How to M Check Your Bike
So what is an M Check for a bike? Well, a bike M Check is a quick, methodical and easily remembered routine to check your bike is safe and in good working order. Do a simple M check before every ride, and a more thorough one every week, or depending on how much you use your bike, every month.
Remembering how to do an M-check is easy, just visualise a large letter M superimposed on your bike, and then just follow the letter checking everything that you come across.
For the simple check you do before every ride you are just looking for obvious signs of damage so don’t overcomplicate it.
The weekly check is a bit more thorough, but again it is not technical and you do not need any tools to carry out the check so anybody can do.
And when we say anybody can do these checks we mean anybody. Parents, teach your kids how to do the pre-ride check. Grandparents, teach your grandchildren.
Below we will guide you through how to do both checks.
Simple Pre Ride M Check
Develop the habbit of doing a quick check before every ride. Your bike may have been okay last time you rode it, but has is it still okay? Have the kids been touching it while it was in the shed or garage? Has a neighbour been messing with it while it was locked in the stairwell or communal bike locker at your flat? Were you distracted by your mates when setting up your bike in the car park at the trail centre, or the time trial HQ?
The list below may look daunting, but it really should only take you a minute at most to work through. And with practice you will whizz through it in 30 seconds or so.
Start at the front wheel and work towards the back of the bike.
Is the wheel secure? Check the quick release lever is closed.
Is your tyre soft? Check your tyre pressure and if like the tyre in the photo it is soft then pump it up.
Is your tyre OK to ride? Lift the front wheel off the ground and spin the wheel slowly. Look at the tyre - are there any cuts, splits or bulges in the rubber, or indeed nails or stones imbedded in the tyre?
Move up the leg of the M to the hadlebars.
Are the handlebar plugs still in place? This seems a trivial check, but just google for a few pictures of the injuries that can be sustained if you crash and don't have handlebar plugs. Horrible!
Check the bars are secure. If you have drop handlebars, push down on the end of the bars, there should be no movement.
Do your brakes work? Pull each brake lever in turn and check that the brakes work, and that there is no rubbing between pads and rim - or if you have disc brakes, between pads and rotor.
Are the brake levers secure? Check they are secure and don't turn when you give them a wee side ways push.
Are all accessories secure? If you have a front light, phone mount or bike computer mounted on your bars are they secure?
When finished with the handlebars move down the M, along the downtube, towards the Bottom Bracket
Is your bottle cage secure? A wee shake of the bottle cage, if you have one fitted, will let you know if it is loose.
Are pedals okay? A quick look to check the pedals are screwed in tight - in other words can you see any threads between the pedal and the crank? If you can, the pedals need tightened.
Also, give the pedals a quick spin. Do they turn easily?
Having checked the pedals, start moving up the seat tube towards the saddle, checking the bottle cage, if fitted, on the way up.
Is the seat post tight? Grab the front and rear of the saddle and try to twist it towards either side of the bike. If it moves you need to tighten your seat post (or dropper post) clamp.
Is the saddle tight? Still holding the front and rear of the saddle try to pull the front up and down. If it moves you need to tighten the bolts holding the saddle to the seat post, or dropper post.
Is your saddle bag secure? If you have a saddle bag fitted check the straps are tight, and that the zips on the bag are closed. You dont want the contents falling out during your ride.
Having checked the saddle, continue down the M to the rear wheel.
Is your tyre OK to ride? Lift the rear wheel off the ground and spin the wheel slowly. Look at the tyre - are there any cuts, splits or bulges in the rubber, or nails or stones imbedded in the rubber?
Is your tyre soft? Check your tyre pressure and inflate as necessary.
Is the wheel secure? Move down the M to the centre of the wheel and ensure the quick release lever is closed.
Is the rear derailleur okay? A quick look to ensure there is no crud attached to it, and perhaps a quick shoogle to ensure it is bolted firmly to the hanger.
Job Done! See, that didn't take long. Now, check out our must do road cycle routes, or if you prefer fatter tyres our guide to the best cycle trails in north east Scotland and get out there and enjoy your ride! 👍
Weekly M Check
The weekly M Check is as much about maintenance as it is about safety. This slightly more thorough inspection will flag up things that you need to be aware of, and that you can schedule for repair either by yourself or at your local cycle shop. A great time to do this check is after washing your bike, so there is no mud or grit to put you off poking and prodding your bike.
Just like the pre ride safety check, start at the front wheel and follow the M.
In addition to checking the wheel is secure and the tyre is inflated, also check:
Are the spokes tight? Put your thumb around one spoke and your fingers around the spoke next to it and squeeze. The spokes should feel tight and firm. They should have just a little give when you squeeze them fairly hard. Work your way round the wheel checking every spoke. If any are loose then get them tightened.
Is the tyre worn? Some tyres come with tread wear indicators that tell you when it’s time for a replacement, for example Continental road tyres have two small "tap-holes" in the central area of the tread, located just above the letters TWI (tyre wear indicator) written on the side wall. These are designed to disappear as the tyre nears the end of its serviceable life. Once the holes are gone it’s time to bin the tyre, no matter how tempting it is to try to eke a bit more life out of them. It is also worth checking for bald patches resulting from heavy braking resulting in skidding.
Is the wheel hub in good condition? Check by rocking the wheel side to side to look for any sideways movement. Also, give the wheel a spin. If you hear grinding, or if it sounds rough, it is time to think about a bearing replacement or service.
Is there life left in the Brake Pads? On rim brakes it is easy to see how much rubber is left on your brake pads. It is a bit more tricky on disc brakes though a carefull look, perhaps with the aid of the torch on your phone, should let you see how much pad is left.
Having finished with the front wheel move up the M to the headset.
The headset is where the forks meet the frame of the bike. The headset holds the forks securely in place while allowing them to rotate to steer. At the heart of the headset are some bearings, so these need to be checked to ensure they allow the forks to rotate freely, and that there is no "play".
Check the headset is rotating freely by lifting the bike up by the frame close to the headset so that the front wheel is off the ground. Turn the handlebars right and left. They should rotate smoothly in both directions with no clicks or sticking points. The most likely problem is the front wheel wanting to point straight ahead and be slightly reluctant to turn to either side.
Check for play in the headset by turning the handlebars 90 degrees to one side. Place your finger at the point where the frame meets the forks. Gently push your bike forward. If there is any play in the bearings your finger will feel a slight movement between frame and fork.
If you detect any issues with the headset then get your bike booked into your local bike shop.
Is the handlebar stem tight? You can check how tight they are by holding the front wheel between your knees and attempting to rotate the bars side to side. Your handlebars should not turn when your wheel is fixed between your legs.
Check the bars are aligned correctly? To check alignment, look directly down from above the bars to see that they are at right angles to the front wheel.
Check the bottom bracket bearings for play by pushing one of the cranks towards the frame. There should be no movement.
Next, check the bearings for smoothness. Give the cranks a spin in the backwards direction, thhey should turn smoothly with no grinding noise.
Inspect the chainrings for damaged, missing or excessively worn teeth. Worn chainrings will wear to a pointy profile, like a shark's fin.
Now, this is not strictly a bike check but it is associated with the pedals so it is a good time to do it. If you use clipless pedals, check your shoe cleats for wear, and that they are securely bolted to the soles of your cycling shoes.
The only additional check here is for those who have a dropper post fitted. Make sure it’s moving smoothly up and down and not sticking.
The checks here are similar to those for the front wheel: wheel is secure, tyre pressure is good, no excessive tyre wear, spoke check, brake pads, hub etc. It is worth noting that the rear tyre and brake pads are likely to wear out quicker than the front. The rear tyre wears faster than the front tyre because it’s pushing against the road with every pedal stroke. The front tyre only pushes the road during braking. And when braking you are more likely to use the rear brake more than the front one so the rear pads wear out faster.
Check your chain is running smoothly and that there are no stiff links by rotating the pedals backwards and watching the chain move over the cogs and through the derailleur. Your chain should be well lubricated and show no signs of rust.
Are your gears shifting smoothly and through the full range? Lift the rear wheel, spin the pedals and shift the front and rear derailleurs through their range of gears. The chain should shift up or down one cog (or chainring when shifting the front gears) for every click of the relevant shifter. The chain should move without hesitating, and shouldn't drop back when you let the shifter go.
Don't take shorcuts with the above checks, yes they do sound like a lot of work, but they aren't. Pre-ride and weekly checks are important and the good news is the more you do them, the quicker you'll become. They will help keep you safe, and will help prevent breakdowns whilst out riding.
Many of the checks above will highlight issues that can be easily sorted with a few basic tools like allen keys, and pedal spanners. Some of the other issues need specialist tools and know how. As you get to know your bike more you may be tempted to tackle some of these jobs. If so, then the following books from Amazon may be of interest.