To help keep your bike running sweetly, we look at the M-check; an easy method of checking that your bike is correctly adjusted and most importantly, safe to ride. A well maintained bike is much nicer to ride plus well looked-after components last longer, therefore saving you money. A quick check of tyre pressure and you’re out in the sun or snow with a big grin on your face. The M-check takes less than five minutes and can be done when you get back from a ride, when you’re cleaning your bike, or before you set off from the car park.
What is the M-check?
If you look at your bike side on, draw an imaginary line from the front hub up to the headset, down to the bottom bracket, up to the seat and back down to the rear hub. What you have is a letter M; hence the name ‘M-check’.
The beauty of this method of checking your bike is that the only thing you have to remember is the M, you methodically follow the letter (or imaginary orange lines!) checking everything that you come across. No part of the M-check is very technical, you are looking for obvious signs of damage so don’t worry or overcomplicate it.
Starting at the front wheel, we’re going to examine the wheel, tyre and hub before moving up the first leg of the M. Firstly, check your tyre. Go right round inspecting the sidewalls and casing for any damage. If you spot a split or cut now, you could save yourself the trouble of a front wheel blowout on a fast descent.
Next, inspect your rim. Check both sides for excessive wear (the profile of the braking surface should be reasonably flat, not too concave), dents, cracks or splits. Now on to the spokes, check the spokes are roughly equal in tension on each side by gently pinching them together – don’t get too hung up on this, you’re looking for really obviously loose spokes or damaged spokes, there will (and should) be minor differences in tension.
You’ve now worked your way in to the front hub. Check your quick release is on correctly, how long is it since you popped a bit of grease on your QR skewer? If in doubt, take it out and check, it’s better than having it seize! Now place one hand on the tyre and gently rock the wheel from side to side – you are feeling for any slack in the hub bearings, if they’re worn or require adjustment, there will be an amount of play when you do this.
Finally to finish checking your front wheel, pick the front of the bike up and spin the wheel, check it spins freely and relatively straight. Use your front brake to stop it. Remember to keep your fingers away from a spinning wheel! Bladed spokes are sharp at speed…
Fork, headset and handlebars.
Visually inspect your forks for any signs of damage or wear. Look for splits in the paint or cracks which could indicate fatigue. Move up to the headset, place your right hand on the front brake, pull the brake and turn the handlebars to the right, with your left hand on the headset, rock the bike back and forwards using your right hand feeling for movement with your left. You are checking for play in the headset, which would indicate worn headset bearings and/or a loose headset.
Having done this, pick up the front of the bike and turn the handlebars and check they move freely and smoothly – this
checks to see if the headset is too tight (if it were, there would be resistance to movement and it may feel rough). If the headset is loose or tight, either adjust it yourself if confident, or, pop to your local bike shop who will be able to adjust it for you.
Next, hold the front wheel between your knees and try to turn the handlebars, this is a simple way of checking your stem bolts are tight. Then visually inspect your handlebars, look for any sign of damage or wear, get hold of your shifters and give them a wiggle to check they’re clamped tightly – the great thing about the M-check is it isn’t too high tech!
Frame, chainset and bottom bracket.
We are now following the down stroke of the M; down the down tube to the bottom bracket, again checking for any signs of damage or wear especially around the bottom bracket. Now we will check the chainset, visually inspect it first; look for missing teeth, chain ring bolts (they can work loose!) and check your crank arms for signs of wear or damage. Now give the chainset a spin backwards, it should move fairly freely, if it doesn’t it could be your chainset needs a clean and lube or your bottom bracket is worn. Give your pedals a spin to check their bearings are ok.
Now take hold of each crank arm and gently try to move them sideways in opposing directions, you’re checking for play in the bottom bracket which would indicate wear in the bearings (much like you did with the front wheel and the headset).
Now move up the seat tube to your saddle, checking your front mech is securely attached on the way.
Again check your frame for indications of wear or damage. Check your saddle is firmly attached and there is no sign of any damage to the rails or body of the saddle. Likewise, give your seat post a quick visual inspection – if appropriate is it correctly greased? A seized seatpost can ruin a frame.
Rear Wheel and gears.
You now follow the final arm of the M down towards your rear wheel. As always, visually inspect your frame on the way for signs of damage or wear. Repeat your check of the rear wheel as per the front wheel: Check the tyre and rim for damage, look for any obviously
loose or damaged spokes, check your quick release is tight and lubed, check your rear hub for play, spin the rear wheel to ensure it is relatively straight and test your rear brake. Finally give your chain, rear cassette and rear mech a once over. Look for twisted links in the chain, missing teeth in your cassette and jockey wheels and finally that your rear mech is attached securely.
There you go, that’s your bike checked ready for your next ride. By regularly doing the M-check (you’ll get quite quick after a few goes) you’ll keep yourself safe by spotting potentially worn or damaged components before they break and you’ll keep your bike running sweetly, prolonging your components lifespan and ensuring it’s not your bike that squeaks its way down the road. Remember that this is not a substitute for maintenance/service carried out by a qualified and competent bicycle mechanic.