Prepping Your Bike

How to prepare your bike for a long bike trip across Korea.

You don’t have to be a mechanic to make your machine reliable. A quick once over can spot the gremlins lurking in your gears.

Here’s a list of things to check before you go on a ride.

Pump Up the Tires

A picture of a bike pump and bike tire.
Pump up your tires to make your ride smooth, quick, and safe.

Why does my bike feel so sluggish? Often the answer is low tire pressure.

It’s physics. The more tire on the road, the more friction. It’s harder to pedal. If you want to get your bike into shape, pump those tires up. You’ll feel you’re riding on air.

But, stay away from the max. First, check the psi (pounds per square inch) on the side of your tire. Narrow road bike tires need more psi (80-130 psi). Thicker mountain bike tires need less pressure (25-35 psi).

The more pressure in your tires, the less the rolling resistance. However, your hardened tires will pass on every bit of uneven, unfriendly pavement to your hands and butt. Pumped up kicks also increase your chance of a puncture.

Less air smoothes out your ride and lowers the chance of a puncture. In the rain, a slightly deflated tire grips damp roads better. However, don’t cheat yourself out of easy speed.

So, what’s the lesson: balance. Don’t push it to the limit. Don’t walk along the razor’s edge. Just stay a few pounds below the … psi limit!

For further informatino, Check out this guide to pumping up your tires.

Lubricate the Chain

A picture of bike chain lube.
A bottle of lube will keep your chain and gears spinning.

A wet bike chain is a healthy bike chain. Like oil for your car engine, it’s better to keep metal parts that rub together well lubricated.

There are two types of bike chain lubricants. Wet and dry.

Dry lubricant (for dry conditions) is the consistency of water. It is the best lube to reduce friction between your chain and gears.

However, because dry lube is a low-viscosity, rain and regular use will wash it away. You need to apply wet lube every 80-150 km (50-100 mi).

Wet lubricant (for wet conditions) is stickier than the dry lube. It won’t wash off in the rain. It’s great for all weather. However, dirt and grit will stick to the lubricant. All that extra dirt and rocks will wear out your gears faster.

Always apply lube to a clean chained. However, life doesn’t always allow “always.” If you’re in the field and need to lube up, wipe the grit off with a towel and apply. A dirty lubed chain is better than a dirty dry chain.

Check out this tutorial for how to apply lube to your chain correctly.

Check the Brakes

A picture of bike brakes and tire rim.
Make sure your brakes are tight and positioned on the wheel correctly.

Hands down the brakes are the most important part of your bike. You’ll understand when slaloming down the 500-meter peak near Mungyeong. If you can’t brake, you can’t stop.

Test Your Brakes

Hold the front brake and push your bike forward. You rear wheel should lift off the ground. Then reverse. Pull the rear brake and push your bike backwards.

If your wheels won’t rise in the air, you have one of two problems. Your brake cable tension is too loose. Or, time and use wore your brake pads to the bone.

Adjust Cable Tension

For small cable tension adjustments, screw the barrel adjuster. You can find the notched adjuster near your shifters or on the brake clinchers.

Screw the barrel adjuster half a turn. This should tighten the cable and pull the brake pads closer to the rim of the wheel (with rim brakes) or disc rotors (with disk brakes).

Hold the brake and try the wheel lift test. If it isn’t tight enough, repeat until your wheel firmly lifts off the ground.

Next, lift your wheel and spin. Watch to see if your wheel rubs against the brakes. If they do, the cable might be too tight. Back off the tension.

Or, if you have rim brakes, you might have an alignment issue.

Aligning the Brakes

You can force rim brakes into alignment by hand. Nudge the brakes so there is equal space between the brake pads and the wheel. Then, pull the brake lever. If the brakes fall back into misalignment, break out your hex wrench.

Take a 6mm hex wrench and loosen the bolt that attaches the brake to the bike frame. Pull the brake lever and firmly tighten the bolt. Let off the brake. The pads should be perfectly aligned.

Brake Pad Alignment

Since you’re already down there, if you have rim brakes, check the alignment of the brake pads on the wheel. Make sure the brake pads align with the metal rim. They shouldn’t touch the rubber on the tire.

You can reposition the pads with hex wrench. Loosen the bolt that holds the brake pad and lightly pull the brake. Position the pad on the squarely on the metal rim. Re-tighten the bolt.

Replace Brake Pads (if needed)

If your bike has disc brakes, check the wear on the pads. If there’s about a millimeter or two of pad left, replace them.

Rim brake pads have grooves on the surface. If the pad is as flat, replace the pads.

It’s usually a one-tool job. Unscrew a little bolt. Slide the old pad out and the new pad in. Re-tighten the little bolt. Finished.

Check out this detailed guide to inspecting your brakes.

Run Through Your Gears

A picture of bike brakes and tire rim.
Make sure your brakes are tight and positioned on the wheel correctly.

If you ride a fixie, you’re probably smugly laughing into your IPA. For everyone else, gears will save you from the hill hell.

If you’re front derailleur won’t shift up, you’re walking anything with a slope. If it won’t shift down, you’ll spin, spin, spin at a snail’s pace on flats.

Check the reliability of your shifting before your cycling trip.

A picture of a bike's front derailleur.
Check that your front derailleur easily pushes your chain up and down the larger chain rings without falling off.

First, find a good place to hang or prop your bike so your rear wheel hovers. You can flip the bike over. But, this will reverse everything. It also makes shifting difficult.

Next, turn the pedals by hand. Shift the rear (right hand) gear shifter in a middle gear.

Now, run the front (left hand) gear shifter through its gears. This will push the chain up and down the crankset.

If the chain doesn’t jump smoothly between chain rings, adjust cable tension with the barrel adjuster. This controls how far the front derailleur pushes the chain.

Add more tension (a quarter turn clockwise) the chain won’t jump into the largest chain ring. Release tension (a quarter turn counter-clockwise) if it won’t fall onto the smallest chain ring.

Always put the front gear shifter in its lowest gear before adjusting tension.

If you still have issues, check the front derailleur’s limit screws. The limit screws make sure that the chain doesn’t stray off the chain rings. They could restrict the chain a little too much.

Check out this video on how to adjust your front derailleur here.

A picture of a rear derailleur.
Check that the chain runs smoothly up and down the rear derailleur.

If shifting is a little screwy on the rear cassette, adjust cable tension with the barrel adjusters on rear derailleur.

First, shift into the smallest chain cog (highest gear) on the cassette and the largest chain ring on the crankset.

If you can’t get the chain into the smallest cog, twist the barrel adjuster towards you (counter-clockwise) until it pops into the lowest gear.

Now, shift down one gear. If the cable doesn’t jump into the second cog, twist the barrel adjuster one-quarter turn towards the wheel (clockwise). Twist incrementally until the chain hops into the next gear.

You’re almost there. Shift through the remaining gears. Twist the barrel adjuster incrementally until you can easily shift into the largest and smallest cogs.

Now, shift into the smallest chain ring on the crankset. Run through all of your gears again. Make sure everything shifts like butter.

Check out this instructional video to see how to adjust your rear derailleur.

A picture of a bike saddle.
To save your back, legs, and rear, adjust the height, tilt, and forward positions of your saddle.

A hundred kilometers (62 mi) has away of amplifying pain. Any slight misalignment can brew trouble in your arms, your knees, butt.

You can minimize your aches and pains by changing your ride position.

Saddle (Seat) Height

The quickest way to comfort on a bike is to adjust the height of the seat. No matter which type of bike you ride (road, MTB, city cruiser) your knee should be slightly bent when fully extended on the pedals.

If your seat is too low, you’ll soon learn how grandpa’s knees feel when getting out of his lazy boy. If your seat is too high, you’ll find out how grandma feels after her hip replacement surgery.

Some seats require a hex wrench to loosen a bolt. Some have a quick release. Either way, undo the clasp on the bike frame and lift or lower the seat post.

Shift the post incrementally. Lock it down, climb aboard and test it out.

Once you find the correct height, make sure the saddle points directly forward before you lock it in place.

Seat Tilt

If your tender bits feel sore, your seat might not be level.

First, whip out a bubble level or phone app. Plop it atop your saddle. If the middle bubble lines up in the hash marks, your golden.

If your seat tilts back, your reproduction factory might suffer. If it tilts forward, you’ll slide forward when riding and put pressure on your arms.

You can adjust the tilt by loosening a hex bolt under the saddle. Level it up and re-tighten the bolt.

Fore, Aft Positioning

While you’re adjusting the tilt, check the forward and backward (fore, aft) positioning of the saddle.

Ideally, your knee should rest directly over the ball of your foot when the pedals are parallel to the ground.

You can check this by dropping a pair of headphones (or plumb line) from your knee. If it dangles over the center of the pedal, your everything is a-okay.

Adjust the fore aft positioning with the bolt under the saddle used to change tilt.

Check out this video for more help on getting the perfect fit.

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