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Spin your wheels'

Sadly, unless we are looping around in a velodrome, we need our brakes to be working in order to enjoy a safe efficient bike ride. Personally, for all the effort it takes me to climb a hill, I begrudge every touch I have to make on the brakes. When I check my brakes, there are two things I want to discover. Of course, the brakes need to stop me, but it’s almost as important that they don’t slow me down when I’m not using them.

Basically, before a ride, I want to give my wheels a spin to see and hear if there are any problems. I think most of us have done this and it’s pretty simple, but there are a lot of things that you can hear and see when you do this. Also, there is a little technique involved, and there are some things that cannot be diagnosed from this test. I don’t want this to be an entire chapter of a book, so I won’t give every little detail of what you might find when your wheel is spinning. Like the “drop test,” if you make a regular habit of doing this test, you will notice if something is wrong. It is essential to do this immediately after replacing a wheel, and a good idea to do it before every ride.

This test is great for all types of brakes, but if you have disc brakes, the diagnostics and adjustments won’t match my explanations. First squeeze and release your brake levers. That will put your brakes into their normal position. If your brake lever goes all the way in to the handlebar when you squeeze it, your cable is disconnected, broken or too loose, you’re missing a brake pad or someone stole your wheel. Fix that before you go any further. Now, lift your wheel and give it a very slow spin. How slow? Let’s say enough to turn only about three to five revolutions. It is much easier to detect a problem when the wheel is spinning very slowly, but you need to see and hear at least two full revolutions. If you spin the wheel too fast, it will spin right through any "minor" problems and you might not notice anything wrong. The front wheel should make almost no noise at all when it is spinning and it should continue to spin down in speed gradually and smoothly. If you hear anything “rubbing” or “bumping” or if the wheel suddenly slows or stops, you may have a problem with the brake hitting the rim or tire. While you are listening, you should be staring at the rim as it passes by the brake pad on one side, concentrating on the small gap between the rim and the brake pad. You might see that you have a warped wheel, a tire not seated properly, a dreaded “flat spot” or your brake pad or tire is worn out. Look carefully at both brake pads to see if they are hitting the rim or tire at any point in the revolution. If the brake is rubbing on both sides at the same time, the cable needs to be adjusted, or something is stuck or seized. If the brake is constantly rubbing on one side and not the other, your brake or wheel is probably not centered. All brakes can be adjusted so they spring out evenly on both sides. There are a wide variety of methods for this adjustment, so I cannot explain it here, but it is usually very simple. The only thing that is the same for all brake types is that you cannot simply move the brake with your hand and expect it to stay centered. This will only work if you never use your brake again. Before you try to center your brakes, take a look at the position of the wheel. It should be centered in the fork. I usually look at the center of the tire at the top to see if it is lined up with the hole in the center of the fork. Most road bikes have the brake mounted in this hole, and you can easily check the alignment. Also, you can look at the tire to see if it is centered equally between the fork blades. If the wheel is not warped, centering it will usually solve the problem and anyone who has quick releases should be able to center their wheel.

When you try this test on the back wheel, there are a couple of obstacles that are not a problem on the front. First, you must spin the wheel forward to prevent the crank from moving along with the wheel. Just lift the back wheel and give the crank a forward turn to get the wheel moving, then let go. (If the crank keeps moving forward with the wheel, you have a completely different problem) Second, the freehub, or freewheel is going to be making some noise. It should be a steady clicking noise. As long as it’s smooth and steady, try to ignore it and listen for other noises, especially rubbing, scraping and grinding sounds. There is a lot more going on in the back wheel, so a problem may be more difficult to pin down.

The idea is to learn how to notice a problem. Fixing it is another story. The simple way to fix a problem is to take the bike to the shop and tell the tech what you are hearing. Hopefully, when you come back to get your bike the noise will be gone. I want to make it clear that the spin test will not give you any indication of how well your brakes work. For the most part, spinning your wheel will help you find problems that will slow you down when you are not using your brakes. These types of problems are usually simple to fix, but cause premature wear if they are not addressed quickly.

by: Bill Goldston, Framework Fitness and Bikes, Sydney

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