How to Prepare Your Bicycle for Race Day

So your first race is coming up – think back to the last time you looked over your bike. Is everything in order, working, not broken? Can’t remember? Regardless, it is always a good idea to follow a basic maintenance routine before each race to make sure everything on your bike is safe and sound.

As a new cyclist, it is important to remember these basic checks and keep a list of things that need addressing. If you don’t have the mechanical skills to fix them yourself, write down the problems and make sure that you get your local bike shop to fix them well before race day.

What this means is that if you cannot or do not want to fix your own bike, you should be periodically looking over your bike and keeping track of any big ticket repairs. That way you can find them, and get them fixed before the race.

The last thing you want is to be checking over your bike the night before the race, for the first time in months, and discover a critical problem that you can’t fix – too late! Even if you are mechanically inclined, the night before the race is not the right time for major repairs. With that in mind, walk through the procedures here to make sure everything is safe and working properly.

Tires & Wheels

Spin the wheels in the frame and make sure they are spinning straight. Also, look closely at the tires as you spin the wheel slowly – the tread should be intact, no cuts, holes or debris. Give them a good wipe with a cloth to make sure they are totally free of junk. Check the quick release and make sure they are snug and that the wheels are squarely in the dropouts.

Pump the tires up to the proper pressure – keep in mind that a few pounds of pressure will leak out over night and you might need to top them off. But pump them up now just in case you forget to on race day in the rush of events.

Now, as for pressure, don’t pump them up rock hard! If you train on 110 psi, race on 110 psi. If you try to run higher pressure on race day, your bike will handle much differently (worse actually). You’ll be bouncing all over the place. Keeping pressure at a reasonable level balances rolling resistance and handling.


Put the bike on your workstand, or if you have no stand hook the saddle over something overhanging, just enough to get the rear wheel off of the ground, and run through the gears a few times to make sure it all works okay. Make sure to shift both front and rear derailleurs and really give it a workout. Spin the cranks backwards and make sure the chain is tracking well and does not derail. Pull laterally on the crank to make sure it is properly snug. Check your pedals (and by extension the cleats on your shoes) to make sure they are working properly and free of debris.

Now take a rag, hold it in your left hand and lightly hold onto the bottom of the chain (the underside of the chainstay). Start to gently pedal backwards with your right hand, applying light pressure on the chain with the rag. This is a good time to mention that you should be doing this in the garage, or at least somewhere that you won’t mind dripping oil on the floor. The idea here is to wipe any excess debris off the chain and get it ready to apply some chain lube.

Once the chain is wiped free of gunk, set the rag aside and grab a bottle of chain lube. Do not, repeat, do not use chain lube in a pressurized canister. The spray is impossible to direct and will end up covering your bike with a fine layer of oil, including your rims. Since rim brakes use friction to stop you, adding oil and reducing friction is really bad idea. So stick to chain lube in a drip bottle so that you can direct all of the lube where it belongs – onto your chain.

Workstands Ease Repairs

What? You don’t have a workstand? It is definitely a good thing to have. Certainly not essential, but if you are considering some additions to your repair setup, or truly learning how to work on bikes, a workstand is crucial.

Lubing Your Chain

When lubing a bicycle chain, you absolutely must use dedicated bicycle chain lube. Do not use WD-40, 3-in-1, motor oil, grease, or the like. It doesn’t really matter what brand of bike lube you use, just look for one that sets up dry (usually sold as being a “dry” lube and containing Teflon) to prevent attracting dirt. This lube will work in all but the most extreme conditions, but that’s a different guide.

Contact Points and Sundry Bolts

Now that the wheels are set and the drivetrain is fine, give the bike a thorough once-over. Don’t take out the wrench and give every bolt another half turn – unless something is actually loose, the additional torque could damage the bolt or even the component. And nothing ruins a race faster than breaking your bike the night before. So keep the check to testing for function and snugness.

Wiggle the handlebars and stem with the front wheel grasped between your knees. There should be no movement. Lift the front end by the handlebars and tap the front wheel on the ground to check for a loose headset or anything else rattling. Do the same by lifting the rear wheel. Check your water bottle cages to make sure they aren’t rattling loose.

Check your saddle by twisting to make sure it doesn’t come loose. Check the brakes to make sure they are firmly bolted to the frame and fork. Pull the brake levers to make sure the brakes are working smoothly and that nothing is loose. Spin the wheels and stop them with the brakes. Everything should work well and feel secure.

Everything Look Good? You’re Ready to Race!

Now you can go to sleep and (more importantly) start the race with the peace of mind that nothing has been overlooked. You bike is working right and totally safe, ready for you to deliver a new personal best performance.

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