Friday, August 03, 2007

Tricks of the trade: Save a lot of hassle in the morning

Getting out the door in time is the hardest part for me. Leaving five to ten minutes late is the difference between an uneventful ride, and a dicey time riding in the early stages of downtown rush hour.

Making sure that my bike is in proper working order is also really important. Leaving early enough won't do me any good if I have to spend five to ten minutes on the side of the road messing with my bike.

If I can get on the road at the usual time, and get to work and back without any mechanical problems, my day is just two nice bike rides separated by 9 hours in the office.

Prepare in advance
To get on the road as quickly as possible, I do as much preparation as I possibly can the night before. Having a checklist and preparing in advance not only saves you a bit of time in the morning, but it keeps you from forgetting important items such as your pants, work keys, or access card in the rush and half-asleep haze of the morning. You may choose to do this shortly after you arrive home, or you may wish to wait until it's time to wind down the night.

Obviously, depending on what your commute involves, each person's preparations will be a little bit different. I personally choose to take my clothes, work gear, and lunch in my panniers. The steps themselves aren't as important as getting into the habit of preparing in advance for your daily commute. That said, here's my nightly routine:

  • Empty the panniers
  • Put dirty clothes in the laundry
  • Make sure all tools and supplies are accounted for
  • Gather fresh work clothes
  • Gather non-perishable food items for lunch
  • Pack all that stuff in the right pannier.
  • Put the NiteRider battery on the charger
  • Check Blinkie. If needed: remove, disassemble, and charge batteries.
  • Check tires. If they're really low, find the leak and fix it. I usually just replace the tube.
  • Check brakes. If needed, tighten them with the adjustment wheel.
  • Fill water bottles and place in fridge.
All of this takes time but the payoff is worth it. In the morning, all I have to do is a quick squeeze test of the tires, put the NiteRider battery on the bike, put my water bottles on the bike, pack the laptop into the other pannier, re-assemble and re-attach my blinkie (if it had to charge). Finally, I pack any refrigerated and/or frozen stuff I'm taking to work. This sounds like a lot of stuff, but it just takes a few minutes compared to all the work I did the night before.

Preventive maintenance
Since this is my primary mode of transportation, I believe in keeping everything in top shape. Little problems can often be found and fixed by doing a thorough check of the bike. This way, you catch little problems before they cause major delays or annoyances in your commute. For bicycle maintenance, there are very few online resources as precious as Sheldon Brown's Bicycle Repair Articles and Park Tool's Repair Help page. Once you find a problem, you may need some special tools to fix it. If you purchased your bike at a local bike shop, it may be something that they can repair while you wait. Regardless if you decide to tackle the repairs yourself or not, finding a problem before it causes you problems is always a good thing.

Every other weekend (or every weekend if I had to ride in inclement weather), I flip my bike over onto its saddle and handlebars and do all of this:
  • Squeeze-check all the spokes. Grab parallel spokes and squeeze them together. Excessively loose or broken spokes should be checked by a mechanic.
  • Check wheels for trueness. Spin the wheel and watch the wheel between the brake pads or chainstays. If there's a wobble, your wheel is bent out of true. I usually leave wheel truing to the experts with special tools, but you can true a slightly bent wheel yourself with only a spoke wrench.
  • Check the tire casing for cuts or slices, and road debris that could work its way into the tubes. Remove anything you find, or replace the tire if it's permanently damaged.
  • Clean and reset the brakes. Dial the adjustment knobs back in and re-tighten the cable.
  • Lube the cables
  • Check the headset, pivots, bottom bracket, wheel bearings, and levers for smooth, silent operation. Lube if needed.
  • Scrub grime off of the hubs, spokes, rim and tires
  • Wash, rinse, dry and wax the frame (with rags and buckets, not a hose or sprayer nozzle!)
  • Put the wheels back on, flip the bike right-side-up again, and fully clean, lube, check and micro-adjust the chain, cogs and derailleurs.
Don't feel too bad if you think that some of these are a little too advanced or too much work. Millions of people ride their bikes every day without a regular check-up. Checking as much as you can, however, will increase the reliability of your trusty steed, making it less likely that you'll get stranded or have to make a "walk of shame" during your commute.


Anonymous said...

Nice Panniers!

M. Vanderscheuren
Banjo Brothers

Noah said...

I couldn't agree more! I gave them rave reviews and since the initial write-up, they've been subjected to several rainstorms and daily use on my 30 mile round trip. You say they're nor made for fully loaded touring, but I'd almost disagree after what I put them through. They're durable, nice looking, and serve my needs perfectly. After using them daily for the better part of 3 months, If I went pannier shopping today, I wouldn't even look at my other options. It's gotta be the Banjo Bros. Saddlebags.

Thanks for stopping to check out my little section of the blogosphere!

Dan said...

You sound like an organized guy. I'm more of a jump on and ride kind of guy. Sure, sometimes I forget something (or grab the wrong thing), but I usually get there OK.

As for the maintenance, anything past tire pressure and simple tightening is handled by the fine folks at my LBS.

Noah said...

Like I said, I'm a bit obsessive. I'm also sure that it will take a lot to keep me off the road. :)

amidnightrider said...

The checklist is a good idea. I'm a little in between dan and you on the obsessive part. (leaning more toward dan). But I can "imagine" the fix we would be in, arriving at the office without pants.

Correction for deleted post above in quotes.

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