fasteners comes loose, you won’t be able to pop your foot out of the pedal at that stop sign in front of the crowded bus stop where everyone will watch you fall over like a toppled statue.

Commuter5. Lights & other attached gear. Are they correctly fixed in place so they won’t fly off when you hit a pothole? Is your backpack or pannier zipped up so stuff doesn’t fly out?

These are my top five. What steps, if any, would you add to this checklist? If you’re just getting started as a bike commuter, you might like this comprehensive checklist from the city of Sacramento, Calif.