It may seem excessive to say a simple list can save your life, but it’s not a metaphor or an exaggeration. Remembering to check your brakes and grab your helmet can prevent deadly accidents. We all forget things sometimes, but your checklist remembers them for you so you can hop in the saddle and pedal away worry-free. Putting together everything you need and performing a pre-ride safety inspection won’t take long.
A well-put-together safety checklist is suitable for every trip, style of bicycle, and experience level. Whether you are a semi-pro rider with decades of cycling experience or the newest bicycle owner getting on for the first time, this is the best way to stay safe. Luckily, it’s not always about life and death. A bike safety checklist can also keep you comfortable, save you time and money, and prevent injuries.
Safety and Emergency Repair Checklist
If you ride far or regularly, you should always carry a few practical items with you on your trips. From torn shorts to a flat tire, everyone needs some emergency equipment eventually, so stay organized and ensure you don’t miss anything vital when preparing for a ride. Everything on this list will fit in a small bike basket or a cycling backpack with room to spare.
- Bike Helmet- Protecting your brain should always be the first thing you check off your list. Even if it’s legal to ride without a helmet where you live, wear a properly fitted bike helmet every time you ride.
- Patch Kit- Every rider needs a patch kit. Blowing a tire can leave you stranded miles from home.
- Spare Tube- If you have a spare tube, it’s easy to fix a flat, but you should still carry the patch kit in case the spare also gets punctured.
- Portable Bike Pump- A bike tube is just a lump of rubber if you can’t inflate it. Portable bike pumps are incredibly small and highly effective, and they can attach to your bike frame.
- Chain Tool and Wrenches- Learning to do a few basic DIY adjustments and repairs is part of being a responsible rider. Luckily, basic bicycle tools don’t weigh much and are easy to add to a frame bag or low-profile biking backpack.
- Extra Batteries- Carry spare batteries for your lights.
- ID and a Medical Insurance Card- Hopefully, you will never need either of these, but you should carry them anyway in case of accidents or other emergencies.
- First Aid Kit- Bicycling is relatively safe, but anyone can fall. By bringing a small first aid kit, you can clean and bandage a cut and treat other minor wounds.
- Portable Sewing Kit- Skin isn’t the only thing that can get damaged in a fall. A simple portable sewing kit usually has a needle, thread, a thimble, tiny folding scissors, and a couple of safety pins to fix ripped clothing.
- Cell Phone- Charge your cell phone and carry it with you for emergency calls. Most smartphones have GPS, apps that work like a compass, and other valuable features cyclists can take advantage of.
- Bike Lock- Don’t risk losing your bicycle when you can bring a bike lock with you.
Comfort and Clothing Checklist
In business, they say ‘dress for success,’ but it applies just as well to cycling. Skip the baggy clothes, and make sure you have all the necessities, plus a few common-sense comfort items as well. Everything you need to wear or carry is laid out below, so all you need to do is grab things, dress, and go.
- Brightly Colored Clothing– You can buy clothing with reflective strips for added safety or pick up a roll of reflective tape.
- Jersey- This is the proper name for a cycling shirt.
- Bike Tights, Shorts, or Bibs- These are made for cyclists and have no internal seams to rub your skin as you ride. Some also come with padded chamois for road bikes.
- A Seasonal-Weather-Appropriate Jacket- This may be a raincoat, warm jacket, or merely a windbreaker.
- Bike Shoes– Wearing shoes made for your type of bicycle will help keep your feet in place on the pedals. Plus, they can aid in proper leg and foot posture, enabling you to save energy and put more power into your wheels.
- Gloves- A set of padded gloves or warm winter gloves will keep your hands more comfortable as you ride.
- Sunglasses or Eye Protection- The last thing you want on a pleasant ride is a flash of reflected light blinding you or a bug in your eye.
- Sunscreen, Bug Repellant, and Chapstick- These are all about added comfort and safety. Cycling season is also tick season in many areas, and sunscreen should be on every outdoor list. Meanwhile, the chapstick will protect your lips from too much wind.
- Water and Snacks- Even if you don’t plan to be gone long, bring a water bottle and an energy bar or two.
- Hand Warmers, Leg Warmers, Arm Warmers- Portable hand warmers come in electric (rechargeable), butane, and disposable chemical varieties, all of which can save you from frostbite. The leg and arm warmers merely go over your existing clothing for more warmth.
- Sweatband- You can often fit a sweatband low enough to catch any drips without interfering with your helmet. However, you should never wear it inside the helmet as it interferes with a proper fit.
- Wet Wipes and Tissues- Travel-size pouches of tissues and wet wipes are easy to fit in a pocket and have many uses.
- Mask and Hand Sanitizer- Whether for allergies, pandemic safety, or dusty days, a mask should be in every bike kit. Likewise, hand sanitizer is excellent for temporary mess reduction and germ-killing.
- Cycling Backpack- These low-profile, lightweight packs fit comfortably without chaffing and can help you carry everything you need securely. Many cycling backpacks also come with an emergency whistle attached or a bladder and drinking tube. Furthermore, by putting all your emergency and comfort supplies in a portable pack, you can take them with you if you need to lock up and go inside somewhere.
The Safety Inspection
Now that you know what to look for, it’s time to tackle the safety inspection. It’s best to do this simple check before every ride. All you need to do is follow the steps below, and you’ll tick every box for a safe ride. This inspection will only take you 10-20 minutes to complete, but it can be longer if, for example, you need to stop and clean off rust or lubricate your bike chain.
- Check your brakes. First, squeeze the handheld pieces that connect to the cables to ensure they move smoothly. Then walk forward with the bike and squeeze to ensure they do the job adequately.
- Flip your bike upside down, or set it on a bike stand for the next three steps. Rotate your crank arms and then spin each pedal. You’re looking for free and easy movement with no weird noises, grinding, or hesitation as they rotate around the axis.
- Now move your pedals forward slowly and look at every link on your chain. They should be well lubricated and free from debris and rust.
- After checking over your chain, look at your gears. These shouldn’t be too worn down. Watch out for individual unevenly worn sprockets and rust.
- Next, set the bike on the ground right-side-up again. Check your tire pressure. The proper pressure should be listed on the side of each tire. Add air as needed and perform a basic visual inspection to look for anything that shouldn’t be there, like thumbtacks and other small items that can puncture your tubes.
- Don’t forget to eyeball the spokes. Bent or lose spokes indicate that your wheel is deforming.
- While looking at the wheels, make sure the quick releases are working.
- Please make sure that your stem, headset, and fork are all moving the way they should.
- Finally, do a quick once over to see that all your lights and reflectors are present and attached correctly.
Below are the top three most frequently asked questions about bike safety checklists. The list itself is relatively straightforward. However, a couple of terms confuse new riders, and some parts are more critical than others, so the questions below address those issues.
A Bike M Check is an essential maintenance check of all the main moving parts on your bike. Maintenance often includes simple tasks like testing brakes, cranks, and wheels or cleaning and lubricating your chain. It is best to perform an M check right before you go out riding every time.
Bar plugs live up to their name by capping off the ends of any open tubes on a bike. Using plugs prevents serious, life-threatening injuries in case of a crash. Bike handles, for example, are less likely to pierce you if they have a bar plug than an open slim-sided tube.
The number one component of any bike safety checklist is your brakes. Second, you should also wear a high-quality helmet to protect your skull. Lastly, every safety checklist should include a chain inspection to help avoid dangerous, easily preventable mechanical failures as you ride.
Bike safety is no laughing matter. Whether you ride BMX, doing aerial stunts and racing on dirt tracks, a road bike or commuter in traffic, or a mountain bike hurtling across varied natural terrain, you need to be able to rely on your vehicle. Skill, experience, and talent are vital, but they won’t get you anywhere if your physical machinery (bicycle) is broken. Always perform proper safety checks before you ride anywhere. It could save your life.