The cycling season this year is like nothing any of us has experienced before as the coronavirus pandemic has ripped up the rulebook. Training plans have gone out of the window as races, organised events and sportives have all been cancelled for the foreseeable future. While group trail rides and chain gangs are out, you should continue to train, with experts advising that fitness is crucial in the fight against the virus.

Indoor training apps offer a great workout, but many of us cycle to enjoy the great outdoors. The government advice is clear that outdoor exercise is acceptable, as long as you maintain social distancing rules and ride on your own. Staying safe while cycling during lockdown means ensuring that you carry everything you need, preparing for the unexpected event that could easily ruin your ride.

As every cyclist knows, it’s all about the bike. Whether you ride a road bike, hybrid or mountain bike, here are some expert tips on keeping it running perfectly.

Bike maintenance 101

Before we begin, we’re going to assume you have a decent knowledge of the components on your bike and how they work. If you don’t, here’s a quick refresher.

Road bikes, mountain bikes and hybrids all have their particular challenges, but the core components – the frame, forks, gears and wheels all function pretty much the same way. It’s worth spending some time on it to ensure it’s running perfectly before heading on to the road or off it. These simple checks can help identify any potential problems and improve the efficiency of whatever bike you own.

Bike maintenance definitely sits on a sliding scale from adjustments that riders can make on the fly to jobs that require specialist tools and knowledge, which means that may be best left to the experts. The checks and fixes here are simple enough for all riders to tackle.

Tyre check

If left for long periods or exposed to extremes of heat or cold, tyres can become damaged or brittle. Before you start riding, check the condition of your tyres and look for any wear. If they appear worn or damaged, replace them and swap the tubes too.

Wheel check

Checking that your wheels are true on rim brake bike is easy, just spin the wheel and keep an eye on the gap between the rim and brake pad (also look out for up and down movement). If you can see movement, it’s going to need some work.

Although wheel checks aren’t as simple on a disc brake bike, you can rest your finger on the chainstay or fork, in line with the rim, as a point of reference.

Bike mechanics refer to truing a wheel as a therapeutic process, but for the uninitiated, it can be a wholly frustrating activity as the wheel relentlessly refuses to straighten out. You can attempt this at home with a spoke key a wheel truing stand, but if the wheel is seriously warped, it’s worth taking it to a professional mechanic.

Rear mech check

Setting up gears correctly can be mastered with a little practice, but you won’t get anywhere if your derailleurs are misaligned. To check the alignment of the rear derailleur (mech), drop into the highest gear and look at the mech from the back of the bike, you should find that the jockey wheels carry on in a straight line from the cogs.

If this isn’t the case then most likely your hanger (the bit of metal joining the mech to your frame) is bent. This can often happen when bikes are bashed when carrying them into a garage or storage area, for example.

Some hangers can be bent back into shape at home, but worth getting a mechanic to get this right for you. Modern drivetrains with 10+ cogs need exacting adjustment, and there are tools used to get this right.

Front mech check

Your front mech should be running parallel with your front chainrings and sit about 1-2mm above the teeth of your bigger ring. Paying attention to how it’s mounted you’ll be able to loosen it and move it to the correct position, just make sure you’ve gone to the smallest ring first to make sure the cable isn’t under tension.

Front mechs are notoriously difficult to set up, remember moving it may change the amount of tension the cable is under when you shift. Again, if it’s slipping while shifting or your chain keeps coming off, it’s worth getting it serviced by a professional.

Fork and suspension

Road bikes rarely come with suspension, so a fork check involves little more than a look over for any damage. Modern mountain bikes and some hybrids come fitted with suspension that use either air or coil ‘springs’ to dampen out rough terrain and obstacles thereby providing a better ride. The firmness of the ‘spring’ is controlled by either the air pressure or the coil strength and may be adjustable. Higher quality suspension forks will come with various adjustments such as rebound and compression to allow you to adjust the suspension to your ideal settings to match your style of riding. It’s best to familiarise yourself with these adjustments by reading the manual provided by the suspension manufacturer or by visiting your local Halfords store for advice.

Before every ride you should check all suspension components are functioning correctly, and look for any damage, particularly to the rubber seals. If you’ve not ridden for a while, take the bike for a spin and see how it feels. If it feels too firm or soft, then you may need to make some changes. One tip is to note the suspension settings that work for you and keep it somewhere you won’t forget.

The suspension on your mountain bike should be adjusted to you as a rider. It’s a fairly involved process, as this article explains, but should be achievable by anyone with the right attitude, tools and a bit of time.

Cable check

Over winter, cables can become frayed, worn or stuck. Poor shifting can often be attributed to old gear cables that are starting to stick. Check they’re working freely and replace any that are starting to catch.

handy tip it to drop a little chain lube down the outer first before sliding the new cable in. This should keep it running smoothly. Once you’ve replaced a cable, you’ll need to set your gears or adjust your brakes again.

Torque check

Certain bolts being loose on your bike can lead to trouble, but at the same time being too tight can lead to parts failing. One common area that bolts are over-tightened is the saddle post, which can lead to costly cracks.

Fortunately, in a lot of instances, these bolts have their torque ratings (the exact amount they need tightening) printed next to them on the component they belong to.

Thankfully, bike-specific torque wrenches can be much cheaper than those used to work on cars. Most torque wrenches allow you to set your desired torque and click when you reach it, leaving the bolt correctly tightened. If you’re building a collection of bike tools, this should appear near the top of your shopping list.

If you’ve followed this list, your bike should be in excellent running order and ready for the roads.

If you face any difficulties, our expert colleagues are here to help. You can book in for a free bike health check, or a bronze bike service and with our new processes you can be sure that we are working to keep both you and our colleagues safe.

You want your bike to run smoothly – you want Halfords!