Your bike can have a lot to do with your safety and comfort on a long-distance ride. Here is a list of things to pay attention to following a winter of low or no use of your bike.
Pro Tune Up
It’s a good idea to get a professional tune up at the beginning of each season. Both of our our bike shop sponsors (Golden Bear Bikes and Performance Bikes) do an excellent job at a reasonable price. That takes care much of what is discussed below.
A blow out can be inconvenient or much worse, especially going down hill. Regularly check your tires for (a) dry rot, (b) punctures and (c) general wear. Bicycle tires can dry rot over the winter in Colorado. If yours are dry-rotted, replace them. Most tires get nicks and scrapes from use. That’s OK. If you can see the inner tube through a cut in your tire, replace it. If the size of a cut worries you, you probably should replace the tire. If you have gotten an unusual amount of flats from one tire recently, it is probably over worn. Replace it. Many cyclists replace tires after 2000 miles no matter what shape they appear to be in. Rear tires wear more quickly than front tires. I don’t tend to rotate tires. Front and rear tires wear differently. I tend to replace them at 2500 miles even if they are still in good shape. No need to get expensive racing tires if you are a beginner. Get reliable, reasonably priced tires.
You should be able to stop relatively easily going fast down hill. If you cannot, adjust and possibly replace your brake pads. They’re not terribly expensive. If your brakes squeak when you stop, they need to be aligned and possibly cleaned. This is a critical safety item – please don’t ignore it.
Make sure your front stem is tight, but not over tightened. The last thing you need is to turn your handle bars on a ride only to find that the bike does not respond.
Chains generally need to be replaced every 2000-5000 miles depending on how you ride. Rear hubs need to be replaced less often, but also wear out. If your chain skips around when set in one gear, your chain is probably over stretched and your rear hub may be worn as well. See a bike shop about replacing them.
Check the spokes of your wheels to make sure none of them are overly loose. Check the rims on your wheels to make sure they are true (e.g. not much wobble) and have no tears. A large wobble usually is due to one or more loose spokes. A broken spoke can be a safety hazard, especially going down hill. A large wobble in a rim can hurt your ability to brake not to mention the amount of effort you put into the bike.
Multiple bike shops have told me that due to the high altitude in CO, ultraviolet radiation breaks down the shock absorbing materials in helmets. If you’ve crashed, replace your helmet immediately. Otherwise, helmets should be replaced every 4-5 years. If you’re not sure how old your helmet is, its not a bad idea to replace it.
There are 5 touch points between you and your bike: (2 hands, 2 feet and your crotch). A bad fit on a long distance ride can contribute to headaches and aches in your neck, low back, shoulders, wrists, knees and Achilles tendons, not to mention your crotch. For guys, well, need I say more? Again, most bike shops offer professional fitting services. They run from about $80 to about $500 depending on how detailed you want to get. If you don’t want to pay for a fit, experiment a bit and measure your recovery from rides. When fully extended, your knees, elbows and wrists should be slightly bent and comfortable and your back should be straight. Try to minimize the load on your shoulders. Bicycle fit can change over time with flexibility and muscle changes. After many years with same bike fit, I recently moved my seat forward 1 cm and my handlebars up about the same amount. WOW DID THAT SMALL CHANGE MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
You probably will not need lights on the CCC. Still, for safety, it is a good idea to have a front and real light on your bike at all times, just in case you find yourself riding at dusk or night unexpectedly.
What to Carry
I try to use the 80/20 rule in deciding what to carry on a ride. I ALWAYS carry my driver’s license, medical insurance card and a cell phone, just in case. I often bring a credit card and some cash as well. I pack in a small bike bag that fits under my seat, two inner tubes, two CO2 cartridges, a CO2 gun, a patch kit and a light Allen wrench set. I also bring a small hand pump. These items have enabled me to address 95% of the mechanical problems I’ve encountered over years and many thousands of miles of cycling. For long rides, I always carry 2 water bottles, and have 2 cages on the bike. If the ride will be longer than 2 hours, I bring food (bars and/or gels) as well.