To Better Performance
A bike is only as good as the mechanic who keeps it running. By spending a little extra time looking over your machine, you will not only prolong its life but also be much safer when riding. Nothing stinks more than crashing due to a mechanical issue that could have been spotted prior to hitting the trails. For this month’s “Garage Files,” we give you a quick step-by-step guide for preventive bike maintenance and point out the easy things to remedy before they become ride-stopping problems. Follow along as we show you the ins and outs of looking over your bike for worn-out parts, such as cables, chains, suspension components and more. Once you’ve done your preride inspection, you can confidently enjoy riding the trails on your safer, better-performing ride.
Check your chain
A chain is what drives your bike forward, and without it, you’d just be spinning your gears. It’s important to take care of your chain and replace it as needed. Not only will this prolong the life of your drivetrain, it will also increase your bike’s performance. Here are two ways you can check to see if it’s time to say goodbye to that old chain.
The preferred method
The best way to check your chain for wear is to use a chain checker tool. These tools come in many different shapes and sizes, but they all serve the same purpose of telling whether or not your chain has stretched. Start by purchasing a chain checker or head down to your local shop to borrow one. Place the tool on your chain using the small hooks that fit inside the links. If the tool says your chain is stretched, then it’s time to replace it immediately.
The free method
Assuming you have a tape measure or a ruler at home, you can check your chain for wear without even purchasing a tool. Start by holding a measuring device up to your chain and count out 12 links. Start from the center pin of one link and measure to the 12th. Side note: you should be measuring 24 pins. If your chain measures 1 foot or 12 inches, then your chain is good to go. If 12 links measures 12 1/8 inches, then it’s time to slap a new chain on. It’s best to not wait too long to replace your chain, as it can quickly wear out your drivetrain. Think a new chain is pricey, try a whole new drivetrain.
Look over your bike for any frayed cables. These spit cable ends are likely to occur near your front or rear derailleur. Cable-actuated dropper posts can have a similar problem as well. Frayed cables are weak and can snap, leaving you stranded out on the trails or pedaling home in your hardest gear.
Cap it off
If you see a frayed cable, cap it off with a cable-end crimp. If your cables are only slightly frayed, you may be able to salvage the cable by twisting the unraveled wires back together, allowing you to crimp it with a cable end. Side note: don’t use your sharpest cutters to crimp your cable ends. This will only result in you cutting right through it. If the ends are too frayed, you should replace the entire cable.
This dial located right next to your shifters is designed to compensate for cable stretch by allowing you to tighten the cable tension. This can be done by turning the knob, best known as a “barrel adjuster,” away from you when sitting on your bike. Loosening the cable requires the barrel adjuster to be spun the other direction. If your bike is experiencing “ghost shifting,” then you may need to tighten up your cable tension. If you’re not able to adjust the cable properly, or if you’ve gone a season or two without replacing shift cables, then it’s time to replace them.
What you will need
It’s a good idea to change your shift cables every riding season, as old cables tend to lack the smooth and precise performance of a brand-new one. The tools you will need to use to replace your cables are a good pair of side cutters, such as these from Park Tool, a new shift cable and a cable crimp. It’s important to use a good side cutter to prevent the cable from becoming frayed once you cut it.
Cable housing is designed to protect your cables from the elements. The housing, however, can become damaged over time. Worn-out housing can lead to poor shifting performance since the cables are no longer able to move as freely through the housing as they previously could. Look over your bike’s cable housing for any signs of wear, such as the wear we spotted in this photo. This housing still functions at the moment but should be replaced sooner rather than later.
Check your brake pads
You can only go as fast as you can stop. Well, that’s at least a good rule to go by. If the braking performance on your bike has dwindled away, it could be due to worn-out brake pads. The other culprit could be your hydraulic brakes need to be bled, but that’s a complete topic on its own. Here are two ways to check and see if your brake pads still have some life left in them.
Remove the pads
For both of the following methods, start by removing your rear wheel to allow easy access to your brake calipers. Remove the safety clip and then unthread the retaining pin by using an appropriately sized Allen wrench. The pads should then pull right out. If the pads have been in the calipers for quite some time, then you may need to use some needle-nose pliers for extra leverage. Our pads, however, slid right out.
The dime trick
If you don’t own a pair of digital calipers, then there is a simple trick you can do to check your brake pads and it only costs you 10 cents. A full refund will be available after the job is done. A dime measures close to a millimeter in thickness, so if you compare the dime’s thickness to what’s left of your brake-pad material, then you will be able to determine if it’s time to swap out those pads. If the brake pad is thinner than a dime, it’s time to replace it
The technical way
The most accurate way to check if your brake pads still have some life left in them is to use a digital caliper, such as the one shown here. Our pads have plenty of life left, but if the pad material were to measure 1 millimeter or less, then it’s time to swap out those old pads for new ones.
Time for new pads
It’s possible that pads with a little life left in them can cause poor performance due to contamination. These pads can be resurfaced by using a file and some rubbing alcohol to clean them. If this doesn’t do the trick, it’s best to just purchase some new pads. It’s important to note the brakes you have and purchase the correct pad set. This will ensure a perfect fit.
Check your suspension components
Shocks and forks feel buttery smooth when they’re brand new. Over time, however, these components tend to lose their shine. It’s important to take care of your suspension components in order to prolong life. Many manufacturers recommend servicing suspension once a year; however, it won’t hurt to do it even more frequently than that. In fact, the pros often have their mechanics service their bikes’ suspension before every race.
Check the seals
Both your fork and shock feature seals with a dust cover above them. First, wipe the dust covers clean of any dirt or suspension fluid. Next, inspect the dust covers for any fresh oil seeping out. This is the first sign of a leaky seal. Worn-out suspension components will likely feel stiffer at the initial part of the travel. To gain the most performance out of your suspension components, have them serviced.
Check for air loss
Another way to tell if your fork or shock needs to be serviced is if it loses air over a short period of time. We’re talking over the period of a couple of weeks. Your suspension shouldn’t require you to add air the same way you would to your tires. If this is the case for you, take the time to properly service your suspension.
Check your tire sealant
Tubeless tires have revolutionized mountain bikes, allowing riders to get rowdy with lower tire pressures and without fear of pinch-flatting. Tubeless sealant, however, has one drawback—it dries out over time, rendering its benefits useless. Take time to care for your tubeless setup and it will reward you with top-notch performance.
How to check sealant
Some companies have designed ways to check tubeless sealant without having to remove the tire; however, our personal method is to just remove one side of the tire’s bead. By only removing one side of the bead, you will likely be able to re-seat your tubeless tires armed with just a bike pump. Pull back the tire and look inside. This tire has a little bit of liquid left, but we’re going to go ahead and replace it anyways. Make sure to read the bottle of sealant you choose to use in order to see the recommended amount.
Next, measure out the sealant and then just pour it in. Snap the bead back on and inflate the tire. A rapid amount of air is needed to initially pop the bead back in place. This is best done with an air compressor or a tubeless- specific bike pump; however, some quick pumps out of a normal floor pump can do the trick in a pinch.
If you have a busy life, it may be hard to remember to change out your tire sealant. This is a great opportunity to harness the power of your smartphone by setting up a reminder. While you’re at it, go ahead and set up multiple reminders for all of these steps. Nothing beats riding a well-maintained, quiet and smooth-running bike.
Mountain Bike Action is a monthly magazine devoted to all things mountain biking (yes, that’s 12 times a year because we never take a month off of mountain biking). It has been around since 1986 and we’re still having fun.