The first rule is to wait until you’re ready before checking out your bike and gear post-crash. If you’re with friends (and you can still ride), ask someone else to give your bike the once-over, because you might be a little out of it and not see the problems they can. If you’re alone, check your bike, but wait until you have your wits about you so you don’t miss anything that could cause another crash. Or do it at home if your ride’s over and you’re getting sagged in.
Tip: If you’re not sure what happened in the crash and/or unfamiliar with bike repair, let a pro handle your crash check-up to make sure your bicycle is 100% before you start riding again.
If you know what happened in the crash, the details can help you find problems. But instead of just looking for damage, I recommend working systematically from the front to the back and checking out everything. That way you can keep track of what you’ve checked and find any hidden problems, too, that are harder to find but just as important to fix as the obvious damage.
Check the bars, stem and levers
Starting at the front, inspect the handlebars and stem to see if they got knocked out of alignment, bent or damaged. If the tape is torn or a lever(s) is pushed in, check for more serious damage. Usually you can simply loosen parts with an Allen wrench, realign them and retighten them, and you’ll be good to go (see cable tip, below). But, if a lever broke or you bent your aluminum handlebar or cracked a carbon one, you’ll want to take it easy on the ride home and have the parts replaced ASAP.
Tip: If a lever got knocked off, and it has cables attached that run beneath the bar tape, it’s best to unwrap the tape before realigning the lever(s). That way you can make sure that the ends of the cable housing are securely attached to the lever and your braking and shifting will work correctly. You can also see if the housing got damaged in the crash and needs to be replaced.
Check the front wheel and tire
After the bars, check that the front wheel is still securely fastened in the fork and the quick release hasn’t opened or loosened. Spin the wheel to check that it’s still true. Make sure the tire is in good shape, with no cuts, bald spots or sidewall damage caused by the impact or skidding.
If the wheel got bent, you’ll want to true it as best you can so that you can still ride. Unless it’s bad, you can often open the brake quick release to provide enough clearance to get home on the bad wheel. But be sure to check the front brake to see if it still works. If it’s compromised, brake mostly with the rear until you get the front wheel fixed.
Tip: An easy trick for wheel truing is to find the wobble and then pluck the spokes in that area. If one makes a plunk instead of a ping, it’s loose. Tighten it until it makes the same high pitched ping as the other spokes when plucked, and your wheel will be significantly truer and stronger.
While checking the brake, note that in many crashes the front wheel swings around, slamming the brake-arm adjusting barrel into the frame’s down tube. If it hits hard enough, the brake arm can get bent, which can compromise the braking. It can also damage the down tube, though that’s not as common. The brake will usually still work, but you’ll want to remove it and straighten the arm when you do your post-crash tune-up. Check the cable adjusting barrel, too, since that can bend and break, as well.
Tip: Speaking of things flying off, it’s also possible to lose a pump or your entire seat bag with your spares and tools. So take inventory and make sure you don’t leave your goodies behind, or you’ll be even more sore in the days after the incident if you lost that emergency $20 bill and your favorite mini-tool.
Check the frame and fork
If you have a steel or aluminum bike, and you had a front-end impact, like riding into an obstacle or hitting a large pothole, it’s possible you bent your fork or frame. To check for this, lean your bike against something, step back a few strides and look at the front end to see if all looks okay. A front end bend shows up in a fork that appears pushed back and out of line with the head tube and/or, a front wheel that’s too close to the down tube. And/or there might be visible bulging or bends in the frame’s top and down tubes. Bent frames can usually be ridden carefully to get home, but in most cases you’ll want to replace the frame.
Carbon frames and forks are tough, but if they take a good hit they can get damaged, too (ditto for carbon components). Carbon parts should be solid and hard, not flexible. If a spot looks like it got compressed or hit hard (for example, from a handlebar swinging around and smacking into the top tube), squeeze it and see if it’s firm or soft. Another trick is tapping the edge of a quarter on the area to listen to the sound it makes. A sharp, hard knock is right. If you get little noise, it’s a sign that that frame tube (or the components) could have been damaged.
Tip: If you’re not sure about something that doesn’t seem right on your carbon bicycles (frame, fork or component), get an expert opinion. Cracked carbon parts can break without warning so it’s not worth risking using them. And, keep in mind that it’s possible to repair most carbon frame damage. Calfee Design is a great resource: http://www.calfeedesign.com/repair/
Check the seat and pedals
When a bike hits the ground, the side of the seat and one pedal often take the brunt of the impact. It’s also possible to break them. Look closely for scratches or scrapes and make sure the seat is still strong enough to support you if you plan to ride home. Ditto for the pedal. If either got bent, you’ll want to replace them.
Check the rear wheel, rear brake and drivetrain
Finish the bike check by inspecting the rear wheel as you did the front, making sure it’s true and centered in the frame and attached securely. Usually rear brakes escape injury, but if its lever was knocked off, make sure the brake is still working nicely.
Then run through the gears to check theshifting and make sure nothing got bent. As I mentioned here a few weeks back, the rear derailleur hanger is especially susceptible to crash damage. The rear shifting will be out of whack if the hanger got bent. You can also tell if it’s bent by sighting from behind to see if an imaginary line that passes through both derailleur pulleys also bisects the cassette cog they’re beneath. If not, the derailleur or the hanger got bent and will need to be fixed. If you decide to ride home on it, shift gingerly and avoid your lowest gear or you could shift into the spokes.
Check your gear
Other important things to check include your helmet, shoes, glasses and repair kit. If you know you hit your head and/or you can see helmet damage, you should replace your helmet. (Tune in next week for more on helmet care with input from a spokesman from Bell/Giro.) Then, inspect your shoes. I’ve seen buckles ground away by the pavement. Cleats, too. As long as you can pedal, you can keep riding. But you wouldn’t want your foot to slip and cause a second crash, so it’s good to know if your shoe or cleat is compromised. You might break or scratch your glasses in a crash, too, and have to piece them together. Or they (or a lens) might fly off and you may want to hunt for them rather than lose your expensive eyewear.
Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim’s full bio.