Bike, rider ready to bounce into spring

The Baltimore Sun

I tried out a new rite of spring recently, bike bouncing.

It works like this. You haul your bicycle out of winter storage, you lift it up about 5 inches, and then you let it bounce off the ground. You listen for unusual rattles indicating loose parts that are about to fall off.

Initially, I was suspicious of this maneuver. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made to me. If a bike part were destined to fall, it would be better to have it take its tumble in the quietude of the backyard rather than when I was cycling across Charles Street at rush hour. The timely twist of a wrench could end up saving precious parts, both of my bike and my body.

Moreover, I began to think that this was a standard I could apply to other areas of life. I could, for example, give myself a bounce test. I could jump off my front steps and if nothing broke, declare my winter-idled frame ready for springtime action.

The bounce test was among the checklist of procedures, pulled from a bike maintenance Web site (, designed to get inactive bikes ready to roll in good weather.

For some reason when spring hits, we start cleaning. In the fall you don't hear calls for the annual autumn neatening. And in February there is no campaign to start the winter mopup. But as soon as the weather warms and the pear trees bloom, we get urges to wash, to brighten, to make possessions sparkle. When one such urge hit me recently, I channeled it toward maintenance on my bicycle, a vintage three-speed Raleigh.

Unlike the fearless and fit cyclists who pedal our thoroughfares in all types of weather, I am a fair-weather biker. If it is cold, my bike and I stay indoors.

This means that since December my bike had been sitting in the basement, hibernating like a Garrett County black bear. But the other day, when the temperature climbed into the 60s, the bike came out of storage, and I gave it a physical exam.

Before doing the bounce test, I pumped air into the tires, which like a lot of us, had become deflated by the winter cold. I also spun the wheels. There was a time when I insisted that my bicycle wheels and my path in life be absolutely true. Since then I have come to accept the merits of the "relatively true," which was an apt description of the condition of these wheels.

A good squeeze is always a pleasure, and pressing the bike's brake levers delivered just that. There were no cracks in the handlebars, no missing teeth in the cranks, no clicking sounds from the front bearings. In short, nothing had slipped out of place, welcome news from any physical.

The bike passed the bounce test with nary a rattle.

Next came the cleansing. I sprayed a biodegradable cleaner, on the chain and chainrings, and went to work removing grime with a toothbrush and a rag. Once the ablutions were finished, I squirted some special oil on the chain. Why was it special? For the same reasons that face oils and skin lubricants are accorded lofty status: It had a fancy label and came at some expense, from a specialty shop.

I loosened the seatpost, cleaned it off, and applied a fresh helping of white grease to the shaft. It probably didn't need it. But I love applying white grease. It looks so pure, it feels so dirty. Cleaning your bike, like washing your car, has psychological benefits. You bid farewell to the grit of winter. You start down the road with a fresh wind at your back, warm and happy and confident, relatively, that things are firmly in place.

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