For many cyclists, March is the first month to recover the bike from the garage and take the first ride of the year. There are a few things to keep in mind for early spring riding.

Before you ride, do a quick clean up on your bike. There are a lot of things you could do, like inspect and adjust the brakes and gears, repack the bearings in the hubs and headset, disassemble and clean the drive-train, and true up the wheels. But there are only a couple things you really must do if you love your bike.

Clean and oil the chain. The chain is the most critical piece of hardware on your bike that makes the bike go (aside from you). It’s also the component with the most moving parts and the one that picks up the most gunk. This gunk tends to be gritty and destructive. Properly maintained, you should be able to get at least 4000 miles out of a chain. If you’re really negligent on cleaning and oiling your chain, you can wear down your whole drive train (chain rings and rear freewheel sprockets) quickly. Once all that stuff wears down too much you’ll have shifting problems. Replacing your chain, chain rings, and rear cassette is not cheap. So, be thrifty and wise: clean and oil your chain regularly.

When you clean your chain, use some kind of biodegradable degreaser and then rinse with water. Dry the chain and oil it. Use bike-specific lube to oil your chain. Don’t use WD-40. It is not a lubricant, it’s the opposite. And don’t use grease either, it’s a crud magnet.

Secondly: check the air pressure in your tires. If your bike has been sitting for months, then the tires will need air. You’re going to feel out-of-shape and sluggish when you take your first ride anyway, so don’t compound it by slogging around on half-empty tires. If you’re not sure how much air to put in the tires, you can find the recommended air pressure on the sidewall of the tire.

To be certain your bike is ready to roll, take it to your LBS (Local Bike Shop) and have them give it a tune. Alternatively, learning how to do this basic maintenance is empowering and prudent. Many shops teach maintenance classes and roadside repair. Or you can visit the Pedals2People DIY shop and learn with the volunteers there. (Full disclosure: I’m a founder and volunteer for P2P).

After your bike is ready to ride there are just a few things to keep in mind for early season riding. First off, drivers have forgotten about you and they are not expecting to see you out there. So be visible, especially at night. An after work spin around the neighborhood can easily turn into a longer ride and a rest stop at the local pub, which can leave you riding home in the dark. Make sure your bike has lights, front and back. Replace or recharge the batteries so they’re fresh. Reflective bits on you and your bike help a lot too.

As for riding: don’t ride in the gutter. This means don’t ride as far over to the right-hand side of the road as humanly possible. As a matter of visibility, predictability, and safety, you shouldn’t do this anyway. But this time of year you really should take the lane and stay out of the gutter.

The shoulders (and bike lanes) will be full of junk until the street crews come and clean them up. Until they are cleaned, the gutters are holding 6 months worth of debris, trash, and gravel. All this stuff threatens your safety and the air in your tires. If you attempt to corner with any kind of speed over the gravel, your tires can slip out from under you and leave you sliding across the asphalt. And the debris on the side of the road is full of sharp bits of metal, staples, glass, and other threatening ordinance. Add a bit of spring melt to this and you’re left with lubricated bits of metal, staples, and glass that can easily slide into your tires and cause a flat. So start off the new cycling season by taking the lane and staying out of the gutter.

Lastly, if you’re a trail rider then mind the mud! Most veteran trail riders are very sensitive to trail conditions and don’t chop the trails up by riding them when they’re wet. But many new riders don’t know that riding on muddy and overly wet trails can destroy them. So if you’re new to riding trails, err on the side of caution and wait until the trails firm up before you ride them. If you’re an old hat at riding the trails: do the right thing and stay off them, and be gentle and kind to the newbies who may not understand this.

John Speare grew up and lives in Spokane. He rides his bike everywhere. Check out his blog athttp://cyclingspokane.blogspot.com.