I had come in with a flat tire, but the mechanic eyed my brake pads. “Did you know that these are on backwards?” he asked, his tone faintly accusatory.
“I, um. Yes, so they are,” I mumbled, offering a sheepish grin. But he didn’t crack a smile, informing me instead that my brake pads needed replacing, too. And my wheels?
“I’d start saving your pennies now,” he told me. “You should replace your wheelset within a couple of weeks, and your tires within a month. You’re getting to the danger zone.”
The danger zone. It’s no place where any cyclist wants to be.
It’s true, my bicycle has suffered some serious abuse in the three years I’ve been making a daily, 6.7-mile, all-weather trek to work and back. I dribble lube on the chain maybe three times a year. The brakes are caked with winter mud, the cables frayed and loose. When it makes weird noises in complaint, I sometimes ignore them, opting instead to seek out the nearest bike shop when (and only when) it gives out in protest.
All of which is to say, if there’s hope for me, there’s hope for all of us. In honor of Bike Month, here’s a simple (yet important!) tip that will keep your wheels rolling smoothly:
Check your tire pressure
You probably know that keeping your tires properly inflated will make your bicycle more efficient, which means you’ll sweat less on the hills. But you may not know that riding with under-inflated tires makes you vulnerable to pinch flats, since your tube could be pinched between your rims and the pavement if you hit a curb or pothole too hard. (Incidentally, that’s how I ended up in the aforementioned bike shop with the aforementioned bike mechanic.)
How often should you inflate your tires? I learned recently that as a commuter who rides about 70 miles per week, I should be using a bike pump once or twice per week. (I had no idea! And maybe some of you lurkers don’t either. It’s OK, I’m there with you.) Depending on how much you ride, you may need to do it less or more often.
And what’s the proper tire pressure? Tire manufactures specify the optimum tire pressure; usually, it’s written on the sidewalls. Depending how much you weigh, how much gear you carry, whether you’re more interested in speed or comfort, and what kind of terrain you’re riding on, you’ll want to adjust it slightly.