8 Tips to Get Your Bike — and You — Ready for Spring
A safety checklist for road or trail riding
It was a warm spring day when the Bonkoskis set out for a bike ride in the mountains of Flagstaff, Arizona. An unexpected storm moved in, chasing away the sunny warmth and leaving the couple mostly unprepared for the elements. “My husband and I got colder and colder as rain turned to hail and then to snow,” says Kristen Bonkoski, owner of children’s online bike shop RascalRides.com. “Luckily we had rain jackets, a space blanket and chemical hand warmers. But even then, we were about 20 miles — roughly an hour — from home. We got dangerously cold and had to find a route to get back to shelter quickly.”
The moral of the story: Despite what season the calendar says it is, Mother Nature might still have some unpleasant tricks up her sleeve. Bikers need to be prepared. And after an unusually brutal winter in much of the country, chances are both you and your bike saw less activity. So if you’re a recreational cyclist who heads out a couple of times per week once the temps cooperate — logging five or more miles on trails or through suburban streets — it pays to put in some prep time before putting your first seasonal push to the pedals.
Related: 5 Gadgets to Make Biking Safer
Here are eight tips for keeping safe in the saddle.
Give your bike a cleaning
If your bike has been patiently awaiting the thaw, you’ll want to clean away any gunk that has built up on the brakes and gears. Dust and debris clog the chain and make it harder for your brakes to grip.
“It's important to wipe down the whole bike with a damp cloth, and clean your brakes and drive train using a degreaser like Simple Green,” says Levi Bloom, a USA Cycling certified coach and author at CoachLevi.com.
Tune it up
While a bike doesn't necessarily need a complete overhaul every season, now’s the time to make sure everything is in working order. Pay special attention to the chain, which is integral to the bike’s performance, says Bloom. “Use a bicycle-specific chain lubricant to coat the entire chain,” says Bloom. “Let it sink in, and then wipe off any excess.”
If bike mechanic tasks are foreign to you, go to a professional. In addition to lubricating the chain, a tune-up entails cleaning and degreasing the bike. “A bike shop will also check for worn parts and make sure your brakes, shifting and tires are working properly,” says Bonkoski. “A basic tune-up will cost around $80. If parts need to be replaced, that will cost extra, but the shop should address it with you first.”
A winter of couch lounging can add a few pounds to your personal frame and cause a bit less flexibility, which means you may need to adjust your bike. Bloom says most serious cyclists have a professional fitting done at the beginning of each season. This involves taking a series of measurements, including the length of your arms and legs, and then making adjustments to the bike so that it’s custom-fitted for you. Professional fittings can cost around $300, as much as an entry-level bike. However, most recreational cyclists can get away with making their own minor adjustments to the seat, pedal, handlebar and brake positions — or having this done during the tune-up.
At a bare minimum, Bonkoski recommends bringing the following:
● a spare tube
● tire levers (to help you change a flat)
● a pump
● a small multi-tool (combines several tools, including a wrench, knife, scissors, into one convenient pocket-sized carrier)
If you plan to ride an hour or more from home or to ride in inclement conditions, other must-haves Bonkoski suggests are:
● a chain breaker
● a space blanket
● CO2 (to inflate tires)
● energy bars
● extra water
● duct tape (multi-purpose quick-fix for a flat tire, broken bike part, shoe repair and much more)
● plastic zip ties (useful for temporary repairs, such as broken shoelaces, mounting a flashlight to your handlebars, replacing a chain-link bolt should one break or keeping a fender from falling off)
● spare cash
● a charged cell phone
Where to put it all? Depending on what you’re bringing, you might want to buy a saddlebag for your bike, or you can carry it all in a backpack. A backpack adds more weight to you, which can cause you to fatigue and be a bit less flexible. On the other hand, saddlebags can change how your bike rides, which may take a bit of getting used to.
“Cyclists, as well as runners, are notorious for wearing shorts as soon as it hits 40 degrees,” says Bloom. “Just because it's warmer, doesn't mean it's warm enough for shorts! The biggest problem is when there's still snow on the ground, the air temperature right around the snow — which is also right around your knees — is going to be pretty cold. That’s even if there's warm sun on your face. If your knees get cold, that will restrict blood flow, which could lead to an increased injury risk. Not a good thing for such a critical joint!”
Your best bet is to dress in light waterproof and water-wicking layers. “Even if it's not raining, you might still get wet from wet roads, fog, mist or puddles,” adds Bloom.
Add a free weather alert app to your phone
Spring weather is unpredictable, and riding a half hour or more from home could mean encountering a different weather pattern. Download a free weather alert app to your phone so you can check the weather and also get severe weather alerts.
If you went into fitness hibernation during the winter, start with flat roads, avoiding hills and stopping at the first sign of any pain. “The simple answer is to listen to your body,” Bloom says. Biking itself serves as a warm-up. And while it’s important to stretch after a ride, if you get achy during the ride, you might get relief from pulling over to a safe area and taking a few minutes to stretch.
Choose paved paths
In early spring, mountain bike trails haven’t had enough time to dry out from winter snow. Oftentimes, muddy, slushy and icy conditions await. “Riding in the mud can damage the trails, as well as be dangerous [for the rider],” say Bonkoski. “There can also be downed logs and other dangerous debris from winter storms that haven't been cleared by trail crews yet.”
Ride on roads and paved trails instead, but still be cautious of treacherous terrain. “Painted road lines and anything metal, such as sewer grates, can become extremely slippery after rainfall,” adds Bloom.
Related: Master Your First Road Race