How to Maintain a Mountain Bike
Everyone knows that automobiles require regular maintenance. Before taking a trip, you check the oil, replace worn wiper blades, and air up the tires. After you get back, you wash off the road grime and make needed repairs, and each year, you take it in for regular tune-ups to ensure that your vehicle runs smoothly.
A mountain bike requires the same care you give a motorized vehicle. Whether you ride a 17,000 dollar Pinarello Dogma 2, or you own one of the best mountain bikes under 1000 dollars, a Diamondback Sorrento Hardtail, regular maintenance keeps your bike functioning properly and at optimum performance.
Prepare for Your Ride
Before setting out on the trail, perform each of these quick maintenance items.
● Inspect the Tires and Wheels.
● Test Your Brakes
● Run Through the Gears
● Tighten Your Bolts
● Adjust the Fit
Inspect the Tires and Wheels
One of the most important things to check are the axles. Make sure you tighten the skewers before setting off. Losing a wheel while making jumps, or flying downhill, poses a safety hazard that may cause serious injury to you, the rider.
Tire pressure is also important. A certain amount of deflation should be expected, but if your tire pressure is consistently low, you may need to check for damage and possibly change out the tire. Bent rims cause the tire tubes to leak air. Proper pressure gives you a smoother ride and reduces the possibility of rim damage.
Wheels should turn smoothly and be properly aligned so that the brakes can make proper contact.
Replace any patching supplies used out of your patching kit. You do not want to forget and find yourself stranded on your next ride, due to a flat tire.
Test Your Brakes
No matter which type of brakes are installed on your bike, they need to be inspected before you venture out on the tracks. First, you need to look at the rotors and determine if there is a buildup of dirt or debris. Clean them thoroughly.
Depress both brake levers and ensure that the pads are making solid contact with the rotors. The pads should retract properly when the levers are released and there should not be no contact with the wheel.
Hydraulic disc brakes should not be leaking any fluid. If the brakes feel spongy, or you see fluid, take a look at all the hoses and fittings and find any leaks. Repairs should be made before riding your mountain bike.
Run Through the Gears
Take a quick test ride and run through all of the bicycle’s gears. If your chain skips either in the front or back, lubricate the links and repeat your test ride. Often, a link has frozen up and can be freed with a little lubricant.
If the bike does not shift smoothly, you need to double-check that the wheels are seated properly in the skewers and that the pedals are not crusted with dirt and grime. Pedals that freeze up or don’t turn smoothly can affect the shifting process.
If you still have problems after applying lubrication, cleaning the pedals, and checking the wheel alignment, you need to seek the advice of a bike mechanic. The shifting mechanisms often require fine tuning.
Tighten Your Bolts
Check any after-market components you installed to determine if the bolts have loosened during previous rides. Perform a visual check of all the bolts on your mountain bike to make sure none have fallen out or are visibly loose. Move the bike around and check for stability.
Be careful that you don’t overtighten the bolts on the bike. If your bike has carbon components, you need to use a torque wrench for any adjustments, as carbon has specific tolerances and you can easily damage the parts.
Adjust the Fit of Your Bike
Consider the terrain of your upcoming ride. Long distances, sharp declines, or drops may necessitate the adjustment of your saddle or post height. Tighten the post if needed. The proper fit means a more comfortable ride.
Clean-Up After Your Ride
● Inspect Your Bike for Damage
● Clean the Bike
● Lubricate Your Drivetrain
Inspect Your Bike for Damage
Take a close look at the frame of your mountain bike, especially if it is made of carbon. Any cracks, even small ones, can cause problems on future rides. Catastrophic failures occur when sudden stress is placed on small fractures. Having this occur during a downhill ride or on a jump might result in serious injury.
Check your pedals, brakes, and chain for small pebbles or grit lodged in the mechanism. Make sure the brakes are seating properly and the chain shifts smoothly through all gears. If you notice any problems, make the necessary repairs before taking the bike back out on the trail.
Take a good look at the overall condition of your mountain bike. Any part of the bike that does not seem to be in proper working order, should be attended to right away.
Clean Your Bike
Wipe down your bike with a damp cloth. Do not wash it with soap and water each time your ride. The soap binds the grease molecules and causes the moving parts of the bike to freeze up.
Removal of road grime and grit can be done with a soft nylon brush. If the buildup of dirt necessitates a wash with soap and water, be sure to lubricate all moving parts after your cleaning.
Treat your bike like you would treat your car. Certain detergents damage paint, so use a gentle liquid dish soap, or a good automotive car soap. Degreasers can be used for buildup of lubrication, but after application and removal of the buildup, be sure to reapply lube to the area.
Lubricate Your Drivetrain
Use a soft nylon brush to knock free any grit that has become wedged in your chain. Wipe off dirt and excess lubrication with a cloth. If necessary, apply more lubrication to the chain by adding a drop to each link, making sure to remove any excess. Too much lubrication is just as bad as too little.
You should only wash your chain with soap and water if there is a large buildup of mud. Degreasers can cut through extreme messes of oil and dirt. If you find that you are constantly dealing with grease buildup, you are probably using too much lubrication on your chain.
Annual Maintenance on Your Mountain Bike
Every year, you should have your mountain bike serviced and prepared for a new season of riding. Getting your yearly check-up, during the final winter months, can help you avoid the rush at the local bike shop.
A technician will take a good look at your frame, drivetrain, shocks, brakes, and wheels. The cost of your yearly maintenance visit should run anywhere from 100 – 400 dollars depending on the amount of repair work needed to get your mountain bike back into tip-top shape.
For those of you who like getting your hands dirty, numerous YouTube videos step you through the whole inspection and maintenance process. Once you are familiar with the workings of your mountain bike, maintaining your bike should be relatively easy if you want to attempt the work yourself. Keep in mind that you need the appropriate tools for the work.
Here is a checklist of maintenance items that you need to work through:
● Inspect the frame for any cracks. Clean and wax it to protect the paint and finish.
● Check the tires for worn tread or rot. Inspect your spare and restock your patch kit. This is also a good time to inspect your tire pump for wear.
● Look closely at all cables and housings. Check for breakage and corrosion. Replace rusty components and any fraying cables.
● Replace worn brake pads and handlebar grips.
● Clean the entire drivetrain with degreaser and reapply lubricant.
● Determine if your suspension is leaking air or springs need to be lubricated.
● Check all bearings and hubs on the bottom bracket, headset, and pedals. Any that appear worn, should be replaced.
● Tighten any loose bolts and inspect all accessories for wear.
● Overhaul your pedals, and add fresh grease. Check toe straps and replace if needed.
Maintaining your mountain bike protects your investment and keeps you riding safely. A bike that is in proper working order allows you to ride faster, longer, and with greater daring than one that doesn’t shift or brake properly.
Loose wheels and flats can run a trip, and nobody wants to find themselves stranded in the middle of the woods. A little care before and after each ride, in addition to a yearly checkup, is all it takes to maintain your mountain bike and keep it on the trail.
Do you work on your own mountain bike? Which things do you feel are best left to the professionals? Have you found any tips or tricks that make maintenance of your mountain bike easier? Comment below, and share your knowledge with other riders.