Spring is on the horizon and that means it’s time to shake off those winter cobwebs and get outside. There can be few more pleasant ways to while away a sunny afternoon than packing a picnic in your basket and cycling off through country lanes or simply peddling to wherever you need to go.

Cycling is one of the best forms exercises around. According to the NHS, it’s the third most popular in the UK: an estimated 3.1 million of us get on our bikes each month. Cycling is easy on the joints, can be as easy or as strenuous as you chose, and is of course famously easy to remember how to do. Best of all, once you’ve bought your bike, cycling is free!

However, to get the best out of your cycling experience and keep yourself safe on the roads, it’s important to practise a little bit of basic bike maintenance. If you have stored your bike indoors over winter, getting it ship shape for spring is as easy as ABC: air, brakes, and cranks, chain and cassette.

Start by checking the air in the tyres. If you press the tyres with your thumb and don’t feel resistance, you need to inflate them (if your bike has been sitting unattended for months, it’s almost certain that you’ll need to do this.) Try sitting on your bike too – just to see if the tyres are sagging. On the wall of your tyres there should be a label telling you the ideal pressure for your particular tyres. If there isn’t, you can estimate based on what sort of bike you have:

Road bikes with skinny tyres are usually between 100-120 PSI, commuter bikes with the fatter wheels are typically 60-80 PSI, and mountain bike tyres are usually between 35-60 PSI. (from Lifehacker.com)

It’s a good idea to inflate your tyres the day before you plan to ride your bike, then check them again the next morning. If they have lost pressure overnight, you probably have a slow puncture so it would be wise to look for the leak or simply replace the tube.

Next, check your brakes. Test the brake levers – they should be firmly resistant. If you can pull the lever all the way back to the handlebars, then it’s too loose and should be tightened. Take a look at the brake pads themselves too. A torch will come in handy to inspect whether there is wear and tear that’s causing the pads to not connect evenly with the wheel. If the brake pads show excessive wear, it is essential that they are replaced before you peddle off.

Finally, check the bike’s drive train. Turn it over (you might need someone’s help with this if it’s a heavy bike) and spin the pedals and wheels to make sure that everything runs smoothly and that there are no sinister clanks or catches. Do this with the bike in each gear so that you can be sure it shifts properly and is happy in each gear. If all seems in working order, make sure that there is no significant rust on the chain. Add a few drops of lubricant to keep everything running smoothly.

If your bike has been left outdoors during the winter…

It is more likely that there’s some rust damage somewhere – if it’s light, you can clean it with something like WD-40 and the abrasive side of a sponge. If more significant, it’s a good idea to pop into your local bike repair shop and have them take a look.

If you’ve been lucky with rust, make extra sure that you lubricate the drive train as winter air can dry it out. It’s also worth giving the bike a clean with a damp cloth to remove any dirt or potential rust before it becomes a problem.

Now you’re ready to get on your bike!