Before you do anything with a bike, make sure it fits the rider, especially if you're checking bikes for growing kids. If it doesn't fit well, it's a safety risk. The best way to measure this is by standing over the bike. With your feet flat on the ground, there should be 1" to 2" between you and the top of the bike. Next, adjust the seat so when you sit, your toes should just barely touch the ground. When you pedal, your legs should extend until they're almost, but not quite, straight. Most bicycle seats can be raised and lowered using an Allen wrench.
Make sure the wheels are rolling smoothly. Turn the bike upside down and spin them fast a few times. They should spin without hitting the brakes or any other components. If the wheels are wobbly, that means the spokes need to be adjusted or the wheels should be replaced. If the wheels are OK, make sure the tires are inflated. Like car tires, the PSI (pounds per square inch) is printed on the side of the tires. A pump with a gauge will tell you what PSI your tire is inflated to. You won't get very far on flat tires.
Look at your brake pads before you get on your bike. They should be thick and have grooves in them. If they're thin and smooth, they need to be replaced. If they're OK, take the bike on a short test ride. When you brake, your bike should come to a quick, complete stop. If it doesn't, you may have to adjust the pads. If they need to be adjusted, it could be a problem with the brake cables, which a bicycle mechanic can help you with.
The chain is a little bit more difficult to check on your own, but maintenance is important. Chains don't last forever. In fact, they don't last long at all. If you bike a lot, a chain lasts about a year. If you have had your chain for more than a year, definitely check for wear. Without getting too detailed, there is a chain wear tool that you can apply to your chain. It's narrow piece of metal with knobs on each end. If both knobs fit between the links, you need a new chain. If it doesn't, you can keep it a little longer. This is also something a bicycle mechanic can help you with. Once you've determined whether your chain is OK or you need to get a new one, also make sure it's lubricated.
Once your bike is ready to ride, make sure you're ready to ride with these safety tips:
- Always wear a helmet
- If you're wearing pants, wear a trouser clip so your pants don't get tangled in your gears
- Make sure your bike has reflectors or you're wearing reflective clothing
- Use head and tail lights when riding at night
- Obey traffic laws that apply to cars
- Always use hand signals so cars know what you're doing
Now that you've passed inspection, load up your bike with drinkware, and roll on!