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Mountain bike maintenance is something that a cyclist of any level can do on their own with a little instruction and some simple supplies. Performing regular maintenance on your mountain bike can have numerous benefits and may even make the bike safer to ride.
Many individuals perform their own mountain bike maintenance; however, there are cycle shops that will do some of the work for you if you aren’t interested or confident. Even if you send your bike to the shop regularly, there are still some maintenance tasks you’ll need to do yourself.
There will be small amounts of variation between mountain bikes, but most of them are made from the same mix of parts that come from a variety of different brands. Once you learn to identify all of these parts, you’ll be able to figure out what treatment each one needs, and what they should look like when they are in good shape.
ABOUT MOUNTAIN BIKE MAINTENANCE
Depending on the kind of bike you have and the conditions that you ride it in, your need for maintenance may vary to some extent. For rougher or dirtier terrains, you can expect to do some basic maintenance on every ride, but for clean trails and minimal dirt sticking to your bike you can do less.
DOING IT YOURSELF
Most mountain bike maintenance you can perform yourself, and with a little knowledge, you can quickly get comfortable with the different components on your bike and familiar with how they should look or be adjusted. If you are new to mountain biking, it may be ideal to take a class in both biking and bike maintenance to get up to speed on what you need to know.
Even if you live in an apartment or other small space, chances are you can still do bike maintenance as long as you have room for your bike. There are few other supplies needed, and plenty of cycling shops should you need any specialized parts.
Performing bike maintenance on your own will also help you learn how to fix your bike should there be a malfunctioning part while you are out riding. In that instance, you may be able to get help from another cyclist, but if you are alone, it’s best to know what your options are to avoid a long walk back to your starting point.
Performing regular bike maintenance as needed after or before each ride can also save you time and make sure that you are as safe as possible when riding. Many mountain bikes can be pricey investments, so this is also an excellent way to ensure the bike stays in its best condition for as long as possible.
BIKE MAINTENANCE CLASSES
When first starting with mountain biking it’s common that riders will want to take a class to learn the proper techniques for bike maintenance. A classroom setting can be the most time efficient way for some people to learn and it will give you access to an experienced instructor who can answer all of your questions.
REI is one company that offers a wide variety of cycling, and outdoor related classes and their offerings that are cycling related are robust. They also have a series of articles related to bike maintenance, and other activities for riders.
These classes will vary by location but typically occur on multiple dates throughout the year, and some are free while others charge a moderate fee.
There are also several different YouTube videos where bike maintenance is taught, and bike enthusiasts test out various experiments and projects with bikes. An online search will yield hundreds of results that you can then narrow down based on your specific interests.
WHY SHOULD I PERFORM MAINTENANCE ON MY MOUNTAIN BIKE?
There are a number of reasons to perform regular maintenance on your mountain bike. By conducting routine maintenance, you can be sure of a few things:
- Your bike should be in good working order for each ride
- You and others around you are safer when everyone rides an adequately maintained bike
- The bike should have a longer life and perform better
- It’s less likely you’ll be stranded
Regular maintenance also gives you the chance to carefully inspect your bike so you know when a part might need replacement, and you can decide what replacement part to use. Some riders choose to consistently upgrade parts of their bike when a component wears out, while others will want less expensive pieces.
KEEP YOURSELF AND OTHERS SAFE
Mountain biking can be an activity that is performed alone or as part of a larger group. Therefore, when you ride as part of a group, it’s vital that you do your part to make sure that your bike is in excellent condition and safe to ride.
Many of the more serious mountain biking trails will involve uneven terrain and may require the rider to make sudden changes in direction or speed, and this will require that your tires, brakes, and other components are working correctly.
If your brakes fail, you could find yourself in a dangerous situation where you are unable to stop and unable to navigate the terrain in front of you safely. Likewise, if you fall off your bike due to a mechanical error, you could put the riders behind you at risk.
Doing a basic inspection before every ride can help keep you and others safe but it is no replacement for performing regular maintenance and keeping all components of your bike in good working order. It’s a good idea to create a regular maintenance schedule to ensure that your bike is as safe as possible for riding in all terrain you may encounter.
PREVENT PREMATURE WEAR AND TEAR
Periodical maintenance includes activities such as bolt tightening and lubricating various parts which can help prevent wear and tear on your bike earlier than is usual. Bolts, in particular, should be regularly checked as the vibrations from riding on rough terrain are particularly good at loosening them.
Other parts of your bike are susceptible to premature wear as well, and bike tires are a perfect example. Improperly inflated bike tires could cause damage to the tires themselves or the inner tubes that help them to stay inflated. Underinflated tires can also cause the rims on your bike to be damaged.
Wear and tear are also not strictly limited to your bike, and an improperly cared for bike could mean that it doesn’t perform as it should which could ultimately cause injury to the rider. A properly cared for bike should be able to absorb some of the vibrations and impacts that would otherwise be uncomfortable for a cyclist.
By inspecting your bike, you’ll be able to know when components are worn, need adjustment, or need replacement. Degradation is common on specific bike parts over time, and performing regular maintenance will allow you to understand how this wearing takes place, and what to expect from that part in the future.
HAVE A MORE ENJOYABLE RIDE
A bike that has received routine maintenance will handle better and offer the rider a higher performance ride than a bike that hasn’t been maintained properly at all. Many bikes have components that allow for adjustment to suit specific riders’ needs, and these adjustments are easy to make during routine maintenance.
When your bike is adequately cared for, it should feel comfortable when you ride it, and you should have a sense of control as you ride. If various components aren’t working at their best, you could experience issues like excessive vibrations, inadequate braking, bruising, and an inability to smoothly shift gears.
Proper maintenance can also ensure that you aren’t stranded while you are out riding and that you can fearlessly try out new terrain that is in your comfort zone. By doing necessary maintenance after each ride, you’ll be less likely to have to stop while on a trail to fix your bike which detracts from the time you could be riding.
GET MORE LIFE OUT OF YOUR BIKE
When the various components on your bike are adjusted and maintained correctly, you can count on them lasting longer than they would without proper care. This regular inspection and maintenance will ultimately help your bike last longer and prevent excessive component breakage in most cases.
As you ride your bike on different terrain, some wear is going to be inevitable. As you get more familiar with your bike, you’ll be able to predict better when it needs maintenance or when you will need to replace a component.
Regular maintenance also helps you become familiar with how various parts of your bike work and will allow you greater insight when you choose to upgrade a specific component. Knowing how your bike works and what tends to need more attention on your bike will also allow you to select replacement parts that better suit your needs.
KNOW WHEN IT NEEDS REPAIRS OR UPGRADES
Some repairs will be impossible to foresee, but others will be recommended replacements due to the time or mileage spent on your bike. Regular inspection is a crucial part of performing maintenance on your bike.
DON’T GET STUCK WITHOUT A RIDE
Performing routine maintenance can help prevent you from being stranded due to a broken bike, but it’s no guarantee. However, when you get familiar with your bike, it’s more likely that you’ll notice a potential problem in the making.
Performing maintenance on your bike will also help you better understand how it works, and this can work to your advantage if you need to make an impromptu repair while riding. Although it’s a good idea to have some basic supplies for bike repair on hand when riding, it’s unlikely you’ll have everything you need for every potential repair.
HOW TO PERFORM MOUNTAIN BIKE MAINTENANCE
Performing regular bike maintenance can be done in any size space and doesn’t require any specialized tools. Once you have an area where you can work, the next steps will vary slightly depending on your bike.
SETTING UP YOUR WORK AREA
Finding a suitable area for performing bike maintenance is critical as you’ll need enough space for your bike and a little more so that you can move around it. This area can be in an apartment, home, garage, shed, or just on a flat surface.
Ventilation is an important characteristic to have in your workspace, and you’ll want an area to store your tools, or a container if you plan to be mobile. A sink for hand washing is optional, but a hose and some soap will work fine as well.
If you need to wash your bike, you’ll undoubtedly want to do outside, and there are often places where this can be accomplished easily for a minimal cost.
BASIC SUPPLIES TO HAVE
A bike stand is a nice to have as it can help hold your bike in place as you work on it and can save you from knocking your bike over countless times as you move and work around it. There are inexpensive options available for purchase online, and some are adjustable so that you don’t have to work in one position the whole time.
Other supplies that you’ll want to keep on hand include:
- Biodegradable cleaner (such as Simple Green) in a spray bottle
- Old toothbrush
- A few old towels
- Spoke wrench and/or a bike specific multi-tool
- Tire pressure gauge
- Oil lubricant for bikes
- Steel wool
- Nitrile gloves
- Light work gloves
It’s a good idea to keep all of these items on hand in a location that is near where you’ll be working on your bike. For most bike maintenance these items are all that you’ll need, but for more advanced work you made need additional tools.
If you decide to use a hose to clean your bike, it’s essential that it is not a high-pressure hose as this can damage some of the bike components and may remove some of the lubricants or damage the paint on the body of your bike.
If you don’t have access to a hose or other water source besides a sink, you can also try using a watering can or a water bottle with holes poked in the top. After a particularly muddy ride, you may want to use a regular hose.
KEEP IT CLEAN
Regardless of the type of terrain that you ride on you’ll want to wash off your bike regularly to help keep the various components free from dirt, grime, and other debris that can cause parts to malfunction. It’s also nice to have a relatively clean bike for when you start a ride or load it on your vehicle for transport.
Cleaning your bike will also help you perform an adequate inspection as part of the maintenance and will allow you to see the fine details of each element. Cleaning your bike with a biodegradable cleaner such as Simple Green will also help remove other grease and debris that plain water cannot.
As you wash your bike, you may want to use an old toothbrush or other brush to clean the tires more thoroughly and get between the spokes and in other cracks and small spaces. Keep in mind that getting most of the dirt off is sufficient and a highly detailed cleaning isn’t essential.
If you don’t have access to a hose, even a spray bottle full of water is enough to wash away Simple Green, and the light scent will be pleasant enough to work alongside. It’s crucial that you have proper ventilation during this part to avoid breathing in the cleaner and any other products such as lubricants.
PERFORM REGULAR INSPECTIONS
As a regular mountain bike rider, you should be accustomed to inspecting your bike before and after every ride to ensure that the components are in good working order and that bolts or other mechanisms don’t need tightening.
It’s a good idea to keep a multi-tool on hand with you on every ride, and this can come in handy when you need to tighten a component or make an adjustment before it can become a safety hazard.
As part of the inspection process, you’ll want to give the bike a general once over after you’ve cleaned it up to make sure that there aren’t any glaring issues that need to be addressed. Next, you’ll want to move on to “The ABC’s” of bike care to get started.
THE ABC’S OF BIKE MAINTENANCE
The “A” is for air which means that you’ll want to check your tires using a tire gauge to ensure that they are correctly inflated to the correct amount of pressure. Once you have confirmed this to be the case, you’ll also want to inspect the sidewalls of the tire and the tread to ensure that there are no cracks, holes, or other imperfections that could cause an issue.
This point is also a great time to check the thru axles if your bike has them, and the quick release levers to make sure they are snug and undamaged. It’s a good idea to take a small portable pump and a patch kit with you when you ride in case you run into issues with your tires.
The “B” stands for brakes which is another critical component in mountain bike riding. You’ll want to squeeze both the front and the rear brakes to look for a few key characteristics. The brake levers should properly engage the brakes which should be a smooth motion.
You’ll also want to look at the surface of the brake pads to make sure there isn’t any debris stuck to them. It is essential that you confirm that the brake pads rest flush against the sidewalls of your tires when you press the brake levers.
The “C” stands for the chain on your bike which also includes all of the gears and even the whole drivetrain. While these parts are most likely to vary from bike to bike, it’s easy enough to check the chain to ensure it is free from debris and adequately lubricated.
Now is also a good time to confirm that your shifters work smoothly and that the area around the drivetrain is free from dirt and other debris.
The drivetrain is made up of a few different parts and includes:
- Rear cassette
- Front chainrings
- Rear derailleur and chain
By keeping all of these components well lubricated and free from dirt and debris, you’ll significantly increase their lifespan, and help them function smoothly on every ride. If you are curious what lubricant is best for your specific components, it may be worth a call to your local cycle shop to see what they recommend.
CHECK YOUR BRAKES AND TIRE PRESSURE
Brake pads are notorious for becoming loose over time, and you may need to put air in your tires periodically, no matter their age. Consistent tire pressure at the appropriate level can help to prevent a whole myriad of damage to your bike that doesn’t stop at dented rims.
Different parts of your bike besides the tires will take some of the impact when you ride, and the fork of your bike is one of those components. Frequently, a mountain bike fork will come equipped with some kind of shock absorbing technology, and forks are usually made from materials that help to absorb vibrations.
Regardless of these features, it’s important that your tire pressure is kept at an appropriate level or the tire and inner tube can be irreparably damaged and need replacing. It’s easiest to perform a tire inspection when your bike is in a bike stand as you can freely rotate the wheels and inspect all parts of the tires.
Pay particular attention to the sidewalls of the tires as well as the fill valves and double check for any cracks or other imperfections. Patches are available for fixing the inner tubes of your bike, but many modern bike tires have stopped using inner tubes and have opted for more robust tire construction.
If you notice an imperfection on your tire, or if your tires frequently lose air and need to be pumped up significantly for each ride, it’s likely that you have a leak somewhere. If you aren’t sure where it’s coming from it may be time to visit the bike mechanic for a second opinion, or invest in new tires and inner tubes.
Brakes are another critical component, and you’ll want to make sure that the brake pads are not only secured in place appropriately but that they are also lined up to make proper contact with the sidewalls of your tires. You’ll also want to inspect the cables that connect your brakes and the shifters on your handlebars.
If you notice that these cables are damaged, it’s best to replace them before your next ride. These cables are an essential connection between the shifters and the derailleur which is the device that helps you go from one gear to another.
Without the ability to properly switch gears, riding your bike may be a less safe and enjoyable experience and can also cause issues with the chain on your bike. Damaged cables are a reason to seek out the help of a professional who can best diagnose the problem and recommend an optimal solution.
It’s a good idea to plan on replacing your cables every 2-5 years depending on how often you use your bike to ensure that they stay in good working order. If you use your bike frequently at all times of the year, you may need to replace this part annually.
Disc brakes are another component found on bikes. Performing maintenance on them is a slightly different procedure than for brake pads. For disc brakes, you’ll likely need a “bleed kit” which allows you to remove the air bubbles from the cables that can eventually make the brakes less effective.
Some brakes can be easily bled while you are out riding, but it’s best to work on them in a controlled environment with proper tools when you have the option. It’s also worth consulting your local bike mechanic or at least looking up the manufacturer instructions before bleeding your disc brakes.
WHAT PARTS TO CLEAN AND HOW
Cleaning your bike is not a complicated procedure, and by following a few simple guidelines, you can have it sparkling in under thirty minutes. It’s a good idea to use a cleaner in a spray bottle so if you need to you can use the minimum amount of water to rinse it clean.
If your bike is caked with mud and other debris, you may have no choice but to use a hose to wash away the worst of the dirt. After that, you can spot clean with cleaner and a toothbrush as needed. If you find rust spots on parts like the chain or other components, you can gently remove those using mild steel wool.
When using steel wool, it’s important to wear light work gloves to help prevent splinters. If a particular component is very rusty, you will most likely want to replace it altogether.
After each ride, you’ll also want to check your fork by pressing down on it. If it sticks or doesn’t quickly rebound, it is possible that dirt or other debris has gotten in the way and you’ll need to clean it out. Cleaning the fork involves changing the oil that is contained inside, with particular attention paid to the seals which also need to be clean to keep dirt out.
As part of your regular cleaning, you’ll want to wipe off the stanchions each time you finish riding. Depending on the parts that your specific bike uses, the manufacturer instructions may vary, so it’s a good idea to do an online search to find the official instructions or work with a local bike mechanic.
Lubrication is incredibly important when it comes to preventing premature damage and extending the life of your bike. It’s critical to keep your bike chain well lubricated, and you’ll also want to lubricate various other components.
Parts of your drivetrain will also need regular lubrication, and it’s a good idea to examine the different components after each ride and bike cleaning to ensure that the parts are well oiled. Lubrication serves two purposes: keeping dirt out of a part, and helping the piece to work longer and with optimal efficiency.
When your bike is well lubricated in the proper places it should shift smoothly, the pedals should rotate quietly, and your brake levers should be easy to operate. After you have oiled a component, you’ll want to make sure to wipe away any excess oil with a clean rag. If you discover rust spots it’s a good idea to remove them using steel wool before lubricating them.
On your shifters, the general rule is that you should oil the parts that move and leave the rest. Foot pedals should be lightly oiled where there are any internal moving parts such as bearings if they are of the clipless variety. Flat pedals don’t need greasing on the outside, but they should be cleaned regularly, and oil should be applied where they rotate on the crank.
Whether you are new to mountain biking or more experienced, it is essential to keep your mountain bike in good condition to get the most out of it and have the safest ride possible. Mountain bikes have many different components that all work together to perform well on rough terrain, and you need to make sure that you clean all of the parts regularly.
It’s a good idea to take your bike into a local cycle shop for professional maintenance once or twice a year. During this visit, you can ask any questions about how to maintain your specific mountain bike and get advice on how to improve the overall performance of the bike.