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M Check Method Tutorial: Ensuring Bike Safety Without Miss

November 30, 2023

Before embarking on a long ride or at least once a week, conducting a basic safety check on your bicycle (referred to as the M Check method) is a great habit. This guide will help you systematically identify potential issues with your bike.

This guide applies equally to road bikes, gravel bikes, electric bikes, or mountain bikes—whether they're new or haven't been ridden for a while.

What is the M Check?

The "M Check" is a basic safety inspection of all the primary working components of your bicycle, progressing from the front wheel to the back wheel in the shape of the letter 'M'.

When inspecting your bike, you'll follow the pattern of the letter 'M' to examine it. This is a useful method that allows you to quickly screen for any issues with your bike. With practice, you can thoroughly check any bike in just a few minutes. Below are the steps for the M Check.

1. Inspecting Wheelsets and Brake Safety

Start by inspecting the wheelsets, ensuring they are firmly attached to the bike. Most wheelsets today are fixed to the front fork and frame via quick releases or thru-axles. If your bike uses quick-release levers, secure them by tightening the lever and twisting the bolt on the opposite side until it snugly fits the fork (or frame). Begin by loosening the quick-release lever, allowing the bolt to turn about a full rotation, and then fine-tuning to ensure the wheel is securely fastened in the dropout. Placing the bike on the ground can aid in ensuring the wheel aligns precisely in the dropout.

Thru-axles are typically threaded into opposing sides of the front fork or rear dropouts. Before riding, ensure you secure the thru-axle system as per the manufacturer's instructions.

Check for any looseness in the wheels by rocking them side to side to ensure they're in good condition. Rotate the wheels; if you hear friction or a rough sound, it might be time for bearing maintenance or replacement. While spinning the wheel, inspect whether the disc or rim smoothly passes through the brake pads; if there's friction, adjustments to the pads or disc position might be necessary.

Finally, squeeze the brakes to check if they're functioning properly. Soft or spongy hydraulic disc brakes might need re-bleeding. If your cable-pull brakes feel weak, adjusting the cable tension or replacing the brake pads might be necessary.

2. Checking Tire Safety

Ensure the outer tire is correctly mounted on the rim and inspect the texture where the outer tire contacts the rim. Ensure all textures appear even; if not, consider reseating the tire.

Once satisfied with the tire mounting, inspect the sidewalls and tread for excessive wear or damage. Worn or damaged tires can be hazardous, so if there are concerns, consider replacing them before riding.

Bicycle tires lack specifications or markings, so it's essential to observe them actively—for road bike tires, seeing the casing is a clear sign that the outer tire needs replacement.

The tread on mountain bike tires gradually wears down, rendering them nearly useless when gone, necessitating replacement.

For tubeless tires, if it's been a while since your bike was ridden, open the tire to check if the sealant inside is still functional.

While inner tubes do naturally lose air over time, if your tire is completely flat after just a few days, it might indicate a puncture. Dealing with these tricky issues mid-ride isn't ideal, so spend some time patching up the tire before setting off.

Ensure your tires are inflated to the correct pressure before riding. Note that road bikes and mountain bikes have different optimal tire pressures.

3. Safety Inspection of Bike Suspension Components

Next, inspect your front fork for minor cracks or any other type of damage. If you have a suspension fork, check for scratches on the stanchions or excessive lubrication near the fork crown.

Front and rear air suspension, if present, is worth checking for proper functionality and should be inspected roughly once a month.

4. Checking Handlebar Components' Safety

Stabilize the bike, hold it by hand, apply the front brake, and rock the front fork back and forth to check for any obvious play in the components. If you notice any play, try placing your fingers at the corresponding location to identify where the sound is coming from; this situation usually involves headset issues.

Next, lift the front fork and slowly rotate the handlebar. If you feel any grinding or resistance during rotation, it's best to service or replace the headset.

Check if the handlebars are securely fastened by holding the front wheel straight with your knee and turning the handlebars. If you can apply reasonable force to turn the handlebars without any play, they're secure; otherwise, they might need re-tightening.

Place the bike on a stand (such as a workstand), sit on the saddle, and rotate the handlebars forward and backward to ensure no play exists. On bikes with flat bars, also check if the brake levers and shifters are securely fastened.

5. Safety Check for Your Bike Frame

Inspect the frame downwards, ensuring any frame attachments (like bottle cages) are correctly connected and free of creaks.

If possible, visually inspect the entire frame, especially the welds on aluminum frames. Even small cracks should be evaluated by a professional at a bike shop before riding.

For bikes with rear suspension, check if the shock mounting bolts are securely fastened and if the shock is in good working condition, similar to the front fork.

6. Safety Inspection of Chainrings and Pedals

To check this section, you'll need to rotate the crank. To do so without rotating the rear wheel, rotate the crank backward; typically, a smoothly running drivetrain indicates a well-functioning bottom bracket.

Inspect the chainrings for damage, missing teeth, or excessive wear. Worn chainrings accelerate chain wear and can lead to reduced shifting accuracy, and severe wear might cause chain skipping, affecting riding safety.

Rock the crank toward the frame to check for any friction, resistance, or play. If you feel any issues, it might indicate a need to replace the bottom bracket.

Pedals should be checked by rotating them; well-maintained pedals won't freewheel for long periods as the grease prevents continuous freewheeling. Shake the pedal body to check for play; if there's noticeable play, they might need replacement or servicing. Additionally, ensure your pedals are installed in the correct orientation when fitting them.

For clip-in pedals, inspect the metal or plastic cleats on your shoes for excessive wear, ensure they're securely fastened with screws, and lock and unlock at the resistance you're accustomed to.

7. Safety Inspection for Your Saddle and Seatpost

Regularly remove the saddle from the frame for cleaning. If you have aluminum, titanium, or steel parts, apply some lubricant to the metal contact points before reinstalling. For carbon fiber saddles, use specific carbon fiber assembly paste. This substance resembles grease but contains fine particles to increase friction between components.

A stuck saddle might lead to the entire frame cracking, so diligently perform this step.

When reinstalling the seatpost at the correct height, check if the saddle is securely mounted in the seatpost clamp.

8. Safety Inspection for Your Bike's Rear Wheel and Drivetrain

Inspecting the rear wheel requires repetitive checks on the rim, outer tire, inner tube, brake calipers for deformities, wear, tire leaks, and caliper clearance with the disc.

Place the bike on a repair stand (or have someone hold the rear wheel up securely), pedal by hand, and check if the chain runs smoothly without stiff links and smoothly engages each cog during dynamic shifting.

During rides, pay attention to irregular mechanical noises, creaks from the frame, or any abnormal behavior and address them promptly.

Using chain lubricant is crucial for the efficiency and lifespan of your drivetrain. Apply chain oil patiently to each pin of the chain; after the oil penetrates, use a cloth or tool to wipe off excess oil from the outside to prevent it from attracting dust or soiling clothes and appearance during future rides.

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