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Pre-Race Bike-Check

Have you ever spent months and countless hours training for a big race just to DNF or miss your goal from a simple mechanical? It's happened to just about everyone at one point.

I have been a bicycle mechanic for almost a decade and in that time I've had my fair share of race mechanicals but I have developed a process to ensure they never happen again. I will share with you the process I have developed over the years to make sure my bike is in perfect running condition for every race.

In short, you want to check your contact points, brakes, shifting, and torque.


Contact Points

One of my best race performances in the last few years was unfortunately robbed from me because I broke my shoes and ripped my cleats out. This could have been easily prevented with just a few minutes of checking and preparation. I have now learned this and I want to make sure you never have unfortunate mechanicals like this.

Contact points are what either connect you to your bike or the bike to the world. These are things like your grips, pedals, shoes, and saddle or your tires, wheels, and suspension.

To check your bike-to-body contact points, you want to make sure that everything is in the correct position, tight, and not worn out. You want to ensure your bike fit hasn't changed over months of riding and make sure your wearable items are still good to go. Make sure that all of the bolts that are associated with these bike fit aspects are tightened to the correct torque.

If you have a big race, it's a good idea to just replace these wearables even if they do not look like they need them. Grips, bar tape, tires, and cleats are these items that should just be replaced regardless. You will be very upset if your race is over because a 10$ pair of cleats broke.

The bike-to-world contact points are places where you can make the most substantial performance gains by replacing them with brand-new items. Worn tires are slower than new tires, sloppy suspension is slower than a freshly serviced one, and old, crunchy wheel bearings will be a lot slower than freshly replaced ones.

You will want to make sure your tires are pumped up the the pressure you've tested and like the morning of the race to ensure it's as close to ideal as possible. If you set up your pressure the day before, it is entirely possible it can leak overnight and your pressure on the race is lower than you expect.


Brakes might be the number one most important aspect of safety. You need to make sure they work perfectly so you feel confident to hit turns and technical sections at full speed and you're never in fear that you won't be able to slow down or stop.

You need to check your brake pads to ensure there is sufficient material left and also do the same for your rotor. Changing brake pads can often make your brakes "feel" better because it will give the lever a firmer feel.

Next, you want to make sure your brakes feel symmetrical and consistent. When you pull the levers, you don't want one lever to pull significantly more or less than the other, this may indicate you need new brake pads or a bleed. Additionally, if the "bite point" or where the lever starts to get firm when you pull it, is changing every time you pull the lever, you will need to bleed your brakes.

If you have hydraulic brakes, mineral oil systems (Shimano, Tektro, certain new Sram brakes) have a 2-year service interval, and DOT fluid systems (Sram, Avid, Hayes) have a 1-year service interval. This means at the bare minimum you should be bleeding your brakes at least this often to ensure optimal brake performance, health, and longevity.


It's infuriating to have a poorly-shifting bike. You can ride around on a bike with poorly working brakes and maybe not notice how bad they are until you fix them, but almost anyone can tell when their shifting is not working optimally.

As chains have gotten narrower and we've added more gears to the cassette, the level of precision required in shifting setup has increased exponentially. If you have a newer, high-range 11, 12, or 13-speed drivetrain, you will need to be very particular about how you set up your shifting.

Start with your derailleur hanger, it is one of the most overlooked aspects of shifting quality but it also has the biggest effect on the quality. Using a high-quality derailleur hanger alignment gauge will ensure it is laser straight and then you can move on to double-checking the limits, b-tension, and cable tension.

Check your chain wear. This is another wearable item that you should just replace before a big race because if it breaks you will be especially upset because of how relatively cheap they are. You can buy cheap $15 chain checker gauges to make sure you never wear out a chain far enough to damage your chainrings or cassette.

If your chain does wear past 0.75 on most gauges, then you will likely need to replace your cassette and chainrings too or else a new chain will skip when you put down power. It will also not line up with the teeth super well and the shift quality will be poor.


I've already mentioned tightening your contact points, but it is a good idea to just give your bike a once-over before your big race to ensure everything is tight. High torque items are very important, these are things like cranks, pedals, and suspension linkages if you have them. These are already very tight so if they loosen up you may not notice but they can cause damage or break if they get ridden while loose for too long.

You will also want to double-check your contact points one last time, and make sure your stem, handlebars, saddle, seat post, and anything else you can think of are tight and within the recommended torque spec.


Bikes have become very complex and difficult to work on in recent years. I am a big advocate of developing a friendly relationship with your local bike shop. Bring your bike in before a big race and have them take a look at it and tell you what needs to be done and what you should look at replacing in the future.

If this all sounds like too much, take it to a shop and let them do all of the hard work for you. But the concept of looking over your bike thoroughly before you r big race still applies. Make sure nothing will hold you back from reaching your goals!


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