In theory, your wheels (or, more specifically, your tyres) are the only part of the bike that’s in contact with the road.
Any sort of wheel-related malfunction therefore has the potential to ruin a race, so give them a once-over before race day. Look out for…
1. Tyres and inner tubes
Punctures are your number-one threat, but you can dramatically reduce the likelihood of them interrupting your ride. Firstly, inspect your tyres a week before a race.
If they’re well-worn or have any cuts or flat spots, get them changed and do a short ride to bed in the new ones before the big day. If your inner tubes are old or have been fixed a few times, pop new ones in as well. The few quid that this costs is well worth it.
Jonny Brownlee at WTS London 2015, where he suffered a flat tyre coming out of T1
Correct tyre pressure is vital. For most road-bike tyres, this is between 100 and 120psi (although some racing tyres can go higher than this). Not only will this reduce the chances of a flat, the reduced resistance also makes you more efficient. In wet weather, consider dropping toward the lower end of the recommended pressure range to increase grip.
On race morning, have a track pump with you to top tyres up to the correct pressure. If it’s likely to get hot during the day, put in slightly less than the highest recommended pressure as warm air inside the tyres can expand and cause an unexpected blow-out.
Spokes should all be tight. Any loose or broken ones will transfer load onto those in other parts of the wheel, so they need immediate attention to avoid a wheel buckle or collapse.
If you don’t know what you’re doing with a spoke key, take your wheels into a professional bike shop to have them trued or spokes tightened.
Rims need to be checked to see that they are running ‘true’. Spin the wheel in the frame and look for any buckles. If you spot one, first check that it’s not just in the tyre and then assess the spokes. A buckled rim is normally accompanied by loose spokes, so some work with a spoke key will be required.
If your wheels are a tad elderly, you should check that the rims aren’t wearing through on the braking surface. Feel along for any grooves or wear lines and, if you’re unsure, take it to a bike shop for that all-important second opinion. Having a weakened rim blow-out as you put 120psi into the tyres can be quite a shock!
4. Sprockets and hubs
Ensure your hubs are running free by spinning the wheels with the bike either on a work-stand or upside down. Listen for a dry ‘rumbling’ noise that can indicate dry bearings in need of fresh grease.
Also, grab the outside of the rim and try to move the wheel from side to side. There should be no ‘play’ in the hub. If there is, the bearings need to be nipped up.
Check the sprockets and freehub on the rear wheel by making sure it runs freely in reverse and smoothly when you turn the pedals. Try to wobble the sprocket set from side to side and, like the hub, it should exhibit no play.
Examine the cogs for excessive wear – watch for individual teeth that have become pointy and hooked, a clear sign of getting worn out.
But remember that, should a new set be required, it will probably also warrant a new chain so that the two can mesh together without slippage.
5. Quick-release skewers
Make sure that your quick-release skewers are fastened tightly and facing towards the rear of the bike. But don’t crank them up so tightly that you won’t be able to undo them in a hurry – and don’t press the handle up against the frame or front fork so that you can’t get a finger in behind it to lever it open.
6. Tyre change rules
Remember that in a race, any outside assistance is not permitted (other than any neutral service offered to all competitors by the race organisation).
So you need to be entirely self-sufficient when it comes to making any repairs to your bike or equipment during the course of an event.
For lots more race-day advice head to our Training section